Istanbul 2010: European Capital of Culture

Napoleon Bonaparte once said ‘If the world were a single state, Istanbul would have been its capital’. The capital of empires … the city that dominated continents … the cradle of civilization … the meeting point of culture and civilization … are some of the many praises heaped on the city. Istanbul 2010 is a unique occasion to relive the past glory.
Situated on the Bosphoros, Istanbul lies partly in Europe and Asia. Formerly the Roman city of Constantinople (330-1453), it was built on the site of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium. It was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 and remained the capital of Turkey until 1923. A meeting place of civilizations for over 8,500 years it has witnessed history with bridging cultures and religions between east and west.
Along with Essen in Germany and Pécs in Hungary, in 2006 Istanbul was chosen for the 2010 European Capital of Culture with the preparations that began very early.
European Capital of Culture
The European Capital of Culture is a city designated by the European Union for a period of one year during which it is given a chance to showcase its cultural life and cultural development. A number of European cities have used the City of Culture year to transform completely their culture base and, in doing so, the way in which they are viewed internationally.
Conceived as a means of bringing citizens of the European Union, or EEC as it then was, closer together the European City of Culture was launched on 13 June 1985 by the Council of Ministers on the initiative of the Greek Minister of Culture, Melina Mercouri. Since then it has been increasingly successful amongst European citizens with a growing cultural and socio-economic impact on the numerous visitors it has attracted.
Istanbul 2010
Huge projects of international significance have been undertaken to ensure Istanbul 2010 meets the challenge and success it deserves including many projects to involve the city’s local communities. The number of international and local events has increased. Work has been done and is ongoing from restoration of historical sites to the construction of new art and cultural centres for a variety of festivals and displays of artistic works embracing themes of traditional and visual arts, cinema, literature, music to museums and exhibitions.
Extensive building renovations have been undertaken including the Ataturk Culture Centre, Topkapi Palace Museum, historical Spice Bazaar and the Hagia Sophia. The Maslak Culture Centre was opened as a venue for the performing arts in its many forms. The major themes of architecture, living and environment, sculpture and pottery are to be discovered at different venues not forgetting archaeology and a host of performances and other activities in places throughout the city.
A highlight is the Mevli Sema Ceremony and Sufi Music Concert at the Hocapasa Culture Centre, converted in 1998 from a 550 years old historical Turkish Bath. An 800 year old tradition, the Celebi Mevli and Sema rituals were spread all over the world. Male Dervish whirling dancers in full white robes and long narrow hats represent how people free themselves from world affairs and elevate themselves to God through a mystical journey.
In 2005 the ritual was proclaimed by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of World Heritage under the title of Traditional Performing Arts and Social Practices.
Ita Marguet
Note: Acknowledgement is given to sources used in this text. It follows a visit to Istanbul and Antalya, Turkey, October 2010. It marks Istanbul 2010: European Capital of Culture.