Sightseeing

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05 November 2019

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10 of the best sights in Istanbul

Istanbul’s many attractions include towering minarets, underground Byzantine cisterns and steamy bathhouses. Here is best 10 sights in Istanbul:

1. Basilica Cistern

The city’s most unexpectedly romantic attraction, the Basilica Cistern, offers an insight into the complicated system that once brought drinking water into Istanbul from Thrace (an area of the south-east Balkans now constituting Turkish land n the European mainland, and a chunk of Bulgaria). Constructed in the sixth century and then forgotten for centuries, the cistern that once stored the water has been fitted with lights and music. Fish flitter around the bases of the 336 columns that support the ceiling. Don’t miss the upside-down head of Medusa that forms the bottom of one column, proof that Byzantine builders saw Roman relics as little more than reusable rubble.

basilica cistern (1)

2. Ayasofya

After decades in which scaffolding cluttered the interior of Emperor Justinian’s sixth-century Byzantine masterpiece, the thrill of being able to experience the extraordinary spaciousness of this famous church-turned-mosque-turned museum is hard to overstate. Downstairs the building is largely empty; the best of the glittering mosaics lurk in the galleries upstairs. Newly opened are the tombs of several early Ottoman sultans and their slaughtered sons – before primogeniture new sultans immediately had all potential rivals killed. Before the end of the year, the city’s finest carpets will go on display in the soup kitchen added after the church was turned into a mosque.

hagia-sophia (1)

3. Topkapi Palace

If there is one absolute must-see in Istanbul, it has to be the Topkapi Palace, home to generations of sultans and their wives, who were closeted in the famous harem. A collection of lush green courtyards and delicate kiosks, the Topkapi boasts a treasury to put the crown jewels in the shade, as well as views to die for over the Sea of Marmara, Bosphorus and Golden Horn. The secretive harem – really just the family quarters – is a warren of lushly-tiled rooms wrapped round a gem of a Turkish bath. Try to visit on a day when no cruise ship is in town to avoid the worst of the crowds.

topkapi

4. Blue Mosque

Facing Aya Sofya across a small park and mirroring its domed silhouette, the early 17th-century Blue Mosque is one of only a handful of mosques in the world to boast six minarets. Is it really blue? Well, not noticeably, although all the walls are papered with fine İznik tiles. To view it as the architect, Sedefkar Mehmed Aga, originally intended, enter via what looks like the side entrance from the Hippodrome. Afterwards, pop your head into a building the size of a small mosque on the corner of the complex. This houses the tomb of Sultan Ahmed I, the man who gave his name to both the mosque and the neighbourhood.

blue mosque

5. Istanbul Archaeology Museums

Walk to Istanbul’s three-in-one equivalent of the British Museum via the grounds of Topkapi Palace or through Gulhane Park. If time is tight, go straight to the large porticoed building housing the glorious sarcophagus of Alexander which depicts scenes from the life of Alexander the Great in vivid 3D. Kids will love the model Trojan Horse in the children’s section. Then pop into the lovely Tiled Pavilion, one of the city’s oldest Ottoman structures, beautifully restored to show off its finest ceramics. Finally, catch a glimpse of a peace treaty from 1269 BC preserved in the part of the museum nearest to the gate.

Istanbul Archaeology Museums

6. Galata Tower

Watery Istanbul is a city that cries out to be viewed from on high, and you can get a bird’s-eye view of everything from the balcony at the top of the Galata Tower in Beyoğlu, the modern part of old Istanbul that, in pre-Republican days, was home to the city’s foreign residents. Built in 1348, the tower once formed part of a sub-city belonging to the Genoese that stretched right down to the Bosphorus. In a footnote to aviation history, it was from this tower that Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi flew across the Bosphorus from Europe to Asia in 1638, thus inaugurating the first ever intercontinental flight.

galatatower

7. Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum

Housed in what was originally the palace of Ibrahim Pasha, a favourite grand vizier of Suleiman the Magnificent, and overlooking the Hippodrome where Byzantine lovers of chariot racing once brought the same passion to their sport as modern Turks do to football, this museum houses a magnificent collection of gigantic carpets from all over the country. Its basement features reconstructions of everything from a fully-fitted nomad tent to a grand interior from a 19th-century Bursa mansion. Don’t leave without trying a thick black Turkish coffee in the pretty cafe in the grounds.

turkish and islamic arts museum (2)

8. Grand and Egyptian Spice Bazaars

The Grand and Egyptian Spice Bazaars are Istanbul’s most popular bazaars. One of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world with over 3,000 shops, you can buy all sorts of things at the Grand Bazaar like leather goods, jewelry, carpets, clothing, furniture, ceramics, and souvenirs.

Considerably smaller than the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar is home to around a hundred shops selling dried fruits, nuts, spices, tea, Turkish Delight, and other goodies. Both are walking distance from Sultanahmet Square.

Grand and Egyptian Spice Bazaars

9. Chora Church

Compared to other attractions, Chora Church is out of the way but it’s worth the effort.

A small Byzantine church converted to a mosque before being turned into a museum, it’s home to what many call the most stunning mosaics in Istanbul.

Chora Church

10. Istanbul Modern

This huge former warehouse on the shores of the Bosphorus is the most prominent of Istanbul’s contemporary galleries. It is arguably the reason why so many smaller spaces have sprung up in the neighbourhood, and the Biennale is held next door. A permanent exhibition takes visitors through a history of modern Turkish art and there are increasingly important international shows, such as portraitist Steve McCurry’s photos from the last ever roll of Kodachrome film. But you sometimes have to wonder if the main attraction for many is really the restaurant, and its incredible view of the old city across the water.

Istanbul Modern

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