FROM THE HAGIA SOPHIA TO THE GRAND BAZAAR, DISCOVER ISTANBUL'S MOST CELEBRATED ATTRACTIONS
Istanbul has long stood at the intersection between East and West, and at the heart of it all is The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul. Soaring above the city near the banks of the Bosphorus, this five-star hotel is just moments away from the Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazaar and Blue Mosque. Yet Istanbul pulses with new experiences as well. Whether you seek modern art or artisan crafts, this ancient city is layered with experiences awaiting your discovery.
The ‘Shrine of Holy Wisdom’ the marvellous Byzantine basilica built in the 6th Century marks the true beginning of the golden age of Justinianus, the conqueror of Africa and Italy, who achieved lasting fame through the complete revision of all Roman law, resulting in what is known today as the Corpus Juris Civilis. The domed construction of the sanctuary is an architectural innovation; and was so richly and artistically decorated that Justinian proclaimed, ‘Solomon, I have outdone thee!’. Mankind would have to wait for over a millennium before being able to build a cathedral that would surpass the gigantic size of Haghia Sophia. It was converted to a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of the city, by the order of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror in 1453; so that the young Sultan could fulfill a divine premonition by the Holy Prophet Mohammad himself. In 1935 the building was converted into a museum by the executive order of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey.
Chora Church, (Kariye Müzesi)
The most interesting Byzantine church, after Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul. The importance of the church does not rest with the building itself, but the frescoes and the mosaics, which are superb and reflect the magnificent heritage of Byzantine Art. The Chora Church Museum is open every day from 9 am to 4:30 pm except Wednesday.
There are no remains left from the original church and the first form of the present structure dates back to 11C. Maria Doukaina, mother-in-law of Alexius Comnenos I, founded the church between 1077-1081. The church that exists today was constructed after two centuries, the walls were reverted with superb mosaics and a pareclession was added and decorated with beautiful frescoes. The founder of the church was Theodore Metochites. He was also an astronomer, poet, theologian and philosopher. He actually lived a very sad life, and after Palaeologus was replaced by another emperor, he was sent into exile. After he came back to Constantinople, he devoted himself to the church as a monk and subsequently died there. Early in the 16C, Attic Ali Pasha converted the church to a mosque and the mosaics were covered with plaster. In 1948, it was restored by the Byzantine Institute of America and opened as a museum in 1958.
The mosaics in Chora Museum date back to the14th Century and are divided into 4 parts, those on the nave, outer narthex entrance, inner narthex and frescoes in the pareclession (funerary chapel).
Istanbul Modern Museum
The Istanbul Museum of Modern Art is the first private museum in Turkey to exhibit modern and contemporary art collections and was founded in 2004.
Surely one of Istanbul’s loveliest seaside suburbs, Ortakoy, with its narrow cobbled streets, fine food and spectacular location under the Bosphorus Bridge- the first bridge to connect the European side of Istanbul to Asia- makes for a lovely day trip. Each Sunday, a large open air arts and craft market takes.
The Archaeological Museum proudly displays more than 60,000 Greco-Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Anatolian antiquities.
Distance: 15 minutes
Basilica Cistern: (Yerebatan Sarayı)
The Basilica Cistern, also known as the ‘Sunken Palace’ or ‘Yerebatan Sarayi’ in Turkish, was constructed by Justinian in 532 to primarily supply water to the Byzantine Palace. The Basilica Cistern or better known as ‘Yerebatan Sarayi’, is a truly authentic place and a must see in Istanbul. The cistern is located in the Sultanahmet Square. When you are about to reach the Sultanahmet Square, on the right bank you will see the Basilica Cistern. There is a small building next to the tramline; this leads to the stairs down to the Basilica Cistern. The Basilica is open every day from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and the entrance fee is 10 YTL (~7 USD) for foreign visitors. The underground waterway was used as a reservoir for water storage for the Great Palace and other buildings. It is 132 m in length, by 65m in width. There are 336 columns in the cistern. Most of the column capitals are either in Corinthian or Doric Style.
Walk to the back of the Cistern, and you will find one upside down Medusa head supporting one of the columns. Why it is upside down is a mystery, but the most likely explanation is that the people who placed the stone believed that if the head was upside down, it would ward off evil spirits.
Not far from the upside-down Medusa head is a second Medusa head, which is sideways. Why one head is upside down and the other is sideways only deepens the question about their orientation. Perhaps the builders felt that to place two heads in the same orientation would empower the evil forces living in the snakes on Medusa's head. Their presence in the first place in the Cistern is also interesting. Perhaps, their submersion underwater for many ages, was to ward off evil forces.
