Turkey is a world famous touristic destination. The exotic feel, the thin border between European and Oriental features and the great foods made Turkey an excellent place for a holiday. One of the most popular places in Turkey is of course the former capital, Istanbul, a place of breath taking beauty and overwhelming history and culture. If you want to feed your soul, your eyes and your senses all at once, you should definitely visit Istanbul. But not without planning your trip in advance. Otherwise, because of the wide range of possibilities, you may find yourself wondering around, not knowing what to do first. Here’s a list of places in Istambul that are ‘a must’ for any tourist who wants to really ‘see’ Istanbul :
1. The Blue Mosque
If you are in this great city, this is definitely the first place you should go to. The Sultan Ahmed mosque, better known as ‘the Blue mosque’ is an old place of prayer (built between 1606 and 1616) and it is one of the greatest constructions of the world. The blue decorative tiles (20.000) inside the mosque, the six minarets (a unique feature), the astonishing decorations and the architecture, with its cascade domes, and beautiful arcades are its most representative traits. The entrance is free but the mosque is closed five times a day, during prayer!
2. Hagia Sofia
Standing right next to the Blue mosque, Hagia Sofia is another place filled with history. This place was a very important orthodox church (360-1453) in Byzantine times. It then became a mosque and it is now a much appreciated museum. The most interesting characteristic of this mosque consists in the amalgam of Christian and Islamic symbols which decorate the walls of the mosque. This is the result of an order given by sultan Mehmet II, at the conquering of Constantinople, who forbidden the destruction of the original decorations inside the building.
3. Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace was the residence of sultans in the Ottoman Empire. This place, included in the UNESCO world heritage site, is a most appreciate tourist attraction, because of its architecture, beauty and complexity. You may visit the gardens, the weapon area, of course the harem, even the kitchens and the stables and many other very interesting areas. It is easy to understand why is this place so impressive. The palace where the rulers of the Ottoman Empire lived and died cannot but fascinate and amaze us.
4. The Grand Bazaar
This is another main attraction in Istambul which is never left outside touristic tours. The 58 covert streets that compose this historical market are filled with jewelry, spices, fruits, oriental clothes carpets and many other items, so anyone can find something to spend their money on. The restaurants and hamams are perfect to relax after a day spent shopping for gifts and souvenirs. The only danger here is to get lost, so be careful, especially if you go as part of a group!
5. The Basilica cistern
Beneath the city there is a cistern unknown to most tourists. This ancient construction dates from as early as 500 A.D, and it was built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. Its function was to provide water to the palace and other buildings in Istambul, and it kept this function for more than a thousand years. It is worth seeing for its decorations and for its historical value.
6. The Rumelian Castle
Rumelihisari, or Rumelian Castel in English was built by famous Mehmet II and it is placed next to the Bosporus. It is composed from three main towers and other smaller watch towers along the wall and its function was that from preventing aids to arrive to Constantinopole, during its conquering. Nowadays, Rumelihisari is a museum .Why to see it? Because it is a great museum, because it is a beautiful fortress and because of the great sight it offers.
7. The Spice market.
This is another cool place to visit, for shopping and tasting the local flavors. This is the second largest bazaar in Istanbul (after Grand Bazaar) and it is the place where one can find most diverse range of spices in town. This market, which goes back to the 17th century, has two levels and it is visited by many tourists every year.
8 Kiz Kulesi
‘The name of this buiding in English it is ‘Maiden’s Tower’ and this is because of the local legend of a young princess who was kept here by her father in order to prevent the fulfillment of a prophecy. However, apart from this story, the tower is interesting because it was built in the 5th century by Athenians in order to defend the area from Persian ships. It then had different roles in Byzantine and Ottoman times and it is now a restaurant and café.
9. Dolmbahçe Saray?
This palace was built in the 19th century and it was used for administrative purposes. The architecture combines European and Ottoman styles. Among its treasures is a magnificent chrystal chandelier offered by queen Victoria, valuable Turkish carpets, and 150 years old bearskin rugs, a present from the Tsar of Russia. There are other attractions, such as the gardens, the opulent interior and the beautiful architecture. You have, as I think, more than enough reasons of paying this building a visit.
10. Galata Tower
This tower is one of the symbols of the city and it was built in the 14th century, as part of the defensive system of the Galata neighborhood. Today, this building shelters a restaurant, a café as well as a nightclub. It offers a great view of the historical area of the city and it is the perfect place to relax after a long day of visiting touristic places and shopping. Be careful though, because the entrance is not free!