Expanding into two continents, Istanbul is the capital city Turkey. A city of contrasts it was the hub of the so-called civilized world, for many centuries. Istanbul therefore, has a culture that symbolises the best of oriental as well as occidental. The conflicts between old versus new, tradition versus modern, and occidental versus oriental are clearly visible. Today, Istanbul is a vast metropolis, which has tried to maintain the balance between its two extremes, rather successfully.
What to do
While in Istanbul there is so much to do and look forward to. The museums, castles, palaces, great mosques, bazaars and sights of natural beauty seem inexhaustible. Being a cultural and historical centre, exploring the grand heritage of the city should be the top most priority. Shopping which can be a pleasure in the markets of Istanbul should form another important part of your itinerary. More than anything else a walk down the lanes and by lanes of the many bazaars in Istanbul can be a great experience, if interested in feeling the culture and lifestyles of the people of this amazing land.
City at a Glance
|Area||5,712 sq km
The first significant cultural settlement in the region of Istanbul is said to haven taken place in about 5000 B.C. According to legend, during this very period, Byzas the son of Posedion and Keroessa built the settlement of Byzantion. However, the effective history of this new settlement begins from the 7th century AD when colonists coming from Central Greece and Aegean City of Miletos took control over it. In 200 BC the Roman Empire in search of a new administrative centre captured Byzantion, renaming it as Nea Roma. The city was renamed, as Constantinoplis after Constantine became emperor in 330 AD.
The city however, went through a destructive phase during the Latin invasions over it. After the invasions, the city did start its reconstruction activities in 1261 AD, yet it could not be restored to its former glory. Later on, in about 1453 AD the army of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II conquered the city. This saw the beginning of the Ottoman domination of this region, which lasted for over 630 years.
In 1923, after five years of occupation of Istanbul by the Allied Forces, a new republican government under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was formed. This was the beginning of a new phase in the history of Turkey and Istanbul. Many new construction works were undertaken and much of the modern Istanbul we see today is the result of great reconstruction that began in the 1920’s.
Weather and Best Season to Visit
Istanbul has a typical continental climate with long and hot, but pleasant summers. Winters are cool with mild snow and rainfall. The best season to visit the city is spring (April to June), and autumn (September to November).
Palaces are witness to the grandeur and power that Ottoman emperors used to enjoy and are a glimpse of the times gone by. Major palaces of Istanbul include: Topkapi Palace built in the 15th century, Dolmabahce Palace built in mid 19th century, Beylerbeyi Palace built in the 19th century, Goksu Palace that takes its name from the streams which empty into the Bosphorus near the tiny palace, Aynali Kavak, and Florya Ataturk Sea Pavilion (the summer residence of Turkish presidents).
Istanbul is home to some of the most exquisite mosques in the world. Sultan Ahmet Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque (most beautiful of all the mosques in Istanbul), Rüstem Pasa Mosque, Fatih Mosque, Yeni (New) Mosque, Sokollu Mehmet Pasa Mosque, and Mihrimah Sultan Mosque are some of the famous religious structures in Istanbul.
Museums showcase the great heritage that Istanbul has come to acquire over the centuries. Some of the best monuments of the city have been converted in the museums to save them from destruction. Basilica of St. Sophia is one of the finest structures in the world built by Constantine and reconstructed by Justinian in the 6th century AD. Now the structure is known as Ayasofia Museum and open every day for the tourists except on Monday.
Other important museums in Istanbul include: St. Irene Museum, Archaeological Museums inside the Topkapi Palace, Cinili Kosk, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Ibrahim Pasha Palace, Yerebatan Sarnici, Mosaic Museu, and many more.
Some of the better-known monuments in Istanbul include Hippodrome, Ahmet III Fountain, Beyazit Tower, Bozdogan-Valens Aqueduct, Istanbul land walls, Galata Tower, European Fortress, and Leander's Tower.
Important Festivals and Exhibitions
Apart from the regular religious celebrations and festivals, the city has a tradition of holding some of the better-known cultural festivals. International Istanbul Jazz Festival, International Istanbul Theatre Festival, International Istanbul Biannial, and International Istanbul Film Festival are some of the famous ones.
Unlike most of the Muslim cities around the world, Istanbul has a busy and interesting nightlife. Options include: restaurants, gazinos, cabarets (with belly dancers in action), bars, and dance clubs. Reasonably priced, these places are ideal for those who are looking for some good food coupled with intoxicating excitement.
Much of the contrast that Istanbul presents comes from the bazaars of the city. Grand bazaar (or Kapali Carsis) has shops stocked with gorgeous merchandise, which include leatherwear, carpets and jewellery. If looking for some antiques, try out the famous Egyptian Bazaar (or Misir Carsis) walking through which feels like walking through the pages of history. But, Istanbul is not only about antiques or other oriental products; you can also have some of the best-known brands in the world in the swanky new markets of Istanbul.
WHERE TO STAY
Turkey is certainly not as expensive as other places in Europe and North America, though you will shell out a little fortune to get the best accommodation possible. Accommodation options range from large and luxurious five star hotels to budget hotels, youth hostels, guesthouses, and hotel apartments.
WHERE TO EAT
Istanbul abounds with eating places of all types that offer some of the most relishing meals. The best restaurants of Istanbul are located at Sultanahmet’s Divan Yolu. For cheaper options you can look forward to restaurants in the Grand Bazaar.
Air Travel Resources
Istanbul city has its own international airport, which is well connected by regular flights, with most important destinations in Europe, Middle East, and North America with. Besides, vast networks of flights ply between Istanbul and various other cities of Turkey. Helicopter service is also available between the cities.
Land and Water
Rails, buses, and maritime lines are the most common way of transportation from Istanbul to other cities. Buses are cheap and faster and provide the best service. Trains are not as famous as buses in Turkey, but for long distances, the option of a sleeping car train should be considered. Many places in Western Europe are also connected to Istanbul by regular bus and train services.
Istanbul has an efficient and reliable local transport set up which caters well to the needs of the city. Options include: buses, taxis, mini buses, shared cabs (dolums), or the tram. You can also hire a self-driven car, provided you are carrying a valid driving licence.