ISTANBUL, June 22, 2018 — Straddling the Strait of Bosphorus, which separates Europe from Asia, sits the only transcontinental city in the world; Istanbul. Mysterious, exotic, chaotic or whatever other terms you choose to call the most populous city in Turkey, Istanbul has almost as many names as it does words to describe it. In past lives, it has also been known a Constantinople and Byzantium.
Istanbul over the ages
As the connecting point between the Black Sea, Russia’s only seagoing access to the Mediterranean, with the Sea of Marmara, to say that Istanbul is a major international crossroads is an understatement.
Founded around 660 B.C., Istanbul was originally known as Byzantion until it was reestablished as the imperial capital of the Holy Roman Empire by Constantine in 330 A.D. With Roman/Byzantine influence dominating the culture for nearly 16 centuries, it was instrumental in the advancement of Christianity under the name of Constantinople until 1453 when the Ottomans conquered the city.
With Istanbul’s strategic location on the historic Silk Road combined with important rail access and by between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, the city has long been a melting pot of cultures and religions that have frequently been a source of conflict and tension.
As such, it has evolved into one of the most fascinating cities on the planet as witnessed by the fact that it is the world’s fifth most metropolitan travel destination.
Istanbul is worth your time
Istanbul is not a one day city to visit. Take your time, immerse yourself and savor all that it offers. At the same time, do your best to learn something about the on-going conflicts between Christianity and Islam that influence our world today. It’s a simple homework assignment because in Istanbul cultural differences smack you squarely in the face everywhere you turn.
Istanbul is a veritable treasure chest of discovery. Begin with the Bosphorus Bridge which in itself can be as mysterious as the city when the fog rolls in off the isthmus and turns the bridge into an ominous silhouette that links two continents.
Save time for Topaki Palace
Oddly enough, with all of its architectural splendor, Istanbul does not have a primary urban park although the grounds of Yildiz Palace and Topkapi Palace were converted into public areas in the early decades of the Turkish Republic.
Topkapi Palace is today a large museum filled with historic relics and artifacts that conjure images of Sinbad the Sailor and the Arabian Nights. It was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans during the 15th century, making a visit to the harem one of the most popular tours at the site.
Strategically situated on the Seraglio Point overlooking the Golden Horn where the strait joins the Sea of Marmara, Topaki sits one of the highest points in the city.
Comprised of three major courtyards, the Imperial Treasury, the Courtyard of the Eunuchs as well as countless other exhibitions, Topkapi Palace is one of those captivating places that entice visitors to stay long after they planned.
Save plenty of time to see it. Our leave sadly disappointed.
Istanbul’s religious sites
When it comes to architecture, Istanbul has few, if any, rivals. Even the most hardened cynic cannot deny the impressive religious sites that dominate the skyline unlike any other city in the world.
The Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia, built between 532 and 537 A.D. on orders by Byzantine Emporer Justinian I, was a Christian church until 1453 when the city was conquered by the Ottomans and Mehmed the Conqueror converted it into a mosque.
For whatever reason, Hagia Sophia and the nearby Blue Mosque often get confused by travelers as being the same building or flip-flopping their identity. According to the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry however, Hagia Sophia was the country’s most visited attraction in 2015.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, more familiarly known as the Blue Mosque, sits next door to Hagia Sophia. Though it was recently re-opened following renovations, the mosque did remain open for Islamic prayers during the construction.
Built between 1609 and 1616, the mosque has the unique distinction of having the most minarets (6) of any mosque in the world. It also features five main domes and eight secondary domes emitting an almost overwhelming aura when bathed in blue from the interior lights in the evening.
Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah
Not to be overlooked is the Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah which has the distinction of being a historic special category hotel. Built in 1892 for the purpose of hosting passengers on the famed Orient Express, Pera Palach Hotel Jumeirah is the “oldest European hotel in Turkey.”
It was here that Agatha Christie got the inspiration for her classic murder mystery “Murder on the Orient Express” for which publicity only added prestige to the property.
Be sure to examine the ancient iron elevator which is worth a visit all its own.
Stroll through the maze of streets and discover the outdoor fish market which thrives each morning.
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar
For even more fun, the Grand Bazaar, or Covered Bazaar, is a world unto itself. With 61 covered streets and more than 4,000 shops that are more like stalls than shops, Istanbul’s market is frequently regarded as one of the first shopping malls in the world.
Exotic spices abound, along with nuts from every corner of the region and olives, of course. One favorite is “Turkish Delight,” something like a cross between taffy and nougat.
These are but a few of the wonders of Istanbul and they barely scratch the surface. If you plan a visit, allow at least three days to savor the tastes, sights, sounds and smells of Istanbul.
That in itself is truly a “Turkish Delight.”
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
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