In words, images and music

Small selection of books, films and musics, to better understand the city.

In words

Les désenchantées (The disillusioned) : Roman des harems turcs contemporains – Pierre Loti

Les desenchantées de Pierre Loti

Diving into this text of Loti can be at first difficult. Long – and sometimes heavy – descriptions don't help to penetrate the story. But as the characters discover themselves and Constantinople is planted, poetry permeates the reader. The slowness of the text follows history: that of the life of Turkish women at the beginning of the 20th century, partitioned by the rules of the harem. Lost in a life of emptiness and troubles, they mourn their unreachable dreams with the only man who can listen to them: a French writer – a Westerner, who gradually becomes their confidant and friend. They are eager to be listened to, to reveal their souls, in a world where they serve only as dolls and where their lives are directed by the sole decision of men.

So we get married without our confession, like sheep or fillies.

Your existence, so colourful, so exciting, allows you to conceive of ours, so pale, made of years that drag on without leaving memories. In advance, we always know what tomorrow will bring – nothing.We live on grey pearls, stuffed with an eternal down that gives us nostalgia for pebbles and thorns.

Then, afterwards, to find oneself pretty, in the silver mirror, to find oneself young, charming, and to be saddened by it.


But there is a story in the story… this writer is indeed Pierre Loti himself, who, “trapped” by a French journalist defending the feminist cause – Marie Léra, will tell her secret meetings in the Stamboul of 1904 with two genuine Turkish women, Zennour and Nouryé Noury-Bey, and Marie Léra, aka Leyla, who pretends to be one of their own, under her black veil.

Pierre Loti is then idolized by Turkish women, since the publication of his novel Ayizadé, describing the loves between a European naval officer and a young woman cloistered in the harem of an old Turkish men. The French journalist and her two Turkish friends, by their stratagem, want her to write the sequel to Ayizadé, describing the condition of Turkish women.

Pierre Loti

Loti will never know that a French woman was hiding behind one of these women, since 10 years after her death, Marie Léra – under her pseudonym – will reveal in Le Figaro the story of this deception:

First we wrote to him for the simple pleasure of writing, to reveal to him the Muslim of Turkey, modern, cultured, unhappy. But little by little the desire came to us that Iui made known to the world the paradoxical and painful condition of the young Turkish women of the twentieth century.

Through us he would know these closed, often tragic lives; he would know the traditions, he would penetrate in spirit into these homes inaccessible to a European.

Our letters were written fervently, sincerely, sometimes with tears. Because if we made Loti live a novel, we also lived it.

The death of one of the women, Djénane, recounted in the text, is false, imagined by the 3 women to put an end to their exchanges with the writer. Pierre Loti received an official announcement of his death….

The novel will be a success and will highlight the living conditions of these women.

The Architect's apprentice
 – Elif Shafak

Between history and fiction, the author situates his novel during a period of major constructions, and through it deals with the personality of the great architect of Istanbul, Sinan. A simple, perfectionist and passionate man.

Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul

The title may be misleading: the novel doesn't focus on the history of the Pera Palace, but on Constantinople during the Second World War: the future Istanbul. Locked between the West and the East, the city lived its dark hours before the emergence of the new Turkish Republic.
It becomes a hub of espionage, geopolitics.

Istanbul on screen

Films to watch or watch again before leaving

From Russia with Love, James Bond (1963)

by Terence Youn, with Sean Connery, Daniela Blanchi

Bons baisers de Russie

The mysterious set of the basilica cistern fits perfectly into the world of the most famous secret agents, and its classy hide-and-seek tricks.

Skyfall (2012)

by Sam Mendes, with Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench


Daniel turned the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar upside down to shoot the most beautiful scenes in the film.

The motor of his motorcycle roaming through the alleys of the bazaar, he embarks on the most Ottoman of his racing pursuits.


Kedi  Cats and Men (2017)

by Ceyda Torun

Kedi, des chats et des hommes

This dive into the daily life of the city cats brings a touch of sweetness and poetry to the hectic Istanbul.
We learn that Istanbul can be very attached to their cats, which belong to no one, but to everyone.

Muhtesem yuzyil Kosem (2015-2017)

The Magnificent Century of Kosem

by Timur Savcı

Muhteşem Yüzyıl Kosem

A long narrative series (each episode lasts for 2.30/3h), at the heart of the intrigues of the palace, during Sultan Ahmet's reign.
Great casting (the main actresses have so much charisma !), magnificent costumes, enchanting musics, the historical series confirms the Turkish audiovisual know-how, already known from a part of the world.
The problem is that no English subtitles are available on the videos, but can be found on the internet here.
The symphonic credits of the series are simply magnificent :

Istanbul's playlist

Üsküdar'a gideriken,
(Youtube version of Tamil Taklamakan)

This classic Ottoman song from the sultanate of Abdülmecit I, speaks about love.

When I went to Uskudar, I found a handkerchief
I filled the handkerchief with Turkish bells
When I looked for my clerk, I found him by my side
The cleric belongs to me and I belong to him, what the others mingle with
A perfumed shirt will also please my clerk


Marche pour la cérémonie des Turcs (March for the ceremony of the Turks) Jean Baptiste Lully


Turkish March Mozart

Istanbul – Dario Moreno

If the singer of Si tu vas à Rio and Quand Elle Danse sang operetta tunes in French, and wore an Italian-sounding stage name, he was actually Turkish. The old and joyful air of his songs warms hearts and tells us of a cherished, luminous and romantic time.


Hoşçakal Kadar – Büyük Ev Ablukada


Arayan Bulur – Büyük Ev Ablukada


Evren Bozması – Büyük Ev Ablukada

Sandal – Yuzyuzeyken Konusuruz


Journey (Mahmut Orhan Remix) Mark Eliyahu


Şehzade Mustafa. Zahit bizi tan eyleme Muhtesem Yuzil Kosem soundtrack


Harem‘ de Ilk Dans (First Dance in the Harem)  Can Atilla

(Album Aşk-i Hürrem : Hürrem's love)


Yaşar (Kemal Solo) – Bünyamin Olguncan