Istanbul is the thriving heart of Turkey and a melting pot of different cultures due to its long and varied history, spanning back to the 7th century BCE. It is its rich history that makes it so fascinating to visit and there’s no shortage of historical sights to explore, which paint a picture of its varied past.
The buzzing metropolis, which sits in the Bosphorus Strait, has witnessed the rise and fall of some of the world’s most powerful empires, from the Roman Empire to the Ottoman Empire. First came the Greeks, led by King Byzas in the 7th century BCE, who founded the city as Byzantium, before the kingdom became part of the Roman Empire in the 300s, during the time of Emperor Constantine the Great who declared the city as the capital of the entire Roman Empire and renamed it Constantinople.
Decades later, the Roman Empire had divided, forming the western and eastern empires, with the city forming part of the thriving Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. However, during the era of the Crusades in the 13th century, the city became very vulnerable to attack and was sacked and subsequently weakened hundreds of times over the following century before being officially conquered by the Ottomans in 1453, led by Sultan Mehmed II, after a 53-day siege of the city.
Istanbul should be top of the list for any holiday to Turkey, and here’s what historical sights to visit:
The Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia)
The Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) – a Byzantine masterpiece – is one of the most famous landmarks in the city, built in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian I. Once a church, later a mosque, the ornate building is now a museum.
Topkapi Palace is also a must-see for any visitor. The spectacular building with its many courtyards, minarets and domes was initially constructed between 1460 and 1478 by Sultan Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople. The palace served as the home of the Ottoman sultans and their court until the middle of the 19th century.
The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is also in the city’s ‘must-see’ list, and one of the most immediately recognisable buildings in the world. The mosque – with its six minarets – is known as the Blue Mosque because of blue tiles surrounding the walls of its interior (rather than the exterior) and was built by between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Ahmet I. It is an active mosque, as well as being an iconic landmark, so visitors should make sure to abide by the rules when paying a visit.
The nine-story Galata Tower is the place to go for fantastic views of Istanbul and its intricate tapestry of landmarks old and new. Originally built by the Genoese, the turreted tower has been used for several purposes over the years, from a jail in the 16th century to a tower to spot towers from in the 19th century.
The Beylerbeyi Palace was commissioned by Sultan Abdülaziz (1830–1876) and built between 1861 and 1865 as a summer residence and a place to entertain visiting heads of state. The shah of Iran and the king of Montenegro were guests here as well as the French Empress Eugénie, who reportedly admired the palace so much that she had the design of the windows copied on the Tuilleries Palace in Paris.
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