Although Ankara occupies the place in official records and literature, nobody doubts that the unofficial capital of Turkey is Istanbul - the city known to the ancient Greeks, Persians and Macedonians as Byzantium and which, as Constantinople resisted the Eastern Roman Empire. Right up until the twentieth century it was the darling of the Ottoman sultans, who spared no effort in decorating with it with fabulous mosques and palaces. It is a bewitching city bounded by the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara, split by the Bosporus Strait, and then split again by the sparkling waters dubbed the Golden Horn
With a population of around ten million, Istanbul is not only the biggest city in Turkey, it's also the epicentre of the country's political, economic and cultural life. On top of that, it is also one of the wold's most vibrant cities, disconcertingly contradictory, stunningly beautiful and with long centuries of history and tradition. With one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, the city has no equal when it comes to acting as a bridge between East and West and promoting cultural exchange at a European level. And that's exactly the goal that has been set for the next twelve months in the life of this historical urban centre.
Istanbul is a city to fall in love with, and it's not hard to find and excuse to go and pay your respects. If you do feel you need an extra reason, though, you're sure to find find one among the range of activities and events that will be taking place under the slogan Istanbul: city of four elements. This is the axis around which the programme for the European Capital of Culture 2010 revolves, a programme which was officially launched on 16th January.
To do justice to this great year, Istanbul has inaugurated a new concert hall, a new library and a handful of new museums and art centres. Many of its monuments have been restored, including the city walls and the erstwhile church, then mosque which now houses the museum of Santa Sophia.
The old kitchens of the Topkapi Palace have also been given a face lift; now they are home to a superb collection of Chinese and Japanese porcelain. It will be the museum precinct that is the setting, from February, for a major exhibition on the Persian civilisation, and another, which runs until August, on the treasures of the Kremlin.
Meanwhile, in the exhibition rooms of the Archaeological Museum, two exhibitions coincide between March and June: one, a tribute to the mosaics in the Italian city of Ravenna, the other, and exhibition with the title The Assyrians in Istanbul. Throughout the year, the city library will host countless gatherings and activities based around the subject of women in Istanbul, exploring their role in Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire, and discovering the transformation undergone over the centuries right through till the twenty-first century.
Among the museums opened this year, is the extension of the museum dedicated to Sinan, the foremost architect of the Ottoman Empire. Later, in July, the Museum of Istanbul island will be opened on one of the Princes' Island, and the Museum of Innocence, inspired by the eponymous novel by the Turkish Nobel prize-winner, Orhan Pamuk, which will focus on the evolution of daily life in the city from the Fifties through to today.
Photography, film, visual arts and video installations by international artists - including a remarkable contribution by the Catalan artist Antoni Muntadas in the Kadirga Art Centre during the first two months of the year - are scattered liberally through an extensive programme where many different sites will host demonstrations from folk displays to dance and theatre. There will be events such as the puppet festival to be held in March and May, a poetry festival also in May, and street art which is in preparation for September. And of course, concerts of all types, including international rock with U2 appearing at the Istanbul Ataturk Stadium on September 6th.