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Founded in 330 BC Istanbul has an interesting history. Today Istanbul has a population of 14.4 million making it the sixth largest city in the world. It has become an increasingly popular choice for short breaks. Three or four full days in Istanbul will allow you to experience the delights of Istanbul and give you plenty of time to visit the famous sights from the Blue Mosque to the Grand Bazaar.
As well as the big four (Aya Sofya, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, and Grand Bazaar), leave enough time to explore the other sights. Although many tourist attractions are located in, or near, the old city district of Sultanahmet, there is a dazzling array of other things to do throughout the farther reaches of the city.
HAGIA SOPHIA MUSEUM
The temple itself was so richly and artistically decorated that Byzantine Emperor Justinian proclaimed, “Solomon, I have outdone thee!”
Often referred to as the eighth wonder of the World, the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish) in Sultanahmet is easily one of Istanbul’s most impressive sights. It also must have one of the most turbulent histories of any museum in the world.
Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayı)
If there is one absolute must-see in Istanbul, it has to be the Topkapi Palace. When you step inside, the atmosphere makes you speechless. This place invites you to delight yourself in unforgettable historical adventure.
The palace complex is located on the Seraglio Point (Sarayburnu), you can enter through the Imperial Gate which is located behind the famous Hagia Sophia. Place was home to generations of sultans for 400 years and still carries the traces of sultans extravagant life styles. Whole palace and its magnificent courtyards are amazing and you should spare some time to visit properly because it is a huge palace which consists of 4 courtyards, hundreds of rooms, jaw dropping treasures and small buildings.
Topkapı Palace was constructed between 1460 and 1478 after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinapole under the direction of the Fatih Sultan Mehmet. It was built upon a 700.000 sqm area and located at the historical peninsula. It divided from both the city and sea by the Byzantine Walls.
Sultan’s wives were closeted in the famous harem which means typically housed the sultan’s mother, daughters, female slaves and other female relatives. Additionally the sons of the sultan lived in the Harem, until they were 12 years old. And more importantly, it played very important political roles in Ottoman era, because wives and sultan’s mothers were affecting the palace policy.
As well as the Topkapi Palace, the courtyards and outdoor areas are also so spacious. It is a long time to visit however you can always find a place to sit down and relax in the sun and watch the views to die for over the Sea of Marmara, Golden Horn and Bosphorus from many points of the palace.
Topkapi Palace is one of the world famous and biggest museum museums with its architectural structures, collections and more than 300.000 archive papers.
Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque)
Also known as the Sultan Ahmet Camii (or Sultan Ahmed Mosque), this breath-taking building is one of the most majestic Ottoman mosques in all of Turkey.
The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616, by the architect Mehmet Ağa, instructed by Sultan Ahmet I. It was designed as an imperial show of strength to complement the imposing Hagia Sophia, which faces it across Sultanahmet Square. Unlike the Hagia Sophia, however it is supported by four ‘elephant foot’ pillars, and the central dome (23.5m in diameter and 43m high) is flanked by four semi-domes, making it nearly a square in shape. It is dubbed the Blue Mosque because of over 20,000 handmade ceramic Iznik tiles that decorate the interior, featuring many different tulip, rose, carnation, and lily designs, well lit by 260 windows.
Although it is one of Istanbul’s most popular sights, it is still a working mosque, and is therefore closed to tourists during prayer time. In general, the opening hours of the Blue Mosque Turkey are from 9am until one hour before dusk each day, excluding 90 minutes each prayer time, and two hours during Friday noon prayers. It is advised to dress respectfully when visiting, although shawls and outer garments are given at the door if necessary.
The Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern, located in the crowded Eminönü district of Istanbul next to the Hagia Sophia, was built to provide water for the city of Istanbul during the reign of Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century CE. Basilica Cistern also known as “Sunken Palace”. This cistern is an underground chamber of 138 x 64.6 metres. The large space is broken up by a forest of 336 marble columns, which are aesthetically supported by strong columns and arches. The ceiling vaults, known as Manastır Tonozu ,are built without using a mould. The cistern is surrounded by a firebrick wall with a thickness of 3.5 meters and is coated with a special mortar to make it waterproof. Originally, there was a stone-paved circle on the cistern. It was later broken by dense housing construction beginning in the Byzantine period continuing into the Ottoman period. The citizens who settled in the vicinity were provided with their daily water requirements from the large round well-like holes opening from the ceiling structure. In 1940, several of the structures built on and around the Basilica Cistern were nationalized and a neat building was constructed at the entrance of the Cistern by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. It was also exposed to a wide range of cleaning process between 1985-1988. Thus dirty water and tons of mud were removed and a promenade platform was built in the cistern. After the cleaning process was completed, the two Medusa heads, masterpieces of the First Age Art of Statuary
TODAY , you can visit the Basilica Cistern. It visited and appreciated by many domestic and foreign famous people, is preferred to organize many international events. A lot of singers and music groups give concerts in the Basilica Cistern from time to time.
HIPPODROME OF CONSTANTINOPLE
The Byzantine emperors loved nothing more than an afternoon at the chariot races, and this rectangular arena alongside Sultanahmet Park was their venue of choice. In its heyday, it was decorated by obelisks and statues, some of which remain in place today. Re-landscaped in more recent years, it is one of the city’s most popular meeting places and promenades.
The Istanbul Archaeological Museums
The Istanbul Archaeological Museums is among the most impressive historical venues for your outdoor events and made up of three main units: the Istanbul Archaeological Musuems, the Ancient Orient Museum and Tiled Kiosk Museum. The collection of the Archaeology Museum Turkey’s first museum houses over one million artifacts belonging various cultures collected from the imperial territories. The Archaeological Museum was ounded in June 13, 1891 under the name of Müze-i Hümayun (the Imperial Museum). Commissioned by archeologist, painter and curator.
Osman Hamdi Bey, the museum met a need to display important artifacts such as the Sarcophagies of Alexander the Great and King Tabnit, both unearthed at the Royal Necropolis of Sydon (Saida, Lebanon), a site considered one of the most significant archeological discoveries of that era. The main building of the museum was designed by the renowned architect
Alexandre Vallaury a later took its current form with the construction of auxiliaries built in 1903 and 1907. In addition to the Alexander and Tabnit sarcophagi, the permanent collection features numerous.remarkable artifacts including the Mourning Women Sarcophagus, also unearthed in the Sidon Royal Necropolis excavation, the Tabnit Sarcophagus, and the Brankhit Sculptures of the Didim-Milet Sacred Way, belonging from archaic period utill late-Roman period. Besides archaeological artifacts, one can enjoy seeing various valuable objects from the pre-islamic Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Anatolia in the Ancient Orient Museum as well as some outstanding tile and pottery samples by Seljuk and Ottoman in the Tiled Kiosk Museum.
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
Istanbul‘s Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı, or Covered Market; map) is Turkey’s largest covered market offering excellent shopping: beautiful Turkish carpets, glazed tiles and pottery, copper and brassware, apparel made of leather, cotton and wool, meerschaum pipes, alabaster bookends and ashtrays, and all sorts of other things.
In 2018 the bazaar decided that it would open for business seven days a week from 08:30am to 19:00 (7pm), and would also be open on national holidays during the same hours. The only exception is that on the first day of the Ramazan Bayramı and Kurban Bayramı religious holidayperiods, the bazaar will be closed. It will open for the remaining days of each holiday period.
Most guidebooks claim that it has 4000 shops. Because of cosolidation and replacement of shops by restaurants and other services the number is certainly lower, but you get the idea: it has lots of shops. Not all of them, by the way, are for tourists; locals shop here as well, lending a welcome dose of authenticity.
Street Market Smarts: Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı)
There are pockets of the old traditions that remain in Istanbul, not because of any particular devotion to the past but because sometimes the past and present find space to coexist. The Spice Bazaar is one such place and owes its continued existence to consumer society’s romanticism of the past and its desire for defining shopping experiences. Today, as for the past few hundred years, the Spice Market is one the best places to find and buy rare spices not otherwise found in Istanbul.
Unlike Istanbul’s larger and more famous Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar does not overwhelm the visitor with a labyrinth. It is designed very simply with two long axes, creating the appearance that the market is smaller than it is. The history and the relatively small size of the market create a degree of intimacy that is lost in venues as vast as the Grand Bazaar.
