Sightseeing in Istanbul


Istanbul has to be a tourist’s paradise for there is so much to see in this city that the visitor never gets bored or stops being amazed. This city is a virtual jumble of east meeting head-on with the west. The streets pulse with people, people of every possible ethnic background, people mixing and melting into an urban blur of humanity. The ancient city of Stambol in the old quarter around today’s Sultanahmet, Beyazit and Eminonu is literally packed with historic monuments, museums, and history coming to life. This was the seat of power for countless empires and it reflects its regal past. This was also a religious center and the many old Byzantine churches and grand Ottoman mosques, madrasahs (institutions of learning), and charitable complexes of the city are proof of the importance this district played in the lives of men through the centuries. The tourist here is enthralled to experience the area and then sometimes dismayed to understand that it is virtually impossible to see everything here.

Some visit Sultanahmet and then leave. What a pity for the city has much, much more to offer the visitor! The “modern” city around Taksim has to be seen, and lived. For who has seen Istanbul if they have not lasted” the night life? And what about the Bosphorus Strait? Everyone must see the city from the water for the grand homes and palaces along the Strait face turn their front facades towards the water, rather than the streets behind. The Grand Covered Bazaar is, of course, a must, as is the Egyptian Spice Market. What about the summer homes of the Sultans and their kins those are dotted around the city? What about the imperial parks?

There is so much to see here and that is why the city – once “in the blood’-beckons the tourist, again and again. The delights of the city, and the top notch contemporary facilities available, are transforming Istanbul into a convention and sector fair city as professionals discover that Istanbul is the perfect place to combine work and sight-seeing.

Istanbul’s tourism sector is well-developed and there are many agencies and institutions available to ensure that the tourist has the best of all possible stays.

Istanbul has a very rich and diverse history, spanning more than 30 centuries and three continents. For 16 centuries Istanbul was the capital of an empire and the center of a civilization, first Byzantine Christianity and the Ottoman Islam. No other city in the world stayed in the focus for a longer period. The history of museums in Istanbul goes back to the 19th century, and the first museum in Istanbul was the “Muze-i Humayun”(lmperial Museum) opened in 1869 during Ali Pasha’s Primership. Many museums followed, and with the dawn of the Republican era many palaces and residences were turned into museums. Istanbul also abounds in what might be called “personal museums,” museums dedicated to the memory of certain important personages. Their appeal may not be as apparent as the grand national museums, yet they serve an important role in displaying the subtle details of daily life in the city.

The construction of the grand Church of Divine Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) was commissioned by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and begun in 532 over the foundations of an earlier basilica and completed in 548. This cathedral was considered the greatest Christian church until it was taken by the Turks upon the conquest of Istanbul and converted into a mosque in 1453.
Through its almost 1500 years of existence the church has undergone several major catastrophes and several restorations (some catastrophic as well). No matter the changes, the Hagia Sophia (today a museum) still reflects the glory of its long past. Leave yourself enough time to really explore the church and its grounds. Climb up to the balconies and get a closer look at the magnificent dome as you wonder at that ancient technological building feat. The mosaics are superb, as is the step into the past that a visit to the Hagia Sophia affords.

The Church of the Holy Savior (today a museum) is one of the most delightful finds in Istanbul. Built in the 11th century, over the foundations of the earlier church which dates to the 5th century, the Chora is home to some of the finest mosaics and wall murals to be found in the world. The mosaics had been plastered over during the buildings four hundred year long stint as a mosque but the decorations were restored by the Byzantine Society of America. The museum is open daily, except for Tuesdays, from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM. If you time your visit right you can eat a gourmet Ottoman meal at the Kariye Hotel next to the museum.

This is the famous Ottoman palace museum. The Topkapi Palace, seated at the top of the historic peninsula and enjoying a view that includes the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus Strait, and the Marmara Sea was recognized as the best defensive site in the city. It was here that the Byzantines built their palace and the Ottomans continued as they extended and embellished the older palace with their own huge palace grounds and complex-Topkapi. This was not only the residence of the Sultan and his harem, but also functioned as the central headquarters of the Empire. This is not a “palace” as we in the west know the word, but a huge complex of buildings used for functions that fused the royal family with the workings of this far-flung empire. You will need most of a day to begin to get an idea of what this palace entails. You will of course not miss the crown jewels (remember the Hitchcock film, Topkapi, the kitchens with a collection of Chinese porcelain second only to those within China, the Sultan’s reception area, and all of the other buildings that make up the male/state buildings. Pay the extra money and buy a ticket to the Harem as well to get an idea how the “other half” lived.
The Topkapi Palace Museum is open daily, other than Tuesdays.

This award-winning museum is made up of three sections: the Archeology Museum, Ancient Orient Museum, and Cinili Palace. Located just inside the walls of the Topkapi Palace.

This rich and varied museum is situated in the Palace of the Ibrahim Pasha (1542) on the western side of the Hippodrome. The museum contains works of Turkish Islamic art (metalwork, glass, carpets, and woodwork) spanning the period from the 17th to 20th century.

Contains military artifacts from Ottoman, Byzantine, and Roman times including a collection of wonderful imperial tents. Make sure you time your visit to take in one of the performances of the Ottoman military band, the Mehter.

