Istanbul is enormous. I could look in any direction and see the same thing, an ocean of buildings after buildings, stretching into an ever-present haze. Whenever I thought I’d gotten a sense of just how large Istanbul really was, I’d climb a hill, see a new highrise-checkered expanse, and realize that, no, I had no idea how big it was. I looked up the square mileage on Wikipedia, but I’ll still probably never really understand its size. I imagine philosophers suffer from the same crippling confusion when they try to contemplate infinity.
But there’s more to the city than girth; Istanbul is old, too. Like the size, it is difficult to put the age into perspective–the entire city is a mosaic of 6th century churches, 16th century mosques, and 21st century shopping centers. Eras are layered on top of one another, history and present are inseparable. Every view of Istanbul is festooned with domes and minarets, half-constructed apartments, and satellite dish arrays. Istanbul is always modernizing. The last decade has seen the construction of dozens of malls and the replacement of hundreds of thousands of buildings with new, earthquake-resistant ones. New bridges span the Bosphorus. But look anywhere and you will see hints of an earlier time: cobblestones, defunct aqueducts, crumbled walls. Many shops and bazaars, though they’ve updated their inventory a bit, have been in business for hundreds of years.