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Tourist Places To Visit In Istanbul
In the words of Napoleon, ‘If the world was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.’ Spoken like a true connoisseur of richness. The city of Istanbul is called the city of past, present and future, owing to its charm that straddles all three faces of time. From old mosques and blue churches to mosaic constructed walls, from trams to high speed subways, minarets to complexes, Istanbul has so much paradox in its wake. So make your plans to take you to Eurasia this vacation and explore the beautiful tourist places that Istanbul has on offer.
Hagia Sophia/ Aya Sofia
Once a church, then a mosque, today a museum; this stunning piece of architecture and symbol of Byzantine technical might has seen many facets. When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, they converted Hagia Sofia from a church to a mosque, reading daily prayers there. Later, by the 20th Century, this became one of the most popular museums of Turkey, with a staggering number of footfalls. This is the first place you should head to when on a museum tour of Istanbul. It is also visible on the skyline of Turkey as a symbol of its might. Located in the Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, you are sure to find lots of history steeped in different religions here, until it came to be converted to the secular ground it is today.
Topkapı Palace (Topkapı Sarayı)
A palace through and through, Topkapi was the seat of the Ottomans who ruled over Turkey from this place by the mighty Bosphorus. The palace is a stunning display of Turkish architecture and Islamic art, coupled with hand-painted tiles, lined courtyards, vividly decorated rooms with ancient tapestries and battle towers. While touring this palace, do visit the Harem or the 'chambers of the concubines,' the Second Court and the Palace Kitchens. Other places of interest here are the Third Court, Imperial Council Chamber, Sacred Safekeeping Room (holds the relics of Prophet Mohammad) and the Imperial Treasury (home to gold, gemstone and precious jewel objects). The Topkapi Palace tour is, at the least, a half-day tour.
Blue Mosque, also known as Sultan Ahmet Camii locally, is an architectural gift presented to the city of Istanbul by the great Sultan Ahmet I. It was built in the years 1609-1616 and had six minarets, the same as at the Great Mosque of Mecca. Later, a seventh minaret was added to Mecca to curb the dissent. The Blue Mosque though, never lost its charm. It is brilliantly decorated with thousands of iconic tiles that give it the effect of blues. It is a fine delight of Ottoman architectural might and stands proud next to Aya Sofia. If you come at dusk, you will be astounded at the serenity of the place, broken by the echoing calls of prayer. Contrary to popular rumours, you need not cover your head when entering the mosque if you are not a believer. But dress decently to respect the place of worship.
Grand Bazaar or the Kapalı Çarşı, is one of the oldest and most extensively populated markets of Istanbul. But it is as much a shopping destination, as it is a sightseeing one; and for the same reason. Its many lanes are home to museums and monuments, walls that just make you stop and marvel and lined paved roads that were perhaps traversed by the early Turks. With the covered market experience, many may call Grand Bazaar the first shopping mall of the world, one that is so big that it takes up the whole of the city quarter. There are 11 gates of this market and maze-like lanes lined with shops and stalls selling everything from tapestries to carpets to wools and handicrafts. There are sections in the market to make browsing easier and you will also find food vendors to supply regular snacks for your hunger pangs.
As the name suggests, this market has forever been dedicated to spices, a trade Istanbul was famous for in the golden Ottoman days. Indian, Arabic, Syrian, Egyptian and European merchants all hounded this market to trade at that point. Today also it lives up to its heritage. The Mısır Çarşısı, as the Spice Bazaar is called, is a hub of dry fruits, nuts, coarse and whole spices, as well as the famous Turkish coffee. This is a coveted tourist haunt and you will find foreigners as well as locals shopping in tandem. But the downside is that it gets very congested between 11 am and 4 pm. If it gets very crowded, you can escape to Yeni Camii or the New Mosque nearby for a quick look around.
Another feather in the Istanbul skyline, Galata Tower is a 14th Century marvel that has become the greatest landmark and symbol of Turkey as a country. It was once a Genoese tower called Christea Turris, made of medieval stone in Istanbul. Tourists haunt this place today, not only from the city but also from the ships and cruises docked nearby. The Galata neighbourhood or muhalla is another good offbeat place nearby to explore if you want to see the Istanbul high-street shopping and dining scene. From hotels like Pera Palas to Beyoglu, you also have lots of chic cafes, small high-street boutiques and shops. You are also welcome to climb up the Galata Tower and dine at the restaurant with views of the whole city.
One of the biggest municipalities on the Asian side of Istanbul, Üsküdar can be reached by taking a ferry across the river (if you are staying on the European side). One of the most beautiful tourist attractions here is the Kiz Kulesi or the Maiden’s Tower, standing tall on one of the islets here. Üsküdar is also one of the oldest neighbourhoods and is home to many beautiful mosques, winding lanes with graffitis and potted plants as well as brown timber ware-house like homes. This place was one of the earliest Greek settlements and greatly exposed to attack by foreigners. Mihrimah Sultan Mosque and Yeni Valide Mosque are two very interesting places to explore here, in addition to a walking tour of the whole neighbourhood. Some great cafes and food vendors abound the promenade near Maiden’s Tower too.