10 PLACES YOU MUST VISIT AT ISTANBUL
Istanbul is a superb host who knows how to accommodate guests of all likings… But, it does have some particular aspects full of history and culture that all must see. These are the 10 places in Istanbul you must visit!
- Hagia Sophia Museum
One of Istanbul’s iconic structures, the Hagia Sophia is a cathedral built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. during 532 – 537 A.D. in the old city centre of Istanbul’s historical peninsula. As well as being the world’s oldest cathedral, it was also the largest cathedral in the world for around a thousand years after it was built. Today, it is the fourth largest in terms of area. It is the cathedral that was built in the shortest period of time (5 years) in the world. It was converted to a mosque in 1453 after Mehmed II conquered Istanbul. The structure has a long history of ordeals; it was burnt down and collapsed many times and was rebuilt 3 times. However, the structure never collapsed again after Architect Sinan reinforced the structure with retaining walls.
- Topkapı Palace Museum
Topkapı Palace is one of the most romantic palaces on Earth. It is not like Versailles or Dolmabahçe, where you can take one shot to show all of its glory. It reflects more romanticism than it does magnificence. It resembles a fairy-tale suburb more than it does a glorious home. Not to mention it had housed around 4,000 people in the past. The surface of the palace, which is 80,000 m2 today, was once 700,000 m2. The palace was built by Mehmed II the Conqueror in 1478 and was the administrative headquarters for the 600 year-old Ottomans for 400 years. Although the sultans moved and started to live at Dolmabahçe Palace after its completion in 1856, state officials continued to work there and Topkapı Palace was always considered to be an important place. The first time Topkapı Palace was open to visit like a museum was during the Sultan Abdülmecid period. The treasures of the Topkapı Palace was displayed to the Ambassador of United Kingdom of the period. After this, it became a tradition to display the ancient artefacts in Topkapı Palace’s treasury to foreigners. Open to the public since 1924, the Palace offers dozens of picturesque areas wander and rest.
- Grand Bazaar
Even if you don’t enjoy tourist sites and crowded bazaars much you won’t be able to resist the charm of the Grand Bazaar. With its unique architectural structure and cafés and restaurants, the Grand Bazaar will perhaps take over your whole day. It is said that nearly half a million people wander through the lanes of the most ancient market place in the world during high seasons. With 91,000,000 million visitors each year, this is the world’s most visited tourist site. The foundation of the Grand Bazaar was laid in 1461. The 30,700 m2 bazaar resembles a huge labyrinth. It has 66 lanes and 4,000 stores inside.
Today, the stores on most of the lanes offer different services. Occupations such as quilt makers, slipper makers, fes makers are only just names of lanes now. The main lane of the bazaar is mostly occupied by jewellery stores and the small lane around the corner offers stores selling gold. The stores are quite small but offer a variety of prices which are open to bargaining. The Spice Bazaar, along the shores of the Golden Horn, is smaller bazaar.
- Galata Tower
Galata is one of the world’s oldest towers. It was built by the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius in 528 as a light tower. We recommend to spare good time while visiting Galata tower so you can also wander around the surrounding area. For example, stroll down Istiklal Street towards the tunnel and pass by the music stores. You can shop along the way or take a short break on any street corner selling freshly squeezed fruit juices. You’ll recognise the pavements of the square near the tower the moment you see it.
The tower is 69.90 m tall and the walls are 3.75 metre thick. The structure is approximately 10,000 tonnes and its wide trunk is made of rubble stones. The channels under the ditches deep inside the tower has revealed a number of skulls and bones. The basement of the structure was once used as a dungeon.
After visiting the tower, you can follow the same path and walk towards Karaköy to see the bridge also named Galata; don’t forget to greet the fishermen waiting for their catch along the bridge.
- Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern is such a mysterious and picturesque place that you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a film set. It’s the perfect place to go see during hot summer days as it is naturally cool. You can enter the cistern from a small building on the west of the Hagia Sophia square. The place looks like a forest of columns and has a brick ceiling with cross vaults. It was built during the reign of Justinian I. (527-565) to provide water to the surrounding places and is the largest cistern in Istanbul. It has 336 columns lined as 28 x 12. The level of the water changes depending on the season and water was discharged by the pipes of different heights found on the eastern wall. You can still see the marks left by the changing levels of water on the wall. The structure underwent a major renovation in 1984. During the renovation, the floors were cleaned and mud exceeding a metre high was removed. After the removal of the mud, the original brick flooring and marble blocks with the head of Medusa under 2 columns were revealed. It is possible to walk around the cistern through the path built during the renovations.
