Three largest cities of modern Turkey; Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir have become major urban centers throughout different historical periods . Following the foundation of the Turkish Republic after World War I, these cities became the focus for social and business life. Industry and business clustered in the established commercial centers of Istanbul and Izmir while the apparatus of the government built itself a new capital inland, Ankara. These cities contain the country's most respected universities, conservatories, theaters, and concert halls. Jewish and Christian communities, and immigrants from different parts of the Ottoman Empire add diversity to the cities contributing to the human mosaic which is characteristic of Anatolia.
Artists, actors, poets and journalists hang out in pubs and taverns. Present day Young Turks plot alternative futures for the country in coffee houses and reading rooms. Young urbanites consume the fruits of modernity in glittering shopping malls and discos. The typical Turkish intellectual urbanite men and women have many things in common with their kind elsewhere in the world and they can be easygoing, fun loving companions on your expeditions. They are well-traveled, bilingual, and have a high degree of tolerance, yet are ready to voice their opinions on weighty issues and also believe in famines in dealing with other human beings, hospitality, compassion and respect for tradition.
For visitors the big city offers an abundance of museums and famous historical sites, night clubs, taverns, and bazaars filled with silver and copper objects, carpets, and gold jewelry. Istanbul, of course, is in a category of its own. A separate introduction to its own unique landscape is necessary.
The big cities also allow ample opportunity to sample Turkish cuisine at good, well-established restaurants. Eating is not taken lightly in Turkey. Dinner in a good restaurant may take four, five hours in the company of friends and family, sipping drinks and savoring the endless procession of hot and cold dishes while engaging in conversations that begin with light-hearted humor, and often turn into recitations of mystic poetry, and reminiscences of the past. Turkish cuisine is next only to French and Chinese in its variety, healthiness and exquisiteness.
Most visitors want to experience the old city. According to tradition each alley or courtyard of the bazaar specialized in a craft or trade corresponding to the old guilds. From Belgrade to Damascus the cities of the Ottoman Empire were organized in communities formed along religious lines. These were integrated with the rest of the city and the larger society via networks of locally controlled services such as fire protection, security and schools. The old city center with its places of worship, government, trade, and entertainment, was where the citizens mingled, enjoying the benefits of the security and bounty of the State while maintaining their culture and way of life. The churches, the synagogues, and mosques, the medrese and the mission schools are still found side by side in the old city center.
The new city center revolves around high rise international style office buildings, luxury hotels, well appointed restaurants and bars, and fashionable shopping districts. Modernization brought apartment life into the cities, replacing the traditional fabric which consisted of one to three storey houses overlooking cobblestone streets and cool courtyards.
Neighborhood and neighborliness are of great importance in the Turkish way of life. The introduction of apartment buildings, where a dozen or so families have joint ownership of the property, presented city dwellers with new challenges and shifted the focus of their control over the environment from the neighborhood to the apartment building with its practical issues such as heating and maintenance. In three decades, a highly complex and uniquely Turkish management pattern evolved with an administrative structure, laws and regulations. Apartment life, which has been the subject of numerous skits and humorous television series, is the hub of neighborly interaction. The old Turkish adage," Don't buy a house, buy a neighbor" is more true now than ever.
Almost all neighborhoods have weekly farmers' markets in addition to small grocery stores, fruit and vegetable stands, butchers, charcuteries, bakeries and florists. If you happen to see a farmer's market, stop, explore and taste some of the fruits and vegetables. This is how they were meant to taste before civilization came up with genetic engineering!
Settlements on the outskirts of the big cities are the first stop for recent immigrants from the countryside. Migration from rural to urban areas has been a fact of life in Turkey since the 1960s. These settlements, often referred to as "gecekondus" (that is, "thrown up overnight") house working class, extended families. Although these communities lack some city services, most have electricity, and almost all roof tops are adorned with TV antennas.
Turkish cities, despite their size, are remarkably safe. The low crime rate makes it safe to be out after dark and many neighborhoods are alive well into the night.