Traveling can be a whole lot more if we open ourselves into discovering not only its tourist’s attraction but also the story beyond every place we visit. Since every city has its own history, a historical background that has helped made a great impact with its present condition, travelling and learning at the same time can be a fun-filled activity.
Journey deeper into the heart of the City of Istanbul and engross yourself in its ageless traditions.
Istanbul became a city when the Greek Colonists led by King Byzas arrived in the area. It was named Byzantium until the Roman Empire headed by Emperor Constantine the Great conquered the city and named it Constantinople. For many years, the city became the capital of the entire Roman Empire until an enormous turmoil took place when the sons of Emperor Theodosius I divided Constantinople causing it to be the capital of the Byzantine Empire. With its strategic location it prospered as a nation that leads it as a target for conquering.
As the competition persisted, Constantinople was returned to the Byzantine Empire in 1261. Around the same time, the Ottoman Empire led by Sultan Mehmed II conquered the city on May 29, 1453, after a 53-day siege. Almost immediately, Constantinople became the Capital of the Ottoman Empire changing its name into Istanbul. Istanbul then became a part of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 after the Turkish War of Independence.
Learning the city’s antiquity adds another perspective to it but what’s important is how the city flourished through their historical record that up until now is shown in their unique landmarks and culture.
Connecting Two Continents
Finished on 1973, the Bosphorus Bridge connects the Asian side of the city from Beylerbeyi to its European side located in Ortakӧy. Also known as the First Bosphorus Bridge, it has an aerodynamic deck that has a width of almost forty meters and hangs on angular shaped cables of steel. It extends over 1,500 meters long while the height of each tower over a 100 meters.
When it was first opened to the public, the Bosphorus Bridge graded as the world’s fourth longest suspension bridge. Today it was ranked as the sixth longest. One thing that should not be missed by tourists as they enter the city is the Bosphorus Strait that unites the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. The strait divides the Anatolia or the Asian part of Turkey from its European part.
Also known as the Istanbul Strait, it has a depth of 36.5 to 124 meters and a maximum width of 3.7 km at the northern entrance. The area is best seen at night when the different lights of the city as well as the artificial lights of the bridge illuminate the vast channel of water.
Houses of Prayers
Always the first stop of tourists and one of the most dominating landmarks of the metropolis are its houses of prayers: the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and the Yeni Mosque greatly portrays how religious the locals are and how they greatly respect their beliefs.
The Yeni Mosque or more commonly known as the Yeni Valide Mosque was licensed to build by Valide Sultan Safiye, mother of Sultan Mehmet III in 1597. The construction was stopped when the sultan died losing his mother’s powerful position as the Queen. It was left undone for more than half a century until Queen Mother Turhan Hatice, mother of Sultan Mehmet IV, decided to complete the edifice. On 1663, it was opened to the public for prayer rituals five times a day.
Now, the mosque is the center of a variety of other structures such as a Turkish bath, hospital, school, library, public fountains, astronomer’s office and the ever famous Egyptian Spice Bazaar that offers different spices, dried fruits, sausages, cheeses, jams, nuts, seeds and Lokum (Turkish delight). Jewelries and other high-end products have also begun to flock the market. Also, this area serves as the set of the James Bond Movie “Skyfall”.
Before leaving the place, pay homage to the tombs of Turhan Hatice Hanim, the mosque’s founder and her son Sultan Mehmet IV as well as Sultans Mustafa II, Ahmet III, Mahmut I, Osman III and Murat V.
Another must see is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque or the Blue Mosque. With its six pencil-shaped minarets, no wonder the structure is currently considered as the most impressive monuments in the world. The mosque’s construction started in August 1609 headed by Sultan Ahmed I, who intended to build the first mosque of his empire.
The Blue Mosque was built on the palace of the Byzantine emperors facing the Hagia Sophia, which at that time was the most respected temple in Istanbul, and the Hippodrome. Design in a combination of both Ottoman mosque and Byzantine church, the temple’s most stunning feature is the blue tiles surrounding its interior walls – thus the name Blue Mosque.
Similar to the Yeni Mosque, it also contains the tomb of its founder, a madrasa and a hospice. And just like the others, it is closed for tourists during prayer times. The place is best seen at night when the colorful lights of the temple are reflected through the bodies of water that surrounds it.
Living a Royal Dream
Be a royalty for a day by entering the Rumelian Castle located on the European side of the Bosphorus Strait and eat at the most unusual restaurant in the middle of the Sea through the Maiden Tower. What more can you ask for, these two distinct structures will give you an experience you’ve never imagined before.
