Istanbul is a city that dresses its culture and history well, blending them into an exciting city that has a lot to offer travelers from all over the world. Established in the Neolithic era, Istanbul is today a modern city that remains loyal to its historical heritage with its mosques, basilicas and cathedrals, and ancient bazaars.
Turkey’s largest city situated between East and West offers an air of intrigue and charm that will appeal to all visitors. An overview of Istanbul’s top tourist attractions:
1. Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia is a masterpiece of Roman engineering, with its gigantic dome (102 feet or 31 meters in diameter) occupying the world’s largest indoor space for more than 1000 years.
Hagia Sophia is a Greek term for Holy Wisdom and refers to the second person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ. Built between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, it was the Eastern Orthodox cathedral until 1453, except for about 60 years in the 1200s when it served as a Roman Catholic cathedral.
In 1453, the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople and converted the building into a mosque, removing or plastering many Christian relics and replacing it with Islamic features. The building was closed in 1931 and the Republic of Turkey has reopened as a museum in 1935.
Visitors can go from the Imperial Gate to the central nave and look up to see the majestic interior of the dome with its mosaic-covered ceiling.
It extends to the upper parts of the marble gallery on the walls of the main nave, and the walls of the inner narthex and side naves are completely covered with marble. The expensive marbles of many different colors, specially selected for Hagia Sophia, came from various parts of the empire.
In the courtyard of Hagia Sophia, there is a Fountain of Purification with a Greek inscription in the form of a palindrome that means “Wash your sin, not just your face”.
Built-in 1739, the Hagia Sophia Library contains old Turkish tiles, and there are historical objects as well as books on carved wooden bookshelves.
The church has suffered from earthquakes, fires, and riots over the years, requiring many repairs and restorations, but remains a beautiful building that some call the eighth wonder of the world.
2. Blue Mosque
Built in the early 17th century, the Blue Mosque continues to be an active place of worship today. This means that visitors must carefully time their visits, as the mosque is closed to travelers during the five-day prayer time for Muslims.
All visitors should take off their shoes and women should cover their hair. This is a small price to pay to see their priceless treasures, which include 20,000 ceramic tiles in various tulip designs and 200 stained glass windows, all with intricate designs. Built by Sultan Ahmet, the mosque takes its name from the blue tiles on the dome and the upper floors of the interior.
3. Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace is one of the must-see places in Istanbul, combining historical and stunning scenery in an unhurried experience.
For nearly four centuries, the wealthy Topkapi Palace served as the official residence of the sultans who ruled the Ottoman Empire. It is one of the largest palaces in the world. Sultan II. Mehmed began working at the palace shortly after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 and lived there until his death in 1481.
In 1924, the palace became a museum displaying a wide range of art, porcelain, jewelry, manuscripts, and other treasures of the Ottoman Empire. Highlights include the gem-encrusted Topkapi dagger and the 86-carat Spoonmaker’s Diamond. The palace is also home to venerable Islamic relics, including the sword and cloak of the Prophet Mohammed. Most of the stunning complex is open to the public.
The Ottoman palace has four main courtyards and several outbuildings. The first courtyard, known as the Janissary Court, is where the distinguished palace soldiers stand guard. There is a magnificent fountain in the square and the Hagia Irene Byzantine church built by Emperor Justinian in 548. The church survived as it was used by the Ottomans as a warehouse and an imperial arsenal.
The second courtyard is a lush green area surrounded by the former imperial harem and the Tower of Justice, as well as a hospital and kitchens that prepare thousands of meals every day. Suleiman the Magnificent built the entrance gate. The third courtyard contains the treasure and the library of Ahmed III. The entrance to the third courtyard was strictly arranged and prohibited for foreigners.
The fourth courtyard served as the sultan’s inner sanctuary. The buildings, known as the Tulip Garden, are decorated with mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell embroidery, and elegant blue and white Iznik tiles. Other architectural features include marble stairs and a reflecting pool.
4. Grand Bazaar
Travelers who love to shop shouldn’t miss a visit that makes the Grand Bazaar one of the world’s largest covered markets with its 5,000 stores. The bazaar, which receives more than a quarter of a million visitors a day, has items such as jewelry, flying or non-flying carpets, spices, antiques, hand-painted ceramics.
The bazaar, whose history dates back to 1461, today hosts two mosques, four fountains, two baths or steam baths, and the Cevahir Bedesten, where traditionally the rarest and most valuable items are found. This is where shoppers will find old coins, gemstone jewelry, inlaid guns, and antique furniture.
5. Suleymaniye Mosque
Suleymaniye Mosque visitors say that its beauty and tranquility give them an inspiring sense of spirituality. The mosque, located on the Third Hill of Istanbul, was built by Kanuni Sultan Süleyman in 1550. Indeed, the mosque is magnificent blending the best of Islamic and Byzantine architecture.
The mosque was severely damaged over the years, including a fire that broke out when the gardens were used as a weapon depot during World War I. It was restored in the middle of the 20th century. The mosque is marked with four minarets indicating that it was built by a sultan. When it was built, the dome was the tallest dome of the Ottoman Empire.
6. Dolmabahce Palace
Luxury, luxury, and beauty are just some of the adjectives used to describe the Dolmabahçe Palace compared to the Palace of Versailles. In the 19th century built using 14 tonnes of gold foil Turkey’s most magnificent palaces, traditional Ottoman architecture with neoclassical European-style blends with the Baroque and Rococo style.
The place where six sultans lived from 1856 to 1924, is also home to the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier, a gift from Queen Victoria. The location of the Dolmabahçe Palace is stunning: It was built on the Bosphorus coastline.
7. Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern has been providing water to Istanbulites since the sixth century when it was built by the Roman Emperor Justinian I. A visit praises the technology used by travelers, the ancient Romans, to build this architectural wonder that is so advanced to the present day.
Located just a few steps from the Blue Mosque, the underground cistern was built in place of a basilica built in the third century. Known as the Sunken Palace, the cistern can hold 2.8 million cubic meters of water. The Cistern is one of the places used in the 1963 James Bond thriller From Russia with Love.
8. Chora Church
The Chora Church may be a little out of the usual tourist route, but visitors say the beautiful Byzantine art is well worth the effort to get there. The magnificent mosaics and frescoes depict the life of Jesus and his mother Mary. Known as the Holy Savior Church in Chora, the building has been described as one of the most beautiful surviving works of Byzantine architecture.
Dating back to the Constantine period, Chora was a monastery in its early years; It became a mosque a few centuries later and was converted into a museum in 1948.
9. Istanbul Archaeological Museum
One of Turkey’s most important museums of Istanbul Archeology Museum is actually three museums: the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Tiled Kiosk Museum.
The three combined museums contain more than 1 million objects from civilizations around the world. It was the first Turkish museum established in 1891 and was located on the grounds of Topkapı Palace. The history of the Tiled Kiosk dates back to 1472. There are thousands of valuable artifacts in museums, including the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great.
10. Galata Tower
Galata Tower, 67 meters (219 feet) high, dominates the skyline of Istanbul, offering magnificent views of the old city and its surroundings. The medieval stone tower known as the Tower of Christ was the tallest building in Istanbul when it was built in 1348. It still stands high above Istanbul today.
The tower has been replaced over the centuries and was once used as an observation tower to detect fires. Today, its upper reaches include a café, restaurant, and a nightclub, both of which are reached by the elevator in the nine-story building where you can find stunning views.