Istanbul is a city that wears its cultures and history well, blending them into an exciting city that has much to offer travelers from around the world. Founded during Neolithic times, Istanbul today is a modern city that remains true to its historic heritage through its mosques, basilicas and ancient bazaars. Standing between the East and the West, Turkey’slargest city offers an aura of intrigue and charm that will appeal to all visitors.
Here’s a look at the top tourist attractions in Istanbul:
10. Galata Tower
At 219 feet high, the Galata Tower rules over the Istanbul skyline, offering great 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. The tower has been modified over the centuries, at one time being used as an observation tower to spot fires. Today, its upper reaches include a restaurant and a nightclub, both reached by elevator in the nine-story building, where one can find the stunning vistas.
9. Istanbul Archaeological Museum
One of the most important museums in Turkey, the Istanbul Archaeological Museum is housed in three separate buildings which contain more than 1 million objects from civilizations around the world. Founded in 1891, it was the first Turkish museum and is located on what used to be the grounds of the outer parks of Topkapi Palace. The museums contain thousands of precious artifacts, including the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great.
8. Chora Church
The Chora Church may be a little bit off the beaten tourist path, but visitors say the beautiful Byzantine art is well worth the effort to get there. Magnificent mosaics and frescoes depict the life of Jesus and his mother Mary. Dating back to the days of Constantine, the Chora was a monastery in its early years; a few centuries later, it became a mosque,and in 1948, it was converted to a museum.
7. Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern has been providing Istanbulresidents with water since the sixth century when it was ordered built by the Roman emperor Justinian I. A visit leaves travelers raving about the technology the ancient Romans used to build this architectural wonder that was very advanced for its day. Known as the Sunken Palace, the cisterns are one of the locations used in From Russia with Love, a James Bond movie filmed in 1963.
6. Dolmabahce Palace
Luxurious, plush, and beautiful are just some of the adjectives used to describe the Dolmabahce Palace, which has been compared to the Palace of Versailles. Built in the 19th century using 14 tons of gold leaf, Turkey’s most glamorous palace blends traditional Ottoman architecture with the European styles of Neoclassical, Baroque, and Rococo. Home to six sultans from 1856 to 1924, the palace’s setting is stunning: It was built along the Bosphorus coastline.
5. Suleymaniye Mosque
Visitors to the Suleymaniye Mosque say its beauty and peacefulness give them an inspiring sense of spirituality. Located on the Third Hill of Istanbul, the mosque was built in 1550 by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. The mosque, indeed, is magnificent, blending the best of Islamic and Byzantine architecture. The mosque was extensively damaged over the years, including during World War I when a fire broke out while the gardens were used as a weapons depot.
4. Grand Bazaar
Travelers who love to shop shouldn’t miss out on a visit to the Grand Bazaar, with 5,000 shops making it one of the largest indoor marketplaces in the world. Receiving more than a quarter-million visitors a day, the bazaar features such items as jewelry, carpets that may or may not fly, spices, antiques and hand-painted ceramics. The bazaar dates back to 1461 and today is home to two mosques, four fountains, two hammams and the jewelry market, where the rarest and most valuable items have been found traditionally.
3. Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace is one of the must-see attractions in Istanbul that combines history and stunning scenery in an experience that is not to be rushed. The palace, which dates back to the 15th century,is situated on a hill overlooking the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. At one time it was an official royal residence of the Ottoman Empire sultans and seat of the Turkish government but is now a museum. Visitors can get a glimpse of the harem quarters, where the government worked, the palace kitchens with a huge porcelain collection, and the treasury with its collection of jewels and clocks.
2. Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque, built in the early 17th century, remains an active house of worship today. This means visitors need to time their visits carefully, as the mosque is closed to sightseers during the five daily prayer times for Muslims. All visitors must remove their shoes and women must cover their hair. This is a small price to pay for seeing its priceless treasures that include 20,000 ceramic tiles in various tulip designs and 200 stained glass windows, all with intricate designs. The mosque, built by Sultan Ahmet, takes its name from the blue tiles on the dome and the upper levels of the interior.
1. Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia was once a house of worship that served several religions well over the centuries. It started out as a Greek Eastern Orthodoxbasilica that was home to the Patriarch of Constantinople when it was built in 537. For almost six decades in the 12th century, it was a Roman Catholic church. It became a mosque in 1453, remaining that way until 1935, when it reopened as a museum. At one time, it was the largest cathedral in the world and served as the inspiration for other mosques, including the Blue Mosque. It is most famous for its mosaics depictingvarious religious scenes.