Looking At London: The World’s Capital City
When you take off from İstanbul to London, if the melody of a unique composition “I looked at you from another hill, dear Istanbul” tunes in your mind and you think that when you land in London, you can watch this city from a high hill, too, and you should get ready to forget about it. Because, there are no such hills in London that you can climb to enjoy looking at the beauties of the city. Actually, not only in London but the entire United Kingdom’s (UK) landscape is flat, low and wide. Of course, this is excluding the high plateaus in Scotland.
In the UK, the best journeys are the ones made by train. When you are on a journey through the sceneries along these plains you almost feel like you are travelling in a postcard. This inevitably leads the traveller to a desire of writing, talking about and sharing these beauties. You can write the best stories in this country. Indeed, they havealready been written… Gulliver’s Travels, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Harry Potter… To understand why the most famous and magical children’s novels are written in the UK, it suffices to immerse yourself into the visual feast which enriches this country.
The UK consists of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is possible to run into a different beauty at each and every corner and as you get to know the country and as you travel more, you love it more. London, the country’s capital, became a trademark that is identified with the country all around the world. This is a privilege that all capital cities cannot hold. Think about a capital city that overshadows the country it belongs to, it is known more than the country itself. You will realise the rarity of such examples. Here, I will try to briefly describe London. Since there are no hills, let’s observe from a bird’s eye perspective.
Once you set foot in London, it is impossible not to be mesmerized by the city’s charm and the things it offers. In history, art, culture, business, entertainment and all the other subjects that comes to mind, you find yourself in the arms of a world capital. Especially, if you intend to do some shopping, you might find yourself in a bewildering array of choices over the abundance of colours, tastes, styles and varieties London offers you. I said, “if you intend to” but I think after you come to London and face this charm, even if you had no “intention”, the desire to do shopping will eventually grasp you. The best thing to do is to let yourself take part in this festivity and enjoyit; nodoubt, London will offer you affordable options.
London has a two thousand year old history, so it is not older, for instance, than a city like Istanbul. However, the city that was initially founded by Romans in 43 AD developed rapidly and held the title of being the most populous city of the world from 1831 to 1925. Today, with more than a population of 15 million living in its metropolitan area, it is the most crowded city in the European Union. As the capital of Great Britain that once was called “the empire on which the sun never sets”, naturally there is a multicultural structure in the texture of the city. Approximately 300 languages are spoken in London and Turkish is one of them. Over 400,000 people who speak Turkish live in the UK, mostly settled in and around London. Among them there are people not only from Anatolia, but also from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Western Thrace, Caucasus, and Central Asia. This makes Turkish one of the most spoken languagesin London.
This is not surprising at all. It is safe to say that when people from Anatolia started to settle in Europe, the first countries they preferred were more on the continental Europe and England as an island was relatively considered distant. On the other hand, England is one of the first countries that Ottoman Empire established diplomatic relations with. As the first English ambassador was appointed to Ottoman Empire in 1583, these relations have a 430-year-old history. In 1793, Yusuf Agah Efendi was appointed as the first Ottoman ambassador in London. Maybe the Turkish speaking community in London today have never noticed, but there is a blue commemorative plaque on the white house located at the corner of Bryanston Square (number one) on which the following is inscribed:
“Mustafa Reşit Paşa (1800-1858), Turkish Politician and Reformist, lived here in 1859 as the Ambassador.” For a curious traveller, it is possible to find the marks of our shared history in many corners of London…
Enriched with the wide and efficient use of concepts such as multiculturalism, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, freedom of thought and expression and tolerance, London welcomes its travellers with a colourful and cosmopolitan flow of life. In my opinion the word that summarizes London is “freedom” and you will feel the effects immediately.
Apart from running into people who are very stylish and trendy, you also encounter people with extraordinary fashion tastes while wandering in the city centre. However, in an environment where no one disturbs one another by criticising their tastes, diversity increases, grows and turns into a limitless freedom. Freedom is also one of the most significant characteristics in art, culture and social life.
London is in fact a museum heaven. When you come to this city, on top of your travel programme, you must include the world’s most famous museums; British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Natural History Museum, National Gallery and Tate Gallery. I am sure my generation remembers the portrait of Fatih Sultan Mehmet painted by Italian painter Gentile Bellini that we used to see in Emin Oktay’s history book. This portrait is in the inventory of National Gallery and for the last couple of years it has been on display in Victoria and Albert Museum. These museums should definitely be visited, but if there are people who wonder what other things they could see, I will recommend them to visit the Science Museum, Pollock’s Toy Museum, Cinema Museum and the London Transport Museum. Even if you visit all these museums I mentioned above, you will have seen only a representative part of the museums in London.
