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Comparing Istanbul and London Compare and Contrast Essay

Anthropology of the City: Comparing between Istanbul and London

In comparing the cities of Istanbul and London, the paper will be restricting its focus to few notable features touching on politics, culture, inhabitants’ experience, and identities. The comparison does not have a given time period limit for review, but it mostly gives an overview of the city’s development and its orientation today.

London plays a significant role as commercial capital of the UK, while Istanbul is regarded as a cultural capital of Turkey mainly for its importance in maintaining the coexistence of different traditions, and its rich history of being part of the Greek and Ottoman empires.

It also plays important commercial roles in Turkey, mainly as a centre for investment and tourist attraction.

Differences and similarities between Istanbul and London (built environments, politics, culture, inhabitant’s experience and identities)

Both Istanbul and London have inherent tensions that affect their local politics. In Istanbul, it is the Islamic influence against the traditional left ideology that is common. In London, it is the poor and the rich who characterise the local politics.

London on the other hand has been a city with a huge gap between the rich and poor, which makes it one of the biggest arenas for its development in the recent century; however, much of its present development especially physical space and iconic infrastructure was all build after the Great Fire of 1622.

Just like Istanbul, the policies promoting coexistence of people end up influencing London’s growth and development culturally and socially. The 19th and 20th century rulers of London saw politicians use the rich-poor gap as the basis for reforms towards providing services and coming up with programs for the needy (Gray 5).

Overall, the key characteristic of Istanbul is its generosity for pluralism encompassing Islamic justice, which lets non-Muslim groups to live in peace being surrounded by the growing influence of Islam culturally, politically, and socially (Keyder 49).

Today’s Istanbul has relevant contemporary technologies and thrives as a cultural economy, with music, art, and media being the most thriving sectors. Its present culture is integrating well with the global culture and people living in the city are now exposed to global concerns through their media stations, literature, and art.

On the other hand, charity was a means of gaining reputation and influenced the growth of London’s culture, as much as tolerance and Islamic justice influenced the coexistence of different migrant populations in Istanbul.

Both cities are cultural centres freely taking on imported cultures, as they are both integrated in the global economy. London’s society is characterised by its openness and coexistence of Victorian architectural influences alongside modern architecture. Similarly, visitors to Istanbul are welcomed by domed mosques that give the city its splendour.

Moreover, both cities are tourist and historic attractions for their iconic architecture, local experiences, class co-existence, or religious co-existence and the development of the past centuries.

London is more planned in its construction and public spaces, as compared to Istanbul. However, both cities have characteristic narrow streets in most of their neglected neighbourhood.

In terms of built environments, London has elaborate policies that have shaped its development, while Istanbul’s development ceased to conform to centrally planned outcomes after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the emergence of Turkey.

Istanbul’s population was 50,000 after the Turkish conquest, but it went on to become very populous after its rulers pardoned expelled communities and tribes and urged to come back to the city to return it to its former glory.

It was the modernisation reforms by the ruling elites that also contributed to its popularity as a destination for migrants. Its 18th century influences in architecture exist side by side with the 20th century influences (Celik 378).

Istanbul began as a colony of Byzantium and was an early settlement of the Greeks. Turkey was founded in 1932 and took on the city as its capital for a while, before later shifting the capital to Ankara (Keyder 48). Nevertheless, Istanbul continued to grow both commercially and culturally. Istanbul has a characteristic ancient town plan.

The city has fragmentations of small distinct cells. There are a number of dead ends on the streets. Some roads are not very straight, even when they ought to be based on their features.

With the lack of a central administration, the development of the city does not follow a laid out plan with specific allocations for proper social institutions and facilities. To a visitor from North American cities, Istanbul would seem like an unorganised urban centre.

Reputation has been a worthy issue for pursuit by the elites and politicians in London. This is one of the key reasons why rulers, elites, and religious leaders in London have had an urge to catalogue charity promoted by the culture of commemoration over the years (Merrit 91).

Becoming a significant figure in London’s city life called for the expression of charity to its social problems and the establishment of charities by merchants marked the beginning of celebrating the integration of the nation.

For example, within religious politics in the city, Catholics accused Protestants of bringing on a destructive reform due to their diluted sensitivity to charity (Merrit 93). Other than charity, nothing else seems to have a religious origin and influence to present day London.

Most of London in the past and today is characterised and known about the city, where lechery was no sin and corruption was rife.

Today London is known for its openness, allowing people from all cultures and backgrounds to express themselves as they fit. It is a centre for education, social life, art, entertainment and commerce. Its restaurants serve cuisines from all over the world, and its population are mostly urbanised and globalised.

To some extent, the same is also true for Istanbul though expressions still matter as a social identity because dressing identifies a person’s political and social orientation. Today, most residents of Istanbul prefer to keep aspects of westernised culture, but still retain elements of Islam to assert their identities in both spheres (Secor 10).

Recently, cultural practices, fashion, and art have become polarised within the cityscape, with new expressions strictly promoting their Islamic or traditional left colouring (Keyder 58). It is the polarity of expression that plays a huge part in enriching the overall residents’ experience of Istanbul.

Istanbul is filled with mosques, and the first thing that hits a visitor is its calls for prayer coming from loudspeakers mounted on the mosques. This happens five times a day and has become part of the city’s identity. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims in the city take to the streets to pray and then fill restaurants in the city to break their fast.

