If the world can truly be said to have a crossroads, then surely it is Istanbul.
Now the largest city in Turkey, it was originally the Greek city-state of Byzantium before becoming the capital of the Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire as Constantinople. Conquered by the Ottoman Mehmed II in 1453, it became an important centre of Islamic culture. Sitting on the Bosphorus Strait, it bridges Europe and Asia, Africa and Russia, and has been a vital trade hub for literally millennia.
Founded around 660 B.C., and with the area it dominates continuously occupied since at least 5500 B.C., it links modern civilisation with almost the entire sweep of human history. Agatha Christie was inspired to write Murder on the Orient Express while staying there, and exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky sojourned in the city on his way to Mexico and his eventual assassination.
It is, essentially, simply drenched in history, and as such is a difficult city to summarise. Luckily, we have Treasures of Istanbul at hand, with author and historian Bettany Hughes as our guide to some of the ancient city’s most notable sights. In a brisk 45 or so minutes Hughes, an enthusiastic and deeply knowledgeable host, takes us on a tour that’s both geographical and historical, painting a vivid picture of a place that is both a dynamic, thriving modern city and a complex and valuable artifact.