Istanbul is one of the rare cities on the globe to straddle two continents, Europe and Asia. Strolling its captivating streets offers an exotic glimpse of two worlds, east and west. Thanks to its location on the Bosporus Strait, it has also served as a crossroads of culture and history. Today, massive relics from its days as the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires take the breath away.
Bosporus Strait. Centuries ago, camel and horse caravans carried goods through Istanbul en route to Europe or Asia. Today, the constant funneling of ships between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara do the job. Indeed, Istanbul hasn’t lost its touch as a vital link between continents thanks to the Bosporus Strait, the world’s narrowest strait that supports international shipping.
Blue Mosque. This mesmerizing building is 400 years old. Upon completion, it was called the Sultan Ahmed Mosque after the ruler for whom it was built. It’s said that Ahmed I ordered its construction in order to calm God after the sultan lost a war with Persia. With its overwhelming size—a main dome, eight smaller domes, six minarets, and a complex of buildings surrounding it—you can imagine that the deity’s temper was easily subdued. The mosque earned its less formal name from the 20,000 ceramic tiles that adorn its cavernous interior, each one handmade at Iznik.
Hippodrome. In the year 324, Roman Emperor Constantine the Great moved the government of the Roman Empire to Byzantium, which was renamed Constantinople after him. He expanded the city greatly, and one of his major accomplishments was the Hippodrome, a vast U-shaped chariot-racing track that could accommodate 100,000 spectators. The site was also the center of the city’s social and political life.
Hagia Sophia. Another proud monument to Istanbul’s religious history is Hagia Sophia, which stands adjacent to the Blue Mosque. It was originally built as an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral in the sixth century. With its massive dome, it is considered by many a shining example of Byzantine architecture and is even thought to have altered the course of architecture in general. In 1453, the conquering Ottoman Turks converted the cathedral to a mosque; it was secularized in 1935 upon its transformation into a museum. Today, a small room is allocated for Christian and Muslim prayer, and the hypnotic call to prayer is sung from the minarets twice a day.
Grand Bazaar. In the 15th century, the Sultan Mehmet II wanted a fortress erected that would be dedicated to textile trading. This would become the core of today’s Grand Bazaar, and it would shape the culture and wealth of the city for centuries. Today, it is one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets, a thrilling maze of 61 streets and more than 3,000 shops. A few hours browsing and roaming its markets reveals Istanbul at its most vibrant.
Topkapi Palace. The seat of sultans for almost 400 years, the Topkapi Palace is a sprawling monument to Turkey’s Ottoman past. With a splendid location overlooking the Bosporus Strait, the complex was home to up to 4,000 people during its heyday, with mosques, bakeries, a mint, and a hospital within its walls. Today, the most important of its hundreds of rooms are maintained as a museum that features, among countless other relics of the Muslim world, Mohammed’s cloak and sword.
We invite you to explore the treasures of Istanbul for yourself during our Turkish Odyssey adventure!