Considered as one of the capitals of the world, Istanbul – Turkey has always been a timeless city in which you can find pretty much anything you want. It changed names more than a few times since its establishment, but was always destined to be a capital – no matter to which nation. The city was established as a future Eastern Roman Empire’s capital in 324 by the Emperor Constantine the Great.
Chicago is constantly auditioning for the world, determined that one day, on the streets of Barcelona, in Berlin’s cabarets, in the coffee shops of Istanbul, people will know and love us in our multidimensional glory, dream of us the way they dream of San Francisco and New York.– via Mary Schmich
History of Istanbul
Needless to say, the city’s name of Constantinople comes exactly from there, but this wasn’t the first city built at the spot. The city itself was built upon the spot of the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium which predates Constantinople by 1,000 years. To cut the story short, the city was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (often, mistakenly referred to as Byzantine Empire) between 330 and 1454 with also being the capital of the Latin Empire between 1204 and 1261, during the Crusades.
When it finally succumbed to Ottoman rule, it also changed its name to the current Istanbul. It was Ottoman Empire’s capital until the Empire’s dissolution in 1923 when modern, secular Turkey was established and capital moved to Ankara.
Art & Architecture
The conquering armies of ancient times tended to ransack the city rather than endow it with artistic treasures, but all that changed with the Byzantines, who adorned their churches and palaces with mosaics and frescoes. Miraculously, many of these remain. Their successors, the Ottomans, were quick to launch an ambitious building program and the magnificently decorated imperial mosques that resulted are architectural triumphs that together form one of the world’s great skylines.
In recent years, local banks and business dynasties have reprised the Ottomans’ grand ambitions and endowed an impressive array of galleries, museums, and festivals for all to enjoy.
Geographical position & Climate
The city is currently spread across both Europe and Asia Minor which are separated by the strait of Bosphorus. It used to be the most populous city in the world at one point, but it certainly isn’t small now as well. Around 14 million people call Istanbul their home at present. Thanks to its position between Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, Istanbul features a borderline Mediterranean climate which is neither too hot nor cold. Average yearly temperature is 13.8 °C or 56.9 °F with January being the coldest (5.6 °C or 42.1 °F) and August being the hottest month (23 °C or 73.4 °F).
Precipitation mostly forms during winter, but the average yearly figure is just slightly north of 800 mm per square meter (just shy of 32 inches). This makes Istanbul visit-available throughout the year, but you can certainly choose when to do so for yourself.
With such a vast territory covered and immensely rich history and culture, one simply doesn’t know where to start when trying to describe this megalopolis. Know that you’ll need plenty of time (measured in days or weeks even) in order to fully explore the city, but even this, ultimately won’t be enough. Marmara pearl is vibrant and ever-changing, and in order to fully grasp the idea of life in Istanbul, you’ll likely have to move there on a more permanent basis. But I digress. Let’s start with the obvious landmarks and attractions, Istanbul – Turkey is best-known for.
Istanbul – historic sights
Built by the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I in 537, Hagia Sophia is still considered the largest Orthodox Christian church in the world – at least by some. Of course, Hagia Sophia was long ago converted into a mosque and is currently a museum. This is, arguably, the most notable symbol of modern-day Istanbul and still its most prominent landmark, even 15 centuries after its construction.
Needless to say, this is a must-see and you should probably choose a sunny day and ensure the help of a guide in order to avoid the long queues that are known to form at the site of this architectural wonder.
Whatever you choose to do while in town, don’t forget to visit the Grand Bazaar. Istanbul – Turkey isn’t one of the top shopping destinations on the globe for nothing and Büyük Çarşı is a place where you’ll get to haggle and buy a lot of both needed and unnecessary stuff. At the same time, you’ll experience the oriental marketplace and its nooks and crannies at its fullest.
Apart from the aforementioned Hagia Sophia, Istanbul is riddled with myriad other mosques, both equally or less prominent than the former Orthodox Christian basilica. Süleymaniye Mosque, Fatih Mosque, Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque), and Yeni Cami (New Mosque) are only some of the notable mentions and certainly don’t lack any style in terms of exterior decor. Süleymaniye and Blue Mosques, in particular, stand as the most beautiful examples of Ottoman sacral architecture.
