Istanbul, the country’s cultural capital, has been an attractive settlement for various civilizations since ancient times. Today the city is visited each year by millions of travelers who come to catch a glimpse of its ancient city walls, enchanted churches, palaces and mosques, while savoring the delightful tastes of the city’s rich cuisine. Istanbul offers an unforgettable experience with its colorful daily life and dynamic nightlife. It is also an attractive destination for international meetings with its world class accommodation and convention facilities.
An Open Air Museum
No words can describe Istanbul better than a sunset photograph of the mysterious Maiden Tower (Kiz Kulesi) located in the middle of the Bosphorus, or a picture of the Bosphorus Bridge illuminated at night. Yet, a brief look into the history and numerous historical artifacts can give an impression of this open air museum.
Expanding the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium, Istanbul became the capital city under the name Constantinople, when Byzantine Emperor Constantine I rebuilt the city in the 4th century. In 1453, Ottoman emperor Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror took control of the city and named it the new Ottoman capital. Within 50 years of the conquest, Istanbul had become the largest city in Europe. Since then, the city became a gateway between East and West with the two bridges over the Bosphorus symbolizing this unique positioning.
The old quarter of the city called “historical peninsula” is home to Topkapi Palace, Haghia Sophia, Sultanahmet Mosque, the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi), St. Irene’s Church, the Archeological Museum, the Museum of Oriental Antiquities and the Ibrahim Pasa Palace housing the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts.
Ever since it was built, people have been awed by the splendid decoration and the sheer scale of Haghia Sophia, one of Istanbul’s foremost historical monuments. According to Socrates, who lived in Istanbul between 380 and 440 AD, the first church on the site was erected by Emperor Constantine I. The church lived through a succession of emperors, rebellions and governments before welcoming a new era with the capture of the city by the Ottomans in 1453. Today, Haghia Sophia is a museum.
Sultanahmet is a museum by itself. At the Hippodrome (At Meydani), used for official celebration and parades during the Roman Empire, you can see the 2000 years old Obelisk of Tutmosis III that was brought from the Karnak temple in Egypt, the Column of Constantine or the Walled Obelisk, the Serpentine Column originally erected in front of Delphi’s Temple of Apollo by Greek city-states to celebrate their win over the Persians, the Fountain of Willhelm II, also known as Alman Cesmesi and the Million Stone modeled on the Millaiarium Aureum that was erected by Julius Caesar in Rome. The Sultanahmet Mosque, the most significant piece of the classical Istanbul silhouette built in 1609, also fascinates its visitors.
Topkapi Palace, built by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1448, housed the Ottoman dynasty until the construction of Dolmabahce Palace. It stretches across 700.000 square meters and it is the oldest palace that continues to stand today. The palace displays examples of Ottoman architecture, large collections of porcelain, robes, weapons, shields, Ottoman miniatures, treasure and jewelry.
If you go to the Beyazit Square and take the narrow lane that leads off the main road at the side of the secondhand book market, you will find yourself at the main entrance to the Grand Bazaar, and walking downhill to the waterfront on the Golden Horn will lead you to all the mesmerizing colors of the Spice Market.
Beyoglu, aside being the entertainment center of the city, is also home to numerous historical buildings. In Galata, just down the hill from Beyoglu, you could imagine yourself in Genoa. This is no surprise, because the Genoese set up a colony here during the Byzantine Empire. Galata enchants visitors with its buildings in cosmopolitan style and steep, narrow streets. The landmark here is the Galata Tower, which was constructed by the Genoese with special permission from the Byzantines in the 14th or 15th century. The tower stands on a point that dominates both the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn.
Dolmabahce Palace built between 1844 and 1855 is noted for its ornate exterior ornamentation. The palace was home to six Ottoman Sultans. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, died in Dolmabahce Palace, where he stayed during his visits to Istanbul. The palace is currently a museum, containing a magnificent array of original furnishings.
On the opposite shore to Besiktas, where the Dolmabahce and Ciragan palaces stand, is the historic district of Uskudar. On an islet just off the shore at Uskudar, the legendary Maiden’s Tower stands in the middle of the Bosphorus. This attractive small building has been used over the centuries as a watchtower and lighthouse. Today, it houses a cafe and restaurant with amazing views.
Istanbul is a city where the past is very much alive; you can find a bit of history in every corner, yet the city is constantly changing. That’s why it is said that a lifetime is not enough to enjoy Istanbul. So if you have only a few days to visit this great city, make the most of it.
The City That Never Sleeps
Taksim and Beyoglu are no doubt the center of nightlife in the city. Bars and pubs on the streets leading to Istiklal Caddesi, the clubs that can be found around the streets nearby, the wine bars in the area, and the venues where DJs play the hottest hits from all over the world and live bands perform, form the heart of the city’s nightlife. If you are in Beyoglu, do not miss the historic Cicek Pasaji (Flower Market), home to many traditional taverns, and Asmalimescit, a lively street with a new bar popping up even in the smallest corners.
