Turkey’s economic, cultural, and historical heart is often considered by westerners to be something of a mysterious city; one which is rarely portrayed well on the big screen as its used as a backdrop for international intrigue. Add to that, some stereotypical snapshots of cruel moustaches, belly dancers, hookers, men in fez’s and meat on a stick and you’ve pretty much got the full picture. Of course the days of scary prison melodrama’s are something of a bygone era as Istanbul these days is a modern, hip, young, clean city with Europe and Asia facing off across the Bosphorus Strait.
Istanbul was the European Capital of Culture in 2010 but it was two years after that when it really put its name on the map in terms of being a popular destination to film in. 2012 was a golden year for Turkey’s most famous city in the movies as it featured as itself in the 007 blockbuster ‘Skyfall‘ (above) as well as the critically slammed ‘Taken 2‘ (below)
(which I actually quite liked!) and its famous Grand Bazaar also doubled up as the Iranian bazaar (below) in the award winning ‘Argo‘. Apart from that, Istanbul has for the majority of the time played itself which is in stark contrast to On Screen #1 where Vietnam was faked almost every time!
James Bond just can’t get enough of Istanbul with three 007 movies having now been filmed here. ‘From Russia With Love‘ (1963) (below) was the beginning of the secret agents love affair with the city as two busty belly dancers sweated it out in the name of
trying to win his affections. The huge atmospheric subterranean-like Basilica Cistern (above right) is a nice cool break from the heat and used to store the city’s water supply. It is actually beneath Aya Sofya but in the film it’s situated under the Russian Consulate and is where Bond and Kerim Bey escape with the Lektor decoding machine.
Bond and his accomplice Tatiana board the Orient Express (above left) on platform 1 at Sirkeci station. This station also fills in as Belgrade station where Bond sends a message to ‘M’ and Zagreb station where he is contacted by fake agent Grant. It was also not surprisingly the setting for ‘Murder On The Orient Express’ (above right & below left) in 1974 but wasn’t actually shot in Turkey as France was used instead.
The Maidens Tower on a tiny islet off the coast at Uskudar (above right) featured in ‘The World Is Not Enough’ (1999) and is where ‘M’ (Judi Dench) is taken prisoner. As well as Spice Bazaar Bond also visits the Grand Bazaar where he is driven to meet Ali Kerim in ‘From Russia With Love‘ but that wouldn’t be his last visit to the place. In ‘Skyfall‘ Bond pursues assailant Patrice in a high-speed chase through the crowded Eminonu Square and onto the famous Grand Bazaar where the thrilling action takes place both on the rooftops (below left) and inside what is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. Fear not as no damage was done to the roof tiles for reinforced steel roof panels were used to carefully protect the historic structure. They filmed scenes in the bazaar on Sundays and paid the owners to keep their shops open.
It doesn’t end there though for the very same rooftop was also in ‘Taken 2‘ and ‘The International‘ (2009); the latter starring Clive Owen (below right) and Naomi Watts as agent and attorney respectively. Owen’s character travels to Istanbul to try and expose corruption in a merchant bank but finds himself fleeing from assassins.
Topkapi Palace Museum is very much part of the tourist trail and is usually packed. This place played host to Peter Ustinov and co in the 1964 film ‘Topkapi‘ (below) in which they attempt to steal an emerald-encrusted dagger. You even get scanned on the way in which is presumably to stop anyone trying to repeat the antics of that movie.
The Four Seasons Hotel used to be the infamous Sultanahmet jail depicted in the 1978 film ‘Midnight Express’ (below) which tells the story of a young American student sent to a Turkish prison for trying to smuggle drugs out of the country. However, the majority of this film, which is of course not a great sell for Turkey as a country, was filmed in Malta due to some kind of disagreement with Turkish officials.
Anatolia, Pecenek and Saraycik were the principle Turkish locations ‘The Charge Of The Light Brigade‘ (1968) used Istanbul for the arrival of the troops and in 2000 ’Armageddon‘ featured global atmosphere shots of the Blue Mosque which admittedly is a bit of a tenuous connection to this great city but its still a link nonetheless.
Unlike Vietnam (in ‘On Screen #1‘) very few TV series have been set in Istanbul so I’m left with a perennial favourite to fill that void. Anthony Bourdain’s TV series’ ‘No Reservations‘ covered many places around the world in its eight seasons on the Travel Channel and Istanbul was of course no exception. In season 6 episode 2 he sampled some truly amazing looking dishes such as lahmacun, doner kebab, islak burger, midye dolma, börek and raki and visited both the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern. Sadly, when I was in Istanbul in 2011 I had some major financial problems which meant that I couldn’t really afford to eat out properly but hopefully that can be corrected next time I visit.