Once capital of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul still remains the commercial, historical and cultural pulse of Turkey, and its beauty lies in its ability to embrace its contradictions. Ancient and modern, religious and secular, Asia and Europe, mystical and earthly all co-exist here.
Its variety is one of Istanbul’s greatest attractions: The ancient mosques, palaces, museums and bazaars reflect its diverse history. The thriving shopping area of Taksim buzzes with life and entertainment. And the serene beauty of the Bosphorus, Princes Islands and parks bring a touch of peace to the otherwise chaotic metropolis.
Ayasofya Museum of Istanbul
Aya Sophia was, for nearly a thousand years, the largest enclosed space in the world, and still seen as one of the world’s most important architectural monuments. It is one of Turkey’s most popular attractions, drawn by the sheer spectacle of its size, architecture, mosaics and art.
For 916 years it was a church, then a mosque for 481 years, and since 1935 has been a museum. Thought to have been constructed by Emperor Konstantinos I (324 – 337) it was burned down during a revolt. Rebuilt by Emperor Theodosium II, it was opened for worship in 415 and once again was burned to the ground, during the Nika revolts of 532.
Emperor Iustanianus (527 – 565) wanted to construct something even bigger than the original two and appointed architects Isidoros from Miletos, and Anthemios from Tralles to build the Aya Sophia which still stands. Columns, heads, marble and coloured stones were imported to Istanbul.
The construction began on 23 December 532, and was completed exactly five years later. The main, central section measured 100m x 70m, covered with a 55m high dome which was a mammoth 30m in diameter – appearing to be a great feat of design.
The worst desecration of the church was in 1204, ransacked by Catholic soldiers during the Fourth Crusade. In 1453, after a failure of the Byzantine Church to fend off the Turks, Mehmet the Conqueror captured the city, rode into Aya Sofia and immediately turned it into a mosque. The other reminders of its previous status as a mosque include huge wooden plaques bearing the names of Allah, the Prophet Mohammed and the first four caliphs.
The impressive figurative mosaics include Virgin and Child flanked by two emperors, dating back to the late 10th century, and one depicting Christ, the Virgin, and St John the Baptists. Even though there is partial damage, the haunting images on their faces remain as strong as ever.
Turkey’s gateway to Europe and western lifestyle, Istanbul features a captivating fusion of oriental charm and western standards. Half the city spreading on European grounds and half on the Asian shore of Bosporus, it balances between traditional bazaars and top-rated international hotels.
This 14-million-resident metropolis has it all, from ancient sites, to typical hammams (Turkish baths), to delightful local delicacies. Ruled by the Greeks, the Persians, the Venetians and the Ottomans respectively, it carries a huge historical and cultural heritage, which is imprinted on the city’s architecture, the regional cuisine and the residents’ cosmopolitan lifestyle.
The Golden Horn, or Halic, is one of the largest natural harbours around the globe and divides Istanbul’s European side into two parts. Four major bridges connect its two sides, with Galata Bridge being the most popular. Linking Galata with Eminonu, Galata Bridge houses dozens of charming cafes and eateries overlooking the calm blue waters and urban surroundings; a relaxing stroll along the bridge during a sunny day is must.
Istanbul Travel Warnings – January 12, 2016
A Syrian suicide bomber is believed to have carried out the deadly attack on a historic central square in Istanbul that killed at least 10 people and injured 15 more, including foreign tourists, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
At least six German citizens, one Norwegian and one Peruvian were injured in the blast, Dogan reported. Norway’s Foreign Ministry later confirmed that one Norwegian citizen was injured in the blast and is receiving treatment at a local hospital.
“It’s not a life-threatening injury,” Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Guri Solberg said.
There was a group of German tourists on the square at the time of the blasts, an official from a tour company told Reuters on condition of anonymity.