Ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman. The phenomenal city of Istanbul, Turkey spans multiple eras, with all of the inherent architecture, culture and ethnic diversity on display. A complete global city and home to more than 12.5 million people, Istanbul has become a world capital and vital span between Europe, Asia and the Near East.
Though the city can evoke Rome, Athens and other fine, world capitals, the truth is that Istanbul is Istanbul. In other words, free from comparison, the city is without peer on the planet. The former capital of the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Latin Empire of Constantinople and Ottoman Empire, and European Capital of Culture for 2010, Istanbul is a magnificent gem. The UNESCO World Heritage City has a host of attractions to see but our task, as usual, was to narrow the list down to ten.
On Europe’s side of the Bosphorus, the pulse point of the Ottoman Empire from 1853 to 1922 is a blend of many architectural traditions. As a result, the Baroque, Rococo, Neo-Classic and Islamic Dolmabahce Palace is a premier landmark in Istanbul.
As the waterway that divides two continents, the narrow Bosphorus has a notable place in history. With references to the strait in the Old Testament, the link between the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara and therefore the Aegean and Mediterranean, is impossible to ignore in Istanbul. For great views, book a day cruise.
8. Galata Tower
A medieval stone tower in the Galata district of old Istanbul, the Galata Tower offers a matchless panoramic view of the city.
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar harken back to a bygone age of more than half a millenium ago. The two largest covered shopping complexes in the world contain thousands of shops and draw well over 500,000 daily visitors.
Under the streets of old Istanbul lie hundreds of ancient receptacles, built to capture and store rainwater. More than mere functional structures, the cisterns of the city are also masterpieces of design. The 6th century Byzantine Basilica Cistern is the largest and most spectacular of them all.
The Ottoman-built Rüstem Pasha Mosque sits in Eminonu, the old walled city of Constantinople. The district is home to some of the best and most indelible attractions in Istanbul. Rüstem Pasha Mosque’s claim to fame is an intricate network of gorgeous, geometric-designed tilework.
With well over one million objects, Istanbul’s Archaeological Museum Complex is one of the best in the world. The complex is divided into three sections: Archaeological Museum, Museum of the Ancient Orient and the Museum of Islamic Art.
Mosques just don’t get much more beautiful than what’s in store for visitors to Istanbul. The 16th century hilltop Süleymaniye Mosque is a vision, with a vast array of exterior and interior details to admire for hours.
2. Hagia Sophia
From basilica to mosque and now museum par excellence, the Hagia Sophia is one of the de facto city symbols of Istanbul. The sheer apex of Byzantine architecture and design, the pre-eminent landmark is remarkable. Built in 537, the Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world for over a millenium, until the city of Seville, Spain got ambitious.
The National Mosque of Turkey was built in the early 17th century and with the Hagia Sophia, provides Istanbul with one of the most brilliant skylines in the world. Byzantine and Islamic in design, the mosque, from minarets to interior decorations, is spectacular.
Bonus: Topkapi Palace
For many, the formal residence of the Ottaman Sultans from 1465 to 1853 stands alone in Istanbul. At the height of the Ottoman Empire, grand Topkapi Palace was home to more than 4,000 people. Today, the historic complex, cultural monument and museum draws considerably more visitors than that. A scenic spot over the Bosphorus provides the palace with a dramatic perch. The vast interior can take hours to tour and digest, with a peerless collection of holy Muslim relics and numerous chambers, courtyards, halls, mosques and gardens to explore.
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