Imagine you are in a modern bustling metropolis with trams, banks, shops with mannequins dressed in high couture and suddenly you are under a magic spell and happen to time travel to an old mystical city from the Medieval times, with bazaars overflowing with lamps and brass knick knacks, men in traditional attire selling food and wares, stone lined narrow streets, tall old buildings and you go inside one of the shops, buy an old lamp, rub it and pop comes out a genie! Well, no time travel required, you can experience this and more in Istanbul, barring the genie part, though I secretly believe, it was here that Aladdin found the magic lamp.
Istanbul is a magical city that connects Europe and Asia, with a culture from East and West, a city steeped in history and modernity. It was once the capital of three empires, Roman, Byzantine and the Ottoman empires. The Old City here has not one, or two, but many UNESCO World Heritage sites. The marvellous architecture of the old town reflects the cultural confluence of the influential empires. Head to the old city Sultanahmet, to see the most stunning architectural landmarks of Istanbul, that carry the legacy of the past.
Hagia Sophia Museum: Pronounced as Ayasofia in Turkish, the magnificent structure has a large dome surrounded by four minarets. It was initially built a church, then converted into a mosque under Ottoman Empire and now it’s a museum. It is one of the greatest surviving marvel of Byzantine architecture, adorned with beautiful mosaics, carved marble pillars and rich artistic decorations. The structure is an important landmark as it symbolises the coming together of religions, a historic blend of Islamic art and Christianity symbols.
Blue Mosque: The famous Blue Mosque is the symbol of Istanbul’s history and architectural beauty. There are more than 3000 mosques in the city and Blue Mosque is the most beautiful. It’s often visible in many popular Hollywood and Indian movies in the background of car chases or songs. Sultan Ahmed Mosque is known as the Blue Mosque due to the blue handmade ceramic tiles featuring flower designs, adorning the walls of its interior. The Mosque has a large central dome surrounded by four small domes giving it a square shape and it is the only mosque in Istanbul with six minarets. Visitors are allowed in mosques in Istanbul as long as they respect the decorum at a place of worship. Though it’s a tourist place, the Blue Mosque is a working mosque, one needs to check prayer timings before visiting and dress appropriately. The interior view is magnificent and beautiful with light falling on blue tiles on all sides.
Basilica Cistern: Basilica Cistern is one of the many underground cisterns in Istanbul. Built under the rule of Emperor Constantinople, it served as a primary water reservoir for the palace and surrounding buildings. The grandeur and symmetry of the structure is breath taking with 336 giant columns supporting the structure in symmetric rows and columns.
Topkapi Museum: Located on a hill, Topkapi Palace was the residence of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire and gives a close view of the opulent life of the royals. The museum has various exhibits showcasing treasures, weapons, personal collections, paintings, beautiful interiors and relics of the prophets.
Dolmabahçe Palace: Built in late 18th century, this is the most opulent and grand palaces in Istanbul. Built to belie the decline of Ottoman Empire this is a mono block European style palace gilded in gold, crystals, marble and chandeliers. It has about 300 rooms, most beautiful upholstery and furniture and gives you a glimpse of a modern day palace.
Grand Bazaar: Visiting Grand Bazaar is a beautiful treat for your senses. You, for a minute, wonder if you stepped into a different era with small eclectic shops selling colourful and exotic wares, lamps, coloured glass hanging lights, blue ceramic pottery in many shapes and designs, carpets, souvenirs, silk scarves, jewellery, antiques and fabrics. It is one of the largest covered bazaars in the world, dating back to 14th century, with 60 streets, 22 entrances and 4000 shops. Take a leisurely stroll in the streets, chat with shop keepers, make up your mind and bargain hard. You are sure to pick a treasured piece.
Other than visiting beautiful mosques, vibrant bazaars, museums and historic sites, take a stroll on the main city streets, hop on and off the metro, sip Turkish coffee and taste local sweets, buy small Turkish coffee glasses, try local food, buy spices, take a Bosphorous cruise, explore city’s nigh life, visit a Turkish Bath. There are many many things to do and a week will do justice to explore the city and sights fully. Istanbul is a populated, crowded city, taxis are avoidable, get around using public transport or best, by foot, soaking in the sights and sounds.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself under Istanbul’s charming spell because probably even Napoleon was, when he famously said:
‘If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.’ –Napoleon Bonaparte
(Image credit: Pixabay)