Istanbul is hot and happening and even more so since the city was revealed in all its finery in Skyfall, the latest James Bond movie. Long hailed as the city where east meets west, there is history aplenty in the sumptuous Ottoman mosques, exquisite churches and fascinating museums. The city is also brimming with culture in the many hip new galleries, lively clubs and quality restaurants. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and joint host of the European Capital of Culture in 2010, you will not be short of things to do in Istanbul.
Explore the Chora Church and Kariye Museum
The Turkish name for the Church of the Holy Saviour built in the Village surrounding Constantinople that is now Istanbul, Turkey, is Kariye Muzesi. The church is a brilliantly beautiful example of Byzantine church architecture. The Chora Church was used as a mosque in the Ottoman Empire and was converted into a museum in 1948. The impressive historical church is decorated with frescoes and rich mosaics. The Kariye Museum within the church is widely regarded as one of the top 30 museums in the world.