If you are up for a little music, Istanbul has it all; rock music, Latin and world music, jazz and so on. Located in the woods, with various stages, restaurants, cafes, and a big swimming pool, Parkorman is one of the most important concert venues of the city. Maslak Venue also hosts international artists and festivals at its open and indoor venues. Kurucesme Arena is another important concert venue by the Bosphorus.
For more traditional entertainment, you can visit Kumkapi, one of Istanbul’s best known entertainment centers on the European side. Ortakoy boasts many bars and is one of the main centers of nightlife in the city. Kurucesme and Arnavutkoy also have great bars and restaurants aligned on the sea side.
Dining in Istanbul
Istanbul incorporates the finest examples of traditional and international cuisines. Turkish cuisine reached a peak of sophistication during the Ottoman era where skilled and experienced cooks created an imperial cuisine with finest ingredients. The addition of delicious vegetables and herbs from the coastal regions of the Mediterranean in particular, and the flavor of olive oil led to the emergence of mezes, or hors d’oeuvres, which are an integral feature of Turkish cuisine. Fish meals are an essential part of the Turkish cuisine. For most of the year, the Canakkale and Istanbul straits are full of migrating fish, the majority of which are peculiar to those straits.
As well as Turkish cuisine in all of its diversity, Istanbul has excellent restaurants specializing in French, Italian, Mexican, Indian, Far Eastern and other world cuisines. Over the past decade these have multiplied to include English pubs, French cafés, sushi bars, Tex-Mex and South American restaurants. Turkish cuisine possesses a range of fabulous desserts, including milk puddings, sweet pastries, fruit puddings of various kinds, often flavored with pistachios and other nuts, and Turkish delight (lokum) made of starch and sugar. Baklava, a sweet pastry made of layers of phyllo dough filled with chopped nuts is another famous Turkish dessert. With a history going back to Ottoman times, Turkish coffee is the subject of many stories. After a fabulous meal, you are ready to hit the streets. Bon appetite!
One Enormous Bazaar
Istanbul has always been at the crossroads of major trading routes. Since shopping and trade are central characteristics of this great city, you should definitely include some shopping in your to do list in Istanbul.
Istanbul has both historical bazaars dating back to the Ottoman era, and modern shopping malls essential for all metropolises. One can find everything in Istanbul, where people live together in a tremendous hustle and bustle; the mystery of the East and the practicality of the West combined. The best place to start shopping is the magnificent Grand Bazaar (Kapalicarsi), which stands in one of the oldest settlements of the city, the historical peninsula. First time visitors are astounded by the Grand Bazaar’s splendor and size. It contains 3000 shops, 61 streets and two mosques. In jewelry stores, decorated with gold, silver and precious stones, you can find all kinds of valuable decorative items, from antique jewels to modern pendants.
Next to Yenicami at Eminonu is the Egyptian Bazaar (Misir Carsisi) or the Spice Bazaar. Here, the attractive smells of cumin, mint, cinnamon and countless other herbs and spices create an amazing ambiance.
If you want to experience the real Istanbul, you should definitely visit the traditional markets set up on particular days in various parts of the city. These have a delightful, local flavor with their sales patterns and thousands of items on display. These markets are set up in areas set aside by local municipalities, and are named by the days of the week they take place. The most famous markets are Sali Pazari (Tuesdays) in Kadikoy on the Asian side, Yesilkoy Pazari (Wednesdays) in Yesilkoy, Ulus Pazari (Fridays) in Ulus and Cumartesi Pazari (Saturdays) in Besiktas, all on the European side. Another way to spend a shopping day in Istanbul is to go antiquing. The antique markets of Cukurcuma in Beyoglu and Horhor in Aksaray on the European side, as well as numerous shops in Kadikoy and Uskudar on the Asian side, are the best places to look for antiques at reasonable prices. These places will never stop surprising you.
After exhausting the historical peninsula and its traditional markets, Istanbul has still a lot to offer. Bagdat Avenue on the Asian side, Beyoglu and Nisantasi (both on the European side) are shopping centers on their own with hundreds of top quality stores and boutiques that would satisfy your every need from jewelry to shoes, from clothes and accessories to antiques, and from furniture to carpets and rugs.
It is hard to know where to start when you are talking about sightseeing in Istanbul. Ancient Roman walls may lie alongside a glittering skyscraper, an ornate Ottoman mosque may stand only yards away from a Greek Orthodox Church and a synagogue, and a fantastically modern bridge may lead you to a narrow cobbled street filled with centuries-old houses. Do you start with ancient history and artifacts, or do you prefer the Roman, Byzantine or Ottoman Empires? Istanbul was capital of all three. Few cities in the world have such an amazing array of treasures, from those made by man and collected or constructed by three of the world’s greatest empires, to those made by nature, like the beautiful Bosphorus. This modern city’s maze of narrow streets, climbing steeply angled hills and affording fantastic views at every turn, depicts the city’s 8000 years of civilization. In Istanbul, the glorious Haghia Sofia, a Holy Roman Church built in the 6th century AD, stands opposite the equally impressive Blue Mosque, of nearly the same size and grandeur, but built almost 1000 years later. Nearby Topkapi Palace gives you a glimpse of the Ottoman sultans’ lifestyles, who lived here for over 400 years. Other must-sees include Dolmabahce Palace, the Basilica Cistern, the fortresses of Rumeli Hisari and Anadolu Hisari and the Grand Bazaar. There is so much to do in Istanbul, and the city is so full of surprises, that it would be hard to be at a loss for things to do!
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Pre & Post Tours
If you are visiting Istanbul, it is recommended to stay at least a week to get a real sense of the city and to see what it has to offer. Visitors who do so find more than enough in Istanbul. However, there is an unlimited number of stunning places in Turkey also worth visiting and many guests take advantage of pre & post conference tours for trips outside Istanbul. Antalya is Turkey’s most important leisure destination, with beautiful Mediterranean beaches, a charming historic old quarter, houses from the Ottoman era, a warm, sunny climate, picturesque shorelines, and close proximity to extraordinary artifacts of the numerous great cities of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire like Aspendos, Perge, Olympos and Side. It is also home to dozens of five-star hotels. Antalya has everything you would want and expect from a beach town on the Mediterranean, and more, with fantastic restaurants to a vibrant nightlife, and of course, that unforgettable Turkish charm.
Ephesus, an ancient city on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, rivals Athens and Rome with its classical architectural ruins and monuments. Ephesus is vast, steeped in history, and truly remarkable. For those wishing to go back in time, there are few better places in the world to do so. Numerous historical figures from Roman emperors to Virgin Mary spent time in Ephesus, the “first and greatest metropolis of Asia,” and once home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, an enormous statue of Diana, which made Ephesus an important place of pilgrimage. Cappadocia in Central Anatolia is a fairytale landscape formed millions of years ago as a result of volcanic eruptions. Dotted by pinnacles, towering rock formations, Cappadocia carries the traces of numerous civilizations that inhabited this land throughout the millennia. Underground cities and rock-cut churches from early Christianity add history to this fantastic natural wonder.
A Blue Cruise is ideal for a relaxing and spectacular post-tour. The term Blue Cruise refers to any number of cruises that now sail between Bodrum and Antalya, from the South Aegean to the Turkish Mediterranean.
For more adventurous travelers, a trip to southeastern Anatolia and the ancient city of Zeugma is sure to amaze. Or you can watch the sunrise in the temple of King Antiochus at Nemrut Mountain. Even if you don’t ski, the resorts of Uludag, Kartalkaya, and Palandoken can be enjoyed for their amazing scenery and natural beauties. Whichever road you take, spend a little extra time in Turkey. You’ll love it, and you’ll be glad you stayed...
Easy to Get Around
Various transportation vehicles are available in Istanbul, one of the biggest cities in Europe. Railroads, bus lines and trams are supported by sea vehicles that travel between two continents. “Akbil” (smart ticket) devices and “Istanbulkart” -used in almost all transportation vehicles- can be purchased from offices near major transport interchanges all around the city. The website submits detailed information on transportation alternatives.
Metropolitan buses in Istanbul are frequent and economic. They travel to almost any point within the city and some villages around the city. Alternatives are privately operated buses using the same lines where you can pay onboard. The “metrobus”, which operates between Sogutlucesme on the Asian side and Avcilar on the European side, is another popular transportation alternative that can save a lot of time.
The modern subway and tram system is one of the most convenient means of transportation in Istanbul. Trains departing from Sirkeci and Haydarpasa reach the outer parts of the city. The Istanbul Metro, or the M2, is a mass transit underground railway network, running from the Ataturk Oto Sanayi station at Maslak in the north to the Sishane station at Beyoglu in the south. The tram lines are Zeytinburnu-Kabatas, Gungoren-Bagcilar and Edirnekapi-Sultanciftligi. Taksim, the cultural and entertainment center of the city is accessible from Kabatas by a short funicular railway. A light rail line, known as M1, runs from Yusufpasa, near Aksaray, to Esenler and Ataturk Airport.
The sea route is usually the quickest way between the European and Asian sides, particularly during rush-hour. Ferries connect the two sides of the city. There are city-line ferries that run the length of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, and also go to and from the islands. There are also tourist excursions along the Bosphorus. Smaller private motorboats that depart from Besiktas on the European side drop their passengers at Uskudar on the Asian side in six minutes. The modern catamarans are for those who want to get about fast.
Licensed taxis in Istanbul are yellow and have registration numbers on the sides. They can be found on the ranks or hailed on the street. Also hotel, restaurant and bar staff s provide taxi. Bridge tolls are added onto the taxi fare.
One practical solution to transportation in Istanbul is the dolmus, a shared taxi seating 7 or 8 passengers that operates on specific routes through the busiest parts of the city until midnight. The destination is written on signs placed on the windscreen.
A Kid-Friendly City
Istanbul is without a doubt a unique city that every traveler desires to visit. For travelers with families, this great metropolis has many attractions focusing on children: Istanbul is a kid-friendly city. There are plenty of parks and playgrounds all over the city. For example, Parkorman in Maslak, practically a “forest in the city center”, offers activities like swimming and nature sports. It also has a kids club with tree houses. Yildiz Park, one of the largest public parks in Istanbul located between the palaces of Yildiz and Ciragan, is a beautiful garden complex with panoramic views of the Bosphorus. It is also a popular place for picnics. Moreover, other attractions like the Belgrad Forest are ideal for entertaining children where they can run and play outdoors.
