As most people know, Istanbul is not only famous now as an iconic and breathtaking city, but circa 662 BC, it was literally the beating heart of the trading route due to its prime location. Today, it is still known as the meeting point of the east and the west, as the only nation to be in both Europe and Asia. Far less travelled by the tourist, is where the real culture and tradition thrives-the Anatolian (Asian) side of Istanbul.
Possibly the biggest attraction itself would be the striking Bosphorus (Bogazici) Bridge, not only connecting the two continents, but a constant reminder of the achievement, the beauty and the landmarks of not only the Turks, but mankind itself. A bridge, whose image is not justified by postcards, must be seen for real. Do not forget to follow the tradition of making a wish while crossing under the bridge!
Probably the most significant landmark in İstanbul is the Museum of Hagia Sophia (known as Aya Sofya in Turkish), and also the one with the greatest international fame. It was originally constructed on the orders of Emperor Justinian between 522 and 537 AD, with the two previous churches built on its site being demolished by rioters. It was dedicated to the Wisdom of God, or Logos in Greek, which is the second person of the Holy Trinity. Especially due to its enormous dome, it has been considered among the most remarkable items of both Byzantine and Medieval architectures. It was the biggest cathedral in the Christendom for close to one thousand years and was also home to the Excharchiate of Constantinople. After the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottoman Turks, it was converted into a mosque and the elements representing the Christian creed were removed replaced by the ones representing the Islamic creed, most notably by the inclusion of minarets. Since the year 1935 the building serves as a mosque for unnumbered foreign and native visitors.
Another important landmark of Istanbul is Sultanahmet Mosque, or Blue Mosque as it is beter known in the Western world due to the numerous handmade İznik tiles which are decorating its interior, numbering more than 20.000, alongside numerous glass stains and Islamic calligraphy works. It was built in 1616 by Sedefkar Mehmet Ağa, a former student and senior aid of the famous Ottoman architect Sinan, on the orders of Sultan Ahmed I, who aimed at reaffirming the Ottoman power shaken by the recent setbask in the wars against Westerners and Persians. Today it continues to be a major tourist destination for native and foreign tourists alike, as well as an important religious area for many believers of the Muslim faith.
Topkapı Palace, which hosted Ottoman Sultans and their families is one of the most important remnants of the Ottoman rule in İstanbul. The palace, whose building began in 1459 on the orders of Mehmed II as a residence for the imperial family,housed thousands of people throughout its usage. In 1924 it was officially turned into a museum and serves in this form up to the present day. Many features of the Ottoman art, belongings of the Imperial family, items from the Ottoman treasury, and also the belongings of the Prophet Muhammad are displayed in the palace, certain parts of which are still closed to public visit.
The famous cistern at the proximity of Hagia Sophia was named after the Stoa Basilica. Before its conversion into a cistern, a great basilica was situated at the same place and served as a commercial, legal and artistic center. It served as a water source first fort he Great Palace of Constantinople, then for Topkapı Palace after the Ottoman conquest.
The tower, which has achieved international popularity thanks to the legends surrounding its namesake, was first built by the Athenian general Alcibiades as a custom station for the ships departing from the Black Sea and passing thorough Bosphorus. The namesake of the tower is supposedly an old tale about a princess, who was imprisoned to the tower by his father after the latter learns from an oracle’s prophesy that his daughter is going to be murdered by a snake on her eighteenth birthday. In spite of all the measures the monarch father takes to preclude the fulfillment of the prophesy, the young girl is eventually killed as told in the prophesy. Today the tower continues to serve as a restaurant and café.
Galata Tower is an important sight in the historic peninsula of Istanbul which offers a panoramic view of the historic peninsula and the area around it. Built in 1348 by the Genoese colonists in Constantinople, it was known to their constructers as Christea Turris (the Tower of Christ in Latin), it was the highest building in the city at the time of its construction. According to the famous Ottoman traveler and chronicler Evliya Çelebi, Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi had carried out the first intercontinental flight from the tower to Üsküdar in the Anatolian side of İstanbul. The tower today serves commercial purposes and is open for public visit.
Süleymaniye Mosque is one of the most important mosques built during the Ottoman era, and is by many considered as one of the masterpieces of the great Ottoman architecture Sinan. The mosque was built between the years 1550 and 1558, during the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent (more commonly known as “Süleyman the Lawmaker” among Turkish populace), who is also the namesake of the mosque. Süleyman, intending to assert the splendour of his rule thorough this mosque, is also claimed to have aimed at rivaling the famous King Solomon, just as Byzantine Emperor Justinian is reported to exclaim his rejoice on the completion of Hagia Sophia. The mosque, which possessed the largest dome in the empire at the time of its completion, bears the traces of both Ottoman and Byzantine architectural influences.
The Grand Bazaar, literally translated as “The Grand Market”, has been in operation virtually ever since the Ottoman conquest of former Constantinople in 1453, and for centuries it wasn’t challenged by any other commercial hub in the empire in its well-established position as the main trade center of the Ottoman realm. Throughout its existence, the market stood as a compound consisting of several different markets, and it was renowned among European travellers for the diversity and good quality of the goods sold inside it. Beginning with 19th century, when the commercial privileges granted to European traders (known as “capitulations”) severely damaged the native economy, the Bazaar couldn’t withstand the development of the new European-founded commerce areas . The Bazaar, also noted for charachteristics such as the concentration of the shops selling the same good in a single area, close supervision of the prices –both having their sources in Eastern and Islamic culture- , lack of commercial advertisements and rarity of theft incidents, today still manages to entertain tens of thousands of visitors including many native and foreign visitors alike.
Hippodrome of Constantinople
The hippodrome is one of the oldest landmarks in the city which has survived unto the present day, dating back to the time when the İstanbul was still called Byzantium. In 203 AD, Emperor Septimus Severus rebuilt the city on a greater scale and the hippodrome was rewarded to the city at that time. During the Roman era, the hippodrome was adorned by the statues of various gods, heros and emperors. During the Byzantine era the hippodrome was not only an important center of sports entertainment which was rendered by the chariot races, but also an important source of occasion for interaction between imperial family and their subjects. The feverish rivalry between different chariot teams, which were financially backed by different political groups (called “Deme” during the Byzantine era) occassionally amounted to violent political friction, resulting in several riots inside Constantinople. The hippodrome also sustained considerable damage during the sack of Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204. After the Ottoman conquest, the site was reduced to a state of insignificance given the Ottomans’ lack of interest in racing including the chariot races. The remnants of hippodrome is today largely covered by the Sultanahmet Mosque
The church, was originally built as a monastery in the 4th century and fell outside the boundaries of Constantinople before it fell within the larger area covered by the splendid walls erected by Theodosius II in 413-14. The construction efforts undertaken in the 11th and 12th centuries gave its current shape to the building. After the Ottoman conquest, the church was converted into a mosque during the reign of Bayezid II with the name Kariye Mosque. In 1948, after the beginning of a restoration effort sponsored by American institutions, the building was converted into a museum and continues to serve as one currently.