In & Around Istanbul

This vibrant city has a history dating back over a thousand years, and has seen civilisations throughout the years conquer, and then relinquish control of the only city in the world which straddles two continents.  As a result there is a wealth of historic and cultural places of interest – here is a taste of just a few of this many places.  From historical buildings to the shopper’s paradise of Istanbul today, there really is something for everyone to see and do during a stay in this city.

You cannot think of Istanbul without thinking of the Bosporus and a must for all visitors to the city is a boat trip upon this famous river which separates Europe and Asia.  From your vantage point on the waters you will see such a diverse view of the past and present.  Modern hotels mix with “yalı”, which are traditional wood villas, palaces, fortresses and little fishing villages.  There are regular boat trips that meander across the water from Europe to Asia, and back again, and take about 6 hours in total.

The trip will take in the sights of the Dolmabaçhe Palace, many parks and the pavilions of the Yıldız Palace.  Another sight to see is a grand hotel which was once the Çırağan Palace which was refurbished in the late 1800’s by Sultan Abdülaziz and is said to be one of the most beautiful palaces in Istanbul with 300 metres of marble facade facing the river.  Ortaköy is the place where artists display and sell their work along the street on a Sunday.

After passing beneath one of the longest bridges in the world you will see the Beylerberi Palace.  Behind the palace Çamlıca Hill rises to the highest point in Istanbul, where amongst the traditionally landscaped gardens you can gain one of the best panoramas of the city.

Over on the European side of Istanbul the contrast between old and new can be best seen in the old Ottoman wooden villas at Arnavutköy and the expensive properties of Bebek.  On opposing sides of the Bosporus are two fortresses – the Rumeli Hisarı and the Anadolu Hisarı.  Just before coming to the Anadolu Hisarı you see the Göksu Palace, otherwise known as the Küçüksu Palace.  The Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge stands immediately after the two fortresses and provides the second link between the two continents.

If you are visiting the city in April you must visit the beautiful Emirgan Park which is famous for its tulips, and where the annual tulip festival is held during this month.  Despite Holland being known for tulips, the flowers originated in Turkey, and a stylized image of the tulip can be found all around you, from the Turkish tourist board logo right through to the traditional glasses which tea are served in.

With so much to see along the banks of this magical river, no trip to Istanbul would be complete without an excursion, either by day or night, along the Bosporus.

Covered Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı)
Shopping in Istanbul is a must when visiting this city your shopping experience takes you from the colourful old bazaars through to modern shopping centres with designer labels everywhere you look.

The covered bazaar in the old city is one of the favourite places for tourists to visit.  There are over 4,000 shops in this maze of streets and passages.  Each “type” of shop has its own street, for example, the goldsmiths’ street, the carpet sellers’ street.  You can find something here to suit everybody’s taste … and pocket!  From modern jewellery, holiday souvenirs, traditional Turkish wares you are sure to find whatever you are looking for here.

Also in the heart of the city you will find the Spice Bazaar … even if you are not looking to buy anything, it is worth a visit just to smell the vast array of aromas in the air!

Egyptian Bazaar
The Egyptian Bazaar is also known as the Spice Bazaar, and is located near to the Armada Hotel.  The air at the bazaar is scented with enticing aromas such as cinnamon, mint, thyme, caraway and every other conceivable herb and spice.  It dates back to when the Egyptians came here to sell spices … the English dubbed it the spice bazaar.

Blue Mosque
Whilst most people know the name Blue Mosque, this famous sight is in fact named the Sultanahmet Imperial Mosque.  Located opposite St. Sophia, this elegant mosque with 6 minarets was built between 1609 and 1616 by the architect Mehmet, and named after Sultanahmet I.  It has gained the name of the Blue Mosque due to its interior of blue tiles.  During the summer months there is a sound and light show here.

St. Sophia
The Ayasofya Museum, as it is more commonly known, is an ancient basilica, which was an architectural wonder in its day, was built in the 4th century by Constantine the Great, and then later reconstructed by Justinian in the 6th century.  It has a dome with a diameter of 31 metres which rises some 55 metres above the ground.  It is well worth a visit to see the wonderful Byzantine mosaics inside.

Topkapı Palace
On the shores of the Bosporus and Marmara Sea is a myriad of buildings that was originally the great palace of the Ottoman sultans from the 15th right through to the 19th centuries.

Inside the courtyards of the palace are magnificent gardens, and the palace kitchen holds a display of crystal ware, silver ware and China porcelain.  These lead you to the famous harem which was the secluded living area of the wives and concubines of the sultan.  Additionally, at the palace, you will find the Audience Hall where people met with the sultan, the Library of Sultan Ahmet III, an exhibition of the robes and clothing worn by the sultans and their families, the opulent jewellery of the Imperial Treasury and a display of miniatures.  Also housed within one of the courtyards is the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle, which encases the relics of the Prophet Mohammed.

Dolmabaçhe Palace
Again situated on the banks of the Bosporus, this palace was built during the 19th century by Sultan Abdülmecit, with an impressive 600 metre frontage facing the river.  Most people visit in order to see the huge salon with its 56 columns and huge chandelier, weighing in at 4.5 tonnes, and having 750 bulbs.  A unique feature of the palace is the Bird Pavilion where birds from all over the world were once kept.  The architecture of the harem is in complete contrast to the rest of the palace.  Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, died here on November 10th 1938.

Yıldız Palace
The construction of this palace took a very long time but was finally completed by Abdülhamet II at the end of the 19th century, and includes pavilions and a mosque. Set in a huge park, on the top of a hill, with trees and plants brought from all over the world, it boasts spectacular panoramic views of the Bosporus.  The largest of the buildings here is the Şale illustrates the luxury enjoyed here over a century ago.  Currently you can only visit the park and the Şale at this site.

As well as the Sunday exhibit by artists, this area is well worth a visit at night with its nightclubs, fish restaurants, bars and jazz clubs.  Additionally the area shows religious tolerance in the fact that a church, a synagogue and mosque have stood side by side for centuries.

Beylerberi Palace
This white marble palace stands on the Asian side of Istanbul and was built in the 19th century by Sultan Abdülaziz.  It was once one of the summer residences for the sultans, with beautiful gardens and magnolia trees, and a guest house for visiting foreign dignitaries.

Golden Horn
On the European side of the Bosporus, the Turkish name for this horn shaped bay is Haliç, and is widely acknowledged as one of the best natural bays in the world.  It was hugely important during both the Byzantine and Ottoman times … and is now surrounded by parks and promenades.  Walking along the streets in this area of the city is like looking back in time as in the areas of Fener and Balat you can see whole streets with houses, churches and synagogues from both the Ottoman and Byzantine times.  Another Ottoman looking area is Eyüp with old tombs of saints and cemeteries where people still come to pray.  From this vantage point you have a wonderful view of the bay itself, and there are plenty of places for you to sit and drink a traditional Turkish coffee and watch the world go by.  Also whilst you are here you can visit the Eyüp Mosque.

Eyüp Mosque
This historic mosque is known as the Great Mosque of Eyüp and stands outside the city walls.  It is here that the standard bearer of the Prophet Mohammed died in an attack on Istanbul, or Constantinople as it was then known, in 670 A.D.  The tomb that commemorates where he fell attracts many pilgrims and was the first mosque to be built in the city after the Ottomans conquered Istanbul.

Istanbul City Walls
Emperor Theodosius II had these walls built in the 5th century and they stretch some 7 kilometres from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn.  Restoration of some sections has brought them back to their original state when they were known as the mightiest fortifications in Europe.  The many towers and bastions of the walls, and the area which they enclose, have been declared by UNESCO a cultural heritage sight.

Göksu Palace (Küçüksu)
The name of this palace, “small water” comes from the small streams nearby that run into the Bosporus.  It was built by Sultan Abdülmecit in the middle of the 19th century for use as his summer residence.

Sea of Marmara
The Sea of Marmara is the inland sea which connects the Black Sea, to the north of Turkey, to the Aegean Sea to the west of Turkey, thus separating Istanbul between Europe and Asia.  The Bosporus strait connects it to the Black Sea and the Dardanelles strait connects it to the Aegean Sea.  The North Anatolian fault, which has triggered many earthquakes including the last major one in Turkey in 1999, runs under the Sea of Marmara.

The Church of Saint Irene
This was the first church in Istanbul built by Constantine in the 4th century, and then rebuilt by Justinian, and is reputedly the site of a pre-Christian temple.

Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art
Housed in the Ibrihim Paşa Palace, built in 1524, it was the grandest private residence ever built in the Ottoman Empire.  Ibrihim Paşa was the Grand Vizier (most important minister of a sultan) of Süleyman the Magnificent.  Nowadays the museum displays many beautiful Turkish and Persian miniatures, Seljuk tiles, Korans and antique carpets.

Archaeology Museums
Original created as the Imperial Museum, the main archaeology museum is in the grounds of the Topakı Palace and was first opened to the public in 1891.  The construction of the current neo-Greek style building was started in 1881, but this part was not finished and opened until 1908.  The design for the front of the building is taken from Alexander’s sarcophagus which is housed in the museum.  The museums vast collection was gathered from around Turkey when a decree was put in place to protect cultural goods in the then Ottoman Empire.  Governors of provinces sent items to the museum from their area, thus ensuring that there is a diverse range of artefacts from throughout the country and the wider old Ottoman Empire.  If you are interested in history and archaeology then a visit to his treasure trove is a must while you are in Istanbul.

This was a hugely important place for socialising during the Byzantine period.  People came to watch the chariot and horse races.  The various emperors who reigned during the height of the Hippodrome’s life brought some important features here including an Egyptian and a stone obelisk as well as the Serpentine Column.

Basilica Cistern
This 6th century Byzantine building was created during the rule of Justinian I.  The water was originally brought from the Belgrade Forest, which is some 19 kilometres north of Istanbul.  In its day it contained 100,000 tonnes of water.  Nowadays this underground museum contains cafeterias and performances of music and theatre – but you can still see the original friezes and architecture.

No trip to any part of Turkey is truly complete without the traveller experiencing a Turkish bath, or hamam as it is known in Turkey.

If you have never had a Turkish bath before it is a real treat … and for those who have had one, you are sure to want to indulge in another!

You first enter into the warm room where you sit, chat, douse yourself with warm water drawn and put in to ornate copper bowls and your begin to perspire.  This action opens your pores and gets your skin ready for the massage to begin.  You lie on a warm marble slab and your attendant gives you an exfoliating scrub prior to a wash with soap suds.  After this massage you are then rinsed down, again with warm water, before relaxing.

A Turkish bath is the ideal way to refresh your skin, and proves an ideal way to prepare your body for getting an enviable suntan.

Rumeli Hisarı
In 1452 this Rumelian fortress was built by Mehmet the Conquerer before the conquest of Istanbul, and took only 4 months to complete. It is acknowledged as being one of the most beautiful works of military architecture anywhere in the world. Its amphitheatre now hosts some of the events of the Istanbul Music Festival.