Istanbul offers amazing sites that will make you daydream about your return.
By Nicholas Sterling
Founded in 658 b. C., Istanbul is a unique city full of charm and contrast. This cosmopolitan metropolis is—at the same time—ancient and modern, religious and secular, worldly and sophisticated, mystical and materialistic, European and Asian. It is also Turkey’s largest city, with a population of over 15 million people.
It stretches along both banks of the Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Sea of Marmara to the South, with the Black Sea, to the North. Istanbul is the only city in the world built on two continents, a fact that has marked its cultural and economic development.
Thanks to a strategic location, it was the capital of two empires: the Byzantine and the Ottoman. The traveler can still observe traits of its imperial past in the form of aqueducts, cisterns, palaces, churches, synagogues, mosques and other monuments that have been examples of harmony and tolerance through the centuries.
It would be impossible to mention all the magnificent attractions and amenities in this exciting metropolis. The most important and prominent are the foundations of its incredible history, rich culture, its shops, modern cultural life, and world-class dining scene. There are also some world-renowned museums, theaters, cruises and fascinating historical and architectural tours.
Although I have visited the city on several occasions, I cannot say I have seen everything it has to offer. Sometimes, I have been self-absorbed watching people, observing the water carriers, tinsmiths, and tanners, professions I'd only heard of. Or I just enjoyed the dolce far niente, as the Italians say, sitting on the terrace of a bustling cafe with a cup of Turkish coffee.
One of the must-see wonders of Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia, a masterpiece of Byzantine art. It was built as a Catholic church and, in 1453; it became a mosque. At present, it is not open for worship since it functions as a museum. Situated on the highest point of the city, its stunning profile defines the city skyline with its four minarets and a dome that measures more than 100 feet in diameter.
Another gem is the Blue Mosque. It was built by Sultan Ahmed I between 1609 and 1616, and although it is smaller than Hagia Sophia, it stands out for its six minarets and the more than 20,000 blue tiles that adorn the mosque’s dome.
At Topkapi Palace, you will be amazed by the grandeur of Imperial Istanbul, when it was ruled by sultans. Inside the vast palace, you’ll discover the Library of Sultan Ahmed III, the imperial harem room and some unique treasures such as the Topkapi dagger adorned with precious emeralds, as well as the 88 ct. Spoonmaker Diamond—also known as Kasikci— which once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte’s mother.
Another unique attraction is the Basilica Cistern, the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city. Built in the 6th century during the reign of Roman Emperor Justinian, it was a great Basilica before being converted into a cistern. The Cistern vast colonnades are the closest thing to a submerged temple.
The Galata Tower is also a noteworthy attraction in Istanbul. One of the oldest towers in the world—it was built in 528 to serve as a beacon and lighthouse.
But if there is a defining landmark in Istanbul, it should be the Grand Bazaar, considered the oldest and largest market in the world. With an area of almost 500,000 square feet, it has more than 3,650 shops where you can find jewelry, handicrafts, precious carpets and the most exotic spices.
COPYRIGHT PHOTOS: J.P. BONETE. ■
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