Turkey has a diverse history, the place where the modern-day Republic of Turkey stands has seen a lot of empires and emperors come and go. Many of the Turk cities were actually founded hundreds of years ago. Within Turkey, Istanbul is like a time capsule and one of the most popular holiday destinations. It was founded as Byzantium but was later renamed by the Byzantine ruler Constantine who made it the capital of the empire and was therefore then called Constantinople, then came the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans captured the city from the Byzantines and made Constantinople the administrative centre of their empire. Even today relics of the past can be found embedded within the modern city of Istanbul.
Here are 10 reasons why you should visit Istanbul
10) it’s located in Europe and Asia at the same time:
Istanbul is a unique city in terms of location. One part of it sits in Europe while the other is located in Asia. And because of this the city held a unique status in the global community in the past and become an important trading point for goods and also cultures from both the east and the west. The city is divided by the Bosporus River in the middle. So, when you’re in a boat on the river you can enjoy panoramic views of the entire city. The famous Bosphorus Bridge connects the two sides of Istanbul.
Bosphours/İstanbul by Mustafa Demirkol:Flickr [link]
9) The river that divides Asia and Europe:
The Bosphorus River acts as a divider and a connector, how? Well, the Bosphorus river divides Istanbul into an Asian side and a European side meanwhile it connects the Aegean Sea to the Black sea. The river sees a lot of traffic, from ferries to freighters. For tourists, the river is significant due to a number of things. You can enjoy a Bosphorus ferry ride with complimentary dinner or lunch meanwhile enjoying live music, but, if you’re a budget traveller and simply want to enjoy the views, you can use the transportation ferries that are used for transporting people from the Asian side to the European side and vice versa.
Where Europe meets Asia by Mike McBey:Flickr [link]
Ottomans and the Byzantines built most of Istanbul around the river, therefore, you can cover a lot of the major sites like the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia just by sitting in a boat.
8) Presence of majestic Mosques:
remained the seat of government for the Ottomans until their downfall in the early 1900s. Therefore, Ottomans invested heavily in the infrastructure of the city. Among the buildings that were erected during that time, mosques are the most abundant since the Ottomans had a strong faith. The Ottomans built more than a dozen mosques all around Istanbul. The most famous of which are .) The Blue Mosque also called the Sultan Ahmed Mosque because it was constructed during the reign of Ottoman Caliph Sultan Ahmed. .)
The Süleymaniye Mosque or the Suleiman Mosque built by the Ottoman Caliph Suleiman the Magnificent..) The New Mosque, which was constructed in phases under more than one emperor.There are plenty of other mosques in Istanbul as well that act as a guide to the glorious history of the Ottomans. This is just the tip of the iceberg as I’d like to call it.
7) Rich Byzantium history:
The Ottoman era is one of the few parts of Istanbul’s complex history. The Byzantines, the original constructors of the city had left a lot of their marks all across the city. Scattered across the city are numerous relics belonging to that era. The most famous of which are: .) Hagia Irene: This is one of the oldest structures in Istanbul and the oldest church of Istanbul as well. In fact, it is so old that many believe that it was once a temple built before the advent of Christianity in the area. .)
Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey by cattan2011:Flickr [link]
The Palace of Constantinople: It used to be the royal residence of Byzantine emperors so you can imagine how old it is, however, unfortunately, because of it being so old, most of the structure has been lost to time but the Turkish government has still preserved some parts of the original structure which can be viewed by visitors. If I were to describe its significance I would say that it is was as significant to the Byzantines as the Topkapi palace was to the Ottomans.
6) Hagia Sophia, a Church? A Mosque? A Museum?
Hagia Sophia is probably the most famous and the most controversial structure in Istanbul and one of the most popular tourist attractions. We’ll just stick to the fame part here. Hagia Sophia was originally constructed by Emperor Justinian of the Byzantine Empire as a church but during the rule of the Ottomans the Hagia Sophia was converted into a Mosque, further down the timeline after the founding of the modern Republic of Turkey, the Mosque was transformed into a museum. However, as of 2020, the Hagia Sophia has been reverted to a Mosque again. The Hagia Sophia still consists of original mosaics portraying Christian symbols and figures as they were embedded in the structure when it was originally constructed as a church.
