Istanbul: Top 10

(continuer en français) – Published: April 23, 2022

Istanbul succeeded Constantinople which succeeded Byzantium, a city changing its name with the times. The city lies at the meeting point of Europe and Asia, built on both banks of the Bosphorus. Geographically, the two continents are separated by the sea, but the city, borrowing from both cultures, strives to synthesise them and ensure their continuity.

01. Bosphorus

There are now three bridges and a tunnel between the two banks of the Bosphorus, linking Europe and Asia. The first bridge is over 1.5 km long and was completed in 1973. The aim was to respond to the rapid increase in trade between the two continents. Istanbul remains the largest city in Turkey and one of the largest in Europe with 15 million inhabitants.

02. Hagia Sophia

The Church of Saint Sophia was built in 532 and remained the largest cathedral in the world for almost a thousand years. Sophie refers to Wisdom. After the Ottoman conquest in 1453, the church was converted into a mosque. In 1935 it became a museum, before being returned to Muslim worship in 2020, causing controversy and disappointment (more).

03. Blue Mosque

Inspired by the grandiose architecture of Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque was undertaken around 1600 by Sultan Ahmet to surpass all other monuments. It represents the successful synthesis of centuries of Ottoman mosque and Byzantine church construction. The blue colour comes from the interior decorations where this colour is dominant.

04. Topkapi Palace

In order to maintain his prestige, the Sultan rarely appeared in public and lived in seclusion in a part of his palace. The Gate of Felicity marked the entrance to the part reserved for the Sultan and his family. Rather than one large monumental building, the palace actually consists of many pavilions, built according to need or fantasy.

05. Gülhane Park

The park was part of the Sultan’s Palace until it was opened to the public in 1912. In spring, the tulip plantations remind us that its origin is in Asia. The art of growing tulips was for a long time one of the basic components of Turkish culture. A period of peace and prosperity from 1718 to 1730 is called the “Tulip Period”.

06. Harem

According to Islamic law, the Sultan was entitled to four legitimate wives and as many concubines as he wished, there were as many as three hundred. This large family lived in the Harem under the direction of the Sultan’s mother, assisted by eunuchs, and according to strict etiquette. It was in this great hall that ceremonies and entertainments were held.

07. Underground Basilica

This underground cistern was built in 532 and forgotten for several centuries before being rediscovered in 1545. The columns are borrowed from other buildings, for example there are huge jellyfish heads. Its size and the presence of the columns make one think of a religious building, hence its nickname, which it never was.

08. Galata Tower

The tower that dominates the Galata district dates back to an ancient fortification of 1348, built to protect the commercial colony established by the Genoese in the heart of Byzantium. Its observation platform, open to the public, provides a commanding view of the old city centre, and the view is particularly attractive around dusk.

09. New Mosque

It is said to be new as it is only 400 years old, which is recent for a city with 2600 years of history. It was built by the mothers of several successive sultans. The site is in the heart of the commercial district near the Grand Bazaar and the building of the mosque was also used as a pretext to expropriate many Jewish merchants.

10. Grand Bazaar

This large covered market has been at the heart of Istanbul for centuries, a meeting point for products from Europe and Asia. The vast souk has more than 4,000 shops along several kilometres of covered walkways. The spices have their own specific bazaar, with their small coloured pyramids. All around, the streets are bustling with commercial activity.

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  1. This is a great reminder of a great visit to Istanbul at the end of a stay in Foca – we came by train from Izmir to Bandirma then ferry to Istanbul. We visited all of the places you’ve listed here and they were all fascinating, but we were extra gripped by the underground cistern and the conceptual engineering involved in its creation. Great reminders of a great city.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Even after visiting other cities in Asia or North Africa, Istanbul has a special flavour, in addition to its historical depth. It is a place to know Europe in its diversity. Thank you for your comment as a seasoned traveller.

      Liked by 1 person

    • You’re absolutely right, it’s the kind of place that interests curious travellers, who seek to understand and learn. Its blend of Europe and the Oriental world is very unique.


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