The Kucukciftlik Park in Macka is an 8000 m2 entertainment venue with a large amusement park. Most shopping malls in Istanbul have playgrounds. Istinye Park, a mall with outdoor and indoor shopping areas, has a kids’ entertainment center around 1500 m2 where your children can have fun while you are shopping or socializing.
One can argue that museums will not appeal to most children. However, there are several museums in Istanbul which can prove this wrong. One is the Toy Museum, built in a restored Ottoman mansion in Goztepe on the Asian side of the city, which houses a collection of two thousand toys. Each exhibit is arranged according to theme where for instance, miniature train sets are displayed in a genuine train compartment. You can also enjoy the puppet theater and the magic show staged on the weekends.
On the European side, the Rahmi Koc Museum, the first major museum in Turkey dedicated to the history of transport, industry and communications, houses thousands of items from gramophone needles to full size ships and aircraft. The Hands-On Gallery is designed specifically for children, where they can climb all over a vintage car, sit in the cockpit of a real plane and take part in scientific experiments.
The Naval Museum in Besiktas, one of the richest naval museums in the world, is another venue which can attract children’s interest. The Istanbul Museum of Modern Art hosts workshops for children, usually in Turkish, but some are suitable for non-Turkish speakers as well. SantralIstanbul, an arts and cultural complex located in Eyup, offers a variety of weekend workshops for children and teenagers like drawing and painting by dreaming, making music without musical instruments, creating sculptures of wire and ceramics, dancing and producing projects at science workshops, where children can study subjects like electricity and energy while having fun. Here we should note that most museums in Istanbul are closed on Mondays.
If you want sunshine and culture combined, you can always visit Miniaturk where you can see all the sights of Turkey in a single afternoon, including the Hagia Sophia, the Sumela Monastery and the ancient city of Ephesus, as well as modern monuments like the Bosporus Bridge. The 60.000 m2 site contains 105 miniatures 1/25 of their original size, an open-air theatre, playground, life size chessboard and a maze.
For children who love animals, Istanbul has a lot to offer. Turkuazoo, the first modern giant aquarium in Turkey located in Bayrampasa on the European side, has 29 aquariums hosting different inhabitants of the sea world including sharks, giant stingrays, piranhas and octopus. Visitors can also enjoy the opportunity to dive with hundreds of various sea species and even sharks. Istanbul Aquarium in Florya, the world’s biggest thematic aquarium, opened in June and has already become one of the top attractions in the city. Visitors can see 15.000 species of fish at this aquarium, which features 16 regions of the world, from the Black Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Inside the aquarium are an exploration trail and an interactive rain forest.
If your kids prefer dolphins, Istanbul Dolphinarum in Eyup gives you the chance to swim with those charming mammals. Or you can just sit back and watch the shows performed by seals, walruses, whales, as well as dolphins.
If you want to include a little sea adventure to your visit, the Princes’ Islands, a chain of nine islands off the coast of Istanbul, are popular destinations for day trips. Lots of open space, playgrounds and beaches; what more can children want? Since cars are banned on the islands, bicycles or horse-drawn carts are the best way to get around. You can reach the islands through ferries which are extremely enjoyable by themselves. While this kid-friendly side of the city is quite amazing, travelers should also note that the usual tourist attractions do not lack the potential to entertain both parents and kids.
What could be more fulfilling than a trip to the Grand Bazaar? How about a stroll in Sultanahmet, one of the most historic places in Istanbul with the mosques, the Basilica Cistern and the Topkapi Palace, where sightseeing alone can fill a whole day? Have fun!
Academic Life in Istanbul
Istanbul is the center of higher education in Turkey, hosting more than 35 public and private universities with thousands of students graduating each year. Most of Istanbul’s universities are located in historical buildings in popular districts such as the Bosphorus, Besiktas or Yildiz. Therefore these campuses are also living spaces for students. This vivacious educational life gives great dynamism to the city’s daily life. Istanbul is a city of 13 millions, while 60 percent of its population comprises young people. Therefore, the city has great academic potential. This potential reflects itself in the productivity of the universities, which publish over 10.000 academic papers each year.
Almost all Turkish universities in Istanbul teach in English, German or French as the primary foreign language, usually accompanied by a secondary foreign language. Most universities include institutes and research centers which generate a vast amount of academic knowledge. A great number of MA and PhD theses written in Istanbul universities are published abroad in several different languages, contributing to various academic disciplines. In short, the city’s academic productivity creates scientific development, platforms of research and discussions and it carries a huge potential to attract even more international organizations, where experts can set the agenda on national and global issues.
Istanbul University is the oldest educational institution in the city. Dating back to 1453, Istanbul University’s location suits its long history and significance. The main campus in Beyazit with its landmark gate used to be the Ottoman Ministry of War.
