Movies, books, and songs to capture the essence of Istanbul and get you in the mood for travel

Movies and TV Shows

Hamam: The Turkish Bath (1997)

When an Italian Turk inherits a Turkish bathhouse, he travels to Istanbul to liquidate it. Soon the unhurried rhythms of Turkish life—and one Turk in particular—seduce him. A love triangle set in a restored hamam.

Distant (2002)

A rural man comes to visit his big-city photographer cousin in Istanbul. This multiple prizewinner at Cannes is a poignant and comic tale of urban alienation. Visually poetic.

Searching for Paradise (2002)

Documentarian Binnur Karaevli travels from Los Angeles to Istanbul to delve into her roots and reconcile her Western upbringing with her Eastern heritage. Highlights the dualities of Turkey: both East and West, a Muslim land with Christian roots, a new republic in an ancient empire.

Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (2005)

A musical documentary that reveals as much about the cultural traditions of Istanbul as the music itself. Sounds ranging from electronic sufi grooves to psychedelic underground beats and the warbling of Turkey’s pop legends tell the tale of a rich and diverse heritage.

Istanbul Tales (2005)

The intertwined stories of people drawn together one night after a gangster is murdered. Blends the artistic visions of the film’s five directors.

Books

Istanbul: Memories and the City, by Orhan Pamuk (2005)

Melancholy memoir of a crumbling Istanbul boyhood from the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist. Life in the shadow of a glorious past.

The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Shafak (2007)

Switching between Turkey and the U.S., this controversial novel about Armenians and Turks follows four generations of women and their families as they leave behind embattled faith, ethnicity, and nationality, and don new identities.

The Janissary Tree, by Jason Goodwin (2006)

In this murder mystery set in 1836 Istanbul, the investigator is a court eunuch. Prime suspects are the Janissaries, the disbanded elite troops who once guarded the sultan.

Halide’s Gift, by Frances Kazan (2001)

Historical novel and fictionalized biography. The heroine is Atatürk's first woman sergeant, based on real-life Halide Edib—novelist, feminist leader, and parliamentarian who fought in Turkey’s War for Independence in the 1920s.

An Island in Istanbul: At Home on Heybeliada, by M. A. Whitten (2006)

Affectionate tale of an American couple buying a house on one of the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara, traditionally a refuge for Ottoman elites and ethnic minorities. Istanbul’s struggle to balance tradition with modernization is reflected in the island’s own evolving population.

Music

Compilations:

Homegrown Istanbul by Various Artists

Ethnic compilation by celebrated musicians Burhan Öcal, Mercan Dede, Cahit Berkay, and others.

İstanbul Senfonisi by Various Artists

Nostalgic five-CD set featuring classical Ottoman and Sufi instruments: tanbur (lute), reed flute, zither.

Sevin Gayrı by Şükriye Tutkun

Şükriye Tutkun’s unforgettably pure vocals. Classic folk songs.

Bergama Gaydası by Laço Tayfa

Laço Tayfa's jazz renditions of Aegean, Thracian, and other regional folk songs.

Seyahatname by Mercan Dede

Sufi-techno fusionist music. Haunting ambient melodies in syncopated oriental break beat rhythms.

Dünya Yalan Söluyor by Mor ve Ötesi

Mor ve Ötesi’s dream-pop, alternative rock. Voted “Best Turkish Rock Album Ever” by Turkish music magazine Blue Jean.

Rapstar by Ceza

Top Turkish rapper Ceza. Ranges from breakneck verbal gymnastics to infectious 9/8 gypsy beats.

Ruhani Oyun Havaları/Psychebelly Dance Music by Baba Zula

Psychedelic oriental funk.

Kıvır by Sellam

Darbuka (goblet-shaped hand drum) rhythms for belly dancing.

Classic Songs:

From nostalgic ballads and rap to a jazz remix of a folk tune about an Istanbul neighborhood, the city’s indelible effect is captured in memorable melodies:

  1. “Istanbul” by Marc Aryan
  2. “Freeway to Üsküdar” by Brooklyn Funk Essentials with Laço Tayfa
  3. “The Gates of Istanbul” by Loreena McKennitt
  4. “Istanbul Uyurken” (“While Istanbul Sleeps”) by Agricantus
  5. “Bu Sabah Yağmur Var Istanbul'da” (“This Morning Istanbul is Rainy”) by MFÖ
  6. “Bana Bir Masal Anlat Baba” (“Father, Tell Me a Story”) by Yeni Türkü
  7. “Istanbul'da” (“In Istanbul”) by Mirkelam
  8. “Istanbul Hatırası” (“Istanbul Memory”) by Sezen Aksu
  9. “Istanbul Istanbul Olalı” (“Since It Became Istanbul”) by Hüsnü Şenlendirici
  10. “Istanbul” by Ömer Faruk Tekbilek

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