Istanbul Turkey Travel Guide 2024

The image depicts a stunning sunset view over Istanbul, showcasing the sprawling cityscape with its historic architecture, including minarets and domes. The Bosphorus Strait is visible, busy with maritime traffic, reflecting the golden hues of the setting sun. Birds are seen flying across the warm sky, adding to the serene tableau of this bustling metropolis. This scene captures the essence of Istanbul Turkey, where the vibrant energy of modern life blends with rich cultural heritage.

Istanbul Turkey is somewhere everybody throughout history history want to visit. In this travel blog, We have gathered every detail from transportation, historical places to dining and shopping. Let’s dive into the most comprehensive travel guide of Istanbul in the world!

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Istanbul Turkey

A city that is discovered as you live, and fallen in love with as you discover. The capital of empires… a city that ruled continents… the cradle of civilizations… a meeting point of cultures, civilizations, continents… These are just a few of the thousands of words that can be said about Istanbul Turkey, out of the thousands of descriptions that can be made. Just like how words are insufficient to describe Istanbul, merely reading about it or listening to what is said is not enough to know Istanbul. You start to understand Istanbul when you walk its history-filled streets step by step, see the legacy of the greatest empires of the world, the Byzantine and Ottoman, in person, and discover all its beauties with the panoramic views offered by its unique location and the mysteries hidden in every corner. And as you get to know it, you fall in love with it.

Human History of Istanbul

The image portrays a detailed artistic rendition of Constantinople, the historic city that is now known as Istanbul. It captures the grandeur of the ancient city's architecture, including the majestic Hagia Sophia and the sprawling Hippodrome, set against the backdrop of the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara. The city is shown in its Byzantine era splendor with formidable walls and a bustling harbor, highlighting its significance as a cultural and commercial hub of the past.

The human history of Istanbul Turkey, Turkey’s most developed and largest city, is approximately 400,000 years old according to the latest research. However, the city’s first major settlers were the Megarian tribes. Before the Megarians, who founded the city of Byzantion, which gave its name to the Byzantine Empire, another tribe had arrived at the same location but failed to recognize the beauty of what is now known as the Sarayburnu area of Istanbul. Instead, they settled in a less strategically advantageous location, Kadıkoy, and established their city there. Therefore, guided by an oracle, the Megarians established their city opposite the ‘land of the blind,’ that is, on the coast opposite to where the tribes settled in Kadıkoy.

Today, the Historic Peninsula is still the most beautiful part of Istanbul. This beauty is not only related to its strategic location, as understood in ancient times. With its seas stretching as far as the eye can see, islands visible in the distance, and the Golden Horn, known in ancient times as the ‘golden horn’ penetrating deep into the peninsula, Istanbul turkey is a place without parallel in the world. This is why it has always been a highly coveted city throughout history. One might attribute a city being so desired to its strategic location or its unique beauty. However, these alone cannot fully explain it. There is a different allure and even a magic about this city that draws states and empires to it. That’s why there have been so many struggles over Istanbul, changing hands between states and empires, and enduring conflicts and wars between those who wanted to possess Istanbul and those who did not want to lose it, lasting for years.

The Capital of the Byzantine Empire

Initially the capital of the Byzantine Empire, and then for more than 1500 years for the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul Turkey has been continuously embellished in a manner befitting the capital of empires. It is adorned with some of the world’s most magnificent monuments and has become a metropolis where different cultures, nations, and religions have met over time. Each culture, nation, and religion are the small stones that make up the mosaic of Istanbul. These stones, on their own, might not mean much to you, but when they come together, they create Istanbul, which is the most beautiful work of art in the world.

The Byzantine Empire Era in Istanbul Turkey

Purple was the color of the Byzantine imperial family. The Byzantine emperors, calling themselves ‘of purple blood‘ were born in purple-colored rooms, adorned themselves in purple garments when they ascended to the throne, and were laid to rest in purple-colored sarcophagi; their entire lives were intertwined with this color.

The image shows an artistic representation of the Hippodrome of Constantinople, bustling with activity during what appears to be a chariot race or a public event. The grand structure of the Hagia Sophia looms in the background, while the masses gather in the stadium, indicating the importance of public spectacles in the social life of the city. The presence of a monumental column and statues suggests the Hippodrome's role as both a sports arena and a place of political and social significance in the Byzantine capital

We can mark the beginning of Istanbul’s purple years, or the Byzantine Empire Era, in 330 AD when Emperor Constantine declared the city as the capital. Istanbul Turkey, serving as the capital of the Byzantine Empire until its conquest by the Ottomans in 1453, was with countless works to become the most beautiful city in the world, and it continued to be beautified even during the weakest times of Byzantium.

When the Roman Empire needed to choose a base for its expeditions to the east, there was no need for extensive research; Istanbul was chosen for its imperial capital due to its magnificent beauty and unparalleled strategic location. Initially, Byzantium’s capital was called ‘New Rome.’ Indeed, Istanbul deserved this name as it resembled Rome. Both cities were built on seven hills.

The first Settlement of Istanbul

The first settlement of Istanbul was surrounded by the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn on three sides, while Rome is encircled by the Tiber. Both resemble sharp triangles. Perhaps these similarities played a role in choosing the location for ‘New Rome.’ However, not satisfied with just physical resemblances, every resource of the entire empire was utilized to make the new capital more beautiful than the old one, and gradually, Istanbul Turkey took shape.

The image is an aerial view of Istanbul, showing the Golden Horn, a major urban waterway and the Bosphorus Strait. Prominent is the Galata Bridge, connecting the regions of Karakoy and Eminönu. The dense urban landscape is interspersed with notable landmarks, vividly illustrating the city's vibrant life and its unique position straddling two continents, Europe and Asia. This bustling metropolis is a blend of historical depth and modern vitality of Istanbul Turkey.

Byzantium was essentially a continuation of Rome, and the Byzantines identified themselves as Romans until their final days. However, there was a significant difference that set the Byzantines apart from their ancestors: Christianity.

In Byzantium, Christian churches replaced Roman temples, and the finest examples of these structures, conforming to the new religion’s requirements, were built in Istanbul Turkey. Scattered around various parts of Istanbul, particularly the Historical Peninsula, these works display the unique examples of Byzantine art in both architecture and painting over a thousand years. A portion of the Byzantine monuments in Istanbul consists of public buildings. Among these are the hippodrome, water cisterns, palaces, squares and monuments on the main streets, and the city walls. The empire that gave a new shape to the Istanbul identity that began to form with Byzantium was the Ottomans.

The Ottoman Empire’s Most Precious Legacy: Istanbul Turkey

One of the reasons Istanbul Turkey is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world is the fusion of natural beauty with magnificent works of art created by human hands. The most significant urban development in the city began during the Byzantine Era and reached its zenith with the artistic taste of the Ottoman Empire, adorning the entire city.

Istanbul, declared the new capital of the Ottoman Empire by Fatih Sultan Mehmet after its conquest in 1453, became a city incessantly embellished with the finest Ottoman works over a 450-year period. The construction activities, which started immediately after the conquest, gained momentum during the reign of Bayezid II, and the most exquisite works emerged alongside the architect Mimar Sinan. Mimar Sinan, a world-famous Turkish architect, has left his mark on many structures dominating Istanbul’s skyline.

His living during the most illustrious period of the Ottoman Empire undoubtedly played a significant role in this. Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, known for his grandeur, generously entrusted the state treasury to Sinan during the wealthiest era of the Empire, for the beautification of Istanbul. In return, Sinan used his talent and generosity to adorn Istanbul with structures that continue to awe people even today. After him, other brilliant architects, some of whom were Sinan’s students, continued to enhance the beauty of Istanbul.

The Ottomans, who approached other religions with tolerance, as they did in many parts of Anatolia, allocated a portion of the churches and synagogues for the Christian and Jewish populations to freely practice their religious rituals.Therefore, in Istanbul, mosques, churches, and synagogues stand side by side. Thus, with the Ottomans, Istanbul Turkey has also become a symbol of tolerance and the brotherhood of religions.

A City Both Asian and European in Istanbul Turkey

The image showcases the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey, during twilight. The illuminated bridge spans across the Bosphorus Strait, connecting the European and Asian sides of the city. The skyline is marked by both historical and modern architecture, with the city lights beginning to twinkle as day gives way to night. The sky is painted with shades of pink and purple, adding a dramatic backdrop to the already stunning urban landscape. This scene captures the dynamic blend of continents and cultures that define Istanbul.

Asia and Europe are like two lovers wishing to unite but separated by the straits. Istanbul Turkey is the city that brings these two lovers together, uniting not only two distinct continents but also vastly different cultures for thousands of years. On one hand, it preserves the mystique of Asia, while on the other, it introduces you to a European identity.

In one corner, mosques as symbols of Islam rise, while in another, churches and synagogues line up together. You can see modern and historical buildings side by side on its streets, and discover different beauties at every corner.

It’s impossible to explore Istanbul and understand its full spectrum of colors in just a few days. To truly discover this magnificent city in all its aspects, you need to dedicate at least a few weeks.

If you walk through the streets step by step instead of using public transportation to reach certain points, you will get to know and learn more about the city, adding your own experiences to your journey. Therefore, when you visit Istanbul Turkey, you can list the must-visit places in the following routes.

Historical Peninsula of Istanbul Turkey

The image captures the vibrant essence of Istanbul, with the historic Suleymaniye Mosque in the background, overlooking the Golden Horn. In the foreground, a traditional Turkish boat adorned with flags is likely serving as a floating kitchen, selling grilled fish sandwiches, a popular street food in the city. The clear blue sky and calm waters reflect the city's blend of serene natural beauty and cultural richness, while a bird in flight adds dynamic life to the scene.

‘Inside Sur-i Sultani’; ‘Sultanahmet and Surroundings’; ‘From Eminonu to Suleymaniye – From Suleymaniye to Eminonu’; ‘Along the Golden Horn in Fatih’. Besides, a tour along ‘Fener and Balat’, ‘Along the Walls’, or following the monuments on ‘Mese Street’, which the Ottomans inherited from Byzantium and named ‘Divanyolu’, will also help you fully understand the Historical Peninsula, the most touristic place in Istanbul.

The European Side of the Bosphorus: A tour from Galata and its surroundings, which has been the center of trade from ancient times to the Ottoman period, to Ortaköy, and to Beyoğlu, where some of Istanbul’s most fashionable places are located.

The Asian Face of Istanbul Turkey

A tour along the Bosphorus in Kadıkoy and Uskudar, on the Asian side of Istanbul Turkey, where the Byzantine and Ottoman emperors and sultans had their hunting grounds and picnic areas.

Bosphorus Boat Tour: If you want to be both in Asia and Europe, or neither in Asia nor Europe, you can join a boat tour along the Istanbul Strait, which connects the Marmara to the Black Sea. Additionally, you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city by visiting the Istanbul islands.

Sultanahmet Square and Surroundings in Istanbul Turkey

This aerial view presents a sweeping panorama of the historic Sultanahmet district in Istanbul, Turkey. Prominently featured are the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, iconic landmarks of the city, set amid the lush greenery of Sultanahmet Park. The Marmara Sea glitters in the distance, dotted with ships, and the skies above are alive with seabirds, capturing the dynamic interplay between nature and the urban landscape.

This triangular part of Istanbul Turkey, undoubtedly hosting its most beautiful monuments, is bordered by the Sea of Marmara to the south and west, the Golden Horn to the north, and walls to the east. It is known that this area, where the city’s first settlers, the Megarian tribes, resided, was also significantly developed by Septimus Severus, who conducted a major part of the pre-Byzantine construction activities in Istanbul. The walls, drawn by Constantine with his spear while founding the city, pointed to the tip of the triangle known as the Historical Peninsula.

The center of this area, which forms the core of Istanbul, is today’s Sultanahmet Square. This is also the place where you can see the finest monuments of both the Byzantine and Ottoman periods in Istanbul Turkey.

