There are few places in the world that have as high a concentration of historic sites within such a small area as the old part of Istanbul (now a UNESCO World Heritage site). What makes this area even more unique is the mix of cultures and religions that are covered in these historic sites; you’ll find Roman ruins, Ottoman Palaces, Christian Basilica’s and Muslin mosques.
Throughout the centuries Istanbul has been ruled by many different empires all of whom have left behind incredible reminders from their period of rule.
Today Istanbul is home to more than 14 million people, it’s a vast city that stretches out from the confluence of the Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara. Half of Istanbul is in Europe and the other half is in Asia, making it the only city in the world the spilt between two continents.
The icon of Istanbul and one of the most recognised buildings in the world, the Blue Mosque, is located in the heart of the old city with its enormous dome and 6 minarets. Its true name is Sultan Ahmed Mosque, but it’s better known as the Blue Mosque due to the thousands of blue coloured tiles lining its interior walls. Built in the 16th century, the Mosque is still fully operational today, however when not in use for religious reasons, tourists are allowed to view the magnificent interior.
Hagia Sophia is one of the most interesting places in Istanbul to visit as it really shows the varied history of the city. The building started out as a Greek Orthodox Basilica around 537 AD, shortly after becoming a Roman Catholic Cathedral until 1455, after which it become a mosque until 1931. Now it’s a museum and an important artefact to the many religions and peoples that have worshipped in this impressive and massive building over the years.
Home to the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years (1400 to 1800’s), Topkapi Palace takes its prime location on the shoreline of the Bosphorus, affording it wonderful waterside views. The Topkapi Palace is a maze of courtyards, building complexes, beautiful gardens, armoires and a harem. Some of the outer walls still remain intact, as do two very imposing functioning city gates. Take the time to visit the different areas that make up the total Topkapi Palace Museum, such as the Harem with its multi rooms and parlours showcasing intricate tile mosaics.
Located next to the Blue Mosque in the heart of the old city of Istanbul are the historic remains of an ancient Hippodrome, used by the Greeks and then the Romans as a sports venue for horse and chariot racing. Now it’s a beautiful plaza and a great place to sit, relax and do some people watching. The centrepiece of the Hippodrome is the massive Obelisk of Thutmosis.
If shopping is more your style, head over to the massive Grand Bazaar, founded in the middle of the 14th century. The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, these days selling everything including local arts and crafts, jewellery, touristy t-shirts and a huge range of Turkish Delight. Istanbul had a great strategic position along the Silk Road, the main trade route between Asia and Europe, which led to the creation of the Spice Bazaar. The Spice Bazaar is well worth a visit, as it showcases such a large range of spices, nuts, produce, teas and coffees from all around the world. Make sure you take the time to drink some fresh piping hot apple tea and sample some delicious local snacks while exploring it.
After tiring ourselves out exploring the old town, we took a relaxing afternoon cruise on the Bosphorus. Cruising around Istanbul gives you a completely different perspective of the city and some great photo opportunities as well. We sat on the top deck of the small cruiser, sipping hot apple tea, chatting to other tourists from around the world. We took a heap of photos and just enjoyed the sun on our faces as we cruised around this marvellous city.
Istanbul is truly a must for everyone.