Taksim Square, Istanbul
By Wren Chan
is said to be the country in which the East meets the West both
physically and culturally. Indeed it lives up to that name in
Istanbul, where the younger generation would dress up in the latest
fashion and move around freely like in Europe and the United States and
yet there would be others that adhere by a more conservative dress code
and follow the traditions carefully. One such scene is Taksim
Square where one can observe many people in line for the buses out of
Istanbul to outlying regions and also couples and friends scrolling
along Istiklal Avenue lined with Western stores and consulates.
The air was chilly at this time of the year yet there were many people
lined up to get onto the buses that were departing to various places
like Izmir and Ankara. There were some primary school students
that were amongst these travelers in Taksim Square in addition to
couples and friends walking towards the Istiklal Avenue.
It was around 6:00 pm across the street from the internet café
from which frame is taken from is a McDonald’s filled to the capacity
with some vendors selling nuts to travelers awaiting their buses.
Behind the McDonald’s was the square itself with some pockets of
activity in within it consisting of friends and couples that were or
planning to go shop in Istiklal Avenue. Noticeably absent was a
mosque in the area which is noticeably more prevalent in other areas of
Istanbul. From one of the subways in the square that led to the
metro, more people arose either going to catch a bus out of Istanbul or
going shopping. There were benches on which couples or friends
usually sat on talking about whatever topics come to mind.
Observing the women in the squares move in their own groups of
similarly dressed companions evoked the work of Yael Navaro-Yasin who
wrote on the very essence of the conflict between tradition and
westernization and what it meant to be Turkish. A story that
Navaro-Yasin used that came to mind was the one about two women
standing in line to enter the Ayasofya museum thinking that the other
was a foreigner. This example perhaps neatly fitted into the
situation observed in which neither groups did much to interact with
the other in the Square.
Taking a wider look at Taksim Square which sat on a hill above sea
level, one would see the Old City with its old buildings, mosques,
bazaars and crowded streets to the southwest while the area southeast
of the Square is occupied by tall buildings that would be considered
skyscrapers relative to the shorter buildings in Taksim Square. A
football stadium is located on the foot of this hill while the palace
of the Ottoman sultans lay across the street from the football
stadium. The relative closeness of the buildings and districts
seems to also confirm physically the dual identity that Turkey
possesses a Western identity and an Islamic identity. It is
important however to note that the Old City was still traditional in
the sense that most of the stores are more geared towards catering to
the local populace while the stores in Taksim are geared towards the
younger and more Westernized populace.
I didn’t truly grasp this aspect of Istanbul until leaving due to the
fact that I was rushing to get a souvenir and planning to return to the
ship. Nonetheless the length and the number of people on Istiklal
Avenue that night still left a major impression that at the very least
a significant part of Turkey is very Western.