Beginners guide to Istanbul
Capital of both the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents.

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In a city defined by the sea, take a ferry up the Golden Horn and watch the ancient mosque filled skyline roll past you. Istanbul is equally comfortable in the present though, with 3 million people enjoying shopping, dinning and a vibrant night scene in the main area of Istiklal Caddesi.
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Synonymous with Ottoman style architecture, the Topkapi Palace is one of Istanbul's most historical landmarks.Resident to Sultans for over 400 years, the palace is a measure of its empiric significance. Visitor interested in understanding the culture and pride of Turkey's people would benefit from a visit to the complex.
Hagia Sophia or Aya Sofya is one of the world's most beautiful buildings, built to be the world's largest place of worship by Emperor Justinian in 532 AD. The church became a Mosque under the Ottomans, and its mosaics and decoration were plastered over. They have been successively revealed since the 1930s, when the building was declared a museum by Turkey's legendary ruler, Atat?rk.The Hagia Sophia's golden mosaics are rivaled only by Ravenna's, and its design was the inspiration for the basilica of San Marco in Venice.The huge complex is a riot of domes and minarets, focusing on the huge central dome which for centuries was unrivaled as an architectural masterpiece.Inside, the lofty interior is a soaring sequence of domed and arched spaces, centering on the shell-like apse and the massive dome, which seems to float unsupported and gives the church its amazing sense of space.
A distinct Istanbul landmark, the world-famous Blue Mosque Sultan Ahmet Camii in Turkish opened in 1616 and is renowned for its slender minarets and collection of domes. The Sultan Ahmet I conceived the structure to rival the nearby Byzantine Hagia Sofia which stands opposite the mosque in the city's busiest square. It was constructed over the site of an ancient hippodrome and Byzantine palace, and is one of the most beautiful mosques in Turkey. Guarded by its six minarets and built around an enormous internal courtyard, the mosque's vast and curvaceous interior is ablaze with 20,000 delicate blue Iznik tiles?after which it gets its moniker of the Blue Mosque?featuring flowers, garlands, and intricate patterns. The Blue Mosque can be visited on a small-group or private tour of the Sultanahmet neighborhood and is often paired with tours of Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia and the Hippodrome.
Crammed with artworks and artifacts from over the millennia, Istanbul's Archaeology Museum is housed in a complex of three buildings in gardens formerly belonging to Topkapi Palace. Opened in 1891, the museum features archaeology in the main building, a grand classical affair with columns and pediments. The art of the ancient orient is housed in a separate building, and the historic Tiled Kiosk, commissioned by Sultan Mehmet II in 1472, houses a museum of Islamic art. The Greek and Roman statues are the highlights of this massive and important collection, including the ornately carved Alexander Sarcophagus. Also seek out the peace treaty dating from 1258 BC, a Lycian tomb, cuneiform documents, and busts of Alexander the Great and Zeus.
The Grand Bazaar, or Kapali Carsisi, is the mother of all markets, a treasure trove of gifts, souvenirs, essentials and fripperies. Heading into the cavernous bazaar from the daylight, it takes a minute for your eyes to adjust to this Arabian Nights visual feast of glimmering Turkish lights, brightly colored rugs and flickering candles. Crammed into more than 60 domed alleys or streets, around 5,000 stallholders hold court in the labyrinthine covered market, parts of which date back to Byzantine days. Calligraphy, carpets, beaded bracelets, gold and silver jewelry, curly-toed slippers, multicolored lanterns, flower-bedecked ceramics and belly-dancing outfits are just the tip of the iceberg in this shoppers' cornucopia.
The largest mosque in Istanbul, the Suleymaniye Mosque was built between 1550 and 1558 on the orders of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. It is widely known as imperial architect Sinan's greatest masterpiece. You will enter the mosque through an impressive courtyard featuring columns of marble, granite and porphyry and four corner minarets - a number only allowable for a mosque commissioned by a sultan. Constructed as an almost perfect square, the interior of the Suleymaniye Mosque is grand in its simplicity, with basic designs in ivory and mother of pearl and a subtle use of Iznik tiles.The mosque was designed as part of a larger complex that included a hospital, primary school, a caravanseri, four madrassahs, a medical college and a public kitchen. Two mausoleums stand in the gardens behind the mosque, including the tombs of Suleyman I and his wife, daughter, mother and sister, as well as several other Ottoman sultans.
Covered in intricate mosaics and massive murals in Late Byzantine style, the Church of St Savior in Chora has been standing since the 4th century. The present day structure is thought to have been built in the 11th century, then converted to a mosque by Ottomans in the 16th century. Today it functions as a secular museum, housing what are considered to be some of the world's finest frescoes and mosaics. The interior of the church has been especially well preserved throughout time. In total there are more than 50 mosaic panels, most dating back to 1310 and in near perfect condition. The frescoes depict the lives of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, as well as saints and icons of Christianity. Above the door to the nave in the inner narthex, you'll find one of the most spectacular mosaics of Theodore Metochites, the director of the Byzantine Treasury, making an offering to Christ.
Çemberlitaş Hamamı is a historical Turkish bath (Turkish: hamam) located on Divanyolu Street in the Çemberlitaş neighborhood of Istanbul, Turkey. It was constructed by Mimar Sinan in 1584. In the Indian city of Bhopal, the 18th century Hammam-e-Qadimi, was built in the style of Çemberlitaş Hamamı.
When the Ottoman sultans wanted to update their living space, they moved from the Topkapi complex on Seraglio Point to the Dolmabahce Palace Dolmabahce Sarayi. The sultans lived here from 1856 to 1922. With its columns and pediments, the opulent palace has a very European appearance, and the interior is a mid-Victorian statement in over-the-top luxury. Gilt, marble and crystal abound, and also the home ot the world's largest crystal chandelier, which was a gift from Queen Victoria. Guided tours lead from waiting rooms to the offices of the Grand Vizier and other ornate apartments looking over the sea. The palace has a special place in the hearts of modern-day Turks, as its where the leader Atat?rk lived and passed away in in 1938.
Leave the present day behind and take a wander around Old Istanbul, the wonderful old Sultanahmet district. This World Heritage-listed district is crammed with historic buildings and enough magical atmosphere to keep you enthralled for days. Drink in the majesty of Hagia Sophia Aya Sofia, a museum-church-mosque all in one, and admire the Blue Mosque that mirrors it. Spend days amid the riches of Topkapi Palace, and discover the underground world of the Basilica Cistern. Then shop for everything from curly-toed slippers to magic lanterns in the massive Grand Bazaar.

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