Istanbul is the only city in the world built on two continents. Its fate has been determined by its vital strategic location and enchanted natural beauty. It has long been coveted by powerful empires, and served as capital first to Byzantium and then to the Ottoman Empire. Istanbul stretches along the two shores of the Bosphorus that links the Sea of Marmara in the South with the Black Sea in the North. It is Turkey's largest city with a population of approximately 12 million. Istanbul is also at the heart of the economy of Turkey. The largest companies and banks, the main national newspapers, television networks and advertising agencies all have their headquarters in the city.
Istanbul is also the capital of art and culture with a rich tradition in opera and ballet, theater performing Turkish and foreign plays, concerts, art exhibition, festivals, auctions, conferences and of course unique museums. The city also boasts the country's largest and finest universities. As an imperial capital for 1500 years, Istanbul has acquired a highly original personality. At every turn in the city you are faced with Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman palaces, mosques, churches, monasteries, monuments, walls and ruins. Yet Istanbul is not a city living only in its past. It is a vibrant, modern and future-oriented metropolis. Bazaars and ultra-modern supermarkets and department stores, street vendors and stock-brokers, old crumbling buildings and skyscrapers, horse-drawn carts and sumptuous limousines coexist and this amalgam gives the city a multifaceted outlook and flavor. Istanbul is like an intricately woven carpet, a subtle blend of eastern and western cultures.
Istanbul is an ever-changing city that adapts itself to new times. Building on its assets inherited from a glorious past, it is rapidly becoming an international city, a financial and economic center offering services in banking, telecommunications, marketing, engineering, advertising and tourism. International conferences and festivals, fairs, fashion shows, sports and art performances give a new dimension to the life and potential of the city. The skyscrapers rising in the northwest are the new skyline of Istanbul. As small manufacturing enterprises move out of the city, they are replaced by commercial and service companies. The Istanbul Stock Exchange is beginning to take its place among the world's major bourses. The growth in business, tourism, commerce and service industries has led to a rapid increase in the number and quality of hotels in Istanbul. Two suspension bridges link the two sides of the city and highways encircle all of Istanbul. Although the bridges and highways have gone part way to resolve the problems caused by ever increasing automobile traffic, the problem of circulation is far from satisfactory. The configuration of the city, the narrow streets and the intensive and poorly planned construction activity in recent decades do not allow the opening of new arteries. The subway project, which will offer a limited remedy to the present situation, is being rapidly implemented.