During the Byzantine period, the Hippodrome and its surroundings were the center of the city. The Palace as the center of power, the Hagia Sophia as the most magnificent religious structure, the Hippodrome serving as a social entertainment center, and the Basilica Cistern, which met a large part of the city’s water needs, were all here.

Therefore, cisterns have always been concentrated in this area. The square where the Hippodrome was located served as a focal point for uprisings in both the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, and was the venue for prince circumcision celebrations that lasted 40 days and 40 nights. It was also a place where the capital’s artisans and jugglers showcased their skills. Public and religious buildings, including the Topkapi Palace, were lined up side by side here.

If you are coming out from Sirkeci towards Sultanahmet via Hudavendigar Street, where the tramway line passes, on your left remains the Sur-i Sultani that surrounds the Topkapi Palace and its courtyards. Facing these walls with a few gates, the first place that may catch your interest is Bab-ı Ali, forming the entrance to the building currently used as the Istanbul Governor’s Office. This section, meaning ‘the Gate of the Pasha’, is the entrance to the grand vizier’s palace. Later, the term was also used for the buildings behind the gate. Bab-ı Ali, which has survived to this day through several restorations, has witnessed some of the most important events in Ottoman history.

If you continue along the walls, this path will lead you to the Hagia Sophia, one of the most significant monuments of the ancient world, still dazzling with its magnificence.

Hagia Sophia Istanbul Turkey

Hagia Sophia Mosque

Without a doubt, the most important monument of Istanbul’s Byzantine Period that has survived to the present day is the Hagia Sophia. Considered the eighth wonder of the world and the most magnificent work of Byzantium, the Hagia Sophia, with its dimensions and grandeur, remained the world’s most colossal structure for centuries; it has withstood many disasters such as fires and earthquakes that Istanbul Turkey has experienced, managing to survive to this day. The Hagia Sophia is not only a must-see for its magnificent architecture but also for the finest examples of Byzantine mosaic art.

Emperor Justinian, who, along with Constantine, made significant contributions to Byzantine Istanbul, desired a structure that would surpass the legendary Temple of Solomon in immense size. The result was the Hagia Sophia. Constructed during a period when Byzantine religious architecture was in search of a new plan, the Hagia Sophia presents an unparalleled example in Byzantine architecture, not only in its grandeur but also in its design.

The Hagia Sophia, indicating an effort to combine the basilical plan used in churches up to that time with a central plan, is evidently influenced by local architectural elements of Anatolia. First and foremost, its architects were from Anatolia. Many of the columns, column capitals, and marbles used in its construction were repurposed materials from ancient structures in Anatolia. Among the buildings to which these columns originally belonged is the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Ottoman Era of Hagia Sophia

When Istanbul fell into the hands of the Ottomans, the Hagia Sophia was not harmed. Turkish architects, including Mimar Sinan, displayed all their skills to ensure the structure’s survival to the present day. Mimar Sinan is undoubtedly the most significant contributor to the Hagia Sophia’s preservation. He strengthened the structure, which was constantly cracking and in danger of collapsing due to the weight of the dome, by adding buttress walls to its sides.

This sacred Christian site turned into a sacred Islamic place during the Ottoman era. The legends told about it undoubtedly enhanced its sanctity. For this reason, many Ottoman sultans chose to build their mausoleums in the courtyard of Hagia Sophia.

The ablution fountain you see in the garden of Hagia Sophia was built in 1740 by Sultan Mahmud I. It coincides with a period when Ottoman art was transitioning to European-influenced architecture, so it is possible to see Baroque features in its decorations and cornice arrangements.

The mosaics exposed after the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a museum are among the finest examples of Byzantine art and were created in different periods from the 9th to the 12th century. Similarly, inside Hagia Sophia, you can see dazzling examples of Ottoman calligraphy art.

The Basilica Cistern of Hagia Sophia Istanbul Turkey

Perhaps Istanbul’s only handicap is the inadequacy of its water resources. However, this drawback was never felt during either the Byzantine or the Ottoman periods. The city, which had efforts to bring water from outside even before it became the capital of Byzantium, saw the construction of cisterns during the Byzantine period as a result of these efforts.

The photo is of the Basilica Cistern, an ancient subterranean wonder located in Istanbul, Turkey. Known for its architectural beauty, the cistern is illuminated by warm lighting that highlights the symmetrical rows of columns reflecting in the still waters below. This historic site, often called the "Sunken Palace," showcases the complex and advanced engineering of the Byzantine era, creating a mystical atmosphere that has been captivating visitors for centuries.

Among these, the most significant structure is the Basilica Cistern, located right across from Hagia Sophia, which met a large part of Istanbul’s water needs during the Byzantine era. It’s also known as the ‘Underground Palace.’ When you enter, you will see that this comparison is not unwarranted. There are a total of 336 columns inside. One of these columns is known as the ‘weeping column’ and is adorned with tear drops and eye shapes.

Indeed, this column is constantly damp due to its unique feature, creating the impression that it is weeping. Wooden platforms laid over the water, where fish swim, will lead you to one of the cistern’s most fascinating features: the heads of Medusa, believed to turn those who gaze into their eyes to stone. These Medusa heads, used as bases for the columns, are thought to have been brought here to protect the city from evils, and that’s why they are placed upside down and sideways.

Leaving the cistern’s cool and refreshing atmosphere, especially during the summer heat, may be difficult, but there are many more places yet to explore.

Haseki Hürrem Bathhouse

The image displays the Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamamı in Istanbul, reflecting in a large, decorative pool. This historical Turkish bath, commissioned by Roxelana, wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, was designed by the renowned architect Mimar Sinan. The structure is characterized by its classical Ottoman architecture, with prominent domes and elegant arches. The serene water feature in the foreground enhances the tranquil beauty of this site, which has been a place of leisure and relaxation for centuries.

One of these places is the Haseki Hürrem Bathhouse, built in the name of Hürrem Sultan, the woman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent fell in love with. The bath, commissioned by Hürrem Sultan, also known as Roxelana, to the architect Mimar Sinan, is located between Hagia Sophia and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Hürrem Sultan, brought to the palace as a concubine, educated in the harem, and quickly capturing Suleiman’s attention with her intelligence and beauty, has left a significant mark in Ottoman history and had several structures, especially those designed by Mimar Sinan, constructed in her name in Istanbul.

Her tomb is located in the courtyard of the Süleymaniye Mosque, one of Istanbul’s most magnificent works, next to the tomb of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

The Blue Mosque Named by Foreigners in Istanbul Turkey

blue mosque istanbul

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, is one of Istanbul’s iconic monuments. The mosque gets its name ‘Blue Mosque’ from the exquisite Iznik tiles used in its interior decoration, which are among the finest examples of the era. The exact number of these tiles is known: there are 21,043 individual, invaluable, and priceless tiles adorning the walls, truly justifying the mosque’s name with these stunning Iznik tiles. The number of balconies in its minarets is significant too; there are 16, indicating that Sultan Ahmed, who commissioned the mosque, was the 16th Ottoman sultan. The architect of the mosque was Sedefkar Mehmet Aga, a student of Mimar Sinan.

The tomb of Sultan Ahmed I, who commissioned the mosque, is also built adjacent to the mosque’s garden. Opposite the tomb stands the German Fountain, a gift from the German Empire to the Ottoman Empire. The fountain is known as the German Fountain because it was a gift from the German government in 1901 in memory of German Emperor Wilhelm’s visit to Istanbul Turkey, and all its parts were manufactured in Germany. The inside of its dome is completely covered with gold leaf. The once statue-adorned entrance of the Hippodrome, which begins to catch your eye with its monuments, was also located here.

Hippodrome Istanbul Turkey

Hippodrome Istanbul Turkey

The Place of Entertainment, Rebellion, Victory, and Massacres: The Hippodrome. Today, in front of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the Hippodrome stretches out. Its construction was started by Septimus Severus in the early 3rd century AD, but its completion and expansion to a capacity of up to 100,000 people occurred during the reign of Constantine, who made Istanbul the capital and endeavored to make it more beautiful than Rome, the greatest city of his time.

Hippodrome Istanbul Turkey

In the Byzantine period, the Hippodrome, reminiscent of today’s fanatical sports fans, hosted fierce competitions between groups supporting their racers under the names of ‘Blues’ and ‘Greens’. Of the monuments once in the Hippodrome, three can still be seen in their original location: the ‘Obelisk of Theodosius’, the ‘Serpent Column’, and the ‘Walled Column’. These monuments were located in the spina, around which the racers and their chariots turned. Let’s remember that the monument of Porphyrius, the champion of champions in these races, can be seen in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, and turn back to these monuments, the closest witnesses of these competitions.

Obelisk of Theodosius

As you approach from the direction of Hagia Sophia, the first monument you’ll encounter is the Obelisk of Theodosius, which was brought from Egypt with great difficulty and required months of effort to erect. The hieroglyphs on it, which were not deciphered until the 18th century, were believed in both Byzantine and Ottoman times to ward off evil spirits or to be related to magic. When the inscriptions were finally read, it was discovered that the obelisk belonged to the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III and dates back to 1550 BC. Originally much taller, more than half of the column had to be cut off to transport it by ship from Egypt to Istanbul Turkey. The erection of the obelisk was so challenging and took so long that in 390 AD, Theodosius, who managed to erect it, had a relief depicting the erection of this massive monument carved on the square block it stands on, and a plaque describing how it was erected in 32 days and how, despite resisting for so many years, it finally had to submit to Emperor Theodosius.

The other reliefs depict exciting chariot races in the Hippodrome, Theodosius’s wars, and his life.

Directly opposite the obelisk stands the ‘Walled Column’. Between these two columns is a smaller bronze monument known as the ‘Serpent Column’. Created in the 5th century BC to commemorate the victory over the Persians and made from melted down spoils of war such as weapons and armor, this monument was originally erected at the Apollo Temple in Delphi.

Made of three intertwined serpents, the monument originally had a constantly burning fire in a cauldron at its top, which no longer exists. The reason Constantine brought this monument to Istanbul is interesting: it was believed that the column, made of serpents, possessed mystical powers and would protect Istanbul Turkey from snakes and insects. Although the heads of the serpents on the column have not survived to the present day, one of them, discovered during excavations, can be seen in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

Hippodrome Vicinity in Istanbul Turkey

The Walled Column is the last of the monuments in the Hippodrome that has survived to the present day. Constructed in 944 AD by Emperor Constantine VII, this monument, as its name suggests, is made of interwoven stones. When it was first built, it was topped with a bronze sphere and completely covered with bronze plates, as evidenced by the nail marks. These plates depicted the wars of Emperor Basil I. However, during the Latin Occupation between 1204 and 1261, these plates were removed, melted down, and used for making weapons, metal goods, and coins.

The Hippodrome has not always been a place of public entertainment and excitement. It has also witnessed some of the bloodiest rebellions, punishments of rebels, and mass slaughters. For instance, the infamous Nika Revolt of 532 AD, during which many monuments including the Hagia Sophia were burned, was violently suppressed here, with thousands of people being slaughtered by soldiers in the Hippodrome square and steps. During the Ottoman period, the same square played a significant role in Janissary revolts and was the site of executions.

The south end of the Hippodrome is the only part of this monument that has survived to this day. Even from this remaining section, one can infer the grand scale it once had. Although it was completely destroyed during the Byzantine era, it continued to serve as a center of entertainment for the people of Istanbul Turkey, at least as a square, during the Ottoman period. Various games and shows were held in this square, and the monuments of the Hippodrome featured in Ottoman miniatures. In these miniatures, one can see acrobats on ropes stretched between the Walled Column and the Obelisk, artisans’ guilds displaying their skills along the street in front of the monuments, and horseback displays. These miniatures also prove that the chariot races of Byzantium were replaced by javelin games in the Ottoman period.

