Istanbul is a city full of peculiarities. It is the only country in the world situated on two continents – Europe and Asia – and is one of the oldest. Chosen to be the capital of three great empires: Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. The city was founded in the 7th century BC by the name of Byzantium, a Greek colony. Centuries later it was conquered by the Roman Empire and centuries than by the Ottoman Empire stood there until 1923, at which time it became known as Constantinople.
The Bosphorus waters separate the Asian and European shores from what once was the wealthiest and most powerful city in all Christianity. Today Istanbul is one of the largest cities in the world and rivals with London by the title of one of the most populous in Europe, with more than 15 million inhabitants.
Let’s get to know Istanbul, one of the oldest cities in the world?
Istanbul has not only some of the most beautiful Mosques in the world, but it also has the largest number of mosques, about 3000. Let’s start with the most famous Haghia, Sophia and the Blue Mosque.
1. Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia is one of the most impressive monuments of humanity and one of the most beautiful mosques in the city. Its dark red walls and domes are an iconic image and pride for its inhabitants. It began as an Orthodox cathedral and only in 1453 was converted into a mosque. In 1934 it was converted into a museum, that remains until today.
2. Blue Mosque
This is one of the most fabulous mosques in Istanbul, with an imposing exterior composed of 5 domes and 6 minarets and an opulent interior made up of hundreds of blue Iznik tiles, which gave it the name by which it is known. It was built by Sultan Ahmet I whose enthusiasm for it was so much that he often helped the construction workers.
3. Topkapi Palace
A true paradise of rooms, courtyards and the most different architectural styles. The palace was home to several generations of sultans and their wives, as evidenced by the Harem Room. It is a prime area with fabulous views beyond the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus.
4. Grand Bazaar
This was by far the space I enjoyed the most, after the mosques. The colours, the smells, the products. Everything takes us by amazed and leave us entirely overwhelmed. The painted ceilings and the 22 doors are the most striking architectural elements. Here we find exquisite hand-made rugs, intricate jewellery, dazzling lanterns, sweets and teas, spices and leather pieces. It is a great place to drink hot apple tea and eat baklava. Losing yourself in this unique labyrinth of Turkish products is part of the experience.
5. Suleymaniye Mosque
This fantastic mosque was a real surprise, especially when we thought that nothing could surpass the splendour of Hagia Sophia and the exquisiteness of the Blue Mosque. The towers of Süleymaniye dominate the landscape of the old Istanbul, and its large courtyard is a place of calm and freshness. Its interior, though simple, is one of the most dazzling, perhaps by the blue dome and the stained-glass windows, which give it an extraordinary interior light.
6. Dolmabahce Palace
It is the most splendid monument, a dazzling European fantasy on the banks of the Bosphorus. It was born of the will of a sultan who wishes to approach European culture. He filled the palace with decorative elements in gold and crystal. This masterpiece almost led the sultan to bankruptcy and accelerated the end of the empire. Never the less, it remained until today as one of the greatest masterpieces of mankind.
7. Basilica Cistern
It is an incredible and mysterious cistern in the city underground, a legend of Istanbul. Initially built in 532 for taking drinking water to the town. Its structure includes 336 columns with 8 meters of height, an area of 9800 m2 and stored 80 millions m3 of water. The dimension of the cistern only was measured by the first time in the I World War when a German submarine enters the reservoir, and an archaeologist did some extensive research in the cistern. Between its most famous columns, is the one with a Medusa head at the base and a column that cries, it is mysteriously and continuously wet.
The zone is a little far away from the historic neighbourhoods but, if you have time, you should pass an hour or two discovering it. Some places deserve a visit like the Vahigh aqueduct and the Fatih mosque, an impressive monument, by its dimensions and by the calm and tranquillity in their surroundings vs the in chaotic and noisy city.
9. Egyptian Bazaar
Like the big bazaar, but here you can find the best spices and buy almost all kinds of spices, delicious teas, dried fruit, nuts, candy and the famous baklava. It’s located next to the Port of Eminomu.
10. Sultanahmet square
This square extends between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. It was the previous Hippodrome of Constantinople. Is the heart of the old zone and a meeting point for residents. In this square, it’s possible to drink fresh water in the Kaiser Guillaume fount, offered by the emperor german. Also, in this zone of the city, you can find the Million Monument, a marble pillar that marked, during the Byzantine empire, the “point 0” that mediated the distances between its several cities.
The front of Eminonu is one of the most photographed points of the city. Between the numerous restaurants where you can taste the famous fish sandwiches, the mosques, the spices bazaar and the departure and arrival of the Bosphorus ferries.
12. Galata bridge
The famous bridge crosses the horn of gold and approaches the old Istanbul with the new. Is a pedestrian bridge whose view is lovely. It is also renowned for the restaurants where it is possible to taste the fish sandwiches.
13. Galata tower
It is one of the most ancient towers of the world and was first built in wood by an emperor byzantine in 528 as a lighthouse, in 1348 was reconstructed in stone by Genoese, as christen Turris (tower of Christ). The tower was devastated by an earthquake and after the repair started to be used for defence purposes and as an astronomical site. The tower has more than 66 m of height, 16,45 meters of diameter in the basis, walls with more of 3 meters thickness and 14 windows all around. And it is the place with a better view of the city.
Located in on of the hills in the “new ” Istanbul and extends to the neighbourhood of Beyoglu, the heart of the modern city, starting in the Taksim square and down until to the riverside zone by the busy Istiklal Caddesi, passing by the tower Galata. The square Taksim is the departure point of the iconic red tram that descends the pedestrian avenue full off fashion stores and coffee houses – Istiklal Caddesi. Right in the middle, we found a surprise. Half hidden was the roman catholic church of Saint Antonio of Padua (the patron of Lisbon), the most active in the city. The descent into the riverside is usually made through the Tunnel, a funicular with 73m of inclination that leads until the Galata bridge. Was built in 1874 and is one of the older metros in the world.
It is an important channel that joins both sides of Istanbul and is the pathway to the most crowded sea in the world. With 32 km of extension is one of the most beautiful ways to know the city. From the Bosphorus, we can see the most beautiful palaces and mosques and visit the Leandro tower, on a small island next to the Asian side. Other highlights are the Asian and European fortresses. The Asia fortress was built as a defence. Is rival, the Europe fortress, built right in front on the other side of Bosphorus, was built in the narrower point of the channel to cut off the food supply to the city. This fortress has an imposing wall with 13 bastions and 3 towers. Finally, the iconic Bosphorus Bridge, that near Asia to Europe, with a length of more of 1,5 km is one of the largest in the world.