On display here are Ottoman boats, old maps, and naval weapons. There is also a section containing documents on the history of Turkish Navy.

Ataturk’s personal belongings, paintings and pictures.

On display are old airplanes, jets, and freight airplanes, some of which are still functional. There is also a display on anti-aircraft defense.

Dedicated to the poet Tevfik Fikret with a room, also dedicated to the poet Nigar Hanım.

Contains documents and artifacts related to the westernization movement that took place between 1839 and 1876.

Contains examples of 18th and 19th century Yildiz and Istanbul porcelains, Beykoz glass, Tophane meerschaum, calligraphy, paintings, and textiles.

On display in this museum are mosaics discovered in 1930 in Byzantine Palace.

The museum occupies two villas on the Bosphorus shore. It contains archeological and ethnic artifacts.

Contains musical instruments and garments of dervishes.

Palaces, Residences, Summer Residences and Lodges, Parks

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During the Ottoman period the members of the royal family and other important personages of state built summer residences and lodges in the woods and along the shores near the city. Most of these areas today are preserved as city parks and they supply the green areas for the city. Today many of these are open to the public and they constitute the best place in the city to enjoy a glass of tea amidst beautiful and peaceful surroundings.

Hidiv Kasri
This beautiful structure is located on the Asian side in Cubuklu and is set in a large wooded area. This residence was built for the “Egyptian” governor, Abbas Halim Pasha in 1907 by Italian architect, Delto Seminati.

Goksu Kasri
This elegant, three-story summer residence was built by Sultan Abdulmecit. This home and its park are located on the Asian side adjacent to what was once a beautiful creek and picnic area.

Malta Kiosk
The Malta Kiosk is located in the middle of the beautiful Yildiz Park, the park that adjoins the Ciragan Palace in Besiktas. This park was used by the members of the palace for picnic and hunting grounds. Sultan Abdulaziz had this building constructed as a resting lodge. Today one can enjoy a tea in its beautiful surroundings.

Beylerbeyi Palace
Sultan Abdulaziz had this exquisite waterside summer palace built in 1865. It is the design and work of the Balyan family, an Armenian family of architects and builders who were heralded as the finest in the Ottoman Empire during the middle and late 19th century.

Ciragan Palace
Located in Besiktas and today part of a famous hotel complex that bears its name, this lovely palace was built in the classic style by Sultan Abdulaziz’s famous architect, Sarkis Balyan. The building was destroyed by fire in 1910 and remained in ruins until this past decade when its restoration was undertaken by Ciragan Palace Hotel Kempinski Istanbul, the hotel group which then leased the building. Today it is serving as a luxurious hotel. Even if you don’t stay in the hotel we suggest that you visit its tea garden or salon for a cup of tea taken in very royal surroundings.

Dolmabahce Palace
This is the grand palace built by Sultan Abdulmecid who decided the Ottoman royal family needed something more modern than the old Topkapi Palace. The Ottomans incurred substantial debts during its construction at a time the Empire was in its decline. With the dissolution of the Empire at the formation of the Modern Turkish Republic it was used sporadically by the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and he died here in 1938. Today this palace is one of the “not to be missed” museums of the city.

Yerebatan Palace
Though called a “palace” it never functioned as one! Built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, This famous underground cistern was used to provide the city with water during the Byzantine era. The cistern is huge, measuring 138 x 64.6 meters, and is supported by a total of 336 columns, many of them exquisitely carved and embellished.

Sultanahmet Parks
Many of the wooded areas surrounding the city were bequeathed to members of the royal family, state officials of note, or Ottoman pashas who were particularly successful. These protected forests (“koru”) remain today as protected green areas to be enjoyed by the public.

Emirgan Korusu
The Emirgan Park is a wonderful place to visit, especially in the spring as this park boasts varieties upon varieties of tulip gardens. The royal wooden residences inside the grounds have been beautifully restored. This is a lovely place for walking and then enjoying a tea amidst pristine surroundings overlooking the Bosphorus Strait, in fact, Emirgan is prized among Istanbul dwellers as the best place in the city to drink tea.

Kucuk Camlica
As Emirgan is the place to go for tea, the top of the hill in Kucukcamlica is the place to take in the view of the Bosphorus Strait as it winds its way down from the Black Sea. It’s too far and too steep to walk up so get in a cab in Uskudar on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. This is a place to take photographs! The residence here has also been restored and one can get a snack.

Gulhane Parki
Today’s Gulhane Park was in the past the royal Topkapi Palace grounds. Beautiful then, today’s park is generally used as a much-needed picnic and green area by Istanbul’s poorer city dwellers. It can get noisy and crowded and its unfortunate zoo is dismal. Concerts are held in the park in the summer. The entry to the Archaeological Museum is through the main gate to the park.

Golden Horn
The reeking Golden Horn is no longer “Golden” and no longer the beautiful picnic spot of history. Work is underway on cleaning up the pollution so take a fast look now and a more leisurely one in a few years time when the project is completed. There are of course incredible historical wonders lining its coast so don’t be put off if the monument you are seeking is located along the Horn. It is still great in terms of historical sites, while it is not so great as a picnic area!