Topkapi Palace is quite close to the Hagia Sophia and stands as one of the first monumental buildings erected by the Ottomans shortly after conquering the city. This used to be the court of the Ottoman Sultans and isn’t only represented by a mere villa, but by all corresponding objects that were at Sultan family’s disposal, including the Harem, treasury, guesthouses and no less than four courts.
Built-in 532 by Justinian I (again), Basilica Cistern remains as the largest surviving Roman cisterns in modern-day Istanbul. This underground marvel was able to store up to 80,000 cubic meters of water but was neglected throughout the entire time of the Ottoman rule, and further still, up to 1985. It is now one of the city’s most prized attractions and certainly much different than anything else Bosphorus marvel has to offer.
It’s a bit of a schlep to get there but the restored Chora Church in the old city walls offers a stunning glimpse of late Byzantine splendor, its walls, and ceilings adorned with glittering mosaics and breath-taking frescoes. Like Aya Sofya, it has made the journey from Byzantine church to Ottoman mosque and then to the modern museum, and now stands in a neighborhood of restored Ottoman wooden houses, prettily painted in pastel colors.
Before you go back to your hotel, take a look at the nearby walls that ringed old Constantinople and date back to the fifth century.
Facing Aya Sofya across a small park and mirroring its domed silhouette, the early 17th-century Blue Mosque is one of only a handful of mosques in the world to boast six minarets. Is it really blue? Well, not noticeably, although all the walls are papered with fine İznik tiles. To view it as the architect, Sedefkar Mehmed Aga, originally intended, enter via what looks like the side entrance from the Hippodrome. Afterward, pop your head into a building the size of a small mosque on the corner of the complex. This houses the tomb of Sultan Ahmed I, the man who gave his name to both the mosque and the neighborhood.
Landmarks & Museums
Istanbul – Turkey certainly has its share of historical landmarks to offer, but they are not all. A number of museums – İstanbul Archaeology Museums trio as most prominent of them can be found scattered around the metropolis. A mentioned trio of connected museums can be found in Topkapi Palace and exhibit a number of collections dating from various time periods and various locations in the once vast Ottoman Empire.
Together with museums, Istanbul – Turkey offers quite a few scattered monuments including The Column of Constantine (Burnt Column), Serpentine Column, Obelisk of Theodosius (obelisk of the Pharaoh Pharaoh Thutmose III), Monument of Liberty and Monument of the Republic.
Watery Istanbul is a city that cries out to be viewed from on high, and you can get a bird’s-eye view of everything from the balcony at the top of the Galata Tower in Beyoğlu, the modern part of old Istanbul that, in pre-Republican days, was home to the city’s foreign residents. Built-in 1348, the tower once formed part of a sub-city belonging to the Genoese that stretched right down to the Bosphorus. In a footnote to aviation history, it was from this tower that Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi flew across the Bosphorus from Europe to Asia in 1638, thus inaugurating the first-ever intercontinental flight.
Restaurants, bars, artistic quarters, and hotels are also offered in abundance here. Constantine’s Ark, Han Terrace, Marbella Cafe Restaurant, and Massa Bistro Cafe & Restaurant are just some of the places where food is fantastic. Furthermore, almost all leading hotel brands have their hotels in the city and their restaurants don’t lack anything at all as well. Four Seasons, Hilton, InterContinental, Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt, Swissotel, Shangri-La, and many others offer their luxurious accommodations.
However, I’ll have to single out one, special historical hotel. Çırağan Palace by Kempinski is a former lavish Ottoman palace found at the European side of the Bosphorus waterline. It is still one of the most beautiful buildings in Istanbul and one of the Kempinski hotel chain’s most prized possessions.
Culture is mix. Culture means a mix of things from other sources. And my town, Istanbul, was this kind of mix. Istanbul, in fact, and my work, is a testimony to the fact that East and West combine cultural gracefully, or sometimes in an anarchic way, came together, and that is what we should search for.– via Orhan Pamuk
One just can’t simply give this timeless gem of a city justice by writing a few lines of text – just like one can’t really see the city in a matter of few days. This destination is filled with culture, history, and modern activities that have to be experienced. This is the only way to feel the special energy that the former Roman and Ottoman Empire’s capital resonates with.