Istanbul and Turku – the seven hills cities

A composite photo of Turku and Istanbul made by Photoshop

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Istanbul and Turku – the seven hills cities

Both cities, Istanbul and Turku, are my loved ones. Maybe it has something to do with the fact I have heard Turku being called "Finland's Istanbul". It may surprise you, but there are actually many similarities between these cities. In this post I compare these cities in a positive spirit with pictures. You'll also get some basic information about both cities and their history.
A ferry crossing the Bosphorus in Istanbul with sailboats in the backgroundThe ferry called Föri crossing Aura river in Turku

A Bosphorus Strait ferry on the left and the Aura River ferry called “Föri” on the right. You can compare the images by dragging the arrows!

Both cities, Istanbul and Turku, are located on the seven slopes – that’s why they are sometimes referred as “seven hills cities”. They are the most important, old and historic cities of their countries. They both were also former capitals; nowadays Turkey´s capital is Ankara and Finland´s Helsinki. Both cities have burnt down in the past. They both are crossed by the waterway, Bosphorus Strait and Aura River. There are also two sides in both cities: Europe and Asia in Istanbul, “täl pual jokke” and “tois pual jokke” in Turku. Both cities are located by the sea and have their own awesome islands: Istanbul’s Princes´ Islands in Marmara Sea and Turku´s Archipelago Sea area in Baltic Sea. Istanbul as well as Turku have also been European Capitals of Culture, and they have important historic churches: Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya, changed from museum to mosque in July 2020) and Turku Cathedral.

Istanbul - The most exotic city in Europe

Bosphorus bridge and the silhouette of Leven business district at nightKirjastosilta bridge in Turku at evening

The Bosphorus Bridge on the left and Kirjastosilta on the right.

Majestic and magical, dynamic and bustling, this huge metropolis is by far the most exotic city in Europe. It is the only city in the world located on two continents, Europe and Asia. Between them flows the Bosphorus Strait. Bosphorus (width min 750 m – max 3,7 km) courses the waters of the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn through the city’s heart.

The culture of Istanbul has been influenced by two different continents. Istanbul has become a unique city as its strong oriental identity has blended with centuries-old European influences. It’s a city you’ve never seen.

Interior of Hagia Sophia museum in IstanbulInterior of Turku Cathedral and the altar

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) on the left and Turku Cathedral on the right

Istanbul has been Istanbul officially since 1453, but it was not until 1930 that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk commanded the name Istanbul to be used internationally. Istanbul is formerly known as Byzantium, Constantinople and New Rome. It is the most populous and biggest city (the population in 2019 is officially about 15 million) in Turkey and the country’s economic, cultural and historic center. After it has been found under the name of Byzantion 660 BCE, the city grew in size and influence, becoming one of the most important cities in the history of the world.

A ferry sailing in Bosphorus with Levent business district in the backgroundA boat sailing in Aura river in Turku in daytime

Bosphorus Strait on the left and Aura River on the right

Istanbul’s fate has been sealed by its vital strategic location and its enchanting natural beauty. For more than 1500 years it was the capital of three empires: Roman, Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires. It was beautified accordingly with magnificent monuments and became a metropolis where diverse cultures, nations and religions mingled. Those are the small pieces that form the unique mosaic of İstanbul.

It is Istanbul’s endless variety that fascinates its visitors. The museums, churches, palaces, grand mosques, bazaars and sites of natural beauty are countless. As relaxing on the western shores of the Bosphorus at sunset and watching the red evening light reflected on the other continent, you may suddenly and profoundly understand why so many centuries ago settlers chose to build a city on this remarkable site. At such times you can see why Istanbul is truly one of the most glorious cities in the world.

Orange sunset over the silhouette of IstanbulSunset in Aura river in Turku

A sunset in Istanbul on the left and sunset in Turku on the right

Over 12 million foreign visitors came to Istanbul in 2015, five years after it was named a European Capital of Culture, making the city the world’s fifth most popular tourist destination.The city’s biggest attraction is its historic center, partially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.

