Istanbul is a captivating Turkish city which has a rich historical past during which it was the epicenter of three great empires, namely the Roman, the Christian Byzantine and Islamic Ottoman. The influences of this rich cultural heritage continue to have a bearing on Istanbul until today.
Istanbul is that it is the only city in world that has a foot in two continents. Its old city is situated in Europe while it’s more modern sections are located within Asia. These two very distinct parts of Istanbul are separated by the strait of Bosphorus. Due to its strategic location, Istanbul also served as an important center of trade through the ages and the city continues to be an important center for finance and culture in Turkey until today.
Tourists who visit this magical city are fascinated by its unique culture which is a blend of the ancient and the modern and enjoy its considerable charms which consist of Byzantine ruins, lively bazaars, palaces, mosques and hammams (marble communal bath houses).
So what are the sights and sounds of Istanbul which are considered a must-see for any traveler who is visiting this mesmerizing city for the first time?
An Ottoman attraction -the Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque whose official name is the Sultan Ahmet Cammi is located in the main historical district of the city, an area called Sultanamet. This multi domed mosque is the prime exponent of Istanbul’s Islamic past. Built during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, the Blue mosque welcomes hundreds of worshippers every day into its elaborately decorated interiors. The mosque is called the ‘Blue mosque’ because it is decorated with hundreds of blue and white tiles which are arranged in intricate and exquisite floral patterns. While visiting the many mosques of Istanbul it is advisable to cover your head with a scarf or a cap.
An attraction from Byzantium times – Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia which is called ‘Aya Sofya’ in Turkish is one of Istanbul’s most popular attractions. This ochre colored domed monument served as a church during the Christian Byzantine empire and then as a mosque during the Islamic Ottoman empire and is perhaps the best symbol of this exciting city which was the center of three great empires. The interiors of the Hagia Sophia are adorned with elaborate Islamic calligraphic roundels as well as Christian mosaics which represent the religious contrast of this monument most effectively.
Topikapi Palace Museum
This museum which is located on one of the hills that surround Istanbul once served as a residential palace of one of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire. The huge palace with its interconnecting courtyards, fountains, terraces, exquisitely designed rooms and elaborate gateways gives you an insight into the magnificently opulent lives of the fabulously wealthy Sultans of the Ottoman Empire.
Vibrant Bazaars of Istanbul
The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is one of the oldest and biggest covered bazaars in the world which is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of treasures. The Bazaar is a noisy and confusing maze of narrow streets which are full of stalls that sell carpets, bed spreads, textiles, leather goods, clothing, hookahs, souvenirs, hand crafted ceramics etc. Bargaining for your purchases is an accepted norm in the Bazaar where vendors enjoy haggling and chatting with you as they convince you to make a purchase. Another market worth visiting is the Egyptian market of Istanbul which is the spice market of Istanbul and the place to buy tea, spices, dried fruits, nuts and seeds and lokum ( the rich nut filled sweet Turkish delight)
A boat ride on the Bosphorus
Another must-do on any trip to Istanbul is to take a boat ride on the River Bosphorus. During the boat ride you get to cruise past the many interesting palaces, forts, traditional wooden Ottoman homes as well as the huge suspension bridges, the Bosphorus Bridge and the Faith Bridge which are the vital links between the two continents that are straddled by this awe-inspiring city.
Photo of Istanbul originally posted by Atilla1000