The Hippodrome and its surroundings, being the site of the city’s original foundation, host Istanbul’s earliest monuments. During the Ottoman period, since the administrative center remained the same, significant Ottoman structures were also built in this area. Grand Viziers, the most important state officials after the sultan in the Ottoman Empire, often chose this area for their residences due to its proximity to the Topkapi Palace, where they conducted state affairs. Ibrahim Pasha, the vizier and son-in-law of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, also built his palace near the Hippodrome. Today, this palace near the monuments of the Hippodrome serves as the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. The museum displays highly valuable carpets and various artifacts dating back to the 7th century, especially from the Seljuk and Ottoman periods. We strongly recommend visiting this museum to see the carpets, which are among the most significant artistic achievements of Islamic countries.

Binbirdirek Cistern

Another monument you can see in the same area is the Binbirdirek Cistern, the second-largest cistern in Istanbul after the Basilica Cistern. Like the Basilica Cistern, it fell into disuse since the Ottomans preferred running water over stagnant, and was forgotten for a long time. Dating back to the 4th century and containing 264 columns, this cistern now occasionally hosts exhibitions.

One of the most important structures around the Hippodrome is the Great Palace of Constantinople, the first imperial palace of Istanbul Turkey, which you must see for its mosaics. The Great Palace of Byzantium is akin to the Ottoman’s Topkapi Palace. Both are palaces expanded over time with various buildings added in different periods, stretching down to the sea. The Great Palace, which started being used in the 4th century, was continuously renovated until the 10th century but lost its importance thereafter. From this date on, the favorite of Byzantine emperors became the Tekfur Palace, located near the Fatih district along the city walls and well-preserved to this day.

The Great Palace

The Great Palace, covering a vast area from the Hippodrome to the shores of the Marmara Sea, has left little trace of its former grandeur. The most important of these traces are the mosaic floorings believed to belong to a large hall or courtyard. Dating back to 450-550 AD and regarded as one of the finest examples of Early Byzantine Art, these mosaics depict a wide range of scenes from highly realistic portrayals of people and animals, mythological characters, hunting scenes, children playing, to animals in their natural environments. These incomparable works are displayed at the Great Palace Mosaic Museum inside the Arasta Bazaar on the sea side of the Sultanahmet Mosque.

Some parts of the Great Palace that have survived to the present day are located at Çatladıkapı, where the sea walls end, and was used as a summer palace by Byzantine emperors. The Bukoleon or Hormistas Palace, constructed in 842 AD, still has visible remains of its basement, doorway, and marble jambs.

To visit the church now known as the Little Hagia Sophia Mosque, follow Küçük Ayasofya Street after leaving the Great Palace Mosaic Museum. The church, close to the palace, was built between 526-530 AD by Emperor Justinian, who undertook significant beautification works in Istanbul after Constantine, inspired by a dream he had in honor of two Christian saints. The capitals and inscriptions running around the interior, original to the 6th century, are beautiful examples of Early Byzantine Art.

After visiting Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque, another worthwhile site for its tiles and a work of the renowned Turkish architect Mimar Sinan, you can return to Sultanahmet Square to spend more time immersed in its enchanting atmosphere.

Within Sur-i Sultani: Topkapi Palace in Istanbul Turkey

topkapi palace Istanbul Turkey

Sur-i Sultani is a name used for the inner part of the walls, including the Topkapi Palace Istanbul. The walls surrounding the palace on the land side were built by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror; the parts on the sea side are from the Byzantine period. Inside these walls lie Byzantine and Ottoman structures, as well as museums. Among these, the most important is the Topkapi Palace, the 400-year residence of the Ottoman sultans.

Built at Istanbul’s most beautiful point overlooking both the Marmara Sea and the Bosphorus, Topkapi Palace has an architectural style quite different from the palaces of Europe. The Ottoman sultans, who endeavored to make religious structures as magnificent as possible, designed their own living spaces, the palaces, to meet only their necessities.

The modest design of the palaces, built to meet only necessary requirements, can be attributed to the influence of Islamic beliefs. Topkapi Palace, serving both as an administrative center and as the residence of the sultan and his consorts, was the venue for lavish ceremonies attended by the sultan and all the Ottoman elite during important festivals. It also hosted foreign ambassadors, and even executions of high-ranking officials were carried out here. In summary, it has always been the site where the most significant events in the history of the Ottoman Empire took place.

Topkapi Palace, a must-visit destination in Istanbul Turkey, is not just a single building but a complex spreading over a large area. Its history cannot be confined to a single era. Although construction began under the orders of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, he passed away before he could settle in it.

Completed during the reign of Bayezid II in 1478, the palace served as the residence and administrative center of the Ottoman sultans for about 400 years. Throughout its history, it was expanded with additions made according to emerging needs. Even though the Ottoman sultans started preferring palaces located along the Bosphorus, like Dolmabahçe, Beylerbeyi, and Çırağan, from the mid-19th century, Topkapi Palace was never completely abandoned. In particular, the Chamber of Sacred Relics was regularly and meticulously maintained, and repairs were carried out whenever necessary, with many officials continuing to live there.

You can reach Topkapi Palace by walking along the road between the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Before entering the palace, you will see the Fountain of Ahmed III opposite Bab-ı Hümayun. The significance of water, essential for life, holds a special place in Turkish culture.

Quenching the thirst of a living being is considered one of the greatest deeds in Turkish culture. That is why you will invariably encounter a water structure or a fountain, even in the most unexpected places throughout Anatolia. Fountains are also symbols of cleanliness, which is why, like the Seljuks, the Ottomans constructed monumental fountains in every settlement they established and adorned them with beautiful decorations. As previously mentioned, Istanbul’s main handicap is the inadequacy of its water resources. However, unlike the Byzantines who built cisterns, the Ottomans constructed these types of monumental fountains because there was a prevailing belief that running water is cleaner than stagnant water. The city with the most monumental fountains in the Ottoman Empire, as you might guess, is Istanbul Turkey. Although the number of fountains that once exceeded 10,000 has dwindled over time, those that remain are dazzling in their monumentality. The Fountain of Ahmed III, dating back to 1728, is one of the finest examples in Istanbul Turkey and the entire Ottoman Empire. The inscriptions on it are Ottoman poems and qasidas.

After leaving the enchanting Fountain of Ahmed III behind, you will encounter the monumental Imperial Gate, or Bab-ı Hümayun, which served as the main entrance to the palace during the Ottoman period and continues to do so today. Constructed during the reign of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, the gate houses the Beytülmal at its top, where the wealth of those who died without heirs was stored and then transferred to the sultan’s treasury.

After entering through Bab-ı Hümayun, the first courtyard you will encounter is called the Court of the Janissaries, also known as Alay Meydanı.

Alay Meydanı Istanbul Turkey

During the Ottoman era, many parts of Topkapi were closed to the public, but the largest courtyard of the palace, the Alay Meydanı, was accessible to the public on certain days. Here, people could meet with the necessary authorities. The path leading to the Gate of Salutation (Bab-üs Selam), flanked by centuries-old trees, was used by Ottoman sultans when they went to war, for cülus ceremonies (a type of largess distributed during the accession of a new sultan), and by foreign ambassadors. It witnessed many significant events in Ottoman history.

In this courtyard, you will also come across some structures from the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. The Church of Hagia Irene, one of the first churches of Byzantium, built during the reign of Constantine, was burned down in the Nika Riot of 532. Like Hagia Sophia, it was rebuilt by Emperor Justinian. Due to its architectural structure, Hagia Irene has excellent acoustics, making it one of the most preferred venues for concerts. If you are in the city during the Istanbul Festival, you can treat yourself to a unique musical feast in this historic venue. At other times, it is closed and can only be visited with special permission.

Behind Hagia Irene, the most significant surviving structure is the Imperial Mint (Darphane-i Amire). The Ottoman Empire started minting coins here, and this continued in the same building until 1967. The building housed various sections like the foundry, wheelhouse, coin house, repair shop, and mold workshop, which displayed the stages of coin minting. In addition to minting coins, the production of items and jewelry from precious metals was also carried out in this building.

Gate of Salutation

At the end of the path starting from Bab-ı Hümayun, you will come across a gate flanked by sections resembling the towers of medieval castles. This is the Gate of Salutation (Bab-üs Selam), which connects the first and second courtyards. After entering the second courtyard, you will notice that the areas where today’s ticket booths and X-ray machines are located are on higher platforms. This is because these were the gathering places for high-ranking military officials attending the very important council meetings in the Ottoman era. The name of this courtyard is the Divan Square. The soldiers of the Ottoman military organization were paid their three-monthly salaries, known as ‘ulufe’, in this square. Ceremonies for receiving ambassadors were also held here.

Like the first courtyard, there is a path leading towards the Imperial Council (Divan-ı Hümayun) and the Gate of Felicity (Bab-üs Saade) in this courtyard as well. This path is known as the Vizier Road.

On the right side of the courtyard are the palace kitchens, with chimneys reminiscent of factory smokestacks. A part of these kitchens, dating back to the 15th century when the palace was constructed, was renovated by the architect Mimar Sinan, who adapted them to meet the needs of the time. In addition to daily meals, banquet meals for important days and large festivals were also prepared here by a large staff. Meals exclusive to the sultan were prepared in a separate section, the sultan’s kitchen, by the head chef. Today, these kitchens serve as museums displaying rare Chinese and Japanese porcelain gifts to the Ottomans, as well as various copper, porcelain, and glass kitchen utensils used in the Ottoman kitchen.

Until the reign of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, the sultans themselves presided over the council meetings, but afterwards, the responsibility was taken over by the Grand Viziers. This change was made to allow for the discussion of matters that might be sensitive to discuss in the presence of the sultan. In one of the walls of the Council Chamber (Kubbealtı), you can see a section with gold-gilded iron grills called the ‘Grated Kiosk’ (Kafes-i Müşebbek), where sultans occasionally observed the meetings. The council meetings continued here until they were moved to the Sublime Porte (Bab-ı Ali) in the 18th century.

The part resembling a conical tower today is the Tower of Justice (Adalet Kasrı). Its higher construction than other parts symbolically represents the supremacy of justice in the Ottoman Empire. Next to the Council Chamber is the Treasury, where the state treasures were stored. Naturally, this was the most heavily guarded part of the palace, where revenues from taxes were collected and could only be opened by the Grand Vizier bearing the sultan’s seal. Today, this section serves as the ‘arms section’, displaying, among other artifacts, weapons belonging to Ottoman sultans.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace, while appearing quite modest from the outside, has interiors beautifully adorned. The finest examples of these decorations are found in the Harem. The Harem, accessible with a separate ticket, is one of the most intriguing parts of Topkapi Palace. Exclusively accessible to the sultan’s family and harem staff, it was the most forbidden and secretive part of the palace, thus little was known about it, leading to many stories and imaginations of European painters. This secrecy and isolation continued until the reign of Sultan Selim III, who first allowed foreigners to enter the harem. The harem, where one can trace the development of Ottoman palace architecture, consists of chambers for the concubines, but some rooms were also designated for princes, harem officials, and other staff.

The Harem of Topkapi Palace has around 300 rooms, along with 9 baths, 2 mosques, and a hospital. The most magnificent of these rooms belonged to the Valide Sultan, the mother of the reigning sultan and the highest authority in the Harem. Some rooms are named after the sultan who commissioned them, like the III. Murat Room, a work of Mimar Sinan. These rooms, constructed in the names of the Ottoman sultans, are dazzling with their tile decorations.

Another significant part of Topkapi Palace is the Gate of Felicity (Bab-üs Saade), which connects the Second Courtyard to the Third Courtyard and is the most important gate within the palace. During festivals and ceremonies, the sultan would sit in front of this gate, and the ceremonies would be held in the courtyard stretching out in front of the gate.

