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Istanbul

Istanbul (historically Byzantium, later renamed Constantinople) is filled with people and history. With over 10 million people, it is Turkey’s most populated city.

Brief history of Istanbul: Byzantium was founded by ancient Greeks around 1200 BC. Constantine the Great, the first christain emporer, founded Constantinople in 324 AD as the second city in the Roman Empire. In 330 AD Constantinople became the capital of the Roman Empire. Constantinople also became the center of the Greek Orthodox Church. In 1204, christian crusaders sacked and destroyed much of Constantinople and the city became catholic and eventually the capital of the latin empire. On 29 May 1453, Sultan Mehmed II invaded the city and established it as the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

Sultan Mehmed invited Orthodox and Catholic inhabitants to come back to the city. Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox Christians and Jews or Jew, rebuilt the city into a cosmopolitan society.

In 1923 the Republic of Turkey was founded and the capital of the new republic was moved to Ankara, which ended this grand city’s long history as inportant capital which over time, had been the capital city of four different Empires: the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Latin Empire, and the Ottoman Empire.
In 1930 the name was officially changed to Istanbul.

From 1889 until 1977 (with interruptions due to WW I and II) a direct train line, named the Orient Express traveled non-stop from Paris to Istanbul three times per week.

The phrase “East Meets West” applies to Istanbul in many ways. The continents of Europe and Asia meet in Istanbul. It is one of the few major cities that is on two different continents.

Istanbul sites

Topkapi Palace and Harem: This was once the home of sultans, where they lived with their many wives and slaves. Now it is a museum featuring jewelry, weapons and supposed hairs of the beard of Mohammad.

Sunken Palace Cistern (Yerebatan Saray): There are several famous cisterns in Istanbul, which were built to contain the city’s water supply. This cistern is perhaps the most famous as it is the largest and was built in the 4th century. With 336 marble columns it could hold nearly 100,000 cubic feet of water for emergencies such as wars or drought.

Saint Sophia Church is considered one of the eight man-made wonders of the world. Built between 532 and 537, the multi-domed construction is truly impressive. The main dome is still one of the largest in the world.

St. Savior Chora Church: covered with mosaics and frescoes it was considered one of the most beautiful Byzantine churches. Today it is a museum.

Blue Mosque (or Sultan Ahmet Cami) and Suleymaniye Mosque: There are thousands of mosques in Istanbul, but these two are particularly famous. This Mosque was given its name for the 20,000+ blue-glazed tiles and has a huge dome in the center and six beautiful minarets. The Suleymaniye Mosque is considered the finest Ottoman Mosque.

Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum: After visiting the Blue Mosque, cross the street and visit this museum holding one of the world’s largest and oldest collection of fine Turkish arts.

Byzantine Hippodrome, today known as Sultan Ahmet Square. This was the center of byzantine istanbul. Today there are only pieces of the ruins. But if you have a good imagination, you might see how it once was.

Princes' Islands: Islands with Victorian-era towns. There are no cars on the islands. Here you can enjoy long peaceful walks or take an old-fashioned horse and carriage.

Shopping

Grand Bazaar: Known as the largest bazaar in the world. Come here to haggle and buy your souvenirs. Avoid buying authentic antiquities as they are illegal to export from the country. Also check out the nearby spice bazaar.

Istiklal: An elegant pedestrian shopping street of Istanbul lined with 19th century architecture. Come here to shop in the boutiques or sit at a café and watch the world ‘go buy’.