Later, Ottoman conquerors built the great mosques that still soar above the Golden Horn. The Tower of Justice rises from the cypress trees on Seraglio Point where the sultans once kept their harems.
Yet 70 years ago this most beautiful of all the world’s cities was about to be bombed into oblivion. Somehow Turkey managed to stay out of the World War Two, despite the best efforts of London and Berlin to drag them into it.
Istanbul became a neutral city, much like Bogart and Bergman’s Casablanca.
Intelligence services of over a dozen nations intrigued against themselves as they did each other; Hitler’s secret service (the SD) believed their biggest enemies were not the Americans, but their own military intelligence service, the Abwehr.
British SOE agents despised the mandarins in Whitehall more than they hated the Germans.
The British Foreign Service was absolutely compromised.
Many Oxford graduates were in the Aylesbury Club, and virulently anti-communist; but certain Cambridge old boys, like Philby and McLean, were in the pay of the Soviets and virtually took over MI6 in Eastern Europe.
Outside the Topkapi palace on Seraglio Point there is a gate that has niches high in the walls where the Sultans displayed the severed heads of traitors.
Four hundred years later there were so many traitors in the city a dozen gates could not have accommodated them all.
When the head of German military intelligence, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, tried to pursue a truce with England he made approaches through diplomatic connections in Istanbul. It could have brought the war to an end before D-Day and saved tens of thousands of Allied lives. But he was rebuffed. Why?
Because MI6 was thoroughly infiltrated by the Russians – and Stalin didn’t want the war to end until he’d annexed half of Europe.
Meanwhile other cliques in the British secret service in the Balkans betrayed resistance members in Greece and Romania to the Germans – even compromising some of their own agents who were working beside them – because they didn’t want the communists taking over those countries after the war.
It was a very dirty business, played out in one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world; a breathtaking backdrop of ancient wooden houses, soaring minarets, and golden sunsets.
It is where Nick Davis meets Daniela Simonici in spring, 1940. He finds it very easy to fall in love with this beautiful and mysterious woman; but much harder to discover who she is, where she’s from and what she believes.
ISTANBUL is free for the next three days on AMAZON. A bestseller in Europe, it’s the first time it’s been made available in the UK and US.