Upon entering this gate, you will see directly in front of you the Audience Chamber (Arz Odası), where Ottoman sultans received foreign ambassadors. Behind this area, along with the Enderun Library and the Aghas Mosque, is one of the most visited parts of Topkapi Palace because of the rooms around the courtyard displaying the finest pieces from the Topkapi Palace Treasury. The artifacts exhibited in the Topkapi Palace Museum, which has been featured in Hollywood movies, are invaluable both in terms of their material worth and the meanings they carry.

For over 600 years, Topkapi Palace was the place where all the wealth of the Ottomans, one of the world’s most significant and affluent empires, was concentrated. Remnants of those days’ splendor include gifts to Ottoman emperors from other states’ leaders, ornamental items studded with priceless jewels, weapons used by the sultans, and their garments.

The Exhibition Halls in Topkapi Palace

Among the exhibition halls in Topkapi Palace, the most important and undoubtedly the most sacred is the Chamber of Sacred Relics, formed from the private chambers of the sultans (has odalar) and the arrangement of other parts of the palace like the treasury. Items of great importance and sacred value to Muslims are displayed here. These include relics belonging to Prophet Muhammad, the embellished keys of the Kaaba door, memorabilia of other prophets like Moses, David, Abraham, Joseph, and weapons of the four caliphs of Islam. It was a tradition for Ottoman sultans to send valuable gifts to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina every year during the pilgrimage season, and this palace was the place from where these precious gift-laden caravans were sent off.

The last section of Topkapi Palace you can visit is the Fourth Courtyard or the Terrace of the Holy Relics (Sofa-i Hümayun), which was expanded and added with new pavilions in the early 17th century. Here, you’ll find the Revan Pavilion and the Baghdad Pavilion, two of Topkapi’s most beautiful kiosks, built in memory of IV. Murat’s conquests of Revan in 1636 and Baghdad in 1639.

Note: The museum is open every day of the week except for Tuesdays, from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Some sections of the museum may be closed for restoration at various times. For updated and detailed information, you can visit the constantly updated website at www.topkapisarayi.gov.tr.

Istanbul Archaeology Museums

The Sur-i Sultani is not just limited to Topkapi Palace. It also houses the Istanbul Archaeology Museums, comprising the Archaeology Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Tiled Kiosk Museum, which are among the world’s most important museums.

The first building on the left upon entering the museums is the Museum of the Ancient Orient, showcasing rare artifacts from regions like Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Anatolia, which were part of the Ottoman Empire before World War I. Among its most notable exhibits is the Kadesh Treaty, the world’s oldest written peace agreement, and it is renowned for its collection of 75,000 cuneiform tablets.

The main building of the archaeology museums, the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, displays two of the world’s most admired artifacts, the Alexander Sarcophagus and the Sarcophagus of the Mourning Women, along with artifacts from civilizations that shaped world culture, particularly from Anatolia. The museum’s old building, constructed at the end of the 19th century, showcases beautiful sculptures, sarcophagi, and coins from ancient times to the Byzantine period on two floors. The six-story new annex, which has recently expanded the museum’s exhibition capacity, currently has four floors open for display. The entrance is designed to spark children’s interest in history and encourage their love for it.

For those who want to delve deeper into Istanbul’s history, the first floor features the “Istanbul Through the Ages” section. The second floor is dedicated to “Anatolia and Troy Through the Ages,” showcasing findings from various parts of Anatolia, including the famous ancient city of Troy, known for the Trojan War. The top floor exhibits artifacts obtained from regions like Syria and Palestine, once part of the Ottoman Empire.

Opposite the entrance to the Archaeology Museum is the Tiled Kiosk Museum, one of Istanbul’s oldest examples of civil architecture, dating back to 1472. It gets its name from the mosaic tile decorations on its facade. True to its name, the museum displays numerous tiles and ceramics from the Seljuk and Ottoman periods.

Topkapı Palace’s Garden: Gülhane Park in Istanbul Turkey

Sur-i Sultani, aside from housing structures that encapsulate a significant part of world history, is also renowned for its natural beauty. Foremost among these places is Gülhane Park. Tulips, nowadays often associated with other countries, actually have a deep-rooted history in the Ottoman Empire. It’s important to know that the first tulip bulbs were sent from Istanbul Turkey to these countries during the Ottoman period. If you visit during the right season, you can see various types of tulips in Gülhane Park, which lent its name to one of the most debated periods of the Ottoman Empire. The park, which offers a panoramic view of the Sea of Marmara, is located on the side of Topkapi Palace overlooking the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. It is also the site where the Tanzimat edict, signaling the beginning of a new era in the Ottoman Empire, was proclaimed. The Tanzimat Museum, exhibiting documents and photographs from this significant period of the Ottoman Empire, can be visited during your tour of Gülhane Park.

The Has Ahırlar section of Gülhane Park is used as the Museum of Islamic Science and Technology. In this museum, replicas of various tools and devices invented or designed by Muslim scientists between the 8th and 16th centuries, based on historical texts, are displayed. Among these exhibits, particularly notable are a world map prepared over 30 years by 70 geographers and astronomers in the 9th century and one of the world’s oldest clocks, which operates on modern timekeeping systems. If you’re interested in learning about the contributions of Islamic scholars to the history of world science, this museum is highly recommended.

Mese to Divanyolu: Squares and Monuments of Istanbul Turkey

During the Byzantine Era, Istanbul Turkey was organized around two main streets. One was the Kardo, stretching between harbors on the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara, and the other was the Mese Street, which had seven squares of Byzantium on it. While Kardo Street seemed more like a commercial route connecting harbors, Mese Street had a more significant function. Primarily, it was the starting point of roads leading from Istanbul, considered the center of the world by the Byzantines, to the rest of the world. Emperors would pass under the Golden Gate (Altınkapı), located at present-day Yedikule, where Mese Street exited the city walls, both when they went to war and when they returned victorious.

On this important street, different Byzantine Emperors established squares bearing their names and adorned them with monuments, some of which have survived to this day. Although the squares themselves have not survived, some of these monuments still stand as markers of their locations.

This significant Byzantine thoroughfare was not forgotten in the Ottoman Era; it maintained its importance and continued to be used. Like the city itself, the street also underwent a transformation and was renamed Divanyolu. This name was derived from the Grand Viziers participating in council meetings at Topkapi Palace, who would use this road on their return. Although its name changed, its destiny remained constant. Significant events of both empires took place here; rebels used it, and those seeking to dethrone emperors and viziers reached the palace via this road. In short, the history of Istanbul Turkey and the empires was shaped along this road.

The first of these squares on the street is the Agusteion Square, located near present-day Sultanahmet Square. Following the Roman tradition, Byzantine squares or forums were surrounded by various buildings. Agusteion Square was encircled by some of the most important monuments of Byzantine Istanbul, including the Great Palace, the Hippodrome, and Hagia Sophia. Another significance of this square is the presence of the Milion Stone, which, during the era when Istanbul Turkey was considered the center of the world, marked the starting point and zero mile marker of all roads. Today, it may look like an inconspicuous broken column bypassed by people near the Basilica Cistern, but in the Byzantine Era, it was a significant monument denoting the starting point of all roads.

Mese Street of Byzantium to Divanyolu of the Ottomans” roughly aligns with today’s tramway route in Istanbul Turkey. Following this route, you can reach other historical squares. Along this path, which was significant during the Ottoman Era, visiting Ottoman landmarks will enhance the experience of the journey. After leaving Sultanahmet Square, the first site you’ll encounter on the left is the Firuz Ağa Mosque, one of Istanbul’s oldest mosques, dating back to 1491. Its minaret is unusually located on the left, unlike other single-minaret mosques.

Further along, on your right, you will come across the Kızlarağası Mehmet Ağa Madrasah. As you approach Çemberlitaş, make sure not to miss the other important landmarks nearby. One such landmark is the 1840 Sultan Mahmud II Mausoleum, which houses the graves of Mahmud II, one of the most influential sultans of the late Ottoman period, as well as Abdulaziz and Abdulhamid II.

The second square on Mese Street, following Agusteion, is the Forum of Constantine, still watched over by the Column of Constantine (Çemberlitaş). In Byzantine times, it was customary to erect columns in honor of emperors in the forums. The Forum of Constantine was adorned with statues and monuments, including bronze statues which were melted down during the Latin invasion. A statue of Constantine once stood atop Çemberlitaş but fell during a severe storm, killing many people beneath it. The column’s porphyry stones cracked over time, leading to the addition of iron hoops, hence the name Çemberlitaş (Hooped Stone). There was a belief that a chapel beneath Çemberlitaş housed pieces of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified. According to legend, Çemberlitaş was built to protect the entrance to this chapel. Many have tried to reach the sacred relic by digging tunnels under the column but without success.

After Theodosius Square, Mese Street split into two, one leading towards Aksaray, Yedikule, and the Golden Gate, and the other towards what is now known as Edirnekapı. If you deviate from the tramway route towards Edirnekapı, you will pass through two more squares. The first is Philadelphion Square in Şehzadebaşı, but no monuments from this square have survived to the present day.

The next square to visit is the Amastrianon Square, located in Fatih on İskenderpaşa Square, where the Column of Marcian, known as “Kıztaşı,” stands. This column is surrounded by several urban legends, including one about a girl who carried the column on her back for the construction of Hagia Sophia but left it there after being tricked by a jinn, and another that claims the stone bows to women who are not virgins. In reality, the column, erected in 455 AD in honor of Emperor Marcian, is adorned with reliefs of Nike, the goddess of victory, likely commemorating the emperor’s victories or wishing him good luck. The bronze statue of Marcian that once topped the column was also taken to Europe in the 13th century, like many other artifacts from Istanbul Turkey.

Eminönü to Süleymaniye and From Süleymaniye Back to Eminönü

Sirkeci Train Station in Istanbul Turkey

The most significant structure in Sirkeci is the Sirkeci Train Station, a notable example of architecture from the late Ottoman era, designed by foreign architects. For years, it served as the gateway from the Ottoman Empire to Europe, and for Europeans curious about the empire’s mysterious capital and the mystical East, it was the starting point of their journeys to Asia. Dating back to 1890, the building’s construction paid attention to Istanbul’s unique character, successfully blending Eastern architectural styles with Western elements, much like Istanbul Turkey itself bridges East and West. The museum within the station displays items related to the Ottoman railways and Sirkeci Train Station.

One of the first structures you’ll encounter in Eminönü is the New Mosque, notable for its ever-present flock of pigeons on the steps. Construction began in 1597 and was completed in 1663, taking 66 years to finish, making it the mosque that took the longest to build in Ottoman history. The New Mosque, especially renowned for its intricately decorated pulpit adorned with tiles and mother-of-pearl, is a must-see. It is also significant for having one of its complex buildings as the Egyptian Bazaar, one of Istanbul’s oldest and largest markets. This bazaar, historically a hub for goods imported from Egypt and a docking point for ships from Egypt, remains a popular shopping destination for both locals and tourists, offering a wide range of spices and other products. The Egyptian Bazaar continues to be a meeting point of different cultures, just as it was centuries ago.

To see the Rustem Pasha Mosque, a masterpiece by the architect Mimar Sinan, you need to venture through narrow streets away from the Golden Horn. This mosque, built on a high platform, dominates the Istanbul Turkey skyline. It was commissioned by Rustem Pasha, the Grand Vizier and son-in-law of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Despite his reputation for frugality, Rustem Pasha spared no expense in the construction of this mosque, filling its interior with the finest examples of 16th-century Iznik tiles, making it resemble a tile museum.

Our next destination is the Süleymaniye Mosque, whose minarets will guide you there. After climbing a bit of a slope, you will encounter the walls surrounding the courtyard of the complex. The Süleymaniye Mosque, designed by the legendary Mimar Sinan, is one of Istanbul’s most magnificent mosques and a testament to Ottoman architectural genius. The complex includes educational institutions, a hospital, a kitchen, and a bathhouse, epitomizing the concept of a külliye, a complex of buildings adjacent to a mosque. The mosque’s interiors and exteriors are equally breathtaking, showcasing the pinnacle of Ottoman architectural and artistic achievement.

