5 tips for Istanbul

Istanbul Dawn
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Istanbul is the only city in the world that is located on two continents, the western part in Europe, the eastern part in Asia. The border between them is formed by the Bosporus, a strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. The cultures of these two different continents – Orient and Occident – are reflected in the entire cityscape of Istanbul. One sees shopping centers and bazaars, skyscrapers and mosques, high heels and headscarves.

What is particularly positive is how these two so different worlds live so amicably side by side in this city full of contrasts. For three thousand years the city has existed, which became great under the name Byzantium, was later called Constantinople and is today called Istanbul. The long history of the city can be found today on the walls of countless palaces, mosques, churches and synagogues. The cityscape of Istanbul is mainly characterized by its young population. In addition to the eight universities, there are numerous cafes and bars.

Tip 1: Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia (Church of Divine Wisdom) is the most famous cultural monument of Istanbul. In Byzantium, Hagia Sophia served as the main church and was also the central point of Orthodox worship.

In 1453, Ottomans crushed the Byzantine Empire. They built their main mosque from the Christian Orthodox church. The magnificent mosaics were destroyed and covered with thick layer of plaster. In general, everything in the interior that reminds of the prehistory was removed.

Hagia Sophia in Instanbul
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Since 1935 the building has housed a museum. Since then, the main mosque is the “Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque)”. The gigantic Hagia Sophia has a sacred space as its center. This is flanked by 2 side aisles. Above the sacred space is a huge flat dome. This is so ingeniously constructed that it seems to float.

The dome is pierced in many places by the incident sunlight. The light refracts off the decorated walls, resulting in a mystical illumination. The light is meant to demonstrate the presence of God.

Tip 2: Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace is a palace system in the immediate vicinity of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and was the residence and seat of government of the Ottomans for centuries.

Construction of the palace began shortly after the conquest of Istanbul (1453 by Fatih Sultan Mehmed) in 1466 AD, after the neighboring Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. The palace was ready for occupancy in 1478 AD.

Topkapi Palace in Istanbul
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Extensive renovations and extensions finished the complex only in the beginning of the 18th century. All Ottoman rulers initially resided in Topkapi Palace until Sultan Abdülmecit I moved to the new residence on the banks of the Bosphorus, Dolmabaht Palace, in 1856. The Topkapi Palace is now a museum.

The palace complex consists of several individual buildings spread over a large garden area. The total complex was a city of its own with its size of over 700,000 m2. It contained 10 mosques, three smaller places of worship, 8 servants’ quarters, 14 bathhouses (Hamam), 2 hospitals, 2 pharmacies, 5 schools, 12 libraries, 7 treasuries, 6 towers, 22 fountains, 11 springs, 6 basins, 20 kitchens, 348 sultan’s rooms and summer residences. Up to 5000 people lived in the premises. Today’s remaining museum covers only 80,000 square meters.

Tip 3: Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque is one of the most important Istanbul sights and should be part of every Istanbul stay program. Officially it is called Sultan Ahmed Mosque after its builder Sultan Ahmed I.

The name Blue Mosque is due to the thousands of blue Iznik tiles that decorate the interior of the mosque.

Blue Mosque at Istanbul
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The mosque was commissioned in 1609 and completed in 1616. After the Peace of Zsitvatorok, as well as the crushing loss in the war with the Persians, Sultan Ahmet I decided to build a large mosque in Istanbul. He also wanted to restore Ottoman power.

The Blue Mosque has a main dome, 6 minarets and 8 secondary domes. The main dome has a diameter of 23.5 meters and is 43 meters high. It is supported there by 4 pointed arches and 4 flat spandrels.

A total of 260 windows illuminate the interior of the mosque. The prayer room is almost square. It has a length of 53 meters, as well as a width of 51 meters. The architect Sedefkar Mehmed Aga aspired to overwhelming grandeur, majesty and splendor.

Tip 4: Grand Bazaar

In the northern part of the central peninsula of Istanbul on the European side, not far from the Golden Horn and surrounded by famous mosques, a very special world from 1001 Nights opens up to the visitor: the Kapali Carsi, the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. It is said that there is nothing that does not exist in the Grand Bazaar Istanbul.

Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
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Let yourself be enchanted by the colors and scents of the Istanbul Grand Bazaar. Kapali Carsi, the “covered market”, is the largest and most beautiful bazaar in Istanbul. It is about 500 years old. Shortly after the Turks conquered Constantinople, they built markets, caravanserais and covered alleys for trade and crafts here. This kind of covered market streets protects from rain in winter and heat in summer.

The labyrinth consists of thousands of stores, stalls, cafes, teahouses, dining halls, warehouses, accommodation for guests and even small mosques and prayer rooms. In the 20th century, many tourist restaurants and souvenir stores have been added. The classic métiers, on the other hand, are the spice bazaars, jewelry stores and artisans, goldsmiths and silversmiths, jewelers, carpet merchants, and leather and fabric sellers. As in medieval Europe, the alleys were once organized by professional guilds. But this division has dissolved over the centuries, so that today it seems like a motley crew.

Tip 5: Basilica Cistern

The Cisterna Basilica, often called the Sunken Palace, is a late antique cistern located west of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Byzantine Constantinople.  The complex is one of the city’s most impressive sights.

Basilica Cistern in Istanbul
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Originally, the cistern is said to have been commissioned by Emperor Constantine. However, the 138 meter long and 65 meter wide underground cistern owes its appearance and size to Emperor Justinian. He had the cistern built between 532 and about 542 as a water reservoir for the Great Palace. Above it was a large basilica, so the cistern is also called Cisterna Basilica.  It has a capacity of about 80,000 cubic meters of water. Twelve rows of 28, or a total of 336 columns, each eight meters high, with predominantly Corinthian spolia capitals, support the vault.

The water, which came in top quality from the Belgrade Forest in the highlands north of Istanbul via Hadrian’s aqueducts and the Valens aqueduct, was used to supply the imperial household. The complex can be visited. In the water of the cistern are often observed quite a few fish, some of them very bright to white. In the northwestern part of the cistern, reliefs of inverted Medusa heads can be seen. These are faulty and originally came from the Prokonesos quarries. The Cisterna Basilica is now a popular tourist attraction. Light shows are staged, classical music comes over loudspeakers.