Sitting high on the hill above Sultanahmet district, the Süleymaniye Mosque is one of the most recognized landmarks of Istanbul. It was built for Süleyman the Magnificent by the famed Ottoman architect Sinan between 1549 and 75. The interior, dominated by its soaring 53-meter-high dome is notable for its harmonious proportions and unity of design. Outside in the tranquil garden area is an interesting Ottoman cemetery that is also home to the türbes (tombs) of the Sultan Süleyman and his wife Haseki Hürrem Sultan (known in the west as Roxelana).
The sumptuous and ornate DolmabahÃ§e Palace shows the clear influence of European decoration and architecture on the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. Built by Sultan AbdÃ¼lmecid I in 1854, it replaced TopkapÄ± Palace as the main residence of the sultans. The formal gardens are punctuated with fountains, ornamental basins, and blooming flower beds, while inside the sheer splendor and pomp of the Turkish Renaissance style is dazzling. The interiors mix Rococo, Baroque, Neoclassical and Ottoman elements, with mammoth crystal chandeliers, liberal use of gold, French-style furniture, and dazzling frescoed ceilings.
Chora Church (Kariye Müzesi)
Chora means “country” in Greek, and this beautiful Church (originally called the Church of St. Saviour of Chora) lay just outside old Constantinople’s city walls. The first Chora Church was probably built here in the 5th century, but what you see now is the building’s 6th reconstruction as it was destroyed completely in the 9th century and went through several facelifts from the 11th to 14th centuries.
The church (now a museum) is rightly world-famous for its fabulously vibrant 14th-century mosaics, preserved almost intact in the two narthexes and fragmentarily in the nave, and the frescoes along the walls and domes. These incredible examples of Byzantine artistry cover a wide range of themes, from the genealogy of Christ to the New Testament stories.
The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts (Türk ve Islam Eserleri Müzesi)
The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts (Türk ve Islam Eserleri Müzesi) provides a fascinating insight into the complexity and depth of these traditional arts. It is housed in a building that was once home to the Pargalı Ibrahim Pasha, the 16th century Grand Vizier of Süleyman the Magnificent. Known locally as the İbrahim Paşa Sarayı (Ibrahim Pasha Palace) it is a stately building made up of cool darkened rooms, set around a central garden courtyard. It mostly survived the fires that destroyed many of city’s other Ottoman residences, though parts of it were rebuilt in stone.
The impressive collection contains serves as an Islamic art gallery, featuring fine examples of calligraphy in Islamic art, Islamic art paintings, Islamic abstract art and contemporary Islamic art. There is also an enthralling ethnography section, containing information about Anatolian life.
Rustem Pasha Mosque
The Rüstem Pasha Mosque is located in an old and busy market area of Eminönü neighborhood, by the Golden Horn. The mosque was built between 1550-1561 by Rüstem Pasha, a Grand Vizier and son-in-law of sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. Its architect was Sinan, the great imperial architect who also built Suleyman’s Mosque nearby. The mosque was damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 and the earthquake of 1776, but restored afterwards.
The Rüstem Pasha mosque is well known for its beautiful Iznik (Nicea) tiles of the 16th century, covering entire walls, mihrab and mimbar areas as well. It has an octagonal plan, sitting on a high platform over several old shops where you can reach by spiral stairs. There is a single minaret and a central dome resting on 4 semi-domes with 74 windows around them. These semi-domes and arches are supported by octagonal columns called as “elephant feet” (Fil Ayagi in Turkish).
The Rüstem Pasha mosque is one of the most exquisite Ottoman mosques in Istanbul, despite its small size. When you enter inside after taking the shoes off, you’ll be amazed by the vivid colors and floral or geometrical designs of the valuable Iznik tiles (over 2.300 pieces), which some of them were stolen during the centuries.
Yedikule (Castle of the Seven Towers)
This seven towered fortress was built in the time of Sultan Fatih Mehmet to protect the treasury. In Murat III’s reign, the treasury protected at Yedikule was relocated to the Topkapi Palace and Yedikule began to be used as a dungeon. The place of imprisonment of many foreign ambassadors and Ottoman statesman, as well as a place of execution for some, the fortress was last used as a prison in 1831. It than became a dwelling for the lions of Topkapi Palace, and later gunpowder manufacturing place. Today the fortress is a museum, also hosting open air concerts in its inner courtyard during the summer months.