Fortresses and Citadels
Anadolu and Rumeli Hisar (Fortresses) Facing each other at opposite sides of the Bosphorus Strait, these two fortresses played important roles in the Turkish siege of Istanbul. Situated between the Bosphorus Strait and the Goksu River, the fortress on the Anatolian (Asian) side was built by Sultan Yildmm Bayazit in 1391. Sultan Mehmet II strengthened this fortress and also built the larger fortress on the European side in 1452. This latter was to become the center of the siege and conquest of the city. Rumeli Hisar is extremely interesting and fun and children (of all ages) love to explore here. The fortress is open for visits during the day and during the summer it is also used for evening concerts.

Leander’s Tower (Kiz/Maiden’s Tower)
This famous tower is built on a tiny rocky island just off the shore of isk^dar in the Bosphorus Strait. The tower was part of a defense point as a chain from the island to the historic peninsula could block off the Bosphorus. Some very typical legends abound regarding the tower, the most popular being that of the princess who is forced to spend her life in the tower to ward off a prophesized snake bite. The snake, naturally enough, gets into a basket of apples and the princess dies, as foretold. Whatever the case, the tower lends a certain charm to the Strait and has recently opened its doors to visitors.

Galata Tower
One of the much loved symbols of the city, the ancient tower in Galata at the mouth of the Golden Horn was built by the Genoese as part of their fortifications around this district, an area they inhabited since the beginning of the 12th century. Today the tower is used for touristic purposes. At this writing the tower is temporarily closed for restoration, but its restaurant/night spot should reopen soon.


A small archipelago of nine islands at the southern end of the Bosphorus, opposite Bostanci. Of these islands, the only largest four, the so-called Princess Islands: Buyukada, Kinaliada, Heybeliada, and Burgazada, are inhabited, and they serve more as summer resorts with their wooden houses and calm atmosphere.

The largest of the islands and the administrative center of the archipelago. It is full of magnificent old residences and palaces, and still retains that “olde worlde” charm despite the emergence of concrete buildings here and there. Probably because of its seclusion, this island was a favorite place for monasteries and churches. The most important monastery was the “Nun’s Convent” of which no trace remains nowadays.
On the highest peak of the island (St. Yorgi Peak) is the St. Yorgi Church and Monastery, which is also known as Kudanus Monastery. There is an outdoors restaurant there with a wonderful panoramic view, and the Monastery has its own wine to savor with the meal. Other historical structures worthy of a visit are the Small Church, founded in 1751, and the New Church, founded in 1905.
On the second highest peak on the island, called Hristos (Christ) peak, is the Hristos Church (sometimes called MeFull Price Adultorphosis Church). Nearby is the Greek Orphanage, another historical building. The St. Demitris Church with its lovely garden is in the Kumsal neighborhood. This is an Orthodox church, and it was constructed between 1856 and 1857.
A tour of the island is not complete without visiting the mosques, the most important of which is Selvi Mosque, ordered by Sultan Abdulhamid II.
Buyukada used to function as a summer resort for the Istanbul aristocracy during Ottoman times, and that’s why it is not sort of palaces, the most notable of which are: Aya Yorgi Palace, Izzet Pasa Palace. And there is a beach as well; Yoruk Ali Beach. Buyukada is a very interesting place from a historical and cultural point of view, but its attractions do not end there. Its calm, tranquil atmosphere is perfect for a few days of relaxation. There are no motorcars on the island; transportation is by horse drawn carriages or bicycles. Restaurants are concentrated around the main square, just off the harbor, and from that square you can rent a bicycle and have a fascinating ride around the island. Be warned though, the terrain is hilly and a bicycle ride is a serious exercise. Carriage rides are far more comfortable of course, but more expensive.
Buyukada can be reached by ferryboat or sea bus from Sirkeci, Kabatas, and Bostanci.

The smallest and closest to Istanbul of the islands. The three peaks of the island are called Cinar, Tesvikiye, and Manastir. Kinaliada is famous for its wooden villas and rose gardens. Like Buyukada, it is an attraction for tourists seeking relief from the noise and crowding of the Metropolis. Landmarks on the island include the Kinaliada Mosque and Hiristos Monastery. The best way to enjoy the serenity of the island is to take a horse carriage tour. Kinaliada can be reached by ferry boat or sea bus from Sirkeci, Kabatas and Bostanci.

Also known as “Demonisos” and “Halki”. On the highest peak on the island there are ruins of a mill and it is for that that the peak is called Milli Peak. The island has four harbors. A very original way to tour the island is on mule-back. Of the landmarks on the island are the Bishop School (a Greek High School), the Water Sports Club, and the Marine High School.
Heybeliada can be reached by ferry boat or sea bus from Sirkeci, Kabatas and Bostanci.

The most famous landmark on the island is the St. Yani Church, and there is the Burgaz Sanatorium, which has been closed since 1940. Other places of interest are the Islands Water Sports Club, and Sait Faik Museum. Burgaz can be reached by ferry boat or sea bus from Sirkeci, Kabata§,and Bostanci.

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