Istanbul Adrift

It was bound to happen sooner or later. But it happened much sooner than the citizens of Istanbul were ready for. And it happened in a way that no Istanbulite could have ever imagined. There had been talks about a big earthquake scenario for decades. Predictions, speculations, fears and hopes about it would discreetly sneak into the conversations of every Istanbulite more often that they would dare to admit. And it finally happened in the deepest hour of the night. So deep that no one could tell for sure if it had happened during the night or the morning. All the souls of Istanbul woke up that Monday decided to repeat the ritual of hating that specific day of the week above all others. A little bit more than the previous Monday but a little less than the following one.

But it was no usual Monday.

There was no previous warning. There was not a single shake. And then a crack opened spontaneously along the length of the ancient walls of Istanbul causing the separation of the old city from the rest of Istanbul.

Istanbul Adrift

A clean cut along the walls revealed all the layers of buried history. “A small miracle” as it was named by the tabloid press. There were multiple religious explanations for that sudden – and maybe – supernatural crack. Atheists joked that if that was the Wrath of God it was a pretty mild one. There were no casualties. Istanbul was once again the top story in the international news for a few days. The separation wasn’t much of a distance at the beginning. The first days people could still reach the other side – wherever you considered it to be – with a short jump. No scientific explanation could be found why the container of the seven hills in which the ancient city was founded decided to separate itself. Some days after the initial crack, the distance began to grow and temporary bridges where designed by young architects. It was a brief moment of creativity for the new generation of designers bored of constructing massive concrete mountains as far as the eye can reach. But they collapsed after a few days when the gap widened. When Sultanahmet continued separating it was clear what was happening. The now island of Sultanahmet was adrift.

The government tried to tackle the most practical issues. They tried to tie the ex-peninsula with cables, stopping its movement with sea walls and other extravagant attempts. But all efforts proved futile. They evacuated the neighbors that feared to stay in the island and help reassure the homes of the ones that would refuse to leave. There were worries that the floating hazard was going to plug the Bosporus but after studying its route it was determined that it was drifting towards the Marmara Sea instead. New ferry routes had to be created. Sections of the bridges that once crossed the Golden Horn collapsed and they became a viral sensation. The municipality had to close them to avoid people taking selfies and falling into the famous estuary. The Golden Horn was now unhorned. There were some less practical issues that helped Istanbulites forget that the heart of the city had been dismembered. Like what should be the name of the new moving island. There was a popular online poll #NameOurIsland and Islandy McIslandface, Rakı Island, Güle Güle Island and other amusing names were among the finalists. The name IstanbulAda won by majority.

There were mixed feelings about this new geopolitical configuration. Some people thought they were losing a key part of their realm while others celebrated this reinvigorating geography. There was certainly a new identity of the city and a shift of perspective. Some hated it. Some loved it. Some simply didn’t care for it. But everyone agreed that while Sultanahmet was attached to the mainland no Istanbulite paid much attention to it. Only if a friend from abroad was in town they would visit the classic combo Topkapı-Hagia Sofia-Blue Mosque-Grand Bazaar. Everyone seemed to have forgotten the fact that many civilizations had fought countless wars to conquer that piece of land. Like a magic spell every citizen fell in love with the city again as IstanbulAda was slowly drifting away. Some compared it to finally understanding the value of an old lover while they are getting married to another person. For others it was like losing a limb and still feeling it. Another hundred metaphors were used to cope with those mixed emotions.

Istanbul AdriftNow IstanbulAda was more difficult to access and every Istanbulite learnt the hard way that you don’t appreciate what you have until you lose it. It resonated in the heart of every citizen. And then a magnificent thing started to happen. Whether they thought it was great that IstanbulAda was floating freely or that it should be claimed back, finally that piece of land received the love and celebration that it had always deserved. Every layer under the newborn island was the foundation of a love that had been buried under the weight of the chaos, the traffic, the hate, the bad manners and the alienation of modern society.

Tourism revamped. Istanbul was promoted like never before as the place where you could be in Asia and in Europe and in a newborn island.

An extraordinary new tradition was born. It started with a few people and it grew exponentially over the weeks. Every Friday after work the inhabitants of the mainland and some curious tourists would gather at the coast of Karaköy. And on the IstanbulAda side, the few inhabitants will congregate at the coast in front of the Spice Bazaar. At the beginning they just would wave and smile at each other. Over the weeks they started to release sky lanterns into the night from each side. Sometimes they would meet midair and the crowd would go crazy. Guitar songs were played from one side and sung from the other. Modern and traditional dances were danced around bonfires at both coasts. Fireworks were thrown and filled the night sky on both sides. These memorable social interactions would last all night long. People celebrated their new identities and accepted change. Separated and together. Together and separated. Because they realized that we were, at the end, all adrift.

A few years later the island finally ceased to move. For some it became clear what was the Cosmic Plan all along. That it was bound to happen sooner or later. IstanbulAda stopped a barely hundred meters away from Burgazada and it became the biggest of the Princes’ Islands. There were now ten of them in the archipelago. IstanbulAda’s journey was over. She had found her new family.

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Santi is an architect passionate about travelling and writing about the hidden corners and the ordinary beauty of cities. He left his home in Barcelona and moved to Istanbul following the blend of architecture and energy, new challenges for his insatiable curiosity and love. He now thoroughly enjoys writing for Time Out Istanbul and Yabangee.

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