UEFA.com works better on other browsers
For the best possible experience, we recommend using Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

Final brand: The essence of Istanbul

Artist Tolga Tarhan let his love for Istanbul shine through when designing the UEFA Champions League final brand identity.

This is an abridged version of an article taken from the official UEFA Champions League final programme, which can be purchased here.

The timespan since Tolga Tarhan applied the final brushstroke to his captivating UEFA Champions League final brand identity can be measured in years, what with Istanbul's hosting duties having been pushed back twice. But the artist, who hails from the city and studied his craft here, remembers the thrill of being selected for an unparalleled assignment.

"The Champions League final is one of the most prestigious sports events in the world," he says. "I was so excited to be part of this amazing event; it's every designer’s dream. Additionally, it's exciting for me that it's taking place in my home city. I was so honoured to be chosen as the designer to create an artwork for the Champions League that would depict Istanbul."

Istanbul holds a special place in Champions League lore, having been the venue for the 2005 final and Liverpool's epic comeback against AC Milan. The showpiece game was initially due to return in 2020, only for the Covid-19 pandemic to necessitate a juggling of venues and, consequently, delay the city's reunion with world football's pre-eminent club fixture.

The wait has heightened anticipation in this thronging metropolis, whose allure captivated Napoleon Bonaparte more than two centuries ago. "If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital," the erstwhile French emperor is reputed to have said. Tolga himself is on familiar terms with every twist and turn of a city that he says is "packed with colour, motion, sound and feeling". Of those qualities, he leant on Istanbul's kaleidoscopic landscape, coupled with the serenity of sundown, to conjure up his design.

The inspiration behind the brand

"I thought about the sunset colours over the Bosphorus and the rich, shimmering lights as you would see them while sitting on a terrace in Karaköy and looking over at Eminönü. I wanted to create a calm feeling, depicting the golden hour of this inspirational city after a busy day."

UEFA Champions League final brand artist Tolga Tarhan

Istanbul is on the to-do list of legions of football fans keen to experience the pandemonium and passion of a derby fixture. Moreover, it is growing into a bucket-list destination for players, just as eager to savour the ear-splitting stadiums and pulsing rhythms of quotidian life. "Some parts of the city are like a colourful Tetris game, with shapes and colours layered over each other," adds Tolga. "On the other hand, you can see domed shapes and pointy structures that naturally create a pleasing and abstract composition. For me, Istanbul is a very cinematographic city, both visually and emotionally. It's a great inspiration for an artist."

Tolga employed his serendipitous home setting to good effect, studying Ceramics and Glass Design for two years at Istanbul's Marmara Academy of Fine Arts, and continuing his education in the painting department of the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University. "The university has one of the best views of the beautiful Bosphorus and the historical city silhouette in its backyard," says Tolga. "I was living on the Asian side and travelled across the Bosphorus by ferry to the European side every day, so I continually experienced the beauty that Istanbul has to offer. I feel so lucky that I grew up in one of the most magical cities in the world."

The Bosphorus, which Tolga crossed every day during his studying days
The Bosphorus, which Tolga crossed every day during his studying daysGetty Images/iStockphoto

The multidisciplinary artist, who also spent a year studying classical painting at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia, drew on both his professional expertise and a depth of feeling for Istanbul to create a brand identity that captures the city's charm and character.

Against the backdrop of the most recognisable and coveted booty in club football – the Champions League trophy – Tolga nimbly conceived a canvas featuring Istanbul's most iconic landmarks, while remaining faithful to its distinctive culture.

"I took inspiration from Istanbul and my aesthetic and soulful experience living in this beautiful city," says Tolga. "I wanted to create an abstract depiction of Istanbul at sunset, so I used the rich colours of the city sky and vivid lights. It was impossible to create a design depicting Istanbul without using the Bosphorus Bridge, which connects Asia and Europe. Also, Galata Tower, the Obelisk and the Aqueduct are some of the city's most historic and visually admirable structures. Additionally, I wanted to add a silhouette of a mosque to reference the mosques throughout the city."

Asked to sum up why Istanbul means so much personally, Tolga "can’t pick a place to start", preferring to praise its "history, people, culture and, of course, food". There is no hesitation, however, when he nominates the harbourside district of Karaköy as his number-one spot. "It has street vendors, food carts, bustling ferry stations, narrow alleyways packed with art galleries, restaurants and bars, and the Golden Horn. You can enjoy the beautiful Istanbul silhouette while having Turkish tea and simit [bread encrusted with seeds] at a café beside the Bosphorus, and watch the seagulls and ferries passing by. The Historical Peninsula of the city is a short walk over the Galata Bridge. It’s a perfect place.”

Istanbul's famed Galata Tower seen from one of the city's alleyways.
Istanbul's famed Galata Tower seen from one of the city's alleyways.Getty Images/iStockphoto

It is illustrative of how vibrant and cosmopolitan his home town is that Tarhan effortlessly reels off scores of alternative attractions. "Galata Tower and the Galata neighbourhood," he begins. "Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern and the Blue Mosque are wonderful structures, both aesthetically and historically. Walking in the majestic halls of the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar is an experience. The Dolmabahçe and Topkapı palaces have the most amazing views of the Bosphorus. And I would recommend Beyoğlu, close to Galata Tower. There are lots of cafés and bars, and cobblestone streets packed with authentic music and food."

Tolga's Champions League artwork now decorates many of those same neighbourhoods, and there is discernible joy when he considers his personal contribution to the landscape. "I'm so excited," he says. "It's so wonderful to see my design across the city." Wonderful too for the Champions League final to make its belated return to Istanbul. The best things come to those who wait.

Purchase the official 2023 UEFA Champions League final programme