Today it has been completely renovated. Water still drips melancholically through the ceiling, and the brick-domed ceiling echoes classical music.
Basilica Cistern Tips:
The Basilica Cistern, also known as the ‘Sunken Palace’ or ‘Yerebatan Sarayı’ in Turkish, was constructed by Justinian in 532 to primarily supply water to the Byzantine Palacace.
The Basilica Cistern is surrounded by a firebrick wall with a thickness of 3.5 meters and is coated with special mortar to make it waterproof.
The Basilica Cistern was built to provide water for the city of Istanbul during the reign of Emperor Justinian in the 6th Century.
Bebek, meaning ‘baby’ in Turkish, is a quaint and affluent suburb which rises up from the Bosphorus and into the tree-dotted areas above. Most come to Bebek to enjoy the collection of upmarket waterfront cafes and restaurants or to spot local celebrities enjoying a Sunday brunch.
Distance: 20 minutes
Dolmabahce Palace, (Dolmabahçe Sarayı)
The word "Dolmabahce" in English means "The filled garden", since the Dolmabahce Palace’s foundations rest upon ground reclaimed from the sea. It is a beautiful 19th Century palace right by the Bosphorus, on the waterfront. The architecture is in Baroque and Rococo style and very French. Many people think that it is a small model of the Palace of Versailles in Paris, France. The palace can be viewed as a group with a tour guide. It is open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. except Monday and Thursday.
If you stay in the touristic peninsula, then you should travel by tram in the direction of Sirkeci. The tram will go first to the Sirkeci and Eminonu districts and later continues on to Karakoy via the Galata Bridge. Stay on the tram until the last stop. When you reach the last stop , you will be in the district of Kabatas, which is only 200-300 meters from Dolmabahce Palace. Disembark at the sea bus and ferry port Kabatas and after 200 meters you will see the Dolmabahce Palace to the right hand side on the sea front.
Dolmabahce Palace Tips:
Dolmabahce literally means filled garden.
Dolmabahce is the largest and grandest of the imperial palaces on the Bosphorus.
Dolmabahçe has the largest collection of Bohemian and Baccarat crystal chandeliers in the world.
When Ataturk (the founder of the Turkish Republic), visited Istanbul, he used the Dolmabahce Palace as his residence. On 10th of November 1938 Ataturk passed away in this palace after a long period of illness.
14 tons of gold were used in the Dolmabahce Palace to decorate the ceilings in gold leaf.
This historic park is situated right beside the Bosphorus in the pretty suburb of Emirgan. The Park is especially well known for its vibrant collection of tulips, which appear on mass every April.
Distance: 30 minutes
Maiden Tower, Leanders tower: (Kız Kulesi)
The Maiden's Tower or Leander's Tower (otherwise known as ‘Kizkulesi’ in Turkish), was constructed 2,500 years ago. It was built on a small rock located where the Marmara Sea meets the Bosphorus and is also situated between the continents of Asia and Europe. The history of the tower goes back to the Ancient Greek civilizations and continues through the Byzantium and Ottoman civilizations. Leander Tower served as a lighthouse, and there are many stories concerning its history. One such story is about the love between Hero and Leandros. One night Leandros was trying to swim to the tower to reach his secret love. The light from the tower went out and Leandros drowned. Today Leanders Tower is used as a restaurant and cafe and with its perfect location it hosts locals and tourists. In order to reach the tower you need to travel to the Asian side by ferry. The ferries leave from Eminonu to Uskudar and take around 15 minutes. From Uskudar ferry port, you will need to walk to the tower and small boats carry visitors from the mainland shore to the tower. It’s a great opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the Bosporus and have a snack, but prices are relatively high at the cafe.
Rustem Pasha Mosque
A 16th Century Ottoman Mosque, which was built in the name of the treasurer and the son-in-law of Suleiman the Magnificent, before he fell out of the Sultan’s favour and was removed from service. It is known to host the best examples of handmade Iznik tiles, on both interior and exterior walls; and of course, it is seated on a complex of shops, which will give you a taste of the city’s vivid local colours.
Sultan Ahmet Camii/ The Blue Mosque:
In the 17th Century, it was the dying wish of Sultan Ahmet, who perished from disease at a young age, to finish the mosque so that his name would live forever. It was named the Blue Mosque by visitors who stood in awe of the delicate designs of Ottoman tiles that decorate the walls of the shrine. The floral patterns of the tiles, as well as well lit, capacious internal spaces are a testimonial to the eternity of the soul.
