Tourist Attractions in Istanbul, Turkey

By Martha Jette

For: Bangari Travel

Istanbul, Turkey, formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople, reflects not only the magnificent relics of the Middle East but also the more modern influences of Western culture. With a population exceeding 13 million.Today Istanbul is a busy cosmopolitan center and the only city that extends to two continents – Europe and Asia – separated by the Bosphorus Strait. Four different empires have ruled from this site: Roman (330-395), Ottoman (1453-1992), Byzantine (395-1204 and 1261-1353) and Latin (1204-1261). Both Christians and Muslims have come to power and today it boasts an eclectic mix of Muslims, Greeks, Armenians and Jews.

The Bosphorus Strait includes the Golden Horn harbor in the northwestern area. Also known as the Istanbul Strait, it connects the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea. Tourists can travel along this strait to see such historical sites as the Anadoluhisarı (Anatolian Castle) and Rumelihisarı (Rumelian Castle) and Dolmabahçe Palace.

The city also offers visitors the chance to see ancient mosques and museums highlighting its Ottoman and Byzantine architecture with a sprinkling of Roman, Greek and Genoese as well. The oldest religious site is the Stoudios (Imrahor) Monastery built in 454. Other main attractions include the Hagia Sophia Museum/Church, Dervish Dede Efendi House, Topka pi Palace, the Istanbul Military Museum, the Hippodrome, Blue Mosque and Basilica Cistern.

Hagia Sophia Museum

Originally a church and then a mosque, this site is now a museum in the Eminonu District of Istanbul. It is an impressive site with its large dome. The Hagia Sophia is more than 1,400 years old, and features the mosaics and frescoes of the Byzantine period.

Dervish Dede Efendi House

Located in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul, this site offers tourists a chance to view the Dances of Colors, a Sufi music concert. The performance honors Mevlana C. Rumi, the renowned 13th century poet and philosopher.

This whirling dervish ceremony is presented at various times throughout each week. For more information on performances at this 80-seat center, send an email to or call 009(0) 212 458 62 14, 009(0) 555 655 75 71.

Taksim Square

Tourists flock to Taksim Square, a large open plaza graced with such sites as the War of Independence monument, the Ataturk Cultural Center and the Istanbul Military Museum.

Istanbul Military Museum

Take a look back into a thousand years of Turkish military history at this site, which was formerly Saint Irene Church. Visitors can view a massive collection of weapons, tools and uniforms in 22 rooms with a total of 50,000 objects. There are 9,000 pieces alone that represent the Ottoman period to WWII.

On the main floor, visitors will find such items as bows and arrows, cavalry weapons, daggers, shields of the Janissaries and lancets from the 15th century. The upper floor houses objects from WWI, the Turkish War of Independence, the Battle of Gallipoli and a room dedicated to Ataturk. In the east wing, there are temporary exhibitions and meeting spaces.

Outside the museum visitors can see cannons, various aircraft, helicopters, campaign tents and other items used by the military. It is open every day except Monday and Tuesday. Each afternoon, the Janissary band, Mehter Takimi, presents a concert comprised of marching music using such instruments as kettledrums, oboes and cymbals.

The Blue Mosque

Also known as the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, this site was built in 1609 by him. It is so named the Blue Mosque due to the countless blue Isnik tiles found inside the mosque. The site also served at one times as a theological school, tomb, hospital, primary school and more. Today it is the office of the Dean of Marmara University. This site is open to the public daily except during prayer periods.

Topkapi Palace

Once the home of conqueror Mehmet II, this palace was built in 1459. In so doing, Mehmet II moved part of the Byzantine city walls so they would encompass the site.

In the first courtyard, visitors will find the Church of Divine Peace (Ava Eirine), the Istanbul Archaeological Museum and the treasury (mint) of the Ottoman Empire. In the second courtyard, visitors can see the imperial kitchens, storage rooms, bakery and chamber of the Viziers.

The third courtyard features an audience hall called the Arz Odasi used by those who visited the Sultan, a former palace school called the Enderun, holy relics, portraits, a library and more. In the fourth courtyard, visitors can enjoy a wonderful garden with decorative kiosks and a mosque.

The Harem area is accessed through the second courtyard beside the Divan chambers. Women who were bought at slave markets, primarily the Circassian ladies of Russia and those from Africa and Egypt, once resided here and served as the Sultan’s concubines or ladies in waiting for the Sultan’s mother. The site includes more than 400 rooms.

Galata Tower

Built in 1348, the Galata Tower offers visitors a panoramic view from its top floor outdoor balcony, which overlooks the city of Istanbul. The vista goes as far as the Golden Horn. The tower is accessed by walking up a steep hill to Taksim’s Istiklal Caddesi or by walking from the Galata Bridge. The tower’s upper floors include a restaurant and Turkish nightclub. It is open to tourists daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Saint Sophia Museum

Called “the greatest church in Christendom,” this site is 1,500 years old. Most magnificent is its soaring dome. Byzantine Emperor Justinian commissioned the building of this church, also known as the Church of Divine Wisdom. It took 10,000 workers and 100 stonemasons a total of 26 years to complete it. Only the best materials were used, such as gold, silver and marble shipped in from other locations around the world.

In the past, thousands of candles lit up the night outside the church to guide seamen making their way along the Bosphorus Strait. However over the years, it saw massive destruction by Latin Crusaders (1204), who took off with all the silver and gold they could carry. They also demolished the church’s altar. Mehmet the conqueror found the site in ruin and decided to turn it into a mosque. In 1935, Ataturk turned it into a museum with restored mosaics throughout.