Following the walls, you will eventually reach the gates leading into the courtyard of the Süleymaniye Mosque and its accompanying tombs.

The Süleymaniye Mosque and Complex, named after Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and one of Istanbul’s most monumental structures, was constructed between 1550 and 1557 by the Ottoman Empire’s genius architect, Mimar Sinan. Built to reflect the grandeur of its namesake, the mosque and its surrounding complex are situated on one of Istanbul’s seven hills, offering a dominant view over the city. Considered by Sinan as his “masterpiece,” the mosque’s grand scale is balanced with an overall simplicity, believed to either reflect Sultan Suleiman’s character or to bring out the architectural features of the structure, as suggested by some researchers. The interior of the mosque, except for a few tiles in the mihrab, is also characterized by its simplicity.

The mosque’s fascinating aspects are related to how much one can discover about it. For instance, you might wonder how such a colossal structure has withstood centuries of earthquakes in Istanbul Turkey. The answer lies in Sinan’s genius; he placed juniper logs under the foundation to absorb seismic waves. To prevent the soot from hundreds of candles and lamps from staining the walls and the structure, an ingenious solution was implemented. The mosque is designed in such a way that the air circulation inside gathers all the soot in a “soot room” above the entrance. This soot was then used to make ink for Ottoman imperial edicts. Another example of Sinan’s ingenuity is the mosque’s dome, where 255 pots were used to perfect the internal acoustics and provide thermal insulation. Like all imperial mosques in Istanbul, this one also features multiple minarets, signifying its construction by a sultan or a member of the sultan’s family.

The complex’s other buildings cover a vast area, each with its own valuable and aesthetic qualities. The tomb of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, adorned with precious stones and a dome that gives the feeling of gazing at a star-studded night sky, features the finest Iznik tiles on its walls.

Following the walls, you can reach the gates that provide entrance to the courtyard of the Süleymaniye Mosque and its tombs.

Süleymaniye Mosque and its tombs

The Süleymaniye Mosque and Complex, which gives its name to the entire district, is one of Istanbul’s most monumental structures. Built between 1550 and 1557 by Mimar Sinan, the Ottoman Empire’s brilliant architect, it was commissioned by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The mosque and complex are located on one of the seven hills of Istanbul Turkey, commanding a dominant view of the city. Süleymaniye Mosque, Sinan’s “journeyman piece,” has grand dimensions but maintains a general simplicity, reflecting Sultan Suleiman’s character and Sinan’s architectural ingenuity. The interiors, except for a few tiles in the mihrab, are also marked by their simplicity.

The most intriguing aspects of the mosque relate to its design and construction secrets. For example, the mosque’s resilience to centuries of earthquakes in Istanbul Turkey can be attributed to Sinan’s use of juniper logs under its foundation. The mosque is designed such that the air circulation collects all soot from hundreds of candles and lamps in a soot room above the entrance. This soot was then used to make ink for Ottoman imperial edicts. Another ingenious feature is the dome, where 255 pots were used to perfect internal acoustics and provide thermal insulation. Like all imperial mosques in Istanbul, it has multiple minarets, signifying its royal patronage.

The complex’s other buildings, each valuable and aesthetically significant, cover a large area. The tomb of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, with its precious stone-adorned dome, gives the impression of looking at a starry night sky and features the finest Iznik tiles. Another tomb in the courtyard belongs to Suleiman’s wife, Hürrem Sultan. The complex also includes four madrasas offering various levels of education.

The complex’s hospital was built in the style of modern research hospitals and medical faculties, with one part dedicated to education and the other to patient care. Mimar Sinan’s own tomb, a modest structure in the corner of the complex, reflects his humility, contrasting with the grandeur of his other works.

The Istanbul University Botanical Garden, a hidden paradise with thousands of plant species from around the world, is located behind the Süleymaniye Mosque and Istanbul Mufti’s office. It’s a must-visit for nature enthusiasts, but remember that special permission is required.

Continuing along the road, after reaching Şehzadebaşı Avenue, a prominent Ottoman entertainment center, turn right and continue along the street. On the right, you’ll first see the 1720 Damat Ibrahim Pasha Complex, with all its buildings arranged within a courtyard.

Another masterpiece by Mimar Sinan, the Şehzade Mosque, which he referred to as his “apprenticeship work,” is considered one of his most important creations and a foundation for his later masterpieces. It was built in memory of Sultan Suleiman’s beloved son, Prince Mehmet, who died at the age of 22. The tombs within the courtyard, adorned with tiles, are worth seeing, but like all tombs in Istanbul Turkey, entry is limited and requires special permission.

Continuing on the same street, you will come across the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Complex, one of Istanbul’s earliest complexes and a pioneer of the sultanate mosques, which implies construction by Ottoman sultans and their families. The complex, including a mosque, madrasas, a hospital, and a charity kitchen, represents a multifunctional space for worship, education, health care, and social services. The Mediterranean and Black Sea Madrasas within the complex were considered Istanbul’s first university. The complex was one of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror’s significant efforts to restore Istanbul’s former glory and make it a worthy capital for the Ottoman Empire. The complex, built on one of Istanbul’s hills, is located on the site of the former Church of the Holy Apostles, a sacred place for Byzantine emperors. The mosque and other buildings, built over the ruins of the church, have undergone repairs over the years due to earthquake damage.

However, if you turn right again from Şehzade Mosque, you will come across the Bozdoğan Aqueduct, which served for years to bring water to Istanbul Turkey. The aqueduct, like in Byzantine times, needed constant repairs and additions by various Ottoman sultans.

Following this route, you will reach the Vefa neighborhood, known for its traditional Turkish drink, boza. The historical Vefa Boza Shop, located near the Bozdoğan Aqueduct and Vefa High School, is worth visiting regardless of the season.

Another significant Byzantine structure on the same route is the Zeyrek Mosque, formerly the Pantokrator Monastery Church. This grand structure, built on a high hill, is the largest surviving Byzantine building in Istanbul Turkey after Hagia Sophia. The area is known for its late Byzantine period structures, and this church dates back to the same era. It was built in different stages by various Byzantine emperors and empresses.

If your visit to Vefa coincides with the first of the month, consider visiting the Shrine of the Virgin Mary, where the keys for making wishes at the shrine are crucial. It’s believed that those who keep the keys for a month will have their wishes granted.

This route eventually leads back to the Golden Horn. Walking along the Golden Horn from the Atatürk Bridge, you can return to where you started and enjoy the diverse culinary offerings of the Istanbul restaurants around the Egyptian Bazaar.

Intersection of Religions: Along the Golden Horn in Balat and Fener in Istanbul Turkey

The Golden Horn, known as the “Golden Horn” in the Byzantine era, is steeped in legends, including one where it was formed by the horn thrusts of Io, transformed into a cow by Zeus. Another explanation for its name comes from the abundance of shimmering shad fish that once filled its waters, creating a phosphorescent effect. However, even without the fish, the Golden Horn turns golden at sunrise and sunset, when the sun’s rays reflect off the water.

The Golden Horn was the heart of the Ottoman Empire’s most controversial era, the Tulip Era. During this period, royal barges sailed along the Golden Horn, and lavish palaces and mansions lined its shores, adorned with colorful tulips that gave the era its name. Unfortunately, neither these palaces nor the tulip gardens have survived to the present day. However, it’s worth noting that the hills along the Golden Horn still display a mix of Byzantine and Ottoman structures belonging to three different religions, side by side.

Today, the most vibrant neighborhoods along the Golden Horn are Balat and Fener. After conquering Istanbul Turkey, Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror granted Christians and Jews living in the city the freedom to practice their religions. This example of Ottoman tolerance allowed the pre-conquest Christian population to continue their existence in the city. They were later joined by Jews expelled from Spain, who found a safe haven in the Ottoman Empire. Consequently, Balat and Fener became centers for Istanbul’s minority communities, where mosques, churches, and synagogues stand side by side, exemplifying the principle of religious fraternity.

Balat was predominantly inhabited by Jews during the Ottoman period and still hosts functioning synagogues today. The Jews, expelled from Spain during the reign of Mehmet the Conqueror, initially settled in Balat and its vicinity. This neighborhood continued to attract Jews to Istanbul Turkey. Although many from the Balat Jewish community emigrated to Israel in the 1940s, there are still those who continue their lives here, practicing their faith in the local synagogues. Two notable synagogues on Vodina Avenue are the Gana Synagogue and the Ahrida Synagogue. Though the Ahrida Synagogue was built by Jews from Macedonia and not those who arrived by galleys from Spain, its ship-like shape is believed to commemorate those tumultuous times. Another synagogue, the Yanbol Synagogue on Düriye Street, was built by Jews who migrated from Bulgaria. The Or-Ahayim Hospital, located right by the Golden Horn and notable for its architecture, was established as a Jewish hospital in 1896.

After exploring the Golden Horn’s coast adorned with mosques, churches, and synagogues, you might want to cross to the opposite shore to visit various museums and cultural centers. Here’s a brief list of some notable places:

  • Miniatürk: Located at one of the far ends of the Golden Horn, Miniatürk showcases 1/25 scale models of the most significant monuments from various parts of Turkey, spanning from ancient times to the Ottoman era. It’s a unique park that offers a miniature view of Turkey’s rich historical and architectural heritage.
  • Rahmi M. Koç Museum: This industrial museum displays thousands of objects ranging from submarines, ships, and airplanes. One of the highlights is its classic car collection, making it a must-visit museum in Istanbul Turkey, especially for those interested in the history of industry and transportation.
  • Santral Istanbul: Near Miniatürk and situated along the Golden Horn, Santral Istanbul is a cultural center converted from an electricity power plant established in 1911. This power plant supplied electricity to Istanbul Turkey until 1952, and cables had to be laid under the sea to transmit electricity across the shore. Now, it houses the Museum of Contemporary Arts, the Energy Museum, workshops, concert halls, as well as cafes and restaurants. It’s a unique blend of industrial heritage and contemporary culture.

These sites not only offer insights into Istanbul’s rich history and culture but also provide unique perspectives on the city’s development and technological advancements. Whether you’re interested in miniature replicas of historical monuments, the evolution of industry, or contemporary arts, these museums along the Golden Horn have something intriguing to offer.

Eyüp is one of Istanbul’s most sacred areas, located outside the city’s ancient walls. It holds significant religious importance due to the presence of graves and tombs of revered Islamic figures, along with mosques, making it a central place of pilgrimage for Muslims in Istanbul Turkey. The sanctity of Eyüp dates back centuries, even before the Ottoman period when it was a site of monasteries and churches during Byzantine times, none of which survive today due to the repeated sieges and destructions the city has faced. The modern-day reconstruction and development of Eyüp primarily occurred during the Ottoman era.

Starting your journey at Eyüp, you might first visit the Defterdar Mahmut Efendi Mosque on Defterdar Avenue. This mosque is unique in that, instead of the traditional crescent, its minaret is topped with symbols of enlightenment and progress – a writing inkpot and quill. Recently restored, these symbols represent the importance of literacy and education in Islam.

Continuing down Defterdar Avenue, you’ll find Feshane on the right along the Golden Horn shore. This red building was one of the Ottoman Empire’s oldest factories, established in 1835 to produce military uniforms and fezzes. Nowadays, Feshane serves as an exhibition and conference hall, transforming into a venue for various entertainments during Ramadan 2024. You can also experience traditional Ottoman royal barge rides here.

Nezih Eldem City Museum

Across from Feshane, next to the Municipal Building, is the Nezih Eldem City Museum, Eyüp’s first museum. The museum, housed in a building originally constructed as a military high school in 1884, showcases documents related to Eyüp’s history. Nearby, you’ll find the Cezeri Kasım Mosque, with another mosque bearing the same name located opposite the Cağaloğlu Bath on Divanyolu.

