Istanbul’s location, which straddles Europe and Asia across the river Bosphorous, made the city a significant centre of culture and trade throughout history. Today, visitors can discover the city’s unique history through the century’s old art and architecture that still survives and characterises Istanbul. Bridging East and West – Europe and Asia – Istanbul possesses a richly complicated heritage. Once the capital of the Ottoman and Byzantine empires, this city’s prestigious history has left us with many monuments to cherish. Plus, it integrates its past and present to create a unique mix of architecture; a glass skyscraper next to a Byzantine church or a colorful bazaar in the shadow of a shopping mall. The natural landscape is also impressive. The Bosphorus, a narrow strait, cuts the city in two and connects the Sea of Marmara in the south to the Black Sea in the north. From the blue waters, visitors will see a skyline of domes, steeples and modern towers.

Although Istanbul looks serene from afar, the internal atmosphere is wonderfully chaotic. Discover the bustling streets and busy bazaar stalls that have characterized the city for hundreds of years. Drivers will jockey for position; shopkeepers will barter in an avalanche of chatter; and you’ll be struggling to digest all of the sights, sounds and smells. Speaking of smells … during your exploration, taste the distinctly Turkish treats off the streets, including döner, Istanbul’s version of fast food. And when the sun goes down, you’ll see that Istanbul sheds some of its conservative facade to reveal a thriving nightlife. At the intersection of civilizations and continents for centuries, Istanbul surprises visitors with its fast pace, its ancient history and its present culture.

Istanbul’s history stretches back to ancient times. The city is believed to have been inhabited since 3000 BC, before becoming part of Byzantium in the 6th century BC. After being discovered by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in the 4th century AD, the city became known as Constantinople. This name stuck for over 1000 years, and stood strong the city faced incursions from Persians, Arabs and many other invaders from foreign lands. However, in 1453, Constantinople was successfully taken by the Ottomans, after which it was renamed Istanbul and designated the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

The old Constantinople, seat of the Ottoman Empire, starts in Europe and finishes in Asia, across the Bosphorus. But even a first glimpse of the 1500-year-old mosques and Sultan palaces tells you it’s something completely different. Many visits are centered around Istanbul’s most famous attractions in touristy Sultanahmet. Here you can visit the Hagia Sophia (a massive church-turned-mosque-turned-museum filled with 9th-century mosaics), the always bustling 17th-century Blue Mosque, and the ornate 15th-century Topkapi Palace, home to sultans (and their harems). Then you can cleanse your pores at one of the several longstanding Hammams – Turkish baths (not for the shy). A short walk from Topkapi Palace is the Bazaar District, where it’s fun to get lost in the maze of spice and rug sellers, a tradition dating to Byzantine times. To find Istanbul’s modern heart, cross the Golden Horn Bay just north to hilly Beyoglu, where Istanbul lets loose. From modern Taksim Square – several business hotels are nearby – the mile-long pedestrian-only Istiklal Street gets filled with a mind-numbing array of locals in headscarves or leather jackets, stopping in wild fish restaurants and gritty alley bars. A fine day trip is a ferry to Uskudar, where Asia begins.

The Ottomans ruled from Istanbul for over four centuries, developing it into one of the world’s major cultural and commercial cities. When the empire crumbled after World War I, the Republic of Turkey was born and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – Turkey’s first president – moved the capital city to Ankara. In today’s Istanbul, travellers can explore many museums and monuments symbolic of its past, including the Haghia Sophia, a Byzantine marvel, and Topkapı Palace, the centre of the Ottoman administration. But while people in Istanbul are proud of its history, this city is fiercely modern. In the 21st century, Istanbul has once again risen as a world cultural capital, with a vibrant atmosphere and fantastic nightlife. And with this unique blend of fascinating heritage and modern fun, Istanbul promises an unforgettable holiday experience.

Leave a Reply

Login using: