“Our man in Istanbul is dead” – a tour of Istanbul’s physical landmarks in espionage history
Turkey’s strategic location had always meant that it would be in the centre of history and international relations- from
the Byzantine and Ottoman empire, to the Cold War and the contemporary war on terrorism. During the world wars, Istanbul had as much cache as Berlin and Moscow, London and Lisbon, Vienna and Paris as the favourite city amongst the elites of the world of espionage.
In recent times, Istanbul served as staging grounds and transit point for a human smuggler, with the alleged involvement of
Canadian spies, in smuggling 140 Britons, including the 3 runaway schoolgirls seeking to join ISIS, into Syria.
Visitors would visit more obvious tourist destinations like the Basilica Cistern, which Sean Connery rowed through in ‘From Russia with Love’, or the Hagia Sophia, where Bond had received secret plans from a female Russian spy, the Grand Bazaar and Sirkeci station. Turkey also features heavily in Skyfall, with Daniel Craig filming in locations as diverse as Adana in eastern Turkey as well as the coastal town of Fethiye, aside from Istanbul.
Guests would stay in the Pera Palas, referred to by Fleming as ‘the Kristal Palas on the heights of Pera’, a hotel once frequented by the likes of Hemingway, the infamous Mata Hari and Greta Garbo who, in more recent times, is increasingly seen as a possible spy during the war. Another hotel in Istanbul possibly worthy of a visit would be the Park Bosphorus Istanbul Hotel.
The bar at the old Park Hotel was one of Kim Philby (incidentally, the man responsible for exposing David Cornwell, aka John le Carre, author of ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ to the Soviets)’s haunts
while in Istanbul. Officially closed in 1979, construction was taken over by CVK Group in 2010 and was reopened with the name Park Bosphorus Istanbul in 2013. Source
For those with more niche interests, Urbane Nomads organizes visits to Istanbul’s grand yalis, the grand mansions dotting the Bosphorus- lunch in the yali of a physician or a discussion on Islamic art with one of its top living specialists in his yali. For larger groups and special events, Urbane Nomads is able to organize events in a yali used to sign the treaty between the Ottomans and the Germans, signaling the Ottoman Empire’s entry into the war.