Bogazici University has its roots in Robert College, the first American institution established outside the boundaries of the United States. With the transfer of the college site to the Turkish government and its establishment 1971, Bogazici University inherited the outstanding facilities of Robert College and its tradition of academic excellence.
Istanbul Technical University has a long and distinguished history beginning in 1773. In 1946, the institution became an autonomous university with architecture, civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering faculties. Today, Istanbul Technical University is one of the best in its field with internationally accredited departments.
The history of Marmara University goes back to the 19th century when the Hamidiye College of Higher Commercial Education was established in the Cagaloglu district. Formally established in 1982, the university has 13 faculties including medicine, law, and fine arts.
Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts, located in the Findikli district and named after the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, was founded in 1882. Focusing predominantly on fine arts and architecture, the university also has a faculty of natural sciences and literature.
Yildiz Technical University, dating back to 1911, was established as an autonomous higher education and research institution in 1969. It encompasses departments of science, literature and engineering as well as fine arts departments.
The only Francophone university in Turkey, Galatasaray University is a participant of the European exchange programs Erasmus and Socrates. The building which accommodates Galatasaray University was originally the Feriye Palace, a coastal summer palace on the Bosphorus built in 1871.
In the last decades, numerous private universities have been opened, expanding and diversifying Istanbul’s academic life. They all offer several scholarships to support students throughout their academic life at the university.
Istanbul Bilgi University has three campuses in Dolapdere, Kustepe and Silahtaraga, all in the city center. Istanbul Commerce University, founded and supported by the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce, has campuses in Uskudar, Kucukyali and Eminonu. Yeditepe University, founded in 1996, is located in Kayisdagi on the Asian side. Dogus University, celebrating its 10th year, offers exchange student programs with 30 countries. Isik University, part of the Feyziye Schools Foundation which was established in Thessalonica in 1885, is located in Maslak.
The high quality of education and the city’s charm makes Istanbul an attraction for international students as well. Most of the city’s universities have exchange programs for foreign students.
CULTURE, HISTORY AND NATURE MEET IN TURKEY
Turkey builds on an old and rich history. It represents a cultural mixture, stretching across the Anatolian peninsula in Western Asia and Thrace in the Balkans. The Anatolian peninsula is one of the oldest continuously inhabited regions in the world. The earliest Neolithic settlements such as Catalhoyuk, Cayonu, Nevali Cori, Hacilar, Gobeklitepe and Mersin are considered to be among the earliest human settlements in the world. Anatolia is a melting pot where Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian cultures interacted with Hittites, Romans, Lycians and Phrygians. The result is a unique Anatolian civilization which has long inspired the thoughts and legends of the West.
Any visitor to Turkey will be struck by the plethora and variety of religious buildings and ancient shrines. There are temples dedicated to ancient goods, churches of many denominations, synagogues and mosques. As civilizations succeeded each other for thousands of years, they left their religious legacy. After the monotheistic domination of Anatolia, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism co-existed in harmony.
The ancient Bronze Age witnessed the establishment of the first independent city states. The first major empire in the area was that of the Hittites, from the 18th through the 13th century BC. Next were the Phrygians, an Indo-European community. The other prominent states of the period were Lydia, Caria and Lycia. Meanwhile Ionians, one of the ancient Greek communities, were settling at the western coasts of Anatolia. In 334 BC, Alexander the Great got the hold of the whole region and this also marked the beginning of the Hellenistic period since Anatolia was divided into small kingdoms. All these kingdoms joined Rome by the 1st century BC.
In 324 AD, the Roman emperor Constantine I declared Byzantium the new capital of the Roman Empire. He renamed Byzantium as the New Rome which would be called Constantinople and Istanbul respectively. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Constantinople became the capital of the Byzantine Empire. In the 10th century the Seljuk Turks started migrating to Anatolia. After the Battle of Malazgirt, Anatolia became the homeland for the Oguz Turkic tribes. The war gave way to the foundation of Anatolian Seljuk state, which would later be defeated by Mongols. While the state was slowly collapsing, the Turkish principality governed by Osman I was to evolve into the Ottoman Empire.
Throughout its history of 623 years, the Ottoman Empire acted as a link between the Western and Eastern worlds. Until it collapsed at the end of World War I, the empire was a major economic and cultural center. Modern Turkish Republic founded after the War of Independence by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, is among the fastest growing countries of Europe. One of Turkey’s most important features is its capacity for synthesis, which is a historical inheritance. Such a rich history has left an unforgettable mark and Turkey flourishes with historic sites and archaeological wonders set in a diverse and beautiful landscape. The Mediterranean coastline is punctuated with well-preserved Greco-Roman cities such as Pergamon and Ephesus, while the austere and rugged Anatolian plateau has cave churches hidden away in the fairytale landscape of Cappadocia.
