In her days of imperial greatness, Istanbul never lacked for writers to celebrate her beauty. If we can believe the words of poets and literary travelers like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Lord Byron, Pierre Loti, and Gérard de Nerval, it was a city of gardens; ofexcursion boats and royal barges rowed by liveried oarsmen; of phaetons clattering down cobbled streets at midnight on secret missions, harem ladies peering out through latticed windows at the street life below, moonlight shimmering on the Bosphorus, its waters unsullied by pollution and teeming with fish. But as one catastrophe succeeded another throughout the century and a half leading up to the First World War—a trauma for the whole world but perhaps even more so for the Ottomans—the disappearance of empire saw a diminished but still vibrant city which, even as it sank into bankruptcy, maintained an ostentatious façade well through the waning years of the nineteenth...

 

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