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For morethan 1,500 years İstanbul was the capital of the Roman, Byzantine, and OttomanEmpires.

With one arm reaching out to Asia andthe other to Europeİstanbul is the only city inthe world built on two continents. The Bosphorus courses the waters of theBlack Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and the Golden Horn through the city´s heart.

İstanbul´s fate has been sealed by its strategiclocation and its enchanting natural beauty. For more than 1,500 years it wasthe capital of three empires: The RomanByzantine, and OttomanEmpires. It was adorned as befitted its importance with magnificentmonuments and became a metropolis where diverse cultures, nations, andreligions mingled. These cultures, nations, and religions are the small coloredstones that form the mosaic of İstanbul.

StrikingMultireligious Identity

İstanbul’s identity began to take shape with theByzantines and gained momentum during the period of the Ottoman Empire. SultanMehmet the Conqueror declared İstanbul the capital ofOttoman Empire after he conquered the city in 1453. Over the next 450 years thecity was adorned with superb Ottoman monuments. Building works after theconquest gathered apace during the reign of Sultan Bayezid II, with the finestworks built by Mimar Sinan, the Chief Royal Architect. Thisworld-famous architect put his signature on the silhouette of İstanbul with anumber of masterpieces.

The Ottomans were tolerant towards all religions anddedicated many places of worship to the Christian and Jewish communities sothat they could practice their religion undisturbed. Thus, in İstanbul mosques,churches, and synagogues stood and still stand side by side as the physicalevidence of İstanbul as a center and symbol of tolerance and the fraternity ofreligions. 


As an imperial capital of 1,500 years, İstanbul isrich in architectural monuments reflecting its past splendor.

At every turn in the city one can happen upon Roman,Byzantine, and Ottoman palaces, mosques, churches, monasteries, monuments,walls, and ruins. The old city center, with its places of worship, government,trade and entertainment, was where the citizens mingled, enjoying the benefitsof the security and bounty of the state while maintaining their culture and wayof life.

The most magnificent of İstanbul´s monuments areclustered on the Historical Peninsula, the triangular piece of land surroundedby the Sea of Marmara to the east and south, by the Golden Horn to the north,and by the city walls to the west. This group of sites, known as the HistoricAreas of İstanbul, were included on the UNESCO World HeritageList in 1985, and continue to this day to impress visitors with theirhistory and importance. Sultanahmet Square is the heart of theHistorical Peninsula and in its vicinity one can find the most prominentexamples of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture.

LivingHeritage of the Byzantines

During the Byzantine period the center of the city wasthe Hippodrome and its environs. The palace wasthe center of power and Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia SophiaGrand Mosque) was the most spectacular religious building.The hippodrome served as an entertainment center for the people andthe Yerebatan Sarnıcı (Basilica Cistern) supplied most of thecity´s water. All these structures can be found in the center of the city.During Ottoman times, the square where the hippodrome once stood became thesite for the circumcision ceremonies of the sultans´ sons.

Great MysticSymbols

The most glorious architectural heritage of theByzantine Empire is Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia SophiaGrand Mosque) which is referred to as the “8th Wonder of theWorld.” With a history of more than 1,500 years, it is one of the greatsymbols of İstanbul. The mosaics of Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-iŞerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque), which were uncovered after itbecame a museum, are the foremost examples of Byzantine art of the 9th to 12thcenturies. The Kariye Mosque (former Chora Church) is anotherByzantine monument famous for its fine mosaics and frescoes. The NeveShalomAhrida, and Aşkenazi Synagogues arethree of the most important sacred places for Judaism in İstanbul.

The Topkapı Palace is particularlyimportant for the Mukaddes Emanetler Dairesi (Chamber of Holy Relics) whereProphet Muhammed´s Hırka-i Saadet (Blessed Mantle) and Sancak-ıŞerif (Holy Banner) are kept in their golden chests. The Sultan AhmetMosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, was built between 1609 and 1616, andhouses the tomb of its founder, Sultan Ahmed I, a madrasah, and a hospice.

HistoricAreas of İstanbul

The Historic Areas of İstanbul, inscribed on theUNESCO World Heritage List in 1985, cover four main areas: The ArchaeologicalPark, the Süleymaniye Mosque and its associatedconservation area, Zeyrek Mosque and its associatedconservation area, and the City Walls of İstanbul. In itsevaluation report, the International Council on Monuments and Sites has statedthat one cannot conceive of the UNESCO World Heritage List without İstanbul,which has been associated with the world’s major political, religious, andartistic events for over 2,000 years. The cultural property in this areaincludes unique monuments and masterpieces of universal architecture. Two ofthese monuments are Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia SophiaGrand Mosque) , built by Anthemius of Tralles and Isidoreof Miletus in AD 532-537, and the Süleymaniye Mosque, amasterpiece of Mimar Sinan (“Architect Sinan”) or Mimar Koca Sinan (“GreatArchitect Sinan”). The 6,650-meter-long city walls of Theodosius II, with itssecond line of defenses created in AD 447, has been one of the world’s leadingreferences in military architecture.