The Basilica Cistern has hosted countless concerts, films, music videos and has been visited by many celebrities including politicians and film stars.
- Dolmabahçe Palace
Dolmabahçe Palace is a beautiful mix of many European architectural styles. The construction started in 1843 and continued until 1856. The architect of the Palace is Karabet Balyan, Sultan Abdülmecid’s architect. After its construction, Dolmabahçe Palace became home to sultans instead of the romantic and modest Topkapı. The Palace is located on a 250,000 m2 area between the Bosporus and Dolmabahçe Street which extends all the way to Beşiktaş from Kabataş. It is located on the left, at the entrance, while sailing from Maramara Sea towards to Bosporus and is between Üsküdar and Salacak. With a breath-taking view, the palace has beautiful details in every corner.
The three-storey Dolmabahçe Palace has a symmetric plan. It has 285 rooms and 43 halls. The 56-column large reception hall is famous for its 4.5 ton crystal chandelier made in the UK and that uses 750 light bulbs. The interior design, furniture, silk carpets, curtains and all the remaining décor is still authentic. Dolmabahçe Palace has the largest ballroom among all the palaces in the world. The palace’s central heating and electricity system was installed druing Sultan Mehmed Reşad’s period, from 1910 to 1912.
- Çırağan Palace
Çırağan means ‘light’ in Persian. This name is a perfect fit for Çırağan Palace because it shines brightly in every aspect. The reason why this name was chosen for the palace is because of the ‘Çırağan Festivities’ that take place at the same spot, a festival of torches. The story of the palace begun in 1834, but due to several changes in decisions and problems, with was completed in 1871 by Sultan Abdülaziz. The contractors of the palace were Sarkis Balyan and his partner Kirkor Nersisyan. It was used as a parliament in 1909 but burned down in 1910.
The rooms are decorated with precious carpets, the rooms are adorned with gold and pearls. Like many palaces of Bosporus, Çırağan has also hosted countless significant meetings. The palace was connected by bridge to Yıldız Palace, found towards the back, and the side looking onto the street was surrounded by big, high walls. The palace remained as ruins for many years before it was renovated back to its glorious state. The restorative works started in 1987 to turn the palace into a hotel; it was opened as a hotel in 1990 and started serving as a historical palace in 1992. The last renovation of the palace was finalised on 20 April 2006. Today, Çığrağan Palace hosts a number of social events.
- Maiden’s Tower
One of the iconic structures of the Bosporus, the legend of the Maiden’s Tower, built on a small island offshore Salacak, is also very alluring. One of the legends is the Leander’s legend, which it is also named after. This is a love story with a tragic ending, involving Hero and Leander. On a stormy night, Leander sees the light of the tower and leaps in the sea thinking his lover Hero is calling him. However, the light was lit by someone else, someone who discovered the two lovers met every night in secret. Once Leander jumped into the water, the light is put out and Leander is lost among the waves of the Bosporus. Hero, who could not bear the pain of losing her lover, jumps of the tower to her death. A lighthouse is built where the tower once was, in the name of the lovers. Maiden’s Tower has been used as a defence fortress, exile station, jail, quarantine chamber, radio station, tax station and lighthouse throughout history, but is now a café and restaurant.
- Spice Bazaar
Built as a part of the New Mosque complex in 1660, the Spice Bazaar is one of Istanbul’s most busiest points. During the Ottoman period, you could find herbal medicines in this bazaar which sells traditional flavours such as spices, herbal teas, nuts, dried fruits and Turkish delight as well as jewellery, fabrics, baskets and numerous souvenirs today. The Spice Bazaar has been the ultimate place for those who want to collect all sorts of colourful souvenirs from Istanbul for decades.
- Prince Islands
In Istanbul, but not quite. Prince Islands is a magical place just by Istanbul. Located towards the south offshore the Anatolian side of Istanbul and the north-east side of the Marmara Sea, the archipelago is referred to as Adalar (Islands) in short. It is formed of 9 island of various sizes and two rock formations close to the shore. Only Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada and Kınalıada are resided at all seasons. The islands are closed to vehicles, so they have a slow, old-fashioned lifestyle which you can enjoy riding a coach, watching the perfect architecture and mesmerising nature; even though they are all similar in these aspects, they all have a different flair. Inhabited since the Hellenistic period, the Islands have been used for religious, military and political purposes throughout history. The Prince Islands are a great place to explore culture and have a great holiday or summer house, and can be reached by sea in only 45 mintues from Kabataş.