Istanbul Top Ten

Visiting Istanbul? Here are our top ten suggested must sees:

By TTM on 25 July 2007 in Travel Articles

Istanbul is a sprawling city that uniquely spans two continents and oozes both culture and romance. Staddling the Bosphoros the landscape is dotted with domes, minarets and mosques of exquisite architecture. Start at the Sultanahmet District (named after Sltan Ahmet I), the heart of the old section of Istanbul where you can find many attractions including Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque and some of the city's most popular restaurants.

1. Hagia Sophia Museum / Church (Ayasofya)
This architectural marvel displays 30 million gold tiles throughout its interior, and a wide, flat dome which was a bold engineering feat at the time it was constructed in the 6th century.

2. Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı)
This huge market started out as a warehouse and just grew into a shopping Mecca - the largest covered bazaar in Turkey. Haggling for anything from carpets to jewels to cumin is part of the culture and it is rumoured to contain over 4,000 shops. So be prepared: comfortable shoes, lots of energy and a huge dollop of humour to deal with the bargaining banter. It will be worth it to come away with basement prices on fur, leather and handcrafted souvenirs. The bazaar is open Monday to Saturday from 8.30am to 7.00pm.

3. Topkapi Palace
This enormous palace was the Imperial residence of Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years. Although much of the palace is not accessible, the daily tours of the Harem are of great interest to tourists. You will learn about its former resident Selim the Sot, who drowned in his own bath after imbibing far to much champagne. Mahmut II was the last emperor to live here and although the palace has changed over the years, its basic four-courtyard plan have not. Don't forget to visit the Harem and take a peek at the ornate structure in the cobbled square which is the Fountain of Sultan Amhet III, a sultan who so admired tulips that his reign was dubbed the Tulip Age. Open Wednesday to Monday from 9am to 5pm.

4. Blue Mosque (Mosque Sultan Ahmet Camii)
Nicknamed the Blue Mosque because of the colour of its tens of thousands of interior tiles, this masterful early 17th century building with its many domes and six minarets was built to compete with the Hagia Sophia across the street that had been erected almost a millenium earlier. Indeed its courtyard is the biggest of all the Ottoman mosques. Approach the mosque viat the middle of the Hippodrome rather than making your way through Sultanahmet park, because you will get a far better of appreciation of the design this way.

5. The Bosphorus
This body of water that passes along the shores of Istanbul is 20 miles in length and is the physical divider between the continents of Europe and Asia. Be sure to catch a ferry from Karaköy (just over the Galata Bridge from Eminönü) to Kadıköy. This way you can enjoy a romantic night-time ferry over the waters while taking in the view of the Old City.

6. Yerebatan Sarayi (Sunken Palace Cistern)
Istanbul has hundreds of gloomy cisterns left from the days when Istanbul was Constantinople. The grandest is known as Yerebatan Sarayi or Sunken Palace. This giant well, complete with 336 marble columns, once held over 21 million gallons of water for the city residents. It's claim to hollywood fame is its appearence in the Bond Movie, From Russia With Love. The scene where Bond rows a small boat through a series of marble columns was filmed here. Today, it is a major tourist attraction, complete with piped-in music and pulsing lights and a little cafe. Allow at least 30 minutes for your visit here.

7. Istanbul Archaeological Museum
This museum has three distinct sections: Museum of the Ancient Orient and the Tiled Kiosk, the Archaelogy Museum and the Tiled Kiosk. It is brim full of Roman sarcophagi, Turkish faïence (glazed earthenware) and Hittite artefacts. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 8.30am to 5pm.

8. Cemberlitas Hamam
Turkey is the home of the Hamam and this is one of several Turkish baths in the city. It was built by the same architect responsible for the Blue Mosque designed this one.

9. Dolmabahce Palace (Dolmabahce Sarayi)
This palace was built in the mid 1800s to replace an earlier structure that was made of wood. The new palace incorporated sixteen separate buildings with stables, a flour mill and a clock tower among them.

10. Egyptian Bazaar (Misir Carsisi)
Spices, dried fruits, nuts and seeds are among the many treasures to be found at this bazaar also known as the Spice Market.



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Kursat Yilmaz, Turkey

Istanbul owes its historic importance & its amazing cultural & architectural heritage to its perfect strategic location, straddling the Bosphorus straits which separate Europe & Asia Minor.

Through most of its 2,500-year-long history, the city (first known as Byzantium, then as Constantinople & since 1930 as Istanbul) was a cultural melting pot. Today, its population of more than 13 million is almost exclusively Turkish & many of its people are recent migrants from provincial Turkey, lured by the promise of jobs & careers in this vibrant, fast-growing city.

Istanbul is no longer the nation's capital, but is Turkey's economic & cultural powerhouse - a status underlined by its role as a European City of Culture in 2010 & the award of UNESCO World Heritage listing to many of its most important landmarks, which range from stunning Ottoman mosques & Byzantine churches & catacombs to the columns of Hellenistic temples & the remains of massive medieval city walls.

But there's more to Istanbul than Byzantine & Ottoman heritage. A fast-growing economy contributed to a flourishing arts & music scene, with a plethora of new bars, clubs, private art galleries, restaurants & designer fashion outlets.

The charm & character of Istanbul lies in its endless variety & jumble of contradictions. Its fascinating history has bequeathed the city a vivid inheritance of Byzantine ruins, splendid palaces, ancient mosques & churches, hamams (bath-houses) & exotic bazaars. Modern Istanbul exudes trendy bars & nightclubs, western boutiques, office blocks & elegant suburbs. The call to prayer heralds the start of each day & the city comes to life with over 11 million residents forming a chaotic social & cultural mix of unscrupulous carpet merchants, wealthy shoppers, religiously veiled women & destitute beggars.

It is a city of contrasts, bustling with the cacophony of 21st century life, & is yet achingly beautiful. It is set in a stunning location, surrounded by water, which is the narrow strait of the Bosphorus & the serene sea of Marmara separating Europe from Asia. Istanbul has a foot in each, celebrating the best of both heritages. As Byzantium, Constantinople & finally, Istanbul, it has been the capital of three Empires, each leaving their mark in the form of stunning palaces, castles, mosques, churches & monuments. The legacy of its chequered past can be seen on every turn of the modern city.

10 October, 2011

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