Some places leave an indelible imprint on your mind, even though you may not have visited the place in person. It inspires and generates an undying urge within you to explore the place. Istanbul is one such place that has been fascinating me for years. A melting pot of cultures, traditions, and contrasting lifestyles, Istanbul has been on top of my list. One of the most picturesque destinations, this city never fails to impress you with everything. Istanbul, where east meets west, is a perfect example of the celebration of two most prominent cultures. Ruled by the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires, Istanbul was known as Constantinople before it got its present name. With its layered history and complex social fabric, Istanbul is one cosmopolitan city that dwells between two worlds, seamlessly flaunting traditional and modern lifestyle at one place. The enigmatic city of future, Istanbul embraces you with its impeccable charm.
Let’s travel to Istanbul through these eye catching photographs that will place this destination high on your list straight away.
Whenever the very first image of Istanbul flashes, the iconic landmark of the City, the Maiden Tower, comes alive in front of my eyes. The most inimitable structure, in the middle of the Bosphorus River, gives Istanbul a unique identity. Known as Kız Kulesi Üsküdar or Leander’s Tower, this legendary tower is located on a small rocky islet, upholding the pride of seeing many civilizations, the cultural shift of the city and changing times in the country. With the purpose of controlling ships passing the Bosphorus, and collecting taxes, The Maiden Tower was built by the ancient Athenian general Alcibiades, during the 5th century. It continued to function under Byzantine times until the Ottoman times when it was used as a Lighthouse. There are many folklores associated with the tower. Some are historical, cultural and romantic ones as well. It depends on you as to which one you want to believe in. Today the tower, houses one upscale restaurant, serving the Turkish cuisines to the guests. It also has a museum which has a free entry for all. Sitting on the bank of Bosphorus River, watching the sun changing shades and setting slowly with the backdrop of the Maiden Tower is nothing less than a painting.
The name, Hagia Sophia means the Church of Holy Wisdom. It is one of the most stunning architectural examples in Istanbul and at one point of time was the epitome of faith. It was a prominent church during the Byzantine Empire and later it was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire. Today it serves as the official museum of the Turkish Republic. Standing under the giant dome, when you look up to the designs, patterns, Islamic calligraphy, and paintings, representing both Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, it gives one of the most imperishable experiences.
Historic Tram in the Taksim
One thing not to be missed is taking a tram ride in the Taksim neighborhood in Istanbul. Taking a slow ride in the historic red and white tramway will take you back to the old times when people used to heavily rely on the tram services for their daily commuting. Introduced in 1875 in Istanbul, the tram service was closed down in 1961, replaced by taxis and buses. It caused problems like heavy traffic on the streets, pollution, smog, illegal migration and many others. It was in1990 when the historic tram was re-introduced in the European side of Istanbul. The tram runs in pedestrian-only Istiklal Caddesi from Taksim Square to Tünel Square.
One of the top places to visit in Istanbul is the Blue Mosque. Also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, it dominates the skyline of Istanbul. Considered as one of the most sacred places in the city, this mosque was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I. The astounding architecture has five main domes, six minarets, and eight secondary domes. Intricate detail works on the walls adorned with 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles, Islamic calligraphy, stained glass windows and also flamboyant paintings of tulip flowers add a charm to the décor of this historic mosque.
You can’t possibly imagine the life of Turkish people without their black traditional tea in a tulip shaped transparent cup. From breakfasts, social gatherings, business meetings, conversations or for that matter any occasion, the Turkish people are obsessed with their tea. In fact, the Turks are one of the top tea consumers in the world. Known as “Cay” in Turkish language, black tea is an integral part of their culture.
The trip to Istanbul is incomplete if you don’t visit the Grand Bazaar, which is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. It has 61 interconnecting vaulted passages, housing more than 4.000 shops, is nothing less than a maze in itself. Built in the 14th century, this is probably the most colorful market in the world and also reputed as the world’s oldest shopping mall. For shopaholics, the grand bazaar is a must visit place in Istanbul. It is said that if you want to know the people of any destination better, you must pay a visit to their markets. As market reflects the lifestyle of the people in a true sense. The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul showcases exactly the same. From colorful traditional lanterns, Turkish ceramics, textiles, mosaic chandeliers, cutleries, food, antique show pieces, perfumes, coffee & tea, jewelry, apparels and what not. You need the entire day to cover the market. And if you are a skilled bargainer, then the Grand Bazaar is just the perfect shopping destination for you.
Cats in Istanbul
You will be amazed to see cats in abundance in Istanbul almost everywhere. They are literally owners of the city. They are one of the essential parts of Istanbul’s identity. The locals feed them, make houses for them and look after them like a family member. It is said that cats have a special place in Islam. The Sultans of Ottoman Empire believed that cats kept the city clean of vermin and rats.
The Basilica Cistern is a massive water cistern in central Istanbul, built in the 6th century during the reign of Emperor Justinian I. It was built on the former site of a cathedral and lies underground near the famous Hagia Sophia. It is open to the public for visits and concerts and other performances also. –Jessica Norah/ Independent Travel Cats
If you are in Istanbul and not having Turkish delight is nothing less than a sin. The soft cubes made from starch and sugar, covered with icing sugar, come with delectable flavors (lemon, rose, orange, mint, cinnamon, ginger, coconut, chocolate, apricot, and much more.). This is probably the best souvenir to take back home from Istanbul. They are called Lokum in the local language.
Istanbul’s Golden Horn
Here Istanbul’s Golden Horn is laid out before you, to the soundtrack of the muezzin’s call to prayer from mosques across the city (imagine!). Galata Bridge, iconic fishing spot and now with restaurants too, crosses the water to the district of Eminönü, where you’ll find the famous Spice Bazaar and you can explore the back streets up to Kapalıçarşı, the Grand Bazaar. There is the view from the roof terrace of Istanbul Place Apartments’ Petraki building in Galata, where you’ll find cafes, restaurants and boutique shops as well as the famous Galata Tower. –Julia Bayne/ Istanbul Place Apartments
For a blue and white lover, Topkapi Palace is a dream. The Topkapi Palace was the major residence of the Ottoman Sultans for almost 400 years. Perched on a hill overlooking the Golden Horn, Topkapi Palace was strategically built to have a fantastic view of the Bosphorus and the surrounding city. Allow yourself some time here because there are four courtyards, a harem, hospital, bakeries, a mint, and beautiful gardens to see. There are also several museums where you will find elaborate Ottoman weaponry, an extensive collection of Japanese, Chinese, and European porcelain, and many other imperial treasures. The palace is covered in blue and white Iznik tiles, having the most beautiful designs. In every room, there are dozens of different tile patterns and one is left with major design inspiration. – Sarah Daisey /Detours with Daisey
Walking in the alleys, filled with aromas of the spices is the must do activity for people, who love exploring markets in any destination. If you like to have some flavors of Turkey, you must head towards the spice market of Istanbul. With a wide range of spices, dry fruits, cheese and nuts, the spice market of Istanbul offers a lot of variety.
Galata Mevlevihanesi is the historic building in Istanbul’s Galata neighborhood, where Sufi whirling dervish ceremonies are still performed to this day. A ‘Sema’ is an unforgettable experience, where Dervishes whirl in meditation, listening to the traditional flute music played from the balcony above. Galata Mevlevihanesi also houses a small museum which aims to explain something of the tradition in Istanbul. Tickets can be bought on site on the same day, usually Sunday. –Julia Bayne/ Istanbul Place Apartments
Bosphorus Cruise Tour
What a great way to sail through the river, with the incredible views of two continents. Watching the Sun going down in the river, painting the sky with the orange hue with the city dazzled with lights can be the best way to end your day in Istanbul. There are many cruise tours to choose from, and one of the noted ones is Zoe Yacht cruises. There is the Beylerbeyi Palace on the Asian Side and the boat on a private Bosphorus cruise. – Zoe Yacht Cruises
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