The Rumelian Castle is a beautiful fortress built a year before the conquest of Sultan Muhamed II. Its three main towers are named after the three Pashas (general) in charge of the construction. The competition against the three generals was so fierce causing the fortress to be completed in just four months. Once completed, the castle along with the Anadolu Castle on the Asian side controlled all products entering the city of Constantinople.
Having 13 watchtowers constructed in different shapes, the castle’s military life paid off when Sultan Muhamed II’s armies conquered the Byzantine capital several months later. It was never again used as a fortress after the defeat of Constantinople, although it was used for other purposes such as a toll booth for a short period of time, than as a barracks, prison and finally an open theater.
Today, it is still used as an open theater and a museum. Tourists can reach the area by bus or by ferry boat that shall cruise along the Strait as well as to the Sea of Marmara to the north and the Black Sea to the south. The ferry boats will also bring you to the Maiden Tower, a restaurant located in the middle of the Bosphorus.
The Maiden Tower was previously named as Damalis and Leandros. The name Damalis was given to the tower when the wife of the King of Athens died and was buried on the shore. It was also named during the Byzantine Era as “Arcla” which means “a little castle”. The structure was used as a tax collection area, defense tower, a lighthouse during the Republic Period, radio station and a quarantine hospital during the cholera epidemic of 1830.
Although at present it functions as a restaurant, its many legends make the tower unique and interesting to tourists and locals alike. The first legend pertains to Leandros, a young man who falls in love with a nun named Hero. Although forbidden to fall in love, Hero lights up a fire in the tower every night so that Leandros could come to her and spend the night together. One night, the fire started by Hero was put out by a storm causing Leandros to lose his way in the cold waters and die. When Hero hears of what happened she cannot endure the pain and commits suicide.
The second legend pertains about a princess who was predicted to die of snakebite. The king, upon hearing the words of the soothsayer built a castle in the sea to protect his daughter but to no avail failed as the princess was bitten by a snake hidden in a fruit basket. The last legend pertains to a man named Battalgazi who falls in love with the daughter of Tekfur, a Christian ruler. In order to protect his daughter from Battalgazi he places her in the tower. Battalgazi then attacks the tower and abducted the girl through his horse. The expression “he who takes the horse got by Üsküdar” came from this legend.
A Hint of the Past and the Present
Walk and feel the Turkish culture of Kanlica, the oldest village of Istanbul, and ride through modernity by the red tram that navigates through one of the busiest shopping venues of Europe.
Situated on the shores of the Bosphorus, Kanlica, during the Byzantine Era, was once known as Boradion in honor of Justinian I’s nephew. In the 17th century, however, the area becomes known as Bahai Bay when Sultan Mehmet IV presented the town to Sheikh Bahaeddin Efendi.
Even in the midst of the sprawling city, the village managed to maintain the unique and intimate culture of the old Istanbul. But what makes the area more interesting is its specialty made with a mixture of cow and sheep’s milk. Kanlica Yoghurt is so thick that a knife is needed to cut through it. The treat is a must-eat to every tourist who visits the village.
Reach the Istiklal Avenue by riding in the red vintage tram that brings locals and tourists alike to the most famous shopping destination of Istanbul. The cobblestoned street consists of different restaurants, cafes and shops as well as movie theaters. Best time to stroll the area is by night when all commercial venues are open for people looking for a nightlife getaway.
After a tiring day of traveling to the city of Istanbul, why not take a rest and enjoy the view in the Sapphire Tower. Located at Levent, the heart of Istanbul and its most eco friendly city, the tower is a residential skyscraper consisting of 22 different types of residential flats depending on its tenant’s lifestyles.
Finished in 2010, the building has 54 floors above ground and 10 floors below ground, 6 of which are designated for an underground parking space while the first 4 floors are for retail facilities. The floor above ground, on the other hand, consists of vertical gardens between every 9 floors. Besides the inner gardens there is also a recreational areas offering golf practice venue and a swimming pool overlooking the Bosphorus Strait every 10 floors.
Its unusual shape makes it known around the city as the first and unique ecological building of Turkey. It has also become a finalist at Dubai Cityscape International Real Estate Investment and Development Fair.
The City Then and Now
History has always been a part of Istanbul’s attraction. Its many stories enhance the city’s beauty causing it to attract more tourists from all over the world. Certainly, traveling is more than the sights you see it is also about how you go on deeper and be part of its permanent culture and traditions.
Visit Istanbul now and have a life changing experience. Wander through the city’s streets and take part of its past, present and future developments.