Following the same route, you’ll come across the Zal Mahmud Paşa Complex, a creation of the famous architect Mimar Sinan. The complex includes workshops where traditional handmade toys of Eyüp are still produced. These toys, once made for Ottoman princes, continue to be crafted and sold in the same traditional manner today. Purchasing one as a souvenir from your visit to Eyüp is highly recommended.

The most renowned sacred site in Eyüp is the Eyüp Sultan Mosque and Tomb, dedicated to Eyüp Ensari, a companion of Prophet Muhammad. He is believed to have died during the first Arab siege of Constantinople between 674-678 AD. After the conquest of Istanbul Turkey, Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror discovered Ensari’s tomb and built a complex around it, leading to the gradual development of the Eyüp district. Successive sultans continued to contribute to the area’s development, making Eyüp a treasure trove of Ottoman architecture. The district’s mystique is further enhanced by its cemeteries adorned with intricately carved tombstones, some of which are works of art.

At the far end of Eyüp Cemetery, accessible by car or cable car, is the Pierre Loti Café, offering some of the most beautiful views of the Golden Horn and Eyüp. Named after the famous French writer Pierre Loti who lived between 1850-1923, the café became his frequent haunt during his stay in Istanbul Turkey. Over time, the café became synonymous with Loti’s name. After a delightful journey through Eyüp, you can end your visit with a cup of tea at this café, enjoying views of Istanbul, the Golden Horn, and Eyüp, and perhaps even pick up some souvenirs.

The allure and appeal of Istanbul Turkey have made it an irresistible conquest throughout history, yet it wasn’t until 1453 that the city’s mighty walls were finally breached. These walls, a magnificent example of medieval fortification, are credited with protecting Byzantium for over a thousand years. Initially, during Constantine’s era, the walls enclosed only the area around present-day Sultanahmet. However, with the city’s growth and increasing population, the construction of the Theodosian Walls began in 415 AD, extending from the Golden Horn to the Sea of Marmara. These walls, primarily of Theodosian origin, have been restored multiple times, with the most robust sections being the land walls, as the sea provided a natural defense on the other fronts.

Exploring the length of these walls from the Golden Horn to the Sea of Marmara is a journey through centuries of history. Starting at the point where the walls meet the Golden Horn, one of the first landmarks you encounter is the Atik Mustafa Paşa Mosque. Its origin as a church is known, though its exact name and history remain unclear. It’s speculated to either be a 5th-century church dedicated to Saints Peter and Mark or the 9th-century Hagia Tekla Church.

One of the most well-preserved sections of the walls is home to the Blachernae Palace complex, of which the Tekfur Palace is a part. This palace, notable for being the only surviving example of a Byzantine imperial palace, was favored by the Byzantine emperors from the 12th century, after abandoning the Great Palace. It has served various roles under Ottoman rule, including a glass workshop and even a giraffe stable.

Next is the Chora Church, now known as the Kariye Museum, which houses some of the finest examples of Byzantine art. Its name, derived from “khora” meaning countryside, reflects its location outside the original 5th-century walls. The church, dating back to the 12th century, and its 14th-century frescoes and mosaics were miraculously preserved under a layer of plaster during its time as a mosque. Discovered in the mid-1900s, these masterpieces depict scenes from the Bible, primarily focusing on the lives of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

Along the walls, you’ll find the Edirne Gate, one of the most important gates, and nearby, the magnificent Mihrimah Sultan Mosque by Mimar Sinan. Built for Mihrimah Sultan, daughter of Suleiman the Magnificent, the mosque is noted for its large number of windows that illuminate the interior.

Further along the walls is the Yedikule Fortress, initially part of the Golden Gate, the grandest of the 55 gates during the Byzantine era. Under Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, additional towers were added, transforming it into a fortress. Over the centuries, it has served as a treasury, warehouse, and prison. Today, its dungeons are open to visitors, and various artifacts, including cannonballs, are on display.

If you still have the energy after this extensive journey along the walls, head to Yenikapı. Recent archaeological excavations here have shed light on 8,000 years of Istanbul’s history, including discoveries of ancient ships and remnants of the Theodosius Harbor from the 4th century. These findings, including remains from the earliest Byzantine settlements and the old city walls, are invaluable for understanding Istanbul’s Byzantine past.

Istanbul’s Other Side: Bizans and Ottoman’s Commercial Port Galata and Surroundings, Karaköy to Beyoğlu

Earthquakes and fires have destroyed it hundreds of times, but like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Istanbul has always found new life, more beautiful than before. Perhaps the most repeatedly destroyed and reborn areas of Istanbul are Galata and Beyoğlu.

Galata, or modern-day Karaköy and its surroundings, form a peninsula encircled by the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus Strait, historically serving as Istanbul’s commercial port. During the Byzantine and Ottoman eras, the region was the most critical port, making it the hub of commercial activities in Istanbul. The Genoese, who settled in the famous Galata district with its tower, established colonies in Istanbul during the Byzantine period, playing a pivotal role in managing trade relations with Europe. Besides this Italian state, traders from Iran, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and European countries also sold their goods here.

In the Ottoman era, Galata and its surroundings continued to be significant for trade, with numerous inns built in the area. The first embassies opened in the Ottoman Empire were also located around Galata, which was known for its taverns and entertainment centers. By the late 19th century, Galata had become the financial center of the Ottoman Empire, home to the empire’s first banks. However, since the financial centers gradually moved to Levent and Maslak, it has begun to lose this aspect of its significance.

One of the best features of Karaköy is its view of Istanbul’s beauty from a different perspective, as it faces the historic peninsula, the heart of Istanbul. From Sultanahmet, the opposite shores may not seem very striking. However, the view of the historic peninsula from Karaköy is magnificent, especially at sunset when the reddish sky casts shadows over Sultanahmet, Hagia Sophia, and Topkapı Palace. Then, the silhouettes of the mosques, domes, and minarets built by the Ottoman emperors on the city’s highest hills create a skyline, revealing one of Istanbul’s most beautiful and romantic scenes.

Today, the Historic Peninsula and Galata are connected by two bridges: the Galata Bridge and the Atatürk Bridge. Although Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci had a bridge project for the Golden Horn, it never materialized. He mentioned this bridge in a letter to the Ottoman sultan of his time, Bayezid II, but unfortunately, his dream was never realized.

The 500-Year Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews, narrating the over 500-year history of Jews in Istanbul, especially in Galata, was recently opened in the Zülfaris Synagogue on Perçemli Street, just across the Galata Bridge. The museum houses documents, clothes, and various items that preserve the memories of Jews who have settled in Turkey, particularly in Istanbul. The “Rising Flame” monument in front of the museum commemorates Jewish Turks who lost their lives in various wars, including the Dardanelles and Independence Wars.

The Underground Mosque on Kemankeş Street is another religious structure worth visiting. The Golden Horn, crucial for Byzantium, was sealed off during wars by massive chains connected between fortresses in Galata and Sarayburnu, preventing enemy ships from entering. The Underground Mosque is situated where the chain in Galata was anchored. This site, now entered by descending stairs, was used as an armory before the mosque’s construction in 1756. It was believed that the tombs here belonged to significant figures in Islam.

Beyoğlu’s connection to the Galata Port has never been interrupted. Initially, the steep slopes necessitated the construction of stairs, and in 1876, a tunnel was opened between Karaköy and Beyoğlu. This tunnel, still in operation today, is one of the world’s shortest and oldest subways. Those opting to walk from Galata to Beyoğlu without the subway can ascend the steep slopes with the aid of Kamondo Stairs, built in the 19th century by the wealthy Kamondo family, known for funding many other structures in Galata. The stairs are also known as “love stairs” due to their intertwined, helical design.

Another notable feature of Karaköy is the presence of relics left by the Genoese, most importantly the Galata Tower. This iconic tower, visible from various points in Istanbul, is a remnant of the Genoese who facilitated trade with Europe during the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. Built in 1348 as the main tower of the walls surrounding Galata, it has served various purposes, including as a depot and prison, and has survived to the present day. Galata, often ravaged by fires, used the tower as a fire watchtower. Visitors can enjoy panoramic views of Istanbul, the Bosphorus, and the Sea of Marmara adorned with islands from the tower’s top, where the Genoese once watched for incoming ships and enemies.

Beyoğlu, developed as a European city with settlers including European traders and diplomats, has become a cosmopolitan area with diverse communities. Originally known as Pera, meaning “the other side,” it interestingly referred to a distant land outside Istanbul. The name Beyoğlu is believed to derive from a Byzantine prince or the son of a Venetian ambassador residing in the area. The European-style mansions, mainly built by European traders and diplomats, emerged as a response to frequent fires, leading to a ban on wooden buildings. Beyoğlu’s significance grew after the demolition of the Galata walls and its connection to other areas. It has been a center of entertainment since Ottoman times, known for venues visited by sailors before setting sail. Today, it remains a hub for cultural activities, with art galleries, cinemas, theaters, live music venues, concert halls, and cafes where the sounds of street musicians blend with the city’s hustle. Sometimes these streets transform into an orchestra or an open-air exhibition space.

İstiklal Avenue is undoubtedly Istanbul’s most vibrant and bustling area, attracting thousands daily. The only thing interrupting the flow of people is the nostalgic tramway. Along both sides of the avenue, there are stores of famous brands, cafes, bars, and restaurants in passages ideal for leisurely conversations, jewelry and accessory shops, and art galleries. Many buildings, mainly passages, that give the street its distinctive character, were built in the early 20th century, reflecting the Art Nouveau movement prevalent in Europe at the time. Galata and Beyoğlu, being Istanbul’s gateway to Europe, have easily adapted to European trends. The sculptures adorning these period buildings’ facades are worth a closer look, each offering unique beauty.

Starting from Tünel Square, the first site of interest is the Galata Mevlevi Lodge or Divan Literature Museum on Galip Dede Street. Established in 1491 by Mehmet Dede, a descendant of Rumi, the lodge has survived fires and other damages, undergoing several renovations. Hosting sema ceremonies on the first and last Saturdays of each month, the museum includes dervish cells, a library, and tombs. It’s highly recommended for those interested in Mevlevi culture, showcasing Mevlevi artifacts, Turkish musical instruments, and manuscripts.

Many consulates, initially established in Beyoğlu during the Ottoman period, line the street, housed in buildings from the empire’s late era. Although consulates shifted to Ankara after Turkey’s capital relocation, these buildings, some with churches and chapels in their yards, remain.

Asmalımescit Street, renowned for its cafes and bars, is another highlight. Nearby is the historic Pera Palas Hotel. Pera Museum, close to the hotel, exhibits paintings by prominent Ottoman-era artists. İstiklal Avenue’s most famous spot, Çiçek Pasajı, opposite Galatasaray High School, buzzes with deep conversations at tables of varying ages. Descending the slope next to the high school leads to Cezayir Street, famous for its cafes.

Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul Turkey

İstiklal Avenue owes its charm partly to its historic passages, most built in the late 19th or early 20th century, each harboring surprises. One of the most intriguing is the Halep Passage, marked by a clown mask, indicating its past as a circus. Beyoğlu Cinema is also located here.

Near Taksim Square, one of Istanbul’s largest churches, the Greek Orthodox Aya Triada, emerges. The square, named after the water distribution (taksim) system in Istanbul, is one of the city’s busiest.

Walking from one end of İstiklal Avenue to the other doesn’t fully capture its essence. Return to explore its passages, enjoy drinks at bars and taverns, and savor Turkish mezes. As evening falls and the street is adorned with lights, stroll again to experience a different vibe, with the music from bars creating a sense of being in another world.

Starting from Karaköy and heading towards Ortaköy in Istanbul Turkey

Starting from Karaköy and heading towards Ortaköy, this journey unfolds alongside the stunning Bosphorus view, creating one of the most beautiful Istanbul tours.

After passing Karaköy Ferry Terminal, Meclisi Mebusan Avenue leads you to Tophane, one of Istanbul’s most recognized areas, named after the cannon foundries established during the reign of Fatih Sultan Mehmet. Alongside the foundries, military buildings were also located in this area.