This is the land where Alexander the Great slashed the Gordion Knot, where Achilles battled the Trojans in Homer’s Iliad, where the first coin was minted in Sardis and where the Ottoman Empire fought battles that shaped the world. The country is the haven of two of the world’s seven wonders: the temple of Artemis, and the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. History buffs can plunge in marvels and souvenirs stretching back to the dawn of civilization. Nature lovers can enjoy the amazing mountain views and forests of the Black Sea region, as well as the astonishing beaches and natural wonders of the Aegean and Mediterranean shores. Adventure enthusiasts can head east to Nemrut Mountain National Park or to the Palandoken Ski Center. The list goes on and on.
FUN FACTS ABOUT ISTANBUL
- Istanbul is the only city in the world situated in two different continents. This makes Istanbul the nearest European city to Asia and the nearest Asian city to Europe.
- Istanbul was founded on seven hills like Rome.
- Istanbul became the most crowded city in the world in 1502.
The city kept this title until 1840 when London’s population exceeded Istanbul’s.
- Istanbul is still one of the biggest and most populated cities in the world, with a population of over 13 million.
- The funicular railway in Tunel, Beyoglu is the third oldest subway in the world, which was built in 1875.
- The Grand Bazaar is the biggest old covered bazaar in the world, with over 3000 shops.
- Four bronze horses decorating the Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice were taken from Istanbul by the Crusaders in the 13th century.
- The first traffic accident in Istanbul occurred in 1912 in Sisli, when the driver of the Italian Embassy hit a pedestrian and tried to flee from the scene.
- The train station in Sirkeci was the last stop of the legendary Orient Express that operated between Paris and Istanbul between 1883 and 1977. Agatha Christie was one of the passengers of the Orient Express, which became a source of inspiration for her renowned thriller “Murder on the Orient Express”.
- During its long history, Istanbul served as the capital of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Yet today, Ankara is the capital of Turkey.
- During the Ottoman era, there were over 1400 public toilets in the city.
WELCOME TO ISTANBUL
Accessible From All Around the World
Istanbul is accessible by air, sea, rail, and road. Air transport is perhaps the most significant considering overall congress requirements, but other modes of transportation may be more convenient for visitors from neighboring countries.
Served by more than 300 international airlines, Istanbul is accessible from all parts of the world. Most international and domestic flights arrive and depart from Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, which is 20 km (12 miles) from the city center. Istanbul’s second airport, Sabiha Gokcen International Airport is on the Asian side, 45 km (27 miles) away from Taksim Square in the city center. Most major European airports are 2-4 hours away from Istanbul by air. From the east coast of North America, Istanbul is about a 10-hour journey.
There are multiple alternatives of public transportation from the airports to the city center. Transportation to and from the Ataturk Airport is available by metered taxis as well as subway, which starts from the city center, and municipal buses. Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW) has a really convenient traffic in terms of transportation with its 1.5 km connection to the TEM motorway. Public transportation (IETT) departs from Sabiha Gökcen to the city center. There are many ways to travel from Sabiha Gokcen Airport to several main locations of Istanbul by taxi or the public services (IETT). Also, at every half an hour Havatas Airport Passenger Service provides transfers to and from both airports to Taksim and Kadıkoy.
There are trains from Sofia, Belgrade, Bucharest and Budapest (connections from Munich and Vienna) to Sirkeci Station in Istanbul. Main services are:
- Daily overnight train Balkan Express from Belgrade (Serbia) via Sofia (Bulgaria)
- Daily overnight Bosphorus Express from Bucharest (Romania)
- TransBalkan Express from Budapest (Hungary) also has one of its cars attached to Bosphorus Exp. in Bucharest, thus providing a direct service from Budapest to Istanbul.
There are two main train stations in Istanbul; Sirkeci Station on the European side and Haydarpasa Station on the Asian side. These historic station buildings are nostalgic gateways to the city. Suburban trains also run from Sirkeci and Haydarpasa stations. Trams to Sultanahmet run past Sirkeci station, and city bus services are available.
The road network throughout Turkey is extensive, with motorways, dual carriageways and numerous three-lane highways. Drivers bringing cars into Turkey must show their registration documents and driving license at the point of entry.
Coach services to all parts of Turkey are reliable, reasonably priced and convenient. Istanbul’s International Bus Terminal located in Esenler, about 10 km (6 miles) from the city center, serves all international and domestic lines.
The Bosphorus Strait divides Istanbul’s Asian and European shores. Central Istanbul and the historical peninsula are on the European shore, which is itself divided by the natural harbor of the Golden Horn (Halic). Tiny fishing boats and day cruisers share the Bosphorus with enormous international cargo ships, navy vessels, tankers and giant luxury liners from Europe. The two largest quays, Eminonu and Karakoy, are on opposite sides of the Golden Horn and linked by the Galata Bridge. Karakoy is where luxury cruise ships headed for the Aegean and Mediterranean dock, as well as smaller CIS vessels. Local ferry services mainly depart from Eminonu, Karakoy, Besiktas and Uskudar.