Though the city is traditionally known for its history, today Istanbul is taking on a new role as hipsters, foodies, artists and fashionistas are quickly transforming the city into a bastion of cool. Istanbul is the place where cultures and time mix: where east meets west and ancient meets modern. Istanbul is full of life and you can find everything there. In Istanbul anything is possible, Istanbul is an adventure!

Turku - Istanbul of Finland

Turku is estimated to have been born in the 13th century and is thus the oldest city in Finland. The year of establishment of the city is often mentioned as 1229. Turku was for a long time the most important settlement in Finland, the first capital of the country between 1809 and 1812, and until the 1840s also the largest city in Finland. Turku is still the local administrative, economic and cultural center of its area.

Large and modern shopping mall of Akasya in IstanbulShopping mall of Hansa in Turku photographed from the direction of Market Square

Akasya shopping mall on the left and Hansa shopping mall on the right

The city has about 190 000 inhabitants in 2019 and about 330 000 in the entire Turku region. This makes Turku the sixth largest municipality in Finland and the third largest urban area in Finland. The city is officially bilingual, and by the end of 2017, 5.4% of its inhabitants spoke Swedish as their first language.

Green park area in Fenerbahce coast in IstanbulSunny beach in Ruissalo in Turku

Fenerbahçe coast on the left and Ruissalo coast on the right

Turku is located on the shores of the Archipelago Sea at the mouth of Aura River and it is perhaps the most beautiful city in Finland. Perhaps also the most beautiful by its location and nature.

Aura River flowing through the city center is one of the most important rivers of Finland and one of the largest in Southwest Finland.  Aura River flows slightly less than nine kilometers in the east-west direction in Turku (average width is approximately 50 m).

The medieval cultural landscape of Aura River valley is a national landscape. The river has had a significant impact on the history of Turku. The city was born on the eastern side of the river (i.e. south). The locals therefore call the eastern side of Aura River the name of “täl pual jokke” and the current downtown and the Market Square call it “tois pual jokke”.

Turku is especially known as a cultural city. Because of its long history, it has been the scene of several historical events, which have had a profound effect on the history of Finland. Due to its history, political and geographical position, Turku has had a significant influence in almost every field of culture. In 2011 Turku was the European Capital of Culture together with the Estonian capital Tallinn.

The famous touristic sight Maiden's tower in Istanbul in sunny dayHarmonia work of art in Turku in sunny day

The Maiden’s Tower (Kiz Kulesi) on the left and Harmonia work of art on the right

Turku is often considered the gateway from Finland to the west. The city is, among others, a major commercial port city. Maritime Turku cannot be mentioned without the island of Ruissalo, which is a common and important recreational area for all Turku locals. The island of Ruissalo is a valuable and versatile area both in nature and in cultural history throughout Finland and one of the most important conservation areas in Turku.

A man sitting on the hill in Buyukada island in IstanbulCalm Baltic Sea in Ruissalo Turku

Princes’ Islands (Büyükada, Adalar) on the left and the island of Ruissalo on the right

Turku has burned at least 31 times in its history, but the 1827 fire is the most devastating and long-lasting of these events. This largest city fire in the history of Nordic countries destroyed three quarters of the city and left 11 000 locals homeless. The fire destroyed one of the largest medieval stone cities in the Nordic countries.

Armed security guards in Topkapi Palace in IstanbulHappy security guards of X-Sec Group Ltd with Santa Claus

Security guards of Topkapı Palace on the left and security guards (X-Sec Group Ltd) in the Christmas opening of Turku on the right

Despite its difficulties, Turku has developed into a diverse, active and attractive city. Turku is the absolute food capital of Finland, and clearly the number one summer resort in Finland. Additionally Turku is also a remarkable winter city; the Christmas peace of Finland has been declared in Turku starting from 14th century. Indeed, guests from other parts of Finland often say: “Turku is like going abroad!”.

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