At the edge of Karaköy, near the sea, stands the Istanbul Modern Art Museum, Turkey’s first in this field, often hosting various exhibitions. The museum cafe offers a view encompassing the Bosphorus and Sultanahmet. Inside, you can appreciate artworks by famous artists and prepare for the next part of your journey with a relaxing break enjoying the Bosphorus view.

Along this route, mosques and palaces are built near the sea and in close proximity to each other. One of the most notable is the Bezmialem Valide Sultan Mosque, or Dolmabahçe Mosque, you will encounter after leaving Kabataş Ferry Terminal behind. Influenced by European architecture and also featuring a clock tower, this mosque, built in 1853, is named after Bezmialem Valide, the mother of Sultan Abdülmecid.

Dolmabahçe Palace, sharing its name with the mosque, is the first example of palaces lined up along the Bosphorus, built in different periods. After abandoning Topkapı Palace, Ottoman sultans and their families resided in palaces along the Bosphorus, heavily influenced by European styles. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, also spent his last days in Dolmabahçe. Touring the palace, you can easily imagine the life that once filled its halls.

Located in Beşiktaş, the Naval Museum holds significant meaning, situated right next to the tomb of Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha, a famed Ottoman admiral. The museum showcases documents and objects related to Ottoman maritime history, including ship models and flags from significant naval battles. The most notable is the flag from the Battle of Preveze, marking one of Turkey’s greatest victories.

Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha’s tomb, designed by Mimar Sinan and only open on April 4th and July 1st, holds a special place in maritime history. It’s meaningful for such an important figure to rest where the sound of waves can be heard, overlooking the sea.

After Topkapı Palace was abandoned, new palaces were generally built along the seaside. However, Yıldız Palace differs as it’s situated atop a commanding hill in Yıldız Park. The largest structure within the complex is the Mabeyn Köşk, built during Sultan Abdülaziz’s reign. An interesting feature of the Köşk is its staircase railings, made of 3000 crystal pieces that emit piano-like sounds when touched.

Continuing along Çırağan Street, lined with shadowing old trees, you’ll encounter another palace example, Çırağan Palace. Constructed in 1871 by Sultan Abdülaziz, it now functions as a five-star hotel. The buildings of Galatasaray University and Kabataş Boys’ High School, which you’ll see next to the sea, were once part of Çırağan Palace, serving as Feriye Palaces for princes and palace staff. Following the enjoyable route to Ortaköy, you’ll find yourself in one of Istanbul’s most vibrant entertainment hubs. The Ortaköy Mosque, almost symbolic of the area, represents a period in Ottoman architecture heavily influenced by European styles. Commissioned by Sultan Abdülmecid in 1853, the mosque is strategically located at one of the most beautiful points of the Bosphorus, extending over an inlet.

It’s known that Sultan Abdülmecid, the patron of the mosque, and his successor, Sultan Abdülhamid, often performed their Friday prayers here before crossing the Bosphorus by boat to Beylerbeyi Palace on the opposite shore.

After exploring Ortaköy, you can unwind at one of the tea gardens next to the Ortaköy Mosque. Here, you can enjoy the stunning views of the Bosphorus and the Bosphorus Bridge during the twilight hours. Additionally, don’t miss the opportunity to try Ortaköy’s famous “kumpir” (stuffed baked potatoes), a local favorite.

Istanbul’s Asian Side: Uskudar ve Kadikoy

The Land of the Blind: Kadikoy Istanbul Turkey

According to legends related to the first settlers of Istanbul Turkey, Kadikoy was considered the homeland of the blind, those who couldn’t see the beauty of Sarayburnu and settled here. However, this was an unfair interpretation. Yes, perhaps it doesn’t have geographical advantages like Sarayburnu, but Kadikoy, believed to have a climate that is beneficial for health throughout history, served as a summer resort and entertainment place where emperors hunted and relaxed during the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. Surface surveys conducted in Kadikoy, one of Istanbul’s oldest settlements, reveal artifacts dating back to as early as 3000 BC, showcasing its ancient history.

Kadikoy, despite being within the boundaries of a metropolis, has not lost its title as a summer resort from the Byzantine and Ottoman periods to the present day. Moda, Kalamis, and Fenerbahce promenades, which you can reach with a nostalgic tram journey on the Bahariye-Moda-Muhurdar route, are ideal for those who want to get away from the city’s crowds with green areas and tea gardens. It’s not surprising that both Byzantine and Ottoman emperors chose this place for their summer mansions and palaces. Especially the Fenerbahce Peninsula is a place where some age-old trees provide shade for walking trails and colorful flowers bloom in the spring, with tables placed among them, a spot for those who want to enjoy something while watching the Marmara Sea and the lined-up islands. There’s also a balloon service for those who want to view Istanbul from 300 meters high and see this world city from a different perspective.

One of the most important monuments in Kadikoy is Haydarpasa Train Station. With its aesthetic architecture and its location by the sea, it symbolizes Kadikoy. Built in 1908, Haydarpasa Station is the first stop for trains going from Anatolia to Istanbul’s inner regions and the last stop for those coming to Istanbul Turkey. Although the station building, where those coming from Anatolia see Istanbul Turkey for the first time and take their first steps, suffered significant damage during World War I when one of its depots was sabotaged, it managed to survive until today and become one of the most monumental works on the Asian side of Istanbul.

Another iconic structure in Kadikoy is the Sureyya Opera House, which can be seen on the way from Haydarpasa to Fenerbahce. Opened as an Opera House in 1927 and later used as a cinema, this beautiful building has regained its true identity through renovations and started serving as an opera house again. The building’s architecture is also interesting because it was built by copying many famous theaters and opera houses in Europe. For example, its hall is inspired by the Paris Champs Elysee Theater, and its interior is influenced by German theaters.

Uskudar in Istanbul Turkey

Located on one of the hills just opposite the Maiden’s Tower in Uskudar, there is the Aziz Mahmud Hudai Complex, which was built in 1595 as a gathering and worship place for the Celveti sect, one of the tarikats (religious orders) of the Ottoman period. With subsequent additions, the complex gradually expanded. Until the 1920s, this place was used for rituals by the members of the sect, but later, due to new laws, it began to be used only as a mosque. The tomb of Mahmud Hudai, highly respected by the Ottoman sultans, is also visited extensively, much like the Eyup Sultan Tomb. Inside the mosque, we recommend seeing the special Ottoman decorative art of calligraphy.

Kuzguncuk

All religions, all nations can live together peacefully if they wish. The best example of this is provided by Kuzguncuk, a district located in the Asian part of the Bosphorus, belonging to Uskudar. Two churches, a synagogue, and a mosque are side by side, with even the courtyards of Surp Krikor Lusaveriç Church and Kuzguncuk Mosque shared. Some Jews who came from Spain and even before the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul Turkey preferred Kuzguncuk. Behind the church and mosque, there is a synagogue, and right next to it is the Ayios Yeorgios Church. Cemeteries, which are also places of final rest like places of worship, are side by side and facing each other. The Nakkaştepe Cemetery houses Jewish graves dating back 600 years, alongside Muslim graves. Across from this cemetery is the Greek Orthodox Cemetery.

Other important landmarks in Kuzguncuk include the yalis (waterside mansions) that showcase beautiful examples of Ottoman civilian architecture, many of which are lined up along the Bosphorus. Kuzguncuk is one of the few places in Istanbul Turkey where nature remains untouched, especially the Fethipaşa Grove, which provides a refreshing atmosphere.

Beylerbeyi

As previously mentioned, this side of Istanbul Turkey served as a summer resort during both the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. The most important monument in Beylerbeyi is the Beylerbeyi Palace, built in 1865 by Sultan Abdulaziz. The palace was constructed to replace an earlier wooden one. Sultan Abdulaziz was known for his love of the sea, so the palace is adorned with plenty of sea and ship-themed decorations.

Both in Asia and Europe, Neither in Asia nor in Europe: Istanbul Bosphorus Tour in Istanbul Turkey

Another way to enjoy Istanbul Turkey is by taking boat tours on the Bosphorus, where the waters take on different colors at sunrise and sunset. Many of the waterside mansions along the Bosphorus were built or used by Ottoman sultans, empresses, and pashas. Some of the most famous ones are the Dolmabahce and Beylerbeyi Palaces.

One of the first places to mention in a Bosphorus tour is naturally the Maiden’s Tower, located off the coast of Salacak. According to legend, Emperor Constantine had a beloved daughter. However, a fortune teller predicted that she would be killed by a snake. To protect his daughter, the emperor built this tower in the middle of the sea, where he believed no snake could reach. However, this precaution was not enough to prevent the prophecy. A snake hidden in a basket of food sent to the girl poisoned her. Another legend related to the tower is associated with the widely-known name, Leandros Tower. It is believed that the tragic love story of Hero and Leandros took place here. In reality, the tower, which was built during the Byzantine period in the 12th century, was sometimes used as a prison but primarily served as a lighthouse guiding ships. The current shape of the tower was given by the Ottoman rulers Fatih Sultan Mehmet and Mahmud II.

The best months for a Bosphorus tour in Istanbul Turkey are from late April to September. The reason for this is the rich colors created by the forests and trees on both sides of the Bosphorus, enriched and beautified by colorful flowers scattered among the greenery. Among these colors, one that stands out is the purple flowers of the Judas tree, which is the color of the Byzantine Empire.

It is known that both shores of the Bosphorus were once completely surrounded by waterside mansions. Some of them couldn’t withstand the test of time, while others were destroyed by human hands. However, many of the buildings that still adorn the shores of the Bosphorus are these mansions. Although they may appear similar from a distance, each one reflects the characteristics of different eras, architectural trends, the talents of the builder and craftsman, and perhaps the personal preferences of the mansion’s owner. Most of them are still named after their original owners, as you can understand from their names, many of whom were Ottoman Pashas.

You can also see mansions on the seaside of Kuzguncuk, which stretches parallel to the Asian side of the Bosphorus. One of the best-preserved is the Pink Mansion, built in the 18th century. As you continue north and pass under the Bosphorus Bridge, you will come across one of the most beautiful palaces you can see on the Bosphorus shore. Beylerbeyi Palace, located on the Asian side, now serves as a museum. It is known to have hosted foreign statesmen and emperors.

You will also be drawn to the seaside mansions in Çengelköy. Some of these mansions, known to have once lined the entire coastline, have survived to this day. Some of the surviving ones include Sadullah Pasha Mansion, Abdullah Pasha Mansion, Fenerli Mansion, and Server Bey Mansion. One of the buildings associated with Çengelköy is Kuleli Military High School.

Istanbul Islands

Like all metropolises, Istanbul Turkey is constantly bustling and in a rush. For those who do not enjoy this rush and haste, there are the islands, lined up in the Marmara Sea, where one can escape. Regular ferries are available to each of these islands.

At some unknown date, an earthquake occurred, and a mountain range was buried in the Marmara Sea, with the highest peaks of this mountain range forming the Princes’ Islands. Most of them can be seen as silhouettes from many places in Istanbul Turkey. Those who are curious about these islands are not satisfied with just watching from a distance. Ferries that regularly sail to the islands come to the aid of the curious. For those who see the islands, leaving behind untouched nature, tranquil and peaceful streets, and returning to the bustling city is more difficult.

The islands of the Marmara are lined up side by side. In the east of these islands, the smallest is Sedef Island, followed by Buyukada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, and Kinaliada. Each of these islands has its own unique beauty, and the most popular ones are somewhat proportional to their size. Ferry visits to these islands happen in a sequence without skipping any. First Kinaliada, then Burgazada, Heybeliada, and finally Buyukada are visited. You can reach the islands by regular ferry services from Sirkeci, Kadikoy, Kabatas, Bostanci, and Kartal, as well as by sea buses departing from Kabatas, Sirkeci, Eminonu, and Bostanci.

