Throughout its history of thousands of years, Istanbul has been the cradle of civilizations and a city that has led art and literature with its deeply-rooted historical and cultural values. Prof. Dr. İskender Pala, who is also a man of literature answered questions about the Istanbul that has been a source of inspiration for literature.
What can you say about Istanbul, which is a source of inspiration for literary works?
First of all, Istanbul is an ancient city, therefore it was a city on which poems were written, works were created and words were spoken, and a point of interest for literature long before our civilization settled there. For example, we have the poems of some Byzantine poets.
What can be said about the relationship between Istanbul and literature after the conquest?
Istanbul has become a completely different literary world after its conquest by the Muslims. From the moment Istanbul's riches and beauties were integrated with Islamic aesthetics, an efficient ground was formed. The production of poems or books on the conquest of Istanbul began shortly after the conquest of the city and continued throughout the ages until the present. These works are very important in understanding how our ancestors approached the city in terms of words, expression, poetry and aesthetics. For example, they wrote şehrengizs to praise by the city. They wrote works about Istanbul in which nobles and notables of the city of Istanbul were described. They wrote especially the sahilnames about the Bosphorus and depicted the Bosphorus. When these depictions that were produced in almost every century, it is possible to see how Istanbul has changed over the centuries and how its topography and settlement have evolved.
Apart from the literary books written on Istanbul, the fact that Istanbul itself is a poetic city has made it a special theme of poetry. Thus, in addition to feelings such as love, beauty, joy or grief, Istanbul has always been among the special themes of poetry.
It is also important to note that when Istanbul began to be mentioned in poems, poetic locations began to emerge in Istanbul as well. These were the places where only literature was spoken, only discussions on poetry chat were made, poems were read, composed and transformed into songs. Like today's societies or clubs. And of course the knowledge that emerged in these locations were converted into books. These manuscripts are still available in the libraries of Istanbul and in many libraries around the world.
As we have said, Istanbul itself is like a poem, and Istanbul and poetry are like sugar dissolved in water. For example, a poet named Nedim showed up and said, "Is the heaven above or under the city" and "The city of Istanbul is a invaluable." Necip Fazıl expressed this in his words, “The moon and the sun are two Istanbulites from time immemorial." You can also find examples in the works of Yahya Kemal and Ziya Osman Saba.
The words spoken on Istanbul toward the modern times did not only appear in poetry but also in prose. Many travelers, voyagers and embassy officials in the Ottoman period wrote many books and travel books in their own language. Istanbul is depicted as the most beautiful city in the world in almost all of the travelogues written for Istanbul in the so-called Tulip Era in 18th century when literature had its golden age. I think Ziya Pasha was unfair when he said a century later, "When I visited the land of heathens, I saw tows and mansions / When I visited the land of Islam, I saw ruins. In the years when the Pasha said this, Istanbul was more beautiful than many European cities. Later, we caused Istanbul to lose ground in terms of literature as in many other ways. Undoubtedly literature is very closely related to the city. Literature will behave in the same way as you create your perspective of a city. I mean this is like a supply-demand balance. If your perspective on the city has lost its importance, the city will begin to lose its importance in literature.
When you compare what is said in an article about Istanbul fifty years ago to what is written in an article about Istanbul today, you can trace from the literary texts how Istanbul has been reduced to such a shallow ground from a high level. Nevertheless, literature will always have a say about Istanbul, and literature will not exist without Istanbul.
How are you inspired by Istanbul in your works?
Istanbul frequently appears as a space and background in my works and I care about Istanbul. "Death in Babylon Love in Istanbul" depicts Istanbul in different centuries. When I wrote “Katre-i Matem,, I described the story of tulips in Istanbul. The beauties of Istanbul must be expressed to the world. You can also achieve this by writing a novel.
If you write a good novel, people who read it will be curious about the city. Whether your novel is murder, crime, adventure novel or romance, people will wonder and want to visit the places you tell them about.
I write historical novels. For some reason, it do not find it attractive to write about the present day of Istanbul. The city of Istanbul that I know, that I have learned, that I have talked about academically or used in my novels, is undoubtedly the Istanbul of our ancestors. I have written stories of Istanbul in almost all centuries. My book Aşkname contains five stories from five different centuries. Particularly, I used the city of Istanbul in every century as a backdrop so that the people living in Istanbul today can see what the city was like before, and which aesthetic feelings, understandings, pleasures and excitements prevailed...
When my reader reads a novel of mine, he or she will open a window in his or her mind thinking "How was Istanbul two hundred years ago, or a hundred years ago?, and will see the city through that window and if he or she walks around Istanbul, I am sure that he or she will see how Istanbul is deprived of elegance, unaware of civility, far from civilization, and develop a feeling to peel it of its rudeness and change the way he or she views the city.