International ferry services:
1. Istanbul-Ukraine-Odessa; 2. Venice-Izmir; 3. Athens-Izmir; 4. Brindisi (Italy) or Bari (Italy)-Cesme (Izmir); 5. Various services from Turkish coastal towns to Greek islands
Bridging Europe and Asia
Istanbul is accessible from all parts of the world, served by more than 300 international airlines. Besides air transport, visitors to Istanbul have several options; international train, ferry, bus services and other means of transportation connecting Istanbul to neighboring European countries. The city has two international airports, Sabiha Gokcen Airport on the Asian
Sea transportation is highly popular in Istanbul, which has a number of ports by which the ferries can dock.
A large metropolis with over 13 millions inhabitants, Istanbul has an extensive public transport network. The extensive bus network, rail systems, funiculars and maritime services make transportation within the city easy.
The History of Istanbul
In 2008, a previously unknown Neolithic settlement dating from circa 6700 BC has been revealed during construction works of the Yenikapı subway station and the Marmaray, an undersea rail tunnel going under the Bosphorus Strait. This discovery indicated that the peninsula was settled thousands of years earlier than previously thought. Moreover, artifacts from 5500 to 3500 BC were found in the Fikirtepe mound, the first human settlement on the Anatolian side of Istanbul from the Copper Age. It is accepted that from 5000 BC onwards, the population density grew in various parts of Istanbul, including present-day Kadikoy-Fikirtepe, Catalca, Dudullu, Umraniye, Pendik, Davutpasa, Kilyos and Ambarli. The foundations of today’s Istanbul, however, were laid in the 7th century BC when Greek colonists arrived in the city.
Settlers from the city-state of Megaria crossed the Marmara Sea in around 680 BC, reached today’s Kadikoy on the Asian side and built a city named “Khalkedon”. In around 660 BC, another wave of immigrants, under the leadership of Thrace-born Commander Byzas, founded a city on the European side (today’s Sarayburnu) named Byzantium. When it came under the threat of Macedonian invasion in 202 BC, the city asked for help from Rome and as a result fell under the influence of the Roman Empire, ending its independent status. In 193 BC, Roman Emperor Septimus Severus besieged Byzantium in response to internal strife in the Empire and destroyed the city walls. He then rebuilt the city, repaired the walls and started building the Hippodrome, which became one of the important monuments of the city.
In the 4th century, when the Roman Empire was splitting into two, Constantine, known in history as Constantine the Great, embraced Christianity. Byzantium was renamed Nea Roma, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, thus marking the beginning of the city’s rise to an important role in world culture and politics. In 330, Constantine renamed the city “Constantinopolis”. He built the first church in the city, the Hagia Irene Church. Istanbul’s most famous landmark, the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) was built by Emperor Justinian I in 537.
The completion of Hagia Sophia, the great domed cathedral, established Istanbul’s reputation as a capital of Christianity. After the disintegration of Western Roman power, Constantinople continued as the capital of the Empire. The city was besieged countless times by Sassanids, Avars, Bulgarians, Arabs, Russians, and the Crusader Army that ruled the city until 1261.
Istanbul was also besieged by the Ottomans starting from 1391, but thanks to its high city walls, Byzantine rule continued within the limited area that is today’s historic peninsula. Mehmet the Conqueror (Fatih Sultan Mehmet) who was determined to take the city, built great cannons, gathered together a powerful navy with 16 galleys and conquered the city on May 29, 1453. This was the beginning of a new era for Istanbul. Sultan Mehmet first set to work by repairing old buildings and walls that had lost their splendor during the declining years of Byzantine rule. Gradually, the principle Ottoman buildings rose on old Byzantine infrastructure. The Ottomans preserved important Byzantine works, facilitated development in line with the city’s new identity and declared Istanbul their capital. Within 50 years after the conquest, Istanbul had become the largest city in Europe. During the rule of Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566), Istanbul gained more important landmarks as well as a city plan.
The great Architect Sinan built numerous grand buildings for the city. During the “Tulip Era” that lasted from 1718 to 1730, flowers were cultivated and planted throughout the city. This was also a time when culture and arts blossomed in the city. After the World War I, Istanbul was invaded by the Entente Powers on November 13, 1918. The city remained under foreign occupation until it gained its independence in 1923. Upon the foundation of the Republic the same year, Istanbul lost its status as the capital, but continued to be the nation’s most important city. Today, Istanbul is the heart of the Turkish economy and the most populated city of the country. Declared the European Capital of Culture in 2010, the city hosts numerous international organizations every year and sets the nation’s agenda in business, arts, sports and fashion.
Financial and Industrial Capital
In addition to being the largest city and former capital of the country, Istanbul has always been the center of Turkey’s economic life thanks to its location as a junction of international land and sea routes linking Europe to Asia. In the Byzantine and Ottoman eras, industry in the city was dominated by small manufacturers. After the Industrial Revolution, districts like Fener, Balat and Ayvansaray on the shores of Golden Horn became centers of industrial production. In recent years, industrial facilities have been moved to the periphery of Istanbul.
Today, the city employs approximately 20 percent of Turkey’s industrial labor and contributes 38 percent of Turkey’s industrial workspace. Textile production, oil products, food processing, rubber, metalware, leather, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electronics, glass, machinery, automotive, transport vehicles, paper and paper products are among the city’s major industrial products. Absorbing the bulk of foreign direct investment and producing almost one-third of the national output, Istanbul generates 45 percent of the country’s wholesale trade and 21.2 percent of gross national product. In 2005, Istanbul had a GDP of $133 billion. A founding member of the OECD and the G20 industrial nations, Istanbul has undertaken a number of reforms to encourage foreign investment and competition in the local market.
