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    Moscow and Constantinople, or Frederick Sees Similarities

    As Frederick Thomas discovered within days of arriving, Pera, the European sector of Constantinople, fit him very well.

    All the Western embassies were located there, as were the most important businesses, banks, fashionable restaurants, bars, and shops.  Many of the buildings on the main streets were half a dozen stories high, built of ornately carved light-colored stone, and European in style (typical Turkish dwellings were two or three stories and of weather-beaten grey wood). 

     

     

    Grande Rue de Péra, the central street of the European part of Constantinople, as Frederick saw it in 1919.  This sector of the city is now called "Beyoğlu", and the street has been renamed "İstiklâl Caddesi", or "Independence Avenue."  It is a pedestrian zone, and a historic tram, like the one in the photograph, and much beloved by tourists, runs along it, recalling the cable cars in San Francisco. 


    The population of Pera was mixed, and in addition to Turks there were large numbers of Greeks, Armenians, Jews, and people known locally as “Levantines,” or natives of European descent. 

    Even though spoken Turkish was unlike anything Frederick had heard before, and its written form in Arabic was unintelligible, the language of commerce and the second language of the city’s elites was French, which he spoke fluently.  This would make life and work in Constantinople much easier.

    Frederick also soon noticed some similarities between Constantinople and Moscow because of how both straddled East and West. Despite its cosmopolitan character, pre-Revolutionary Moscow often struck visitors as having an Oriental cast due to the unfamiliar architecture of its numerous churches and the traditional garb worn by peasants, priests, and other exotic types.  Similarly, in Constantinople, the shop signs in French on the Grande Rue de Pera, the district’s central thoroughfare, as well as the automobiles, the streetcars, the men in business suits—all proclaimed “Western Europe.”  But like the fez (the signature tasseled red hat of the Ottoman Empire) that many of the men also wore, reminders that Constantinople was on the border between continents and cultures were never far from sight. (To be continued).

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