The Bosphorus is the main strait running through the city connecting the Marmara Sea on the south into the Black Sea on the north, separating the two continents Europe and Asia. 31 km in length and varying between 36 to 124 m in depth, Bosphorus is a heavily populated area in İstanbul. As a very important strategic point throughout centuries the Bosphorus has seen many wars. Yet the settlements on both the European and the Anatolian sides are home to many beautiful houses and mansions. The historical peninsula is on the European side near the Marmara Sea entrance of the Bosphorus, where Kadıköy, mainly used for the summer housing for the citizens on the ancient times, is right on the opposite side of the Bosphorus. Moving along on the European side you would find the Topkapı Palace on the shore where the Beylerbeyi Palace, which was used as a summer Palace, is right on the opposite side. Moving along you would see many more mansions, formerly used for hunting houses for the elites in the past centuries and summer houses on the Anatolian side some other fine examples of both Byzantine and Ottoman Era’s.
Built by Sedefkar Mehmet Ağa (a student of Architect Sinan) the construction of Blue Mosque had started in 1609 and completed in 8 years. Built with the order of Sultan Ahmet I. the Blue Mosque complex was originally comprised of many buildings including madrasahs, Turkish baths, bazaars, fountains, tombs, hospitals and primary schools. It is the only mosque with six minarets. It is considered as one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture. Originally named as the Sultanahmet Mosque, the famous mosque is also known as the Blue Mosque due to its mesmerising handmade blue and turquoise porcelain tiles brought from İznik.
Considered to be one of the most beautiful surviving examples of a Byzantine church, the Chora Church is serving as a museum in Edirnekapı area in faith on the European side of İstanbul. Converted into a mosque in the 16th century in the Ottoman Era, now a museum since 1948, the Chora (Kariye in Turkish) is famous for its fine mosaics and frescoes. During the late 19th century while İstanbul became more popular for the western tourists the Chora Church, then the Chora Mosque became known as the ‘Mosaic Mosque’ where the mosaics in the domes were still visible while those lower on the walls were partially covered with wooden doors. With the secularation of the mosque into a museum and the restoration work Chora is standing still as a great tourist attraction of İstanbul.
Built in the 19th century the Dolmabahçe Palace has served as an administrative centre in the late Ottoman era. Famous with its blending of Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical style architecture blended with the Ottoman style, the Dolmabahçe Palace reflects the rising European style in Ottoman Empire during the Tanzimat period. In the first years of Turkish Republic, the palace served as a residence to Atatürk the founder of the Republic of Turkey. All the clocks have been stopped at 09:05 since Atatürk has passed away in his private room in the palace.
Eyüp Sultan Mosque
Built in 1458 as the first Ottoman Mosque after the conquest of Constantinople, Eyüp Sultan Mosque is located in the Eyüp region on the European side of İstanbul. Some of the personal belongings of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad are preserved in the building that houses the tomb of Eyüp Sultan, a close companion of Muhammad. Although the whole complex was highly demolished in the 1766 earthquake, a new complex was built in the same site in 1800 by Sultan Selim III.
Built in 1348 by the Genoese this medieval stone tower has become one of the most visited landmarks of İstanbul. Built as an apex of fortification on the north side of the ancient city, the Galata Tower served as an observation tower for spotting fires in the Ottoman period. In the heart of the Galata district, Galata Tower is one of the most visited touristic sites in the European side of İstanbul. Hence many designer shops, antiquity shops, authentic goods shops as well as fashion shops, private art galleries, restaurants and hostels have increased in the area in the last two decades.
With its 18 entrances, 13 large commercial buildings and more than 4000 shops; the magnificent Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı) is one of the world’s greatest historical bazaars. Its construction had started in 1455 as a market for textile goods, the Grand Bazaar kept growing immensely up until the early 17th century where many travellers of the time claims the market had reached its final shape and was already known throughout Europe. The Bazaar had 67 roads each bearing the name of the sellers of a particular good. The complex also included 5 mosques, 7 fountains and 18 gates that opened each morning and closed every evening. Around 1638 one of the famous Turkish travellers Evliya Çelebi noted that about 3000 shops were settled in the market. Though after devastating fires and earthquakes, the last major one happening in 1894, the bazaars area diminished. Today the Grand Bazaar complex is home to 26,000 workers where it’s visited by 250,000 to 400,000 people daily. The Grand Bazaar is open every day of the week except Sundays and bank holidays from 9:00 am until 19:00 pm.
Hagia Irene Church and Museum
Known as Hagia Irene, meaning “Holy Wisdom” the St. Irene Church was built by the order of Byzantine Emperor Constantine I. It is said that St. Irene, who devoted herself to spreading Christianity, is believed to have endured many inhuman atrocities at the hands of pagans where her miracles had caused pagans to accept Christianity. Hence Emperor Constantine I named the first Christian temple he built the Church Hagia Irene. After the Ottoman’s conquered the city they built Topkapı Palace surrounding the Church of Hagia Irene, where it remained in the courtyard to be used as an inner armoury. Yet in 1869 the Hagia Irene had been converted to be the first museum of the Ottoman Empire as military antiques museum. The former church is mostly used as a classical music concert hall due to its fascinating acoustics.
Built by the order of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. in the 6th century Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) the Church of Holy Sipirit remained to be the largest cathedral until the Seville Church was completed. Originally a basilica covered by a wooden ceiling, Hagia Sophia burned down twice, in the years of 404 and 532. During the 5 year re-construction, no financial restrictions limited the project, so to add to the grandeur of the structure, pagan pillars were taken from Ephesus and the Temple of Artemis and brought to Constantinople. Served as a church until 1453 where the Ottoman’s took over Constantinople, they showed great respect to the magnificence of Hagia Sophia, hence it was still used as a place of worship, but as a mosque instead of a church. Later on Hagia Sophia was closed in 1931 to be re-opened as a museum in 1935.
İstanbul Archaeological Museums
The Archaeological museums are consisted of three different museums. Including Archaeological Museum, Museum of the Ancient Orient and the Museum of Islamıc Art, the complex holds many ancient monuments of the Anatolian history.
İstanbul Naval Museum Command
Established in 1897 the İstanbul Naval Museum is located in Beşiktaş area on the European side of İstanbul. It is the largest naval museum in Turkey containing an important collection of military artefacts in exhibition which add up to a 20,000 pieces in total.
The Maiden’s Tower also known as Leander’s Tower is located in a small islet near the Anatolian shore of the Bosphorus entrance. The first fort built on the islet was by the Athenian General Alcibiades in 411 BC. After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 the islet served as a watch tower. Yet there are many legends about the construction of the tower. Some of the most known legends are The Legend of Hero & Leander, The Legend of The Princess and The Snake and The Legend of The Lions of The Tower.
Spice Bazaar (Egyptian Bazaar)
The second biggest bazaar of İstanbul the Spice Bazaar also known as the Egyptian Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı) as it was built as a part of a mosque complex by the revenues from Egypt. Located in the Eminönü district on the European side of İstanbul, the complex is a six gated authentic place where shoppers can find various spices, dried fruits, basketry, jewelry, drapery and haberdashery. The Spice Bazaar is an L shaped building consisted of 88 vaulted rooms in total.
Constructed by architect Sinan from 1550 to 1557 the Süleymaniye Complex consisted of a mosque, number of courtyards, schools, tombs, Turkish baths, a hostel for dervishes & mystics and restaurants. Constructed as a monument to be as glamorous as the Hagia Sophia by the order of one of the most important Ottoman Sultans the Kanuni Sultan Süleyman, the Süleymaniye Complex was truly a masterpiece. The Süleymaniye mosque in the centre of the complex had a dome of 53 m in height and 26.5 m in diameter. Artistically detailed mosque had handcrafted glasses to filter the sunlight throughout the seasons, and walls covered with ceramic masterpieces of the artisans of İznik. The madrasahs in the complex served as universities of the time and in it situated a library where many manuscripts were collected for centuries. Hence the library has been declared by UNESCO a world cultural heritage since it has one of the most comprehensive book collections in the world with over 70,000 manuscripts and 110,000 books.
The Basilica Cistern
One of the most magnificient historical monuments in İstanbul, The Basilica Cistern is a fine example of advanced engineering skills of the Byzantine civilisation. Built as a reservoir to hold a significant water storage for the Hagia Spohia during the Byzantine era, then for the Topkapı Palace in the Ottoman period, the Basilica Cistern is today a significant art and culture centre of İstanbul. Built by the order of Justinian I in the 6th century, the water stored in the reservoir came from the Belgrade Forest via aqueducts. There are 336 marble columns raising from the dark water 9 m long each in the Basilica, creating a very mysterious atmosphere. Although the purpose is still not known, there are a Medusa head and a Gorgon head placed as pedestals under two columns in the Cistern.
The Obelisk of Theodosius
The Obelisk of Theodosius is an ancient Egyptian obelisk of Pharaoh Tutmoses III re-erected in the Hippodrome of Constantiople by the Roman emperor Theodosius I. Once stood on the great temple of Karnak was transferred to Alexandria to commemorate the 20 year ruling of the Roman emperor Constantius II. Later near 390 AD. it was transferred to Constantinople. Originally 30 m tall the obelisk had taken damage during transportation and re-erection. Hence it is now 25.60 m including the base. The Egyptian inscriptions celebrate Tutmoses III’s victories over the Mezapotamia area. During the Byzantine period, coronation ceremonies of emperors and victory celebrations of the army had taken place in the square where the obelisk stands.
The primary residence for Ottoman Sultan’s for almost 400 years, Topkapı Palace is a large complex set on the historical peninsula of İstanbul. Now one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city, the Palace Museum contains many holy relics of the Muslim world. The complex expanded over centuries especially after the 1509 earthquake and the 1665 fire. With hundreds of rooms and chambers the complex includes many examples of Ottoman architecture. Ottoman miniatures, Islamic calligraphy as well as Ottoman jewellery may be visited throughout the palace.
The museum is consisted of the house and memories where Atatürk lived until the day he sailed away to start the Turkish Independence war (Kurtuluş Savaşı). The house contains past memories and personal belongings of Atatürk the founder of the Republic of Turkey.
İstanbul and Turkey’s first contemporary art museum the İstanbul Modern was established in 2004 in Karaköy district on the European side of İstanbul. The plans for a contemporary art museum in İstanbul had started in 1987 with the 1st International Contemporary Art Exhibition, known today as the International İstanbul Biennial. The museum houses permanent exhibitions on the upper floor together with a gift shop and a restaurant; while temporary exhibitons along with a cinema and a library are located on the lower floor.
Miniaturk is an open park museum containing miniature models of many historical structures of İstanbul, Anatolia and Ottoman territories outside of Turkey. Opened in 2003 the park contains 122 models in total.
Pera Museum is a private art museum located near Taksim are on the European side of İstanbul. The museum exhibits three permanent collections of Anatolian artefacts, orientalist arts and a collection of famous Kütahya tiles and ceramics.
Rahmi Koç Museum
Rahmi Koç Museum is a private industrial museum located near the Golden Horn on the European side of İstanbul. The museum is dedicated to the history of transportation, industrialism and communication.
Sabancı Museum is a private fine arts museum located in Emrigan near the Bosphorus on the European side of İstanbul. Opened in 2002 the museum hosts permanent exhibitions as well as national and foreign exhibitions. The mansion where the museum is established was previously owned by high ranked pasha families and Egyptian governors, then owned by the Ottoman treasury, then finally purchased by the Sabancı family in 1951.
Opened in 2007 as an art and culture centre the Santralİstanbul is located near the Golden Horn on the European side of İstanbul. Built over the sight where once the first power station of the Ottoman Empire stood, the complex includes a modern art museum, an energy museum, an amphitheatre, concert halls and a public library. The whole complex is established within the Silahtarağa Campus of İstanbul Bilgi University.
Sacred Destinations, Palaces and Museums
İstanbul’s magic brings history and present together.
Former capital of three different civilizations; İstanbul still preserves the multiculturalism coming from its past. With its mosques, churches, synagogues, palaces and any kind of museums; the city offers to its visitors a magical world with a unique variety.