History has stood witness to the rise and fall of empires in Istanbul. The city in itself is nothing but an art form that has witnessed men fall in love and murder their enemies, that has seen wars and ceremonies, technology and tradition all combined on one soil. Every phase or generation who has breathed their lives on this soil never forgot to leave behind their memento. Every corner of the country has a tale to unfold, a mystery hidden behind its walls and a story left unfinished. However, the nation never lacked in finesse. There was culture, tradition, music, art, education, religious studies galore. This does not entail that the city is devoid of any fun and frolic. One can taste the best cuisines and enjoy good music in some of its modern day pubs. The nightlife is also something that will prove that the city has tried to stay abreast with the modern day culture.
Istanbul has earned the name of European Capital of Culture. Around seven million foreigners visit the city every year, as per a research conducted in the year 2010. It is also known as the tenth most popular tourist destinations across the globe. It is not only one of the largest city of the European continent but is also one of the largest in terms of population.
Listed below are the topmost attractions of the city that a visitor must not miss. It will make your visit the most memorable one ever and will go down your memory lanes for years to come.
One that is known to be a home fro a number of spectacular buildings is the Sultanate Square. One that has an amazing story is the Haghia Sophia. What makes this building amazing is the fact that it was a Christian basilica during its initial days and was later converted into a mosque by a turn if fate due to Ottoman invasion. When spectators visit Istanbul, they can only visualize the remnants of the past which keeps an amazing tale to be told to the millions of tourists who place their feet on this square just to hear an echo. If walls could speak, then they would not have stood dumb in front of so many eager listeners. The Haghia Sophia is now only a museum which preserves and keeps safe its story and can only stand as an evidence of development of the nation that started years ago. It is also known as Aya Sophia. Emperor Justinian who ruled between the years 532 and 537 A.D erected this structure.
To give stiff competition to Haghia Sohia is the Blue Mosque which an eye once set can only marvel upon. It was constructed in the 16th century and showcases an exterior of pale blue and white tiles that is believed to have been created out of blue sapphire and hence the tinge.
Topkapi Palace was the residential place for the Sultans. Constructed around 400 years ago, this palace is a symbol of imperial grandeur and beauty at its best. Major part of this grand place is closed for public viewing yet one can easily take a sneak peek of the harem which in open from 9 in the morning to 5 in the evening , from Wednesday To Monday.
Acting as a physical divider for the continents of Euro-Asia is the Bosphorus river. Running for a length of around 20 miles, this waterway passes along the Istanbul shores. One can easily catch a ferry from Karakoy (from Eminonu) to reach the shore of Kadikoy. In this way, one can enjoy the ferry ride which is often on the priority list of many holidayers. The best time to take the ferry ride is after sunset or when the night falls into the city. One can view the entire city and take a glimpse of the Old city sitting on the waterway itself. One can also take a glimpse of the summer palaces and the ottoman mansions across the shores while passing by.
A whole day kept aside is essential to visit the Ottoman Empire. Even if someone is not as interested in digging up the past and exploring every tiny bit of the empire that existed in the glorious past yet the high entrance fee charged for visitors should be a binding factor to spend time in this empire where one would feel as if time has rolled back thousand years back. The three key must see places of this empire are the Harem, the interior courtyard and imperial treasury.
Church of St. Saviour
To know more about the Christian influence of the bygone era, Church of St. Saviour situated in Chora is one of the must see wonders of the Byzantine. The church is like an epitome of beauty seeing which one will barely be able to move one’s eyes. The frescoes, the mosaics and the intricate patterns bear testimony to the fact that the nation had a high architectural culture that was further influenced by the oncoming of Christianity.
Nightlife in Istanbul
For those who are seeking to taste the modernity here and would like to visit a few clubs and pubs in Istanbul, then the Old City is the perfect destination. Not standing true to its name, the old city seemed to have donned up a new cap to adapt itself to the changing global trends. The city is the best place to check out some of the exquisite restaurants of Istanbul serving its authentic cuisine. So, for those who want to drink and dine in merry, the Old City is just the place to be. The Old City got its name for the number of years it has been inexistence. The city is believed to have been built as long as 8000 years back. Visitors can perceive some of the oldest and ancient walls in the city along with heritage buildings which symbolize the presence of historical element. One can even take a view of the Bosphorus from this centrally located city of Istanbul.
Tower of Christ
Another significant and surprising piece of history still standing tall is the Tower of Christ.It is surprising due to what it was originally built for and what it has become now. The Tower of Christ was built in the year 1348. It was built with a certain purpose. The purpose was to keep prisoners from war. It was only in the 1960s that the reinstating of the tower took place. It was renamed as Galata tower. A new addition in the form of a night club was made. Visitors now go here not only to view the amazing tower which has seen much more than a human lifespan can allow but also the magnificent 360 degree view of the Istanbul conurbation that the tower allows from its gallery.
A royal island to break the set pace of viewing remnants of the past is the Princes’ Island. This island is the perfect destination to go for a resort holiday .The island has an interesting history as well. The island was used by the non muslims of the nation to build their summerhouses, resorts and pleasure palaces. One can spend a good day on this island, have a sumptuous meal by the sea and enjoy the calm, tranquil atmosphere. The island looks like a place which is set aside from the hum drum of the regular city life. During the Byzantine era, royalty was not allowed to settle on this island and hence the population of non muslims here. To reach, one has to catch a ferry from European or Asian shores.
Experiencing the baths while a visitor is in Turkey is a must do. It will be like a sin if one leaves the city without taking pleasure of such a unique creation. The Turkish baths or the hamams is world famous for its exclusivity. One can either opt for Cemberlitas Hamam or the Cagaloglu Hamam to relax one’s senses after a stressful tour of the city in all its elaborate glory. Turkish baths are something that is known to possess healing powers and miraculously cures the body of all its pains and stresses. Out coming from this bath, one can only feel refreshed.
To set the monotone of the Ottoman architecture is the Dolmabahce Palace which is closer to the Western architecture. It is set on the Bosphorus shore. The throne room is accessorized with one of the biggest chandelier in all of Europe. It measures 4.5 tons and it is worth a sight.
The Basilica cistern might sound ordinary until and unless a visitor has laid his eyes upon it. It might sound as nothing but a cistern. However, one will be shocked that someone could have imagined building something as big a cistern as Basilica Cistern. Apart from the size itself which definitely sets it aside from all the cisterns of the world running below the ground, it is the artistic conception of the creator is something to marvel at. One can see that a number of pillars hold up the cistern .On top of the roof, the normal city crowd passes by above the pillars whose reflection can be seen on the waters below. Two of the pillars are engraved with Medusa faces which make the cistern more of an art work of high quality and intent.
No vacation is complete without visiting its shopping destination. Keeping up the spirit of the shopaholics is the Grand Bazaar which is believed to take a single visitor more than three hours time just to give a glimpse of over its 5000 vendors who has laid their shops bare for the authentic carpets, handbags and other knick knacks. It is a shopper’s paradise and for women, they are surely going to repent if they leave the land of Istanbul without paying homage to the Grand Bazaar.
The Spice Market or the Spice Bazaar is a unique place and one will be astounded to see the sights and sounds of the place. The varied colors and the smell is bound to confuse one’s senses. A visitor is sure to get lost in the umpteen varieties of spices and will probably take a while to adapt to the natural air.
All this and more go towards painting a portrait of the Istanbul Empire. A visitor visiting the city will only come back with a portrait in mind which speaks a thousands words. Intrigues, surprises, overlapping of cultures are some of the essential elements of the nation. It is a nation that is rich in history and culture, a nation which has perceived various nations come and take over, a nation which has seen innumerable wars, a nation which has signed treaties, made plans, overtaken counties and made pacts. No wonder, the entire city looks like an era gone by and still striving to deal with the fact that history was of the past and that the modern era has dawned upon its skies to give it a new look and trend.
Traveling in the Orient Express, a train especially built with the top most luxurious amenities is a must try out for those who do not have budget constrains. One can catch the sights and sounds of the city traveling in this train. The charge is pretty high and hence is not listed as one of the must experiences of a visitor who is visiting the city on a vacation. One can take a trip from Venice to Istanbul via this luxury rails. It will be one of the most glamorous travels ever.
We all have read in history books about Istanbul as being a land of rich heritage culture, as a land of magic and the unknown, as a land of beautiful women, as a land of grandeur and glory. It is with nostalgia that a visitor will move his feet away from the city and will go back from where he came from. The city has a spirit of intoxication in the air which makes most visitors carry its flame within himself long after the vacation is over.