Istanbul, the only city in the world that is spread over two continents, is located in the northwest of Turkey. It has a mild climate. The city became the fifth-most popular tourist destination after approximately 11.6 million tourists arrived in Istanbul in 2012. The biggest attraction is the historic centre that is partially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city’s cultural and entertainment hub is across the Golden Horn.
Basilica Cistern is an underground cistern. It includes remains of the Byzantine network of waterways. These were built to supply fresh water to the inhabitants of Constantinople over 1000 years ago. The cistern has 336 columns of marble. These rise nearly 30 feet to support arches and domes. Basilica Cistern is located just a stone’s throw away from Hagia Sophia church. It is noteworthy that the Basilica Cistern was constructed by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD.
Formerly a Greek Orthodox basilica and later an imperial mosque, Hagia Sophia is now a museum in Istanbul. In English, Hagia Sophia means the Church of the Divine Wisdom and is an unmissable site. It stands on top of the first hill of Constantinople surrounded by water on three sides.
The Topkapi Palace was constructed twenty years after the conquest of Istanbul. It is encompassed in a high wall called sur-i-sultani. It has an area of 700,000 sq. m. Over the wall of the Palace there are 28 towers. Bab-i-Humayun Gate is the main entrance gate to the palace. The public are allowed to visit the mint museum which lies close by and the Ara Irin Church is located to the left side of the palace. The real entrance to the palace is believed to be the Bab-us Selman Gate. The words, ‘There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Servant and Prophet’ is inscribed on the outside of the gate. This gate has five pathways. Inside the palace there is a school, library and exhibition halls. There are many structures within Topkapi Palace. It has now been converted into a museum allowing the visitors to witness culture, history, grandeur, etc.
The Blue Mosque is so called because of the colour of the tiles used in its interior. It was during the rule of Ahmed I that the mosque was built from 1609 to 1616. Also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, it is still used as a mosque. It has one main dome and eight secondary domes. Besides this there are six minarets. It is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period. The mosque has some Byzantine elements incorporated with traditional Islamic architecture.
Istanbul Archaeology Museums
All the eras and civilizations are represented by over one million objects that are housed in the group of three museums. One of the most famous pieces of ancient art in the museum is the ornate Alexander Sarcophagus that was once believed to be prepared for Alexander the Great.
With 61 covered streets with over 3,000 shops which attract between 250,000 to 400,000 visitors daily, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. A thriving complex, it employs 26,000 people. The Grand Bazaar has 21 gates. Knowing how to bargain is essential to make excellent deals for carpets, gold, silver, leather items or souvenirs.
One of the finest surviving examples of a Byzantine church is the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora. It was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman era. Finally, in 1948 it became a museum. Fine mosaics and frescoes cover the interior of the building.
The Bosporus and Golden Horn are on either side of the Galata Tower. You get a 360-degree view of Istanbul from here. Legend has it that lovers who are not meant to be together cannot go up the tower together. However astonishing as it may sound, it is said that the tower does everything in its power to prevent them from doing so. Further it is said that you marry the person with whom you go up the first time.
It is one of the renowned sights of Istanbul and the largest mosque in the city. The Suleymaniye Mosque that is located on the Third Hill of Istanbul is an Ottoman imperial mosque. It has tall and elegant minarets with big domed buildings supported by half domes much like the Byzantine church Hagia Sophia.