If traveling many centuries back in time is on your agenda, then Istanbul is just the place for you. Being more than 2500 years old, the name of this city was changed twice; from Byzantium to Constantinople to the current Istanbul. Set across the Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul was a much-coveted city that was seized and fought for by many empires like the Romans, the Ottomans, the Greeks to name a few. A city with such an interesting history is bound to have many intriguing facts.
Ten Intriguing Facts About Istanbul
- Istanbul is the only city in the world that occupies two continents, Asia and Europe.
- Ancient Istanbul was the capital of the state when it was seized by many empires like Rome and Ottoman. But today modern Istanbul is not the capital of Turkey; Ankara is.
- The city is built on seven hills to resemble the Seven Hills of Rome. This was designed by the Roman Emperor Constantine.
- Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey with a population of 13 million people of which 99 percent are Muslims.
- The symbol of Holland, Tulips, in fact, originated in Istanbul and then sent to the Netherlands.
- Despite being surrounded by sea, the city experiences snowfall averaging an impressive 18 inches annually.
- The famous novel of Agatha Christie, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ was penned down by the author when she was a guest at Pera Palas Hotel, Istanbul.
- Istanbul has the third oldest subway in the world. Built in 1875, it is 573 meters long.
- The population of Istanbul, the largest city of Turkey, is the same as Belgium, the smallest country of Europe.
- The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul with over 4000 shops and 61 covered streets is the biggest covered bazaar in the world.
Travel and Tours in Istanbul
Being one of the most popular tourist destinations in Turkey, Istanbul offers various tours to enable visitors to experience the astounding history, culture and architectural heritage of the city in all its glory. Opting for tours like the Heritage Tour, Walking Tour, Old City Tour, Mini Tour to name a few, will allow travelers to tour and learn about the city in the best possible time. Gourmet tours and Culture food tours are also a package that foodies simply cannot resist given Istanbul’s delicious street food scenario. Tongue tickling varieties are arrayed on carts, stalls, and storefronts at all corners of the city.
10 Points of interest
The rich history of Istanbul is showcased in its many mosques, cathedrals, basilicas and ancient bazaars. It has remnants of its Neolithic times topped with the conveniences of modern times, which makes a visit to Istanbul fun and charming. Some of the places that guarantee an enjoyable time are:
1. Galata Tower
Galata Tower is Istanbul’s landmark. Standing 67 meters tall, it was built in 1348 and was the tallest building in Istanbul then. It was called the Tower of Christ and was modified several times over the years. It was used as an observation tower to look out for fires or the enemy approach. Today the upper stories have a café, nightclub and restaurant and of course stunning views.
2. Chora Church
The Chora Church is one of the best reminders of Byzantine art. Called as the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, the charming frescoes and mosaics are by far the most charming surviving Byzantine artworks. The church has an interesting history of its own. It was first built as a monastery during the rule of Constantine. It became a mosque a few centuries later and then was converted into a museum in 1948.
3. Istanbul Archaeological Museum
Istanbul Archaeological Museum houses three museums under its roof- The Archaeological Museum, the Tiled Kiosk Museum, and the Ancient Orient Museum. It was the first museum founded in Turkey and has over one million artifacts from civilizations around the world. It also has the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great.
4. Basilica Cistern
Basilica Cistern was made popular when it was featured in the James Bond thriller ‘From Russia with Love’. This is an underground cistern constructed on a basilica site by the Romans. It is regarded as an architectural wonder that is way ahead of its time. Till date, the basilica cistern provides water to its residents and has a capacity to hold about 2.8 million cubic feet of water.
5. Suleymaniya Mosque
Built by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, of the Ottoman Empire, the Suleymaniya Mosque first impresses with its beauty. The mosque is a mix of Islamic and Byzantine architecture and has four minarets. It was the highest dome of the Ottoman Empire. Though the mosque was significantly damaged during World War I and other times, it was restored to its present structure in the mid-20th century.
6. Dolmabahce Palace
The Dolmabahce Palace has many stunning sights including its site which is by the Bosphorus coastline. Its plush interior and exterior are owed to the fact that the palace was home to six sultans. The palace sports European styles of Baroque, Neoclassical and Rococo architecture while retaining the charm of the traditional Ottoman one. It also has the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier which was a gift from Queen Victoria.
7. Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is just what the name suggests- grand! With over 3000 shops all indoor, Grand Bazaar is a shopper’s paradise. There are shops to cater to an antique collector’s whims, a cook’s menu with a variety of spices, a jewelry patron or a ceramic lover. Along with shopping, visitors can tour the Cevahir Bedesten, two mosques, four fountains and two hammams.
8. Blue Mosque
Built in the 17th century, the Blue Mosque is a pilgrimage center. It is strict about timings and rules. The mosque is closed at all the five prayer times for Muslims and all visitors are required to remove their footwear and women have to cover their hair. The mosque gets its name from the blue tiles on the dome and the upper levels inside it. The intricate designs of the mosque, 200 stained glass windows and around 20000 ceramic tiles in a variety of tulip designs make the visit worthwhile.
9. Topkapi Palace
Another palace that bewitches with its location in Istanbul is Topkapi Palace. It is set on a hill that overlooks the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus. It is surrounded by stone walls for five kilometers and has 27 towers. Once home to the sultans of the Ottoman Empire and then the seat of the Turkish government, it is now a museum. It is the oldest palace in the world and has a collection of old weapons, porcelain, jewels and clocks on display.
10. Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia built in the Byzantine style of architecture underwent several changes since the time it was built. It started out as a home to the Patriarch of Constantinople and was used as a Roman Catholic Church in the 12th century. Later in 1453, it became a mosque and later closed. In 1935 it was reopened as a museum and is popular for its mosaics showcasing different religious scenes.
Istanbul transports travelers to a different world altogether. Visiting it is like going back to the many civilizations with their historic mosques, churches, synagogues, palaces and ancient bazaars that have deeply enriched our history.
A bibliophile and travel buff, I love reading as much as writing. Take a special interest in keying travel blogs and children's stories. Maybe that accounts for why every trip is taken with a childlike enthusiasm!
Article by Kanchana Rao
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