Finding non Islamic cuisines is possible, but hard, with pork being a really hard meal to find around the city. Clothing and fashion are not conservative in any way. However, there are some strict neighbourhoods that restrict flamboyant expressive dressing.

Even then, the overall criticism of nudity in the city is higher than many western cities. Other than religious activities, typical days in Istanbul are similar to life in other cities, with very few people readily expressing their Islamic characteristics (Keyder 53).

This makes Istanbul very different from London, because a visitor in London is unlikely to see any routine behaviour of people and public calls for prayer across the city.

Although it lacks the same features as Istanbul highlighted in the earlier paragraph, London also has its uniqueness that makes it different from any other city. Since the 17th century, the city has been characterised by Victorian terraced houses. As its population increased, housing the rising middle class was necessary.

It led to the development of town blocks by the municipality, most of them being built after the WWII. It was also in the 17th century that the characteristic London coffeehouses emerged. Men no longer had to gather in Taverns to do business.

Merchants, professionals, and intellectuals thronged to coffeehouses to do what they would, otherwise, do in other socializing places. The biggest influence in the growth of the coffee houses was the ability to have shops that only attracted particular clients.

The culture changed with the growth of tea as a favourite Briton’s drink. This was a reflection of the growing importance of London as a merchant’s city and a consumer of imported goods (Koenigsberger 174).

Tea houses and coffee houses, as well as taverns can be found throughout London, as are some of its daily attractions for residents and visitors alike.

Coming from the ruins of the Great Fire, London has continued to impose order and rule of law in its affairs; promoting freedoms of individuals, but also restricting public conduct and social life through class separation and centralised planning, especially for housing and the provision of public amenities by both public and private institutions (Eade 104).

The London culture over the years shows a fear of degeneration and the bourgeois London culture always suspecting the motives of individuals promoting selfhood and other fractured forms of identity. This has been the underlying cause of class politics in London (Newland 89).

The 20th century London and present day London are characterised by a commuting population, with elaborate transport and communication systems and infrastructure. This was partly caused by the confinement of residential populations in pockets on the city’s fringes (Eade 103).

For Istanbul, the present structure of the city and key experiences of its inhabitants were initiated during the Ottoman Empire, which encouraged co-existence for the sake of lifting the glory of the city as a commercial and cultural centre. Eventually the city became the gateway to both worlds and linked European civilisation to the East.

Detached homes have the characteristic inward look that aims to keep home affairs private. While houses are outward looking, they are enclosed with perimeter walls and have a private sky view on their courts.

There are centralized transport systems; however, they are not as elaborate as those of London and commuting is less organized and not very routinized as London’s. This is explained by the differences in the scale of commercial activities between the two cities.

Turkey’s economic policy that encouraged foreign direct investments was also instrumental in lifting the glory of Istanbul, making it a part of the leading city network.

It now has, and is, home to many cultural activities and events, such as competitions, concerts with renowned singers, and designers presenting their art in Istanbul (Beaverstock, Smith and Taylor 448).

Consequently, the city is evenly built up, which is not the same as London, where the East lags behind other parts of the city in terms of catching up with the globalised culture and being attractive for the elite to live in.

Art, the media, and films or novels describe an atmosphere of neglect and unproductiveness, where human and material waste gathered when talking about the eastern parts of London in the 20th century.

However, East London is also an ever changing space culturally and has been used as a real identity of English, with its narrow streets, corner pubs, and working class occupants. It has always been resurgent, as newly formed after it is swept away due to irrelevancy (Newland 273).

Lastly, for present day occupants, the cost of living in London is about 112 percent higher than that of Istanbul, with consumer prices, rent, restaurant, groceries, and local purchasing power being the main drivers of the difference (Expatistsan par. 2).

Istanbul is endowed with a seaside beach and higher average temperatures than London. It is more of an education centre, as compared to London because it has about three times the number of universities.

It is also larger in size and has a lower population density, although the overall population of Istanbul is significantly higher than that of London. There are 13.4 million people living in the city, while London has only 8.1 million people (Versus par. 4).

Works Cited

Beaverstock, V. Jonathan, Richard G Smith, and Peter J. Taylor. “A Roaster of World Cities.” Cities 16.6 (1999): 445-458. Print.

Celik, Zeynep. “New Approaches to the “Non-Western” City.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 58.3 (2000): 374-381. Print.

Eade, John. Placing London: From Imperial Capital to Global City. London: Berhahn Books, 2000. Print.

Expatistsan. Cost of Living Comparison Between London, United Kingdom and Istanbul, Turkey. 2014. Web., <>

Gray, D. Drew. London’s Shadows: The Dark Side of the Victorian City. London: Continuum UK, 2010. Print.

Keyder, Çağlar, ed. Istanbul between the Global and the Local. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999. Print.

Koenigsberger, Helmut Georg. Early Modern Europe 1500-1789. New York: Routledge, 1987. Print.

Merrit, F. Johnson. Imagining Early Modern London. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Print.

Newland, Paul. The Cultural Construction of London’s East End. New York: Rodopi, 2008. Print.

Secor, Anna J. “The Veil and Urban Space in Istanbul: Women’s Dress, Mobility and Islamic Knowledge, Gender, Place & Culture.” A Journal of Feminist Geography 9.1 (2002): 5-22. Print.

Versus. Istanbul vs London. 2014. Web. <>.

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