Districts and Must-See Attractions
The Historic Peninsula
As the former capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, present day Istanbul retains the history that emerged form the city and integrates its historical values to the modern life. Sultanahmet, located at the center of the historic peninsula, is where most of Istanbul’s famous historical sights are located. The oldest urban area in the city, the historic peninsula is completely encircled by the city walls. The walls go through the land and sea shores from the west side of the peninsula at the Bosphorus entrance to Istanbul on the Marmara Sea. Therefore, the area is called “Surici,” which means “inside the city walls.” The district is surrounded by the Golden Horn to the north, the Marmara Sea to the south, the Bosphorus to the east and the district of Fatih to the west.
The Sultanahmet Square, called “the Hippodrome” by the Romans and Byzantines and “the Horse Square” by the Ottomans, is a serene park surrounded by historical monuments, mosques and palaces. All the civilizations that ruled Istanbul saw this square as the heart of the city. The racecourse that gladiators raced on with their chariots in front of a hundred thousand people during the Byzantine period encircles the historical basin known as “Spina” housing three great monuments; the Egyptian Obelisk, the Serpent Column and the Walled Obelisk. The Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are both situated in this dynamic part of the city.
A typical example of Roman architectural tradition, the Hagia Sophia, meaning the Church of Holy Wisdom, was erected by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century. Topkapi Palace, encompassing 700.000 square meters (7.534.737 ft²), is the world’s oldest palace that continues to stand today. The nearby Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici) is a breathtaking venue for banquets and special events. A few hundred meters away from Sultanahmet is the world famous Grand Bazaar (Kapalıcarsi). A huge covered bazaar built in the 15th century, Grand Bazaar has been a center for the trading of gold and authentic Turkish products for the past six centuries.
No visit to Istanbul is complete without crossing the beautiful Golden Horn -the natural harbor opening to the Bosphorus- and relaxing on the green parks that stretch along the shore to enjoy magnificent sunsets. The Golden Horn divides the historic peninsula from Galata, which together constitute the European side of Istanbul. The Golden Horn is not only a natural harbor, but also a residential area comprising a number of historical districts such as Fener, Balat and Eyup. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which administers 85 churches, is in Fener, a district that was included to the World’s Cultural Heritage List by UNESCO in 1988.
North of the historic peninsula, across the Golden Horn, is Galata, crowned by the Galata Tower. Galata begins from a road that splits from Istiklal Street in Beyoglu going down to the Karakoy port, one of the trade centers during the Ottoman period. The road between Istiklal and Karakoy was used by shopkeepers to travel between home and work. For approximately 130 years, it has been possible to travel this steep road via the funicular system (tunel), which is one of the oldest and shortest tube lines in the world.
Beyoglu, Istanbul’s culture and entertainment center, has always been a meeting point for cultures and peoples. The multiculturalism of this vibrant district is abundantly reflected in architecture, daily life and culinary culture. Istiklal Caddesi (Istiklal Street) is a major entertainment district in the heart of the Beyoglu. While strolling down Istiklal, visitors will be fascinated by the architecture dating back to the late 19th century.
If Istanbul’s identity is best exemplified by the unity of nature and history, then the Bosphorus should be considered the apex of this unity. When you take a boat excursion on the Bosphorus, you feel as if you are in a time warp surrounded by the rich greens and blues of the landscape and water. Bogazici is the name of the region around and within the view of the Bosphorus and the shores on both sides.
Both banks of the Bosphorus are decorated by characteristic, wooden waterside mansions, symbols of the old tradition of large, wealthy families residing on the Bosphorus’ shores. Fishing dominates life on the Bosphorus thanks to the fertile sea that brings shoals of fresh fish and on every shore of the Bosphorus are restaurants serving delicious seafood.
Across the Bosphorus
The “other” side of Istanbul on the Asian continent is called “Anadolu yakasi” (Anatolian side) by residents of Istanbul. Until the last quarter of the 20th century, the Asian side was more sparsely populated, and it remains a relatively more tranquil place.
Growing steadily, this beautiful land is a vital part of the cultural life of Istanbul. Uskudar and Kadikoy are quite popular with sea-side cafes, parks and traditional restaurants serving popular Turkish dishes. Uskudar is symbolized by the Maiden Tower (Kiz Kulesi), located on an islet just off the shore. Acting as a beacon to ships that pass through the Bosphorus at night, for centuries this little tower has also been a source of inspiration for the poets of the city. And the seaside road beginning from Kadikoy follows the Asian shores of the Marmara Sea for many kilometers.
THE ULTIMATE METROPOLIS- The History of Istanbul
- Financial and Industrial Capital
- Districts and Must-See Attractions
WELCOME TO ISTANBUL- Bridging Europe and Asia
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THE ULTIMATE METROPOLIS