But, most of these mosaics were covered when the Ottomans converted it into a mosque. According to the Turkish government, the Hagia Sophia will remain open to visitors despite being turned into a mosque.
5) City of Cats:
You might know Istanbul for Turkish delight, The Grand Bazaar or Hagia Sophia but there’s another thing which attracts visitors to Istanbul, the city’s cats. Istanbul is one of the most cat-friendly cities in the world. The people of Istanbul have made it their culture to take care of cats. You’ll find bazaars and streets full of felines you might even find statues of cats there. Even the Hagia Sophia has cat residents living inside the compound.
4) Grand Bazar a place to shop and enjoy history:
The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is one of the oldest Bazaars in the world and is a must-visit place in Istanbul. When you go there you’ll see that the Bazaar is like a global village where visitors from all around the world can be seen. There are well over 4000 shops in the bazaar selling different kinds of stuff ranging from jewellery to clothes to things like handicrafts and dry fruits. The shopkeepers are usually very friendly and most of the times are quite welcoming to the sight of foreigners.
Grand Bazar by Turkey Vision:Flickr [link]
As far as history is concerned, the Bazaar was one of the first structures that were constructed after the Ottoman takeover of Istanbul, so, you can understand the history this bazaar holds.
3) Taksim Square:
Taksim Square is a must-go area in Istanbul. Visiting the Taksim Square in Istanbul is like visiting the Times Square in New York, you just CANNOT miss it. There are a number of landmarks around this area (including the Istiklal Street) that are worth seeing. It is also a place of great importance to the people of Istanbul as this where political demonstrations, celebrations and rallies are held; it is also where the famous Republic Monument was erected in the memory of the Turkish War of Independence.
Taksim Square by Maxpax:Flickr [link]
The monument portrays Mustafa Kemal, the founder of the Republic of Turkey and other Turkish revolutionaries. There’s also the Galata Tower roughly one and a half kilometres from main Taksim Square. It is a medieval-styled observation tower made of stone.
You can enjoy panoramic views of the old part of Istanbul from the top of the tower but there’s almost always a long queue that you have to go through and there’s a small ticket priced around 35 lire which really wouldn’t bother anyone looking to enjoy panoramic views of Istanbul from a medieval tower.
2) Istiklal Street, the best place to enjoy nightlife:
Istiklal Street is more about enjoying the nightlife than about history and culture. The street is lined up with bars, pubs, cafés and restaurants. This is the go-to area for you if you’re a young traveller. Just like the other touristy places you’ll find a lot of foreigners here. It’s also a hangout place for many college students but it gets a little crowded during the weekends so plan accordingly and make sure to keep your belongings in check when you’re walking.
If you’re planning to cover Taksim Square on the same day then you’d be happy to know that Istiklal Street can lead you to Taksim Square. In fact, there’s a vintage-styled exclusive tram line that runs along the street connecting Taksim and Tunel.
1) Topkapi palace the royal residence of the Ottoman Caliphs:
The Topkapi Palace is a UNESCO world heritage site. It was once the royal palace of the ottoman caliphs but now it has been converted to the museum and is open to outsiders. The palace has a large number of rooms that visitors can explore. There’s an area within the palace known as the Harem. It was a very private area where only the Caliph, his wives and concubines were allowed. But, the area was opened to visitors when the Republic of Turkey converted it into a museum. The Topkapi Palace Museum now hosts a number of Ottoman and Islamic artefacts such as swords belonging to Islamic figures including the Prophet Muhammad. Gifts given to the Ottoman Emperors are also on display which includes things like clocks, guns and swords.
Topkapi by MiGowa:Flickr [link]
The interior walls of the palace are decorated to perfection; you can observe Arabic calligraphy, different kinds of paintings and artwork on the walls. Apart from the building, there are also a number of gardens where the Caliphs used to spend their time enjoying the outdoor weather. A serene view of the sea and the city is also visible from these gardens and due to its strategic location both the European side and Asian side of Istanbul is visible. Furthermore, there’s a private mosque within the palace where only the Caliph and his family members were allowed to pray.