Situated along the shores of the Marmora Sea and of the Bosporus Strait, Istanbul straddles the geographic border between Europe and Asia; one of the longest suspension bridges in the world now physically connects the two continents and two parts of the city.
The capital between 330 and 1453, as Constantinople, first of the Eastern Roman, then of the Byzantine Empires, it became between 1453 and 1923 the capital of one of the most highly developed empires – that of the Ottoman-Turks. Today it is “only” Turkey’s largest city and economic and cultural centre – Ankara having gained the title of “Capital”.
Also known as the “Gate to the East”, thanks to its 3000 year history, there are a vast number of interesting sights awaiting the tourists; the colourful agglomeration of mosques, palaces, baths and museums make the city unforgettable. The historic quarters of the city are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
One of the most famous landmarks in Istanbul is the Topkapi Palace, which served as the residence of the sultans from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Two of the buildings which stand out from the rest of the palace-complex, are the former harem, and the treasury. From the hill on which the Palace stands, one can gain a splendid view of the boats bustling about in Golden Horn Bay.
The last sultans made the monumental Dolmabahce Palace, built in the 19th century on the opposite side of the Golden Horn, their residence.
Istanbul has perhaps the East’s most beautiful mosques; irrespective of where you go, the minarets of the mosques define the city’s silhouette. Particularly splendid are those of Sultan Ahmed (known as the “Blue Mosque”), the Suleiman Mosque, and the picturesquely set Ortaköy Mosque.
Istanbul’s other famous landmark is the Hagias Sophia Basilica, built in the 6th century, which was converted under Turkish rule into a mosque.
The Beyoğlu quarter of Istanbul, on the Golden Horn, is one of its important shopping and entertainment areas; its most prominent structure is the Galata Tower.
A not-to-be-missed experience is to wander through the several kilometres long labyrinth of the Large- and the Egyptian-Bazaars; these bazaars offer one of the richest choices in eastern goods.
Gastronomes can also satisfy their expectations, since tasty specialities of the Turkish cuisine await them on almost every corner of this city.
Things to do in Istanbul
Sultanahmet Avenue located in the heart of the Old City is one of the top attractions for tourists visiting Istanbul.
The avenue known as the Hippodrome, At Meydanı in the past was the social and sporting center of Constantinople with a horse-racing track as a common pastime feature of the Hellenistic and Roman eras. During the Roman times, there was a an imperial palace called “The Big Palace” located near the Hippodrome reaching over to the seaside. The only remainings of the Roman times are the walls, mosaic ground of the palace, Cistern, Constantin Column and Serpentine Column (Snake Column). There is only one mosaic layer left from the palace today, which you can see in the Mosaic Museum near the Arasta Bazaar. The main atrractions in the avenue are Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Sultan Ahmet Mosque or the Blue Mosque, Arasta Bazaar, Mosaic Museum, Cistern and Museum of Turkish Islamic Art.
Sultanahmet Avenue : Top Attractions
- Arasta Bazaar Arasta (shops of the same trade built in a row) Bazaar, also known as Sipahiler Çarşısı, is a small market located next to the Mosaics Museum behind the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet, the old city center.
- Column of Goths Column of Goths located near Sarayburnu entrance at the Gülhane Park is the oldest column survived from the Roman era until today. It is a Roman triumphial column for the Goths victory dating to the 3rd or 4th century AD. The 18 meter high column is located on Proconnesian marble base with an inscription in Latin: FORTUNAE REDUCI OB DEVICTUS GOTHOS meaning “To Fortuna, who returns by reason of victory over the Goths”
- Topkapi Palace Most popular Ottoman palace built by Mehmet II (Conquerer) between 1466 and 1478 on top of a hill dominating the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. The palace was used as the heart of the empire between 15th and 19th century until the Dolmabahçe Palace was built in Kabataş, Beşiktaş.
- Blue Mosque Built in the same area to establish the Ottoman power as opposed to the Hagia Sophia representing the Christian Byzantine.
- Ahırkapı The neighbourhood near the Topkapı Palace. The name comes from ahır, the stables of the Topkapı Palace and kapı, one of the main gates of the walls. It was also in the the gardens of the Managai Palace and Bukeleon Palace during the Roman period. This part of the city is known as one of the important archeological sites of the city. Today Ahırkapı is most well-known by the gypsy population, Ahırkapı Roman Orkestrası and Hıdrellez (Spring) Festivali.
- Beyazit Avenue Built in 393 B.C during the reign of Teodosius as the biggest avenue in the city, Beyazıt Meydanı today is one of the busiests parts of İstanbul with the shopping centers around, the İstanbul University and historical buildings.
- City WallsIstanbul today refers to the whole city but actually Istanbul, Constantinople was the city inside the Istanbul city walls built during the Byzantine period.
- Grand Bazaar Worldwide famous Grand Bazaar or Kapalıcarsi (meaning closed shopping street in Turkish) located between Nuruosmaniye and Beyazit was built by Mehmet II the Conquerer in 1461 is a must-see sight when you are in in Istanbul.
Kumkapi Kumkapı, a well-known neighbourhood located near Sultanahmet, Fatih by the Marmara Sea, is a famous area for fish restaurants where you can go for a lovely Turkish night with rakı-balık meal and the local music by the gypsy musicians.
- Soğukçeşme Street A small street with historic Ottoman houses located between Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace in the Sultanahmet neighbourhood.
- Mosaic Museum Istanbul Mosaic Museum located near the Arasta bazaar houses mosaics from the Roman period.
Did you know?
- One of the most attractive monuments in the avenue was four bronze horses pulling the chariot called Quadriga, chariot of victory. The bronze statue was moved to Venecia during the fourth Crusade.
- Sultanahmet was a base for the hippies going to India in the 60′s. The pudding shop, Lale Restaurant was famous for their hippi customers.