If it is said, “Istanbul is a beautiful city,” I must retort, “It may be a city that contains parts that are beautiful.”

Areas popular with tourists and elites may rightfully boast of culture, history and wondrous architecture, or classy waterfronts and spacious parks.

But, alas, Istanbul as a whole — the sprawling megatropolis of greater Istanbul  — known to all others is anything but beautiful. It is hot and dusty, filled mostly with ugly towers rising out of crowded districts, connected by grid-locked motorways.

As home to sixteen million people, could it be any other way? I have visited two neighbourhoods today, travelling between them by taxi. The first of them, a once-poor neighbourhood increasingly wealthy. Nearby, expensive apartments with cutting edge designs, apparently mostly owned by Gulf Arabs.

The second of them, a very poor neighbourhood closer to the centre, which in the twenty-years I have been visiting has always been poor, and has never seemed able to lift itself out of its poverty. There are other districts I used to visit, more middle-class and affluent, but I haven’t been back in years.

If there is beauty here, then it must be in the personalities. We have met a few of these. As for the urban sprawl: that’s hard to embrace. But perhaps, in the end, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As it always is.

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