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Istanbul has always been an outstanding travel destination. Beside adventurous voyagers, who want to see Istanbul’s charm, there have also been lots of creative people, who hoped Istanbul would inspire their artistic minds. Writers, who took notes during their visits or those who created artworks influenced by their visits, allow us to see Istanbul’s power on the imagination. Istanbul has its own legacy of Turkish writers, but there are lots of foreign writers who visited Istanbul and left there mark. Here, we will list here six of our favorites to give you an idea of the Istanbul influence.

1. Edmundo de Amicis:

Amicis was a breakthrough Italian writer who most of you might know from his children’s book, ‘Heart’. But he was also an influential travel writer. Amicis visited Istanbul in 1875 and was more than dazzled by the dreamy look of the city and the incredible richness in colors, clothes, lifestyle, and streets. It was more than a journey for him because his passion pushed him to work hard so that he could depict this magical city via his art. He wrote a book on Istanbul called ‘Constantinopoli’ that is regarded by critics as the richest observation of the city in 19th century. It’s a beautiful portrait of the city’s people, architecture, culture, art and daily life.

He established a great bond with the city, so much so that he said his memories of Istanbul remained perfectly clear in his eyes, even after many years. His connection to the city was so strong that he couldn’t stop envisioning what the city would look like in the distant future. He had a fear of what the future held and also included these visions in Constantinopoli. If you want to feel what Istanbul holds in its past, you should definitely read his book.

Page 145 from Constantinopoli - Edmundo de Amicis

Page 145 from Constantinopoli – Edmundo de Amicis

2. Gustave Flaubert:

The classic novelist, Flaubert, also had an urge to visit Istanbul to see where the east and the west meets. He visited the city in 1849 with his photographer friend, Maxime du Camp. His trip was a short one but he still visited the most significant locations in Istanbul. His observations can be found in ‘Voyage en Orient,’ which is made up of travel notes from his trip to the Middle East. Although, Istanbul was just a stop in his big travel plan, he was impressed by its charm and was quite sad when he had to leave it. He even believed that Istanbul deserved to become the center of the world.

Flaubert’s visit to Istanbul has another importance in terms of literary sphere. Turkish Nobel Prize winning writer, Orhan Pamuk, is greatly influenced by Gustave Flaubert – so much so that he wanted to follow the traces of his visit to Istanbul in his book, ‘Istanbul: Memories and the City’. Pamuk tried to locate the Justiniano Hotel in Galata where Flaubert had stayed. Although the hotel doesn’t remain anymore, Pamuk’s search became a symbolic one.

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3. Agatha Christie

The famous detective novel writer came to visit in Istanbul on a journey that had more than simply tourist appeal. Her famous visit inspired the legendary book, Murder on The Orient Express, that is one of her most revered offerings. She wrote it while staying in the Pera Palace, an oppulent hotel that is still in business. The room she stayed in now is called Agatha Christie Suite as a homage to her stay.

Visiting Istanbul had long been one of the writer’s dreams and she was inspired by the mystical atmosphere of early 20th century Istanbul. Her creative work is a valuable proof of how a city can be an inspiration source (especially when combined with Christie’s own genius).

For those who want to read further on Pera Palace, click here to read a great article about it. To visit the Pera Palace, perhaps to take a high tea as Christie would have done a century before, click here for Google Maps.

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4. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

The iconic writer of the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ series experienced the spirit of Istanbul when he visited in 1907 after had recently married his second wife. He stayed in his friend Henry Miller’s place during his visit. He was invited by an admirer who was none other than the sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Abdulhamid, who was a fan of detective stories, bestowed upon Doyle a special Ottoman knightly order, known as a Medjidie.

Although we know little about Doyle’s ideas on Istanbul, we can see how it turned into a memorable historic event that tells us about Sultan Abdulhamid’s love of literature.

Arthur Conan Doyle For The Defence

5. Hans Christian Andersen:

The author of the best children’s fairy stories, Hans Christian Andersen visited Istanbul in April, 1841. His first fascination was with the natural beauty of the city and how the Bosphorus adds a unique quality to the city. As a Danish writer in Istanbul, he enjoyed the cultural differences he found. In his book The ‘Poet’s Bazaar’, he reported how the mosques and bazaars were unique, both in terms of architecture and feeling. His colorful depictions of Istanbul and admiration for the beautiful shores on the city can be traced in his stories like The Little Mermaid. It is fair to imagine the palace in the story has a resemblance to Çırağan Palace on the shore of the Bosphorus. You can also find the observations and descriptions of Andersen – from a sema ceremony which he attended – written on a board at the 2nd floor of Galata Mevlevihanesi.

H. C. Andersen's drawing of whirling dervishes that he watched in Istanbul. - 30 April 1841.

H. C. Andersen’s drawing of whirling dervishes that he watched in Istanbul                    30 April 1841

6. Alphonse De Lamartine:

French poet Lamartine visited Istanbul in 1883 and basically fell in love with the city. This love was combined with his fascination with some aspects of Muslim culture, such as going with the flow if you have done already what is in your capability. This philosophical effect and the charm of spring time in Istanbul apparently gave him a quite experience. He found everything has a place in Istanbul and works in great harmony. He even spoke the famous line, “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.”

His admiration for the city remained separate from his political endeavours. As he was also a political thinker, he wrote a book called ‘Histoire la Turquie, a history of the Ottoman Empire. He based his book on what he observed through his political view and it sheds light on the last stages of the empire.

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A street view from Istanbul, late 19th century. Credits : flickr.com/saltonline/

To conclude, we mentioned six important writers and their visits to Istanbul. Although they had different motivations for coming to Istanbul, they all left valuable memories behind. Some developed their art with their impressions of the city, some just took great notes that are uniquely informative. What we can derive all from these is that even a short visit to Istanbul can inspire creativity and admiration that sometimes turns into significant historical event.

Duygu Özbağcı
Studied psychology, though still whimsical. Likes filmmaking, photography and writing. Loves yoga. Embraces Istanbul.

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