Destination Turkey: Why Not Choose… Istanbul?
Straddling the two shores of the Bosporus, Istanbul is a gateway between Asia and Europe that binds the east to the west. With a long history at the heart of the Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman empires, the city has an exceptional cultural heritage.
From Byzantium to Constantinople, then from Constantinople to Istanbul, discover the unbelievable history of this Turkish city on both banks of the Bosporus.
A rich history and a surprising past
To visit the most spectacular monuments of ancient Constantinople, start off in the historical centre, Sultanahmet. From the Hagia Sophia, through the extraordinary Grand Bazaar and on to the Blue Mosque, you will discover a thousand years of history in just a few hundred square metres.
Don’t miss the Topkapi Palace, which is an architectural marvel, with its four courtyards and harem measuring 70 hectares.
The district is also home to several museums, including the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts and the Museum of Great Palace Mosaics, with its splendid Byzantine mosaics, which are both well worth a visit.
In the Eminönü district, you will be able to enjoy the charms of the New Mosque . And just a short walk away, you can stroll through the covered Spice Bazaar , where you will find spices, lokums , nargiles and Iznik ceramics .
At the Eminönü ferry terminal, you can catch a boat to cross the Golden Horn, or you can take the Galata Bridge.
The European bank: a city centre that never sleeps
Take the time to visit the Galata district, with its famous tower. Then head for Beyoglu, the heart of the European quarter, crammed with restaurants, bars and shops. Beyoglu is a district that never sleeps. Take a walk along the Istiklâl Caddesi, one of the city’s main shopping streets and a symbol of modern Turkey, until you reach Taksim Square.
Then walk up to Istanbul New Town, the business district with its numerous skyscrapers and shopping malls. Slightly higher, there is Besiktas, Istanbul’s charming bourgeois district, with plenty of attractive shops and all sorts of curiosities just waiting to be discovered.
But don’t forget the Asian bank
This part of Istanbul is quieter and greener than its European counterpart, but it is still well worth a visit. The Üsküdar and Kadiköy districts are home to many cultural attractions. It is also the ideal spot to admire a superb sunset over the minarets of Istanbul.
Top 10 Must-Sees
Hagia Sophia: probably the most famous monument in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia is a former Christian basilica that was founded when the city was called Constantinople, in the 6th century. It was converted into a mosque in the 15th century, during the reign of Sultan Mehmed II. In 1934, the building was classified as a museum and is no longer a place of worship.
The Blue Mosque: located in the Sultanahmet, the Blue Mosque owes its name to its 20,000 Iznik blue tiles. Built between 1609 and 1616 under the reign of Sultan Ahmet I, it is thought to be the last example of classical Ottoman architecture. It was built to rival the Christian architecture of the Hagia Sophia, and boasts an immense prayer room and some magnificent interior decorations.
The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts: this museum is very close to the Blue Mosque. It is home to some 40,000 works of Islamic art from the 8th to the 19th centuries, displayed in five rooms containing carpets, ceramics, copper, manuscripts and calligraphy.
The Basilica Cistern: this immense underground cistern is one of Istanbul’s finest monuments. It was built by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, and was extended by Emperor Justinian in 532. The gigantic rooms are reminiscent of the interior of a church. It was supplied by the aqueducts built by Emperor Constantine to the north of the city.
The Topkapi Palace: built on the site of the former acropolis of Byzantium between 1459 and 1465 by the Sultan Mehmet II, this palace was the Sultans’ main place of residence until 1853. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1924, the Palace became a museum. In 1985, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Grand Bazaar: with its 60 streets and 5,000 shops, the Grand Bazaar is one of the biggest covered markets in the world. It is best known for its jewellery, hand-painted ceramics, carpets, antique stores and leather goods. An unequalled combination of colours and life that feels like Ali Baba’s cave.
The Galata Tower: this tower in the Beyoglu district was built in 1348. In the past, it marked the northern border of the hills occupied by the Genoese from the mid-13th century, with the approval of the Byzantines. In the course of its history, it has been used as a lookout for fires, as a prison and as an astrological observatory.
The Dolmabahçe Palace: this palace was built mainly to satisfy the Sultans’ desire for European modernity. They transferred their official place of residence from the Topkapi palace to this new palace, built in the rococo style that was fashionable in Europe at the time. From 1853 to 1922, the Dolmabahçe Palace was the nerve centre of the Ottoman Empire’s administration.
Üsküdar and Kadiköy: take the time to cross the Bosporus and visit the Asian bank of Istanbul. Even if they are more residential, these districts still have plenty of places of interest to offer. In Üsküdar, you can visit the Maiden’s Tower and admire the magnificent Tiled Mosque. And in Kadiköy, the German neo-renaissance architecture of Haydarpaşa railway station, with its immense Baroque clock, will delight lovers of architecture.
Taksim Park: you are sure to enjoy a break in this green haven. Before crossing from one bank to the other, take the time to enjoy a cup of mint tea in one of the park’s tea gardens.
Cuisine blessed by the sun
Sun-drenched aubergines, peppers and tomatoes are the perfect side-dish for your borek (pastries filled with meat or cheese), dolma (stuffed vegetables), doner kebab and kofte (small meatballs).
Fruit-lovers will be thrilled by the abundance of fresh and juicy fruit, from apricots and cherries, to figs, grapes, melons and water melons. There’s something for everyone!
Turkish desserts are as delicious as they are attractive. Baklava, lokums and other succulent specialities will tease you with their odours of cinnamon and orange blossom.
5 and 6 May: the arrival of spring
This seasonal pagan and pre-Islamic festival is celebrated by writing down a wish on a small piece of paper, then casting it into the sea.
July: The International Jazz Festival
The jazz festival always features some prestigious musicians. All the greats from the world of jazz have played in Istanbul since 1994.
30 August: Victory Day
The commemoration of the victory of the Turks over Greece in 1922.
29 October: Republic Day
The celebration of the proclamation of the Republic on 29 October 1923. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk became the Republic’s first President.
End of Ramadan: the Sugar Fest
Every year, the end of Ramadan is celebrated by the three-day Sugar Fest.
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