The Topkapı Palace was the imperial residence of the Ottoman Sultans between the 15th and 19th Centuries. Its design, initially devised by Sultan Mehmed himself and then enhanced by Sinan, hides clues to the rituals of the structure of Ottoman hierarchy and the running of state affairs. Home to the imperial treasury and the cabinet, as well as being the site of the barracks for the palace, it tells of the splendour of the Ottomans. Apart from the priceless treasury, a distinguished collection of Chinese porcelain, holy relics, Sultan’s costumes and imperial weaponry are also on exhibit in different sections of the palace.
Topkapı Palace Tips:
Topkapı Palace is one of the largest museums in the world and for more than four hundred years Topkapı was the residence of the sultans.
The Spoonmakers Diamond is an 86 carat(17 g) pear shaped diamond, which is considered the pride of the Imperial Treasury exhibits at the Topkapı Palace museum. It is the fourth largest diamond of its kind in the world.
The Sword of David is in Topkapı Palace.
A stuntman filming the James Bond film ‘Skyfall’ in Istanbul, lost control of his motorcycle and smashed into the window of a 330-year-old shop in the city’s 15th Century Grand Bazaar.
The Jackie Chan movie ‘Accidental Spy’ was partly shot in Istanbul Grand Bazaar.
The ‘Kapalı Çarşı’, meaning ‘Covered Bazaar’, is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world with 61 covered streets and 3,000 shops, which attract between 250.000 and 400.000 visitors.
The Privy Chamber houses the Chamber of the Sacred Relics (Kutsal Emanetler Dairesi), which includes the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle. It houses what are considered to be "the most sacred relics of the Muslim world": the cloak of the Prophet Muhammad, two swords, a bow, one tooth, a hair of his beard, his battle sabres, an autographed letter and other relics which are known as the Sacred Trusts. Several other sacred objects are on display, such as the swords of the first four Caliphs, The Staff of Moses, the turban of Joseph and a carpet of the daughter of Mohammed. The Arcade of the Chamber of the Holy Mantle was added in the reign of Murad III, however was altered when the Circumcision Room was added. This arcade may have been built on the site of the Temple of Poseidon that was transformed before the 10th century into the Church of St. Menas.
Located in the luxurious Etiler district, this mall holds 246 exclusive fashion shops and a movie theatre. As one of the most favorable shopping destinations in Turkey, it’s no wonder that Akmerkez won the 1995 Best Shopping Mall of Europe Award.
City’s Nisantasi shopping center, is located on the street of Tesvikiye that is the heart of retail shopping in the luxurious district of NISANTASI in Istanbul.
Distance: 5 minutes
With 60 streets, 5,000 shops, two mosques, four fountains, two hammams and several restaurants, the Grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world. An important place for trade since 1461, the market today is a shopper’s dream with jewelry, ceramics, carpets, spices, clothing, shoes and other treasures.
Istinye Park shopping mall is a unique urban lifestyle environment situated on a natural topographical “amphitheater” of residential neighborhoods. Above, a grand circular arrival plaza sits between an open-air lifestyle center and a glass-roofed indoor retail area.
Distance: 25 minutes
Kanyon Shopping Mall
Conveniently located in the Levent district, the open-air Kanyon mall is easily reached via the metro line starting in Taksim square.
This colorful collection of more than 4,000 shops offers traditional handicrafts, carpets and kilims, antiques and fine jewelry.
Distance: 15 minutes
The Nişantaşı district is a shopper’s choice destination for the latest fashions around the world and boutiques of top international designers.
Distance: Within walking distance
The Spice Market
The Spice Market is the 2nd largest covered bazaar after the Grand Bazaar. The Spice Market is not only a great place to buy spices, but it’s also a great place to pick up dried fruit, nuts, apple tea, candy and caviar. Spice Market means ‘Mısır Çarsısı’ in Turkish. The word ‘mısır’ has a double meaning in Turkish ‘Egypt’ and ‘maize’.
The Zorlu Center Mall, in keeping with the cultural diversity of the city itself, will offer different alternatives for different needs, featuring a broad selection of restaurants, cafes and hundreds of global brands sure to appeal both to İstanbul residents and to guests from around the world.
The Hippodrome was a centre for sports and entertainment in the ancient city of Constantinople, the Roman capital; as well as being an important centre for politics, as sports and politics were so closely connected during these times. It is no wonder that the Hippodrome has been a starting point for revolts and political movements throughout history. Echoes of cries by slaves riding chariots in ferocious races, and the passionate words of intellectuals and poets that lit the flame of public movements are still reminiscent, to those with a powerful imagination.