The Galata Tower
The Galata Tower is by far one of the most representative tourist attractions in the entire Turkey and not just Istanbul. Just like the name clearly suggests it, it is located in the Galata quarter of Instabul, which is easily accessible.
The tower is often referred to as the Galata Kulesi (a common name on signs) – it Turkish name. Once you are around it, you simply cannot miss it. It is a medieval structure erected hundreds of years ago. Also, it is entirely made of stone.
The Galata Tower is located closed to the main junction of Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. When you get in the area, an open view will make the tower quite visible. There are signs everywhere too. The tower is not just high, but it also has a cone cap. It dominates the local skyline from pretty much any direction you look at it.
For many people, a trip to Istanbul isn’t complete without at least one trip to a carpet shop. Head here, to find out more about the incredible heritage and artistry of carpets before you purchase your own rug to bring home. Housed in one of the outer buildings of the Aya Sofya complex, the three galleries here walk you through the history of Turkish carpets and the dazzling array of motifs and styles from different regions of the country. Think of it as your Turkish carpet.
Proving that Istanbul isn’t just about historic sightseeing, this thoroughly up-to-the-minute art gallery holds an extensive collection of Turkish modern art with an ever-changing calendar of exhibitions, hosting both local and international artists throughout the year. This is by far the best place in town to get your finger on the pulse of Turkey’s contemporary art scene. The galleries are being temporarily hosted in a historic Beyoglu building while they wait for the completion of this art museum’s new permanent home in Karaköy.
Located in the middle of the historical peninsula of Istanbul in Fatih neighbourhood, the Fatih Mosque (Fatih Camii) is the mosque of Fatih Mosque Complex (Fatih Külliyesi) commissioned in 1463, ten years after the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453. The construction of the mosque lasted seven years and was finished in 1470. It was the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II (Mehmet the Conqueror) who commissioned the mosque, therefore his name was given to the mosque as well as neighbourhood. In Turkish, Fatih means “the conqueror”.
Fatih Mosque Complex used to contain several other structures including madrasas (religious high schools), dormitory for students, hospice, library, hospital, market, hamam, and tombs; unfortunately only madrasas, library, hospice, and tombs are surviving today. Other structures were destroyed as a result of the fires, earthquakes, and road construction took place in 1950s.
A fascinating mix of historic artefacts, traditional arts, important paintings and modern art can all be found in the superb Pera Musuem – a private museum in a stately 19th century building that was once the historic Hotel Bristol, designed by the architect, Achille Manoussos (according to the Pera Museum wiki entry). It was founded by the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation, which also runs the Istanbul Research Institute next door.
Pedestrianized Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Street)
Pedestrianized Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Street) is a bustling modern shopping street with a wealth of restaurants and cafés. The lower end of the street can be reached by taking the world’s oldest underground railway from near Galata Bridge, the Tünel, constructed in 1875. There is also a quaintly old-fashioned tramway that runs along its length right up to Taksim Square at the top of the hill. From Taksim Square, busy Cumhuriyet Caddesi is lined with hotels, shops, restaurants, and high rises. On the east side of the road, just after the square, is Maçka Park, which is home to the interesting Military Museum.
The area around Istiklal Caddesi is home to many churches and old consulate buildings with ornate facades. Also nearby is Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence. Pamuk is Turkey’s most famous author and the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. This conceptual-art museum is based around the theme of his novel The Museum of Innocence and is a rather bizarre, kooky, and wonderfully atmospheric experience.
The Authentic Üsküdar
In Üsküdar, the Hammams aren’t for tourists, they’re for locals. These aren’t for showing off the culture to visitors, but instead are there for people to wash while relaxing, and what’s more, most of these hammams are a century old! There are also numerous ruins to see, old mosques frozen in time, and lots of old wooden dwellings that have somehow survived modernization.
The Asian side is quite green, so if you’re looking for an authentic experience far from the noisy tourist path, you’ll enjoy the low-key picnics, strolls around small streets and perhaps even enjoyment at not being hassled every second to buy something…here, nobody tries to take advantage of you being a foreigner, what you pay is what everyone else pays!