Of course you shouldn’t only visit museums. When it comes to art, we must not forget West End and Strand areas where London’s famous theatre, musical and other performing arts are staged. Choices will differ according to taste. Once you find out that some performances have been staged over 25 years, you will inevitably want to watch them. My suggestion for Shakespeare loversis to visit the Globe Theatre. One of my other favourite places is the Royal Albert Hall where I watch concerts, opera, ballet and many other stage performances with pleasure. People who like jazz and have more popular music taste will discover a diversity that will surely please them.
One of the scenes that will definitely draw your attention is that the Londoners themselves, women, men, old and young socializing in front of those famous British “pubs”. Pubs are an integral part of British life and people visit them during their lunch breaks, before dinner and before or after going to theatre. Without having a beer you cannot experience and enjoy London fully. Pubs themselves can actually be a subject of a separate article or research. If I start to name the most famous ones, this article would extend its limits so I will mention the most prominent one: “Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese” that is located on an alley in Fleet Street became famous as the place where Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, and also Voltaire, Thackeray and Mark Twain socialized as they were sipping their favourite drinks.
Fleet Street used to be one of the most important streets of London’s centre “City” because it was the heart of the media and important newspaper offices were located on this street. Reuters was the last one to leave the street in 2005. Media world and financial world are no longer linked as it used to be, but “City” continues to be one of the most important financial centres of the world with its banks, investment institutions settled in its 2 square miles area. Almost every year a new building is constructed in the centre of London, drawing more attention, the last one being the “Shard” Tower. This skyscraper, which is 310 meters long, is the highest building in the European Union. (While reading these lines, I know people might think of the Eiffel Tower, but even though the Eiffel Tower is only a few meters higher, it is not accepted as a building). Shard, with its modern architecture, is one of the first places that tourists visit.
However, although there are new and modern constructions that are not cohesive with the texture of the city (I do not mean Shard but I cannot say that the Ferris wheel by the River Thames that is called “London Eye” is coherent with this city) I can say that London’s architectural integrity is preserved. Close your eyes and think that you are walking from one end to the other of a street and all the buildings are in architectural harmony. There are such streets in London and they present a visual feast worth seeing. It must be emphasized that these streets are the result of the process of restructuring that famous architect Sir Christopher Wren started after the 1666 Great Fire of London and only a few famous buildings remain from the time before the fire. The secret to take pleasure in watching all these buildings, historic fabric and settlements without stress lies in the wide and green parks which help the city to breath. When you want to walk in London, especially in parks, feed squirrels with your hands, shred the tiredness of the day, these parks provide peace and harmony.
I have always thought that one of the most important beauties that enrich a city is the water running through it. This feeling must be down to being from Istanbul. Thames River, even though it is not as effective as Bosphorus, revives London and beautifies it more. As you walk on the bridges over the river and cross from one flank to the other you feel as if those bridges compete with one another to make you watch the silhouette of the city and imprint London in your memories
Today, London continues to be a city that succeeds to remain at the forefront in the world’s dynamic agenda. I don’t know if you ever notice that even though it’s been a long time since it lost its title as the capital of a country on which the sun never sets, it still continues to gather the characteristics that remind its significance in the political, economic, social, cultural and sportive fields. In 2011 the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate, in 2012 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her 60th anniversary of enthronement, the same year London hosting the Olympics and becoming the first city to host the Olympics for the third time, the death and funeral of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 2013, and finally the birth of the royal family’s newest member and future king George Alexandre Louis… We continue to watch London and London continues to plan what it can bring to the agenda of the world tomorrow, as it looks at us.
This article that I presented with a bird’s eye perspective on London never aimed to give you all the information about this lively city. My goal was to increase your enthusiasm and appetite for guiding you to live London. I hope I was able to reach my goal. Don’t you think the following quote of Samuel Johnson from his famous conversation with James Boswell, 237 years ago, on September 20, 1777, summarizes it all?
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
Ünal Çeviköz, Former Turkish Ambassador to United Kingdom
Please cite this publication as follows:
Çeviköz Ü. (August, 2014), “Looking At London: The World’s Capital City”, Vol. III, Issue 9, pp.46-50, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, ResearchTurkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=6781)
 Prominent Turkish poet, Yahya Kemal Beyatlı’s poem “From Another Hill” made into a song by Münir Nurettin Selçuk, a well-known Turkish composer.