The OtherShore

Another historical area of İstanbul, on the oppositeshore of the Golden Horn, is the former district of Pera,meaning “the other shore.” Settled by Genoese and Venetians in the 12thcentury, this quarter was inhabited mostly by Levantines and represented thecity’s Western face. The cosmopolitan character of ancient İstanbul isreflected in the following buildings in Pera: the Galata Tower builtby the Genoese, stately consulates which were embassies before the capital wasmoved to Ankara, and the Art Nouveau buildings of İstiklal Avenue.Church of St. Anthony of Padua, a silent and tranquil spot on thisavenue, is visited frequently by devout visitors of every religion. Palaces,summer palaces, castles, and large mansions built by the Ottomans continue toadorn İstanbul. After Topkapı Palace, Yıldız Palace and Dolmabahçe Palace onthe shores of the Bosphorus became the residences of the Ottoman sultans.İstanbul is also famous for the elegant wooden houses, known as yalıs,built along the shores of the strait.

Haliç,The Golden Horn

This horn-shaped estuary known as the GoldenHorn divides European İstanbul in two. As one of the world’s bestnatural harbors, the Byzantine and Ottoman navies and their commercial shippinginterests were centered here. Today, lovely parks and promenades line theshores where the setting sun casts a golden hue on the water. At Fener and Balat,neighborhoods midway up the Golden Horn, whole streets full of old woodenhouses, churches, and synagogues date from Byzantine and Ottoman times, whilethe Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople resides at Fener. Eyüp, a littlefurther up, is full of Ottoman architecture, much of it restored, and cemeteriesdotted with dark cypress trees covering the hillsides. Many believers come tothe Tomb of Eyüp in the hope that their prayers will begranted. The Pierre Loti Café, atop the hill overlooking theshrine, is a wonderful place to enjoy an alternative view of İstanbul.


A stay in İstanbul is not complete without atraditional and unforgettable boat excursion up the Bosphorus, the strait thatseparates Europe and Asia. Its shores offer a delightful mixture of past andpresent, grand splendors and simple beauty.

Modern hotels stand next to yalıs (waterfrontwooden villas), marble palaces abut on rustic stone fortresses, and elegantcompounds neighbor small fishing villages.

The best way to see the Bosphorus isto board one of the passenger boats that regularly zigzag along the shores.Embark at Eminönü and stop alternately on the Asian andEuropean sides of the strait! The round-trip excursion, very reasonably priced,takes about six hours. For those who want a private voyage, there are agenciesthat specialize in organizing daytime or nighttime mini-cruises.

During the trip you will go past the magnificent DolmabahçePalace, while further along you will encounter the green parks and imperialpavilions of Yıldız Palace. Built on the waterfront with parksextending behind it, Çırağan Palace was refurbished in 1874 bySultan Abdülaziz, and is now restored as a grand hotel. For 300 meters alongthe Bosphorus shore, its ornate marble facades reflect the swiftly movingwater. At Ortaköy, the next stop, every Sunday artists gather toexhibit their work in a street-side gallery where the variety of people createa lively scene. While in Ortaköy, you should sample a tasty kumpir (bakedpotato) from one of the street vendors. And also note its church, mosque, andsynagogue that have existed side by side for hundreds of years – a tribute toTurkey´s tolerance at grassroots level. Overshadowing İstanbul´s traditionalarchitecture at Ortaköy is one of the world´s largest suspension bridges,the Boğaziçi Bridge, linking Europe and Asia.


The beautiful Beylerbeyi Palace liesjust past the bridge on the Asian side and behind the palace rises ÇamlıcaHill, the highest point in İstanbul. You can drive here to admire themagnificent panorama of İstanbul and the beautiful, landscaped gardens. On theopposite shore, the wooden Ottoman villas of Arnavutköy createa contrast with the luxurious modern apartments of neighboring Bebek.A few kilometers further along the Bosphorus stand the fortresses of RumeliHisarı (Rumeli Fortress) and Anadolu Hisarı (AnatolianFortress) facing each other across the strait like watchfulprotectors. Göksu Palace, sometimes known as Küçüksu Palace, gracesthe Asian shore next to Anadolu Hisarı. As the second link betweenthe two continents, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge straddlesthe waterway just past these two fortresses.

From Duatepe Hill on the European side you can admirethe magnificent panorama of the bridge and the Bosphorus. Below Duatepe,beautiful Emirgan Park bursts with color when its tulips bloomin the spring. On the Asian shore is Kanlıca, a fishing villagethat is now a favored suburb for affluent İstanbul residents. Crowds gather inthe restaurants and cafés along its shores to sample its famous yogurt.

Shortly after Kanlıca and Çubuklu is BeykozKorusu (İbrahim Paşa Woods), a popular retreat. In its cafés andrestaurants, you can enjoy the delightful scenery and clean, fresh air. Back onthe European side, at Tarabya Bay, yachts seem to dance at themoorings. The coastal road then bustles with taverns and fish restaurants fromTarabya to the charming suburbs of Sarıyer and Büyükdere.Sarıyer has one of the largest fish markets in İstanbul and is also famous forits delicious varieties of milk puddings and börek (pastries).After Sarıyer, the narrow strait widens and opens into the Black Sea.


The Princes´ Islands, an archipelago ofnine islands in the Sea of Marmara, were places of exile for Byzantine princes.Today, during the summer months, İstanbul residents escape to the islands´ coolsea breeze and elegant 19th-century houses.

Büyükada is the largest of theislands. Here you can enjoy a ride e-cart among the pine trees or relax on abeach in one of the numerous coves that ring the island. The other popularislands are KınalıSedefBurgaz, and Heybeliada.Regular ferryboats connect the islands with both the European and Asian shores,and a faster sea bus service operates from Kabataş in thesummer.