Tourist Guide to Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul City History and Demography
Istanbul is the most populous city in Turkey and one of the most populous in the world. Istanbul’s strategic location between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea has made it a major commercial center. It is a transcontinental city straddling the border between Asia and Europe, giving the city a unique cultural life. The city has a rich history as the capital of four empires before the Republic of Turkey was established in 1923. The city is separated into districts. The two most popular for tourists are the Beyoglu and the Sultanahmet. The Beyoglu district is separated from the historic old city by the Golden Horn and lies on the European side of the city. It is the commercial and entertainment hub of Istanbul and is home to many art museums. Taksim Square lies in the heart of Beyoglu and is filled with shops and eateries that tourists flock to. Sultanahmet is set mostly in what used to be known as Constantinople. It is the old city and the historical center of Istanbul, which is what comes to mind when most people think of the city.
Tourist Attractions in Istanbul
Originally built between 532 and 537 as one of the world’s largest cathedrals, it was a church for a thousand years, first as Greek Eastern Orthodox and later as Roman Catholic, before becoming a mosque and finally a museum. Since 1935, it has been one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city housing Christian mosaics alongside Islamic calligraphy.
One of the few free attractions is also an active house of worship, meaning visitors must wear headscarves and remove their shoes and the mosque is closed during services. Built in the early 17th century, the mosque has six minarets and many domes as well as intricately designed ceramic tiles and stained glass in the interior. You can also visit the tomb of Sultan Ahmed who commissioned the building.
The balcony atop the tower offers some of the best views of the city. It is 219 feet or nine stories high. Made with medieval stone, it has gone through a few restorations after originally being built in 1348. At night, the restaurant at the top turns into a nightclub.
Formerly the royal residence of the Ottoman Sultans, the palace was converted into a museum in 1924. One of if not the oldest and largest palaces in the world, it is filled with finely kept courtyards and excellent architecture. The exhibits include tours of the harem, where the Sultan’s wives lived, the incredible collection of crown jewels in the treasury, a weapons collection, the Audience Chamber, where the Sultan received guests, the Sacred Trusts, home to relics such as Moses’ staff, and the palace kitchens. The view from the palace overlooks the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus strait, and the Golden Horn.
Built in the sixth century, the cistern was once the only way residents of Istanbul received their water. It can hold up to 2.8 million cubic feet of water. underground beneath a third-century basilica, the cistern is supported by 336 columns and a visit offers background on the complicated and intriguing technological water system of the past.
No stop in Istanbul would be complete without visiting the largest marketplace in the city. Haggle over prices and come away with great souvenirs. Five thousand shops and over quarter million visitors a day making this one of the biggest markets in the world. It is also one of the oldest, dating back to 1461. In addition to finding jewelry, carpets, art, and spices, there are also two mosques, two hammams (traditional Turkish baths), and four fountains in the bazaar.
Originally a Byzantine monastery, it was later turned into a mosque and finally became a museum in 1948. It is among the most beautiful Byzantine architectural structures still around and houses exquisite Byzantine art, including mosaics and frescoes.
Istanbul Archaeology Museum:
Three buildings, the Archaeological Museum, the TIled Kiosk museum and the Ancient Orient Museum are filled with over a million ancient objects, which first opened in 1891. Exhibits include the Alexander Sarcophagus, filled with carvings depicting the life of Alexander the Great, the Sarcophagus if the Crying Women, a replica of the Trojan Horse, and a preserved 1269 BCE peace treaty among others.
Suleymaniye Mosque and Hamam:
No trip to Istanbul would be complete without a stop at a Turkish bathhouse. The Hamam is co-ed. Relax, get a massage, and rejuvenate after a visit to the next-door mosque. Located on the Third Hill, the mosque was built in 1550 and has been restored to its original glory. A blend of Islamic and Byzantine architecture, it is truly beautiful. There are also madrasahs, a hospital, and a library on site.
Built along the Bosphorus coastline in the 19th century, the palace is made of 14 tons of gold leaf. The architecture blends traditional Ottoman with Neoclassical, Baroque, and Rococo styles. It housed six sultans from the time it was built until the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. Currently, it is home to the largest Bohemian crystal chandelier in the world and is the most glamorous palace in Istanbul.
Climate of Istanbul
Istanbul has microclimates based on location within the city but is known for its high humidity, as it is in the Mediterranean. The summers can be quite hot and foggy with little rainfall. The other seasons are milder but often have unpredictable weather.