Istanbul - At the Crossroads of Europe and Asia

Istanbul (Turkish: İstanbul) is Turkey's most populous city as well as its cultural and financial hub. Located on both sides of the Bosphorus, the narrow strait between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea, Istanbul bridges Asia and Europe both physically and culturally. Istanbul’s population is estimated to be between 12 and 19 million people, making it also one of the largest cities in Europe and the world.

Sultanahmet- Old City

Essentially the Constantinople of the Roman, Eastern Roman/Byzantine, and much of the Ottoman periods, this is where most of the famous historical sights of Istanbul are located.

Galata

Housing many of the nightlife venues of the city, this district includes Beyoğlu, Istiklal Street, and Taksim Square also its own share of sights and accommodation.

Bosphorus

European bank of the Bosphorus dotted by numerous palaces, parks, water-front mansions, and bohemian neighbourhoods, such as Beşiktaş and Ortaköy.

Golden Horn

Banks of Golden Horn, the estuary that separates the European side into distinctive districts. Eyüp, with an Ottoman ambience, is located here.

WHAT TO SEE

With its long history at the center of empires, Istanbul offers a wealth of historic and religious places to take in. The bulk of these ancient monuments, dating back to Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods, including the Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), and Basilica Cistern are located around Sultanahmet Square, while some others are dispersed throughout the peninsula of old city, such as Church of St Savior in Chora (Kariye Müzesi), entire inside of which is covered by mindblowing frescoes and mosaics. An impressive section of mostly intact Theodosian walls, which mark the full length of western boundary of the peninsula, is right next to this particular church.

North of the peninsula of old city, across the Golden Horn, is Galata, crowned by the Galata Tower. Istanbul Modern, with its exhibitions of contemporary Turkish art, is on the nearby waterfront of Karaköy. Another sight of religious significance close by is the Galata Whirling Dervish Hall of Sufi Mevlevi order, just north of the Tower. Further north is the Istiklal Avenue, Istanbul’s prominent pedestrian street running from near Galata Tower to Taksim Square, the central square of whole city.

Heading west rather than north from the old city brings you deeper into the banks of the Golden Horn estuary. A neighbourhood perhaps well worth a visit here is Eyüp, to visit city’s holiest Islamic shrine and just to see what daily life in Ottoman Istanbul was like. On the opposite shores of the Horn, in Sütlüce is the Miniaturk, the first miniature park in the city, with models from around the former Ottoman Empire.

North of Taksim Square is New Istanbul, main business district of the city. If venturing out to this direction, don’t forget to check out Military Museum, where Ottoman military music concerts (Mehter) are held every afternoon. Most of the skyscrapers of the city are located in the north of this district, around Levent and Maslak, with a totally different skyline from that of the old city. However southern reaches of the very same district has some fine neo-classical and Art Nouveau buildings from the turn of the 20th century, around the neighbourhoods of Osmanbey, Kurtuluş, and Nişantaşı. Just east from here, with a little drop in elevation as you approach the shore, is the banks of Bosphorus, that is lined by pleasant neighbourhoods full of waterfront mansions (yalı) and a number of waterside palaces where you can admire what money could buy in times gone by.

Across the Bosphorus to east is Asian Side, centred around the historical districts of Kadıköy and Üsküdar, and perhaps best symbolized by Maiden’s Tower, located at about the halfway between these districts, on an islet just off the shore. Bosphorus and Marmara coasts of this half of the city is characterized by quite picturesque neighbourhoods, overlooked by Çamlıca Hill, one of the highest hills of the city which has a view of much of the rest of the city as well, with a cafe and a pleasant park on its summit.

Southeast of the city, off the southern coast of Asian Side are the Princes’ Islands, an archipelago of nine car-free islands, characterized by stunning wooden mansions and pine groves.

INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT ISTANBUL

1) Istanbul is way older than you think. Recent evidence suggests that people have lived here for 8500 years.

2) The incredible Hagia Sophia has collapsed and been rebuilt three times since the 4th century AD.

3) The Mevlevi Sema Ceramony, popularly known as the Whirling Dervishes is thought to be a path to reunion with God.

4) The Grand Bazaar attracts between 250K to 400K people daily.

5) In the 1630s, it is rumored that, by using fake wings and the wind from the top of the Galata Tower, Hezarfen Ahmed Celebi became perhaps the first person to fly to another continent.

6) Valens Aqueduct carried water into the old city for more than a thousand years. It was still active at the start of the 20th century.

7) The Bosphorus is a natural strait running right through Istanbul, separating Europe from Asia. Some believe an ancient deluge caused by a break in the strait might have inspired the myth of Noah's flood.

8) Leonardo da Vinci envisioned a bridge over the Bosphorus, 471 years before the first one was built.

9) A 19th century French poet and traveler, Alphonse de Lamartine once said, "If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul"..

You can visit Istanbul’s official web page for detailed information about life, arts & culture in Istanbul.