Burgazada

Burgazada, located west of Heybeliada and the next ferry stop after Kinaliada, ranks third in terms of size among Istanbul’s Princes’ Islands. The most popular place on the island is Bayrak Tepesi, which provides a wide panoramic view. Like the other islands, Burgazada was also preferred by hermits and monks in the Byzantine period due to its serene location.

When you climb to the top of Bayrak Tepesi, you will come across remnants of the Hristos Monastery, with a history dating back to the 9th century.

The island’s unique location and splendid nature have made it a choice for artists and writers, although not as much as Buyukada. One of the most famous writers in Turkish literature, Sait Faik Abasıyanık, also chose Burgazada. The mansion where the writer passed away in 1954 now serves as the Sait Faik Abasıyanık Museum. Across from the museum is the Ayios Ioannis Church, which is said to have a history dating back to the Byzantine period.

Kinaliada

Kinaliada is the first stop for ferries departing from Istanbul Turkey. People usually don’t get off at this small island; their main goal is to reach Buyukada. However, by doing so, they miss the unique beauties that cannot be found on the other islands. While it may have fewer historic buildings compared to the other islands or offer fewer scenic views for you and your loved one to enjoy, Kinaliada can be an alternative for those who want to relax and escape the crowds, especially in the summer. Moreover, it has the most beaches. So, if your first preference is to sunbathe and enjoy the sea, get off at the first stop from the ferry and explore Kinaliada.

Heybeliada

Heybeliada is the third island visited by ferries from Istanbul Turkey, and in terms of size, it is the second-largest island after Buyukada. It has more green areas than the other islands, and much of the land beyond the settlement area is forested. Therefore, it is a preferred destination for those who want to have a picnic and offers fewer tourist attractions.

The most important tourist spot is Değirmen Burnu, where picnickers gather, especially in the summer months. Like on many other islands, you can rent bicycles here to explore the island or take a tour with phaetons. The beaches are also calmer compared to other islands. As with other high points on all the islands, there is a monastery here as well: Aya Triada Monastery. Visiting the interior requires special permission, so if you’ve made it to this challenging hill, at least enjoy the view.

Buyukada

Among Istanbul’s islands, Buyukada is the most popular and the largest. The beauty of the island starts at Buyukada Pier where the ferry docks. The Pier building, reflecting late Ottoman architectural features, with its dome, tiled arched facade, and stained glass, is one of the most beautiful examples of its kind. After getting off the ferry, take a look inside the building before embarking on exploring the island. This place, displaying maritime documents, models, and old photos, is like a maritime museum. You can also enjoy a cup of tea on the upper floor with a sea view.

After leaving the pier, continue straight on the road to reach a square where the famous clock tower is located, surrounded by wooden mansions and villas. To reach your desired destination from here, you should either take a phaeton or rent a bicycle because there are no motor vehicles on the island. Exploring the island’s beautiful streets and taking a general island tour by phaeton is ideal. Bicycle tours, amidst the magnificent nature with various flowers, especially mimosas, are also very popular. The choice is yours.

If you are more interested in the historic buildings of the island than its nature, a short walk along the main streets is enough. The mansions, some of which have been turned into casinos and hotels, most of them with flower gardens, are the symbols of Buyukada. Especially in the Nizam Neighborhood, you can see the finest examples of these mansions. Other historical buildings include monasteries and churches. One of them is Hristos Monastery, which is among the popular places on Buyukada. Near the monastery, there is the Buyukada Greek Orphanage, a magnificent building known as one of the largest wooden structures in the world.

Another highly visited place in Buyukada with a breathtaking view is the Aya Yorgi Church, located at the highest point of the island. As you ascend this steep hill, the island’s panorama becomes increasingly beautiful. According to an old belief, wishes are believed to come true for those who manage to climb here barefoot. Another way for wishes to come true is to tie colorful ribbons to the trees along the path or to attach a coil of rope to the hilltop without breaking it. These may not sound convincing to you, but many people must have had their wishes come true since the Aya Yorgi Church is filled with items gifted as tokens of gratitude.

Buyukada and love are an inseparable duo. Escaping the city’s hustle and bustle, lovers who hand in hand climb to the top, also known as Lovers’ Hill (Âşıklar Tepesi), witness some of the most beautiful views on the island. The countless beauties of the island have a soul-reviving quality. Most likely, you will lose track of time without realizing how the hours pass. If you have visited for a day trip, spend your last hours on Buyukada at the pier or Dilburnu, where the sunset is best observed on the island. You will see that the view of Istanbul Turkey, illuminated by the lights of Heybeliada in the distance and gradually coming to life, makes the beauty of the scenery indescribable and captivates you for hours.

Transportation in Istanbul Turkey

Regular ferry services and sea buses depart for the island from the piers of Kadikoy, Bostanci, Kabatas, and Kartal. It is possible to transfer from other islands, and there are also direct services. For those who do not want to spend the night on Buyukada and only come for a day trip, there are ferries available until midnight from Bostanci.

Accommodation: If you want to fully enjoy all the beauties of Buyukada and spend a few days on the island, you can stay in one of the historic mansions turned into hotels. Dining: You can taste homemade and island-specific wines at restaurants serving all kinds of seafood and meat products. Plus, you can enjoy them with a view of the Marmara Sea and Istanbul Turkey. Fishermen on the beach can also be an alternative. Rose-shaped ice creams and homemade wines are other unique flavors you can only taste on Buyukada. The tea gardens and patisseries lining both sides of the pier are ideal for those who want to have a snack in the morning. On hot summer days, Buyukada Square is a pleasant place to enjoy your meal.

Dining and Drinking in Istanbul Turkey

You can taste the most magnificent flavors of Turkish and world cuisines while enjoying the iconic Istanbul views of the Istanbul Strait and panoramic Istanbul Turkey in luxury restaurants or historical venues that have been transformed into restaurants, which are associated with Istanbul and appear in all Istanbul postcards.

In Istanbul, where works shedding light on different eras are found in every corner, some of these historical venues have been transformed into restaurants, making them ideal for those who want to enjoy a pleasant meal in this historical setting. Among these, the first places that come to mind are the historical Galata Tower, which offers one of Istanbul’s most beautiful panoramic views, and the Maiden’s Tower, which is surrounded by legends. Since finding a vacant place in these places is quite difficult, remember to make a reservation in advance.

The historical Sirkeci Train Station building, which was the gateway of the Ottoman Empire to the West, houses a restaurant and bar, and the Hüsrev Kethüda Hamam, which was transformed from a hammam built by Mimar Sinan in Ortaköy, and Zindan Han in Eminönü are other places that can be preferred by those who want to have a meal in a historical venue. If you want to have your meal with a view of Istanbul Turkey, which includes Istanbul Strait, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, and many other historical buildings, you can choose venues where you can have a meal overlooking Istanbul Strait or Topkapı Palace, Hagia Sophia, and Sultan Ahmet.

Istanbul Cuisine

In Istanbul, you can find restaurants that offer dishes from all kinds of tastes and cultures. Our recommendation is to taste the flavors of Turkish cuisine, which is one of the three largest cuisines in the world, which hides unique flavors. In the restaurant of the hotel located next to Kariye Museum, you can taste Ottoman period dishes and even dishes specific to each sultan’s period. However, if you prefer different world cuisines, there are restaurants that offer the flavors of different world cuisines in Istanbul Turkey. Restaurants serving flavors from Iran, Russia, Argentina, and other different world cuisines can be found mainly on Istiklal Avenue.

When it comes to the foods you should taste, fish dishes come first. In restaurants where various types of fish, especially bonito and sea bass, which are the gifts of the abundant Sea of Marmara, are prepared as boiled or fried, you can come across on both sides of the Bosphorus. Istanbul is actually a summary of all of Anatolia as it brought together many cultures; thus, you can find all the different flavors of Turkish cuisine in Istanbul. Most of these types of restaurants are located around Sultanahmet Square and the Egyptian Bazaar, which are Istanbul’s historical venues.

Shopping in Istanbul Turkey

One of the most important practices that kept the Ottoman institutions alive was the foundation system. According to this system, if a mosque was being built, another structure that would generate income, such as a market, was created to meet its needs, such as the salaries of the staff, repair and maintenance costs, etc. One of these structures was the bazaars. Here are the stories of the Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Bazaar, which are now the most visited places by both the local people of Istanbul and foreign visitors.

Grand Bazaar

The first buildings of the Grand Bazaar, where you can find more than 3,000 shops selling products from antiques to jewelry, from gold to all kinds of souvenirs, were built by Fatih Sultan Mehmet to generate income for Hagia Sophia. The purpose of the establishment of the Egyptian Bazaar is the same, and it was planned to transfer the income from here to the New Mosque. Both the Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Bazaar, which were the most important commercial venues of the Ottoman Period, now serve as places where you can find many alternatives for those who want to remember something about this city. Among these, some products are exhibited in the historical texture, and some are products that were sold in the same way centuries ago. Some products are the products of the modern world. Just like Istanbul itself, these shopping venues also contain both the old and the new, tradition and modernity.

Nur-u Osmaniye Mosque

In the street between the Grand Bazaar and the Nur-u Osmaniye Mosque, there are shops selling authentic Eastern materials, including carpet sellers. The Arasta Bazaar, which is located behind the Blue Mosque, is another place where you can find authentic and handmade souvenirs. In addition to handmade souvenir products in Sultanahmet and its surroundings, you can find all kinds of products from different regions of Turkey. Antique enthusiasts must definitely visit the Sahaflar Bazaar, located between Beyazıt Mosque and the Grand Bazaar, where there are also second-hand bookstores.

You can find various alternatives for all tastes and cultures in Istanbul among its shopping venues. Our recommendation is to try the flavors of Turkish cuisine, which is one of the three largest cuisines in the world, which hides unique flavors. At the hotel next to the Chora Museum, you can taste dishes from the Ottoman period and even dishes specific to each sultan’s period. However, if you prefer different world cuisines, there are restaurants that offer the flavors of different world cuisines in Istanbul. Restaurants serving flavors from Iran, Russia, Argentina, and other different world cuisines can be found mainly on Istiklal Avenue.

Entertainment Istanbul Turkey

Istanbul Turkey never sleeps. The day starts with the boats of fishermen going out to sea before the sun rises. Then it continues with amateur fishermen casting their lines from the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn. With the first light of day, Istanbul gives way to the sweet hustle and bustle of those going to work, and the city’s bustling pace reminds everyone that Istanbul is a metropolis.

As the night falls, the city starts to shine. This time, the energy shifts to entertainment venues filled with people who want to unwind after a long day. Istanbul Turkey is the center of social and cultural life.

European Capital of Culture

Istanbul Turkey, declared the European Capital of Culture in 2010, hosts exhibitions where you can see works by the world’s most famous artists, international art and music festivals that bring artists and art lovers together. The cultural richness brought by thousands of years of history in Istanbul, which carries cultural wealth from its historical past, increases even more with the cultural and artistic activities it hosts during these festivals, and the title of Cultural Capital suits it even more. Sometimes held outdoors and sometimes in historical venues with excellent acoustics, concerts and shows that are organized during these festivals should not be missed if you are a real art lover.

Beyoğlu

Beyoglu is a place where you can find a venue for entertainment 24 hours a day. Çiçek Pasajı (Flower Passage) and Asmalımescit have beerhouses, cafes, bars, and old meyhanes (traditional Turkish taverns) that organize fasıl (traditional Turkish music) nights. These venues are the most preferred places for entertainment in Beyoğlu. Nişantaşı and Etiler are famous for luxury entertainment venues. The Bosphorus coast and Taksim are the main areas where leading entertainment venues are located. The bars in Kadıköy are important places for nightlife on the Anatolian side. Along the coast, there are tea gardens and restaurants where you can spend time with your family. The fish restaurants and meyhane (tavern) in Kumkapı and Yenikapı are places that those looking for a more authentic and Turkish-style entertainment can prefer.

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