Istanbul is the jewel of Turkey, the land of exceptional cultural and natural treasures, country of contrasts and contradictions, history filled with epic episodes. If you already had chance to visit this beautiful city, probably you’re waiting for the day to go back. If you still haven’t, treat yourself with a trip to this amazing city, the crossroad of modern Europe and mystic Asia; Istanbul should be definitely included into your Turkey tour package.
Almost everyone who arrives in Istanbul begins with the classic Sultanahmet (old city) tour. Visit will include Topkapi Palace Museum and Haghia Sophia Museum along with other Sultanahmet highlights. Well known Topkapi Palace was the imperial residence of the Ottoman Sultans for four centuries and houses examples of Ottoman architecture, large collections of porcelain, robes, weapons, shields, armour, Ottoman miniatures, Islamic calligraphic manuscripts, as well as a display of Ottoman treasure and jewellery. Second major highlight Haghia Sophia, the “Church of Holy Wisdom”, was built by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. After 916 years as a church, in 1453, shortly after the conquest, Haghia Sophia was converted into a mosque. In 1935 it was transformed into a museum. These main museums will help you in understanding the country’s history and appreciating the richness of its culture.
However, there are numerous other treasures you can discover in Istanbul. For example The Archaeology Museum in Gülhane Park is a place not to be missed while in Istanbul and is only steps away from Topkapi Palace. It is certainly one of the best museums in Turkey and a must see for anyone with any interest in archaeology. A nice definition used by travelers for this museum is that it is country in nutshell. Turkey has many archaeological sites and the museum offers visitors a sample of what the country has to offer in terms of archaeological treasures, from the prehistoric times to the Ottoman period. This complex is divided in three buildings, the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Oriental Antiquities, and the Tiled Pavilion. The star attraction is the Alexander Sarcophagus which is remarkable for stunning carvings on the exterior detailing the battles and the life of Alexander the Great.
Another less known jewel is Chora (Kariye) Museum hidden in Edirnekapi district of Istanbul. The dictionary meaning of Kariye (Chora) is “outside of the city”, or “rural” in old Greek, probably stemmed for being located out of the ancient city walls; today it is located close to the Edirnekapi city walls over the Golden Horn. Kariye Museum is the most important Byzantine monument in Istanbul after Haghia Sophia and houses the best examples of Byzantine mosaic art. The neighbourhood has a relaxed atmosphere, with narrow and steep alleys, traditional wooden and colorful Turkish houses and small cafes where you can enjoy a cup of tea.
Dolmabahce is another effulgent palace and museum at the shore; five million Ottoman gold pieces, the equivalent of 35 tonnes of gold was used at its construction. The Palace was the official residence of several Ottoman Sultans in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Dolmabahce visit is usually offered as optional in many itineraries, but you can also visit it on your own with a short taxi ride from Sultanahmet.
The other shore of the Bosphorus houses another palace, Beylerbeyi, the summer palace of the Ottoman sultans. After palace visit you can stop at the Beylerbeyi town center, a small fishing town where you can enjoy scrumptious sea food with the tranquilizing view of the Bosphorus.
Finally, make sure you pay a visit to the Basilica Cistern, also known as the “Sunken Palace”. Usually guides do not include it to their itineraries but it is conveniently located across St. Sophia, at the centre of the historic hotels. Cistern was constructed by Justinian in 532 to supply (water) the Byzantine Palace primarily. It is the largest of all Istanbul’s ancient cisterns; today the walkways have been constructed right through the cistern and subdued illumination lends the place a suitably mysterious atmosphere.
Istanbul is full of historic and cultural sights; it is a vibrant and colourful city offering surprises to its residents and visitors every single day. It was usually described as beautiful and flirtatious woman in the old poetry, seductive but variant. So next time you visit Istanbul, discover your own treasures, in other words, make sure you’ll have couple of free days to have Istanbul on your own way…
Turkay Aykut is the Sales Manager of Anatolia Tours & Travel Co. offering private and escorted tours to Turkey, Greece, Morocco, Dubai, Oman, Egypt & Jordan. More information at http://www.anatoliatravels.com/