Istanbul is the largest city of the Republic of Turkey. With a massive population of 14.1 million, the city is the largest in Europe, second largest in the Middle East and fifth largest in the world.
A truly transcontinental city, Istanbul spans across the Bosporus Strait, claiming Europe and Asia as footholds. Founded as Byzantium around 660 BC, it was re-established as Constantinople in 330 AD and would later be the capital of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Latin Empire and the Ottoman Empire. In 1930, the name Istanbul was officially adopted and the Republic of Turkey set up their capital in Ankara.
The Istanbul skyline at night. Skyscrapers mix with small cafes, houses and posh estates along the Bosporus.
The Hagia Sophia was first constructed in 360 by the East Roman Empire, but was plagued by riots, fires and destruction. The current building was completed in 537, but over the years was used as a church for the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic faiths and as an Islamic mosque, with each denomination adding its mark to the building’s appearance. Closed down in 1931, it was reopened as a museum in 1935 by President Ataturk, a testament to the diverse ancestry of the country.Wikimedia
Maiden's Tower. The legend goes that a young woman was told she would be killed by a snake on her 18th birthday. Her father locked her in the tower, and on her 18th birthday brought her a basket of exotic fruits. An asp found its way into the basket, bit her and the girl died in her father’s arms. Located on a small islet off of the Asiatic coast of Istanbul, the tower was used as a lighthouse and quarantine station, but the inside now boasts a café and restaurant.
Miniaturk is a miniature park on Istanbul’s Golden Horn that features 126 models of structures from Istanbul, Anatolia and Ottoman territories outside of Turkey. The park also hosts a children’s playground, large chessboards and a restaurant.Wikimedia
A stunning example of Baroque architecture in Istanbul, the Ortaköy Mosque is located in the Ortaköy neighborhood along the Bosporus.
Church of St. Stephen of the Bulgars was cast in Vienna and transported via barge down the Danube in 1871 when Bulgarian subjects of the Sultan demanded freedom from the Greek Orthodox Patriarch. They were provided their own church and a palace for the Bulgarian exarchate.PixaBay
Pammakaristos Church. This Byzantine beauty was constructed around 1065 and used as a church until later converted into a mosque in 1892 by Sultan Murad III. Restored in 1949, the main building is still a mosque but the parekklesion was changed into a museum.
Turkey has a long adoration of pickles of all kinds. Called turşu, pickle shops in Istanbul carry cabbage, cucumber, tomatoes, and even cherry pickles. Whether made with lemon juice or vinegar, they’re a must have with every meal.Turkeys For Life
Constructed at the narrowest part of the Bosporus, Rumeli Hisarı was built by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in preparation for the storming of Constantinople. Only in use for a year, it later became an open-air theater.
The largest mosque in the city, Süleymaniye Mosque lies on the Golden Horn on the Third Hill of the Old City. Mimar Sinan, the prolific Ottoman architect, designed the mosque in a simple manner, using white marble, ivory and mother of pearl.
Also called Independence Avenue, Istiklal Avenue runs through the Beyoğlu and Karaköy districts and features stores, art galleries, bookstores, clubs and historical restaurants. An avant-garde combination of Byzantine, Art Deco and modern architecture, millions of people visit the street every year to see the world’s second oldest subway station called the Tunnel.
The spice bazaar is a study in sensory overload. Vibrant colors of spices, treats and herbs can’t outweigh the aroma of culinary inspiration. Many years ago, the Bazaar was the last stop for the camel caravans traveling the Silk Routes from China, India and Persia.Wikimedia
The Bosporus bridge connects the European side of Istanbul to the Asian side, crossing over the Bosporus strait. The bridge is lit by Phillips LED lights nightly and allows for an infinite array of colors to be produced.
Yoros Castle. Only the ruins of this once great citadel remain watching over the confluence of the Bosporus and the Black Sea on the Asian side of the city. Visitors can explore the ruins and stop at the nearby village of Andalou Kavagi.
Referred to as the Blue Mosque due to the interior walls’ blue tiles, the Sultanahmet Camii is a tourist destination as well as an active mosque.
Constructed on behalf of Sultan Abdülaziz along the Asian side of the Bosporus, Beylerbeyi Palace was completed in 1865 in the Second Empire style. It is thought to have served as a summer palace for sultans and a state guesthouse.
Part of three archaeological museums in the Eminönü district of Istanbul, the museum holds a large collection of Turkish, Hellenistic, Roman and Greek artifacts.Wikipedia
Dogs and cats run free in Istanbul. It’s not uncommon to see restaurants providing food and water for these critters, especially cats. There’s a saying in Turkey that goes, “If you kill a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.” Recently, Istanbul has erected feeding stations for hungry dogs and cats as well.
60 streets, 5,000 stores and 400,000 people are what make up the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. A visitor can find anything in the Bazaar, even the occasional celebrity.
Sitting beneath the Stoa Basilica, a town square on the first hill of Istanbul, the cistern was designed as water storage for the Great Palace of Byzantine. Renovated in the 1980’s, the cistern opened its doors to tourists in 1987. It’s also used for music events and shows.
Called dondurma in Turkish, homemade ice cream is a spectacle to behold. Dondurma is handmade by sellers in fez caps and traditional robes, who pass the ice cream from scoop to cone and back, spinning it around in a flagrant display that defies physics.
The Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum is located in Sultanahmet Square in the Fatih district of Istanbul and features a collection of calligraphy, tiles and rugs, like this Lotto rug, hand-woven in the 16th century.
Called dondurma in Turkish, homemade ice cream is a spectacle to behold. Dondurma is handmade by sellers in fez caps and traditional robes, who pass the ice cream from scoop to cone and back, spinning it around in a flagrant display that defies physics.Wikimedia
Also the Mevlevi Order, the dervishes are a Sufi order founded in Konya. Their whirling is part of a Sema ceremony, which acts as a remembrance of God and gives thanks to him.
The sun sets over the Golden Horn, the primary inlet of the Bosporus in Istanbul. Rich, yellow light radiates off the water, making the city truly “golden.”
Following the British, French and Italian occupation of Istanbul after World War I, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk declared the nation a Republic and the country signed the Treaty of Lausanne, defining the borders for modern Turkey.
Ataturk transformed Turkey into a secular and modern state, ensuring political, educational and social reforms. While some worry that today’s Erdogan regime might undermine Ataturk’s vision, Istanbul remains a cultural and educational example of the old meeting the new and creating a beautiful and remarkably successful city.