Today visitors can view the many church columns, including one that is said to weep by a protecting angel of the site. If you place a finger in a hole on its side and it comes out moist, it is said that your prayer will be granted – a belief that has generated many tales of miracles over the years. Another feature of this site includes two marble gateways representing heaven and hell.

Fountain of Ahmet III

This famous fountain sits in front of the Palace Imperial. A Sultan commissioned its construction in 1728.

Basilica Cistern/Yerebatan Sarayi

This water storage site used to meet the needs of the palace and surrounding city via aqueducts that ran from the Black Sea. Built under the reign of Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, this site includes 336 columns, many arches and two Medusa snakes that face each other at the end of the cistern.

During the Ottoman period, the cistern was used to water palace gardens. Unfortunately, it later became a dumping site where rubbish and even dead bodies were dumped. In 1987, it was completely cleaned and platforms were built around the cistern so visitors could walk there and look inside. Visitors can now see sparkling fresh water with carp and make a wish by throwing in a coin. There is also an orchestral platform where concerts are occasionally presented.

Cagaloglu Hamami

Istanbul is known for its baths and none more so than the Cagaloglu Hamami. It is the oldest in the city and a site where visitors can enjoy this age-old tradition of bathing and even get a massage.

The Hippodrome

Situated beside the Blue Mosque and Ava Sophia, this park was once the site of ceremonies, celebrations, sporting events and even a few uprisings. During the Byzantine era, this site was used for chariot racing, gladiator duels to the death and javelin throwing contests.

During the 6th century, a riot ensued when Emperor Justinian raised the local taxes and about 35,000 people were killed. During the Latin Crusade of 1204, the statues and art within the Hippodrome were pillaged and destroyed. Then in 1826, the Sultan ordered the deaths of the corrupt members of the Janissary Corp.

The site later became home to a racetrack. Today there are four monuments that visitors can see: the Egyptian Obelisk of Theodesius brought by ship in the 4th century, the Serpentine Column from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi (5th century), the Column of Constantine (6th century), which is engraved with verses of Greek writings and a German Fountain gifted to Istanbul by Wilheim II.

Maiden’s (Leaneder’s) Tower

This tower can be seen sitting on an islet of the Bosphorus Strait. It was built in 408 B.C. by the Athenion general Alcibiades to guide Persian ships along the waterway. The Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus rebuilt and enlarged the site in 1110 A.D. and it saw further restorations during the Ottoman period. Today it is a popular observation point. This site also includes a restaurant. Maiden’s Tower can be accessed by private boat along the strait during the day.

Anadoluhisarı (Anatolian Castle)

This castle in Istanbul sits on the Asian side of the Bosphorus Strait. Built in 1393 and 1394 by Sultan Bayezid, it was intended as a watch fort during the second Ottoman siege of Constantinople. After the siege, it was used as a military prison. Its features include a 25-meter tower, five watchtowers and walls that are two meters thick and in a pentagon design. The Turkish Ministry of Culture restored the castle in the early 1990’s.

Rumelihisarı (Rumelian Castle)

This fortress is located in the Sanyer district on the European side of the Bosphorus Strait opposite the Anadoluhisar. It was built by Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire and in 1393-1394. It features three towers that were named after the Sultan’s viziers: Sadrazam Candarli Halil Pasha, Zaganos Pasha and Sarica Pasha – all of whom had a hand in building the towers. It was originally constructed to deter help from arriving at Constantinople during a Turkish onslaught in1453.

The fortress was originally called Bogazkesen, which means “The Strait Cutter,” or divider of the Bosphorus Strait. Visitors to this site will see three main towers and 13 smaller watchtowers. There are three gates leading inside the castle, which at one time housed 400 Janissaries. When Constantinople fell, it became a customs checkpoint. Then in 1953, President Celal Bayar ordered the relocation of the site’s inhabitants and the castle underwent extensive renovations.

The site was turned into a museum in 1960. It also includes an open-air theater where concerts are held. Rumelihisarı Castle is open to the public daily except Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Dolmabahçe Palace

Situated on the European side of the Bosphorus Strait, this palace served as an administration center during the Ottoman Empire. It was built at the request of Abdulmecid I, the 31st Sultan, between 1843 and 1856.

Under the direction of architects Garab Balyan, Nikoghayos Balyan and Evanis Kalfa, the construction cost  was $5 million mecidiye gold coins – a total of 35 tons of gold! Of that, 14 tons were used to create gold leaves that adorn the ceilings of the palace.

Six Sultans lived in the palace beginning in 1856 with the last one being Caliph Abdulmecid Efendi. Palace ownership was transferred to the Turkish government in 1924. It was then occupied by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder and president of the Turkish republic and became a national heritage site.

Visitors to this palace will be amazed by a huge Bohemian crystal chandelier that graces the center hall. Known as the world’s largest chandelier, it was a gift from Queen Victoria. The site also includes the largest collection of Baccarat and Bohemian crystal chandeliers anywhere else in the world. Even the bannisters of the main staircase were made of Baccarat crystal.

Visitors will also see a grand ceremonial hall, an Ambassador hall, ornate rugs throughout the palace and a bearskin rug that is 150 years old and was a gift from the Tsar of Russian. The palace is open to the public on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.


5 responses to “Tourist Attractions in Istanbul, Turkey

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