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Istanbul: The City of Four Elements

by Damla Aktan on 28th May, 2011 at 4:39 AM CEST

Cities… The reflections of the cultures all around the world… Each has its unique characteristics, natural beauties, histories and legends… But each is a part of a universally connected world. 

Istanbul… The European Capital of Culture 2010…There have been many debates about what makes countries European or not. But perhaps, the secret lies in not either being European or not, but in the reality that cities have many stories to tell to the rest of the humanity. The idea of “European Capital of Culture” project has been first offered by Melina Mercuri, the Cultural Minister of Greece, in 1985, and since the year 2000, representing the millennium, this title of “European Capital of Culture” was given to more than one country each year. The basic condition for a candidate country to be selected as a European Capital of Culture is to have the cultural wealth and diversity of Europe. In the last 20 years, 31 cities including Athens, Berlin, Florence, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Lisbon has been nominated as European Capital of Culture, and in2010, Istanbul, together with Essen and Pec, proved that the city has the unique characteristics to carry this nomination for the whole year. 

What are the characteristics that made Istanbul get ahead of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, in this competition? First, the city has a long history of 3000 years during which many different nations are located inside. Second, its strategic location just in the middle of Asia and Europe makes it like a bridge between the two big continents of the world. Additionally, the city was a cradle for many civilizations since 13th century which enriches its cultural diversity and wealth. 

After a long preparation process for the year, the name of the project was determined as “Istanbul: The City of Four Elements”. Earth, water, air and fire…Why? Because this is how the story begins on the world. The idea that these four elements make up the universe, has strong roots in Anatolia, and this led the way to the name of the project. Earth is representing “Traditions and Transformation”, Air is representing “The one coming from the sky”, Water representing “ The City and the Sea”, and Fire is representing “ Shaping the Future”. In the project, a travel in time is being explained which Istanbul also experienced. According to the alchemy, the perfect harmony of those four elements would mean a golden age for the humanity, and with this name given to the project realized by the city during 2010, it has been thought that Istanbul, besides all challenges in its long history, has found the secret formula of this harmony in the guidance of these four elements and would be a guide for the world both culturally and artistically. 

What were the activities in the project? With the theme “Earth”, between January 1-March 20,2010 Istanbul made the “Great Opening”, and realized a series of activities reflecting the long lasting survival of many traditions in the world history. 

With the theme “Air”, the arrival of the spring was congratulated between March 21-June 21, 2010 and a series of activities were conducted to symbolize “Living together on Anatolia”. The basic aim was to reflect the reality and long term history, the spiritual and cultural wealth of the city, and showing that the Anatolian land is protecting the values and sites of the three big holy religions. 

With the theme “Water”, a series of interrelated activities were realized between June 22-September 22, 2010, to reflect the close relationship of Istanbul with water and seas. One of the most interesting events during the period was the “Antique Regatta Project” in which Ottoman boats, Venice gondolas, and British ships competed on Halic bay. 

Finally, the “Fire” theme will make the closing between September 23-December 31, 2010, reflecting that the fire is the strongest transformation tool, being capable of transforming wood to dust, the sand to glass, and representing transfer to the future, civic transformation , and sustainable cultural assets. During the period, a series of cultural and artistic activities were realized and the “Gala Final” was realized to pass the nomination to the next European Capital of Culture. For detailed information, you can check out the web sites on Istanbul 

Here is the power of the cities, here is the reflection of how cities reflect the history of universe, and how the world can create a sustainable future if the cities and the people inside those cities know how to connect for the well being of the world. 

Earth, Air, Water,Fire… Let’s transform the future! 

So, what is your way of making cities more interconnected with each other? and how the youth may change the cities for a more sustainable future? And finally, from which city you are and which element do you think your city belongs to?

~ Damla, Turkey (Action Team Team #2, C:F Writers)

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One way of making cities more interconnected is also by showing respect for their differences in culture.

I think Nigeria belongs to the element Air because according to your write up air, shows the reality and long term history and also the spiritual and cultural wealth of a nation.
Nigeria is very rich in cultural diversity in dressing, food and language etc.

28th May, 2011 @ 5:45 PM CEST

Damjan Obal

Damjan Obal

Interesting reading Damla, thanks! Am just reflecting about how our city of Maribor is evolving (if?) in the wake of becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2012.

29th May, 2011 @ 9:24 PM CEST

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