Keeping up with its ancient history of being the seat of the Italian Renaissance, Byzantium, or Constantinople, or modern day Istanbul continues to be a beautiful and dynamic city. Spread across the two continents of Asia and Europe, Istanbul offers an intoxicating concoction of historic sights, cultures and religions. Here are some places that you must visit when you are in Istanbul.
This palace overlooks the Sea of Marmara and Bosporus Sea, and was built between 1466 to 1478 to serve as the residency of Sultan Mehmed II and other rulers of the Ottoman Empire for almost 400 years. The interlinking courtyards, opulent buildings, luxurious Harem and Imperial Treasury are all well maintained and fervently visited. Other archived artifacts include St. John the Baptist’s hands, the mantle and tooth of Prophet Mohammad, royal thrones and weapons. Breathtaking views of ship lining the Bosporus Sea are also available from the terrace of the Palace.
Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)
The magnificent turquoise inlaid tiles gives this Mosque its nickname. It is a working mosque with melodious calls to prayer being announced in the minarets five times a day. Visitors are allowed to entire through a courtyard only during non-worship hours.
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)
Your visit to Istanbul is incomplete without seeing the Hagia Sophia(located opposite to the Blue Mosque), the awe-inspiring Eastern Orthodox Church consecrated in the year 537 CE, which was touted to be the largest building in the world for hundreds of years. Sultan Mehmed II converted it into a mosque in 1453 after conquering Constantinople. Christian iconography and mosaic are plastered into the walls, thereby preserving the artwork. In 1931, it was converted to a museum which showcases the best examples of Byzantine architecture.
Ferry ride from the Galata Bridge terminal will take you to the Black Sea with a view of magnificent mansions, Rumeli Hisari fortress and the Ortakoy Mosque. You will finally cross the Bosporus Bridge and enter the Asian side of Istanbul where you can taste delicious sweet delicacies such as Turkish ice-creams.
Grand Bazaar (Kapalicarsi)
This veritable labyrinth with almost 4000 shops selling souvenirs, ceramics, jewelery, hookahs, antiquities and rugs was opened in 1461. You will get the best deals by bargaining for a rate that is half the amount of the quoted price. And it is not very difficult to lose your way in the Grand Bazaar.
Dervishes are practitioners of Sufism, a sect of Islam that believes in spreading love and brotherhood among mankind. They wear long free flowing cloaks which represent burial shrouds and tall woolen hats which symbolize the tombstone of their egos. They swirl, chant and meditate in an attempt to gain spiritual enlightenment. They perform during specific periods of the month and prior reservations are necessary to see them perform.
Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici)
This was built in 532 CE by Emperor Justinian. It is a gigantic sunken cistern located across the Hagia Sophia, left undiscovered for a long time due to its inconspicuous entrance points. There are almost 336 marble pillars that support the roof, and it can hold as many as 21 million gallons of water. It is illuminated by red lights which creates a rather eerie atmosphere. Two marble head-parts of Medusa present at the back corners further adds to the mystery that shrouds this construction.
This is the modern side of Istanbul located across the Galata Bridge. This part pulses with life, and has hotel and restaurant chains, pubs and shopping areas. Atatürk Cultural Center housing the Turkish state opera and ballet is located here. Also, the Republic Monument that commemorates Turkey’s war heroes and Independence struggle is present in this part of the city. If you want to take a break from the architectural and historical grandeur of Old Istanbul, then visit the Taksim Square and enjoy kebabs, tea and coffee.
Egyptian Bazaar (Misir Carsisi)
More famously known as the Spice Market, this is directly adjacent to Galata Bridge. Paprika, coriander, saffron, cumin, or any other spice that you may require is available here. This market also has an admirable assortment of dried fruits and teas.
This is an exotic Turkish therapy that includes a steam bath followed by a body massage for complete relaxation of the muscles. The most famous one is the Cemberlitas Hamamı, built in 1584. It is very popular among tourists and is located near the Grand Bazaar.
Istanbul offers two different worlds to explore simultaneously, both beautiful, well-preserved and extravagant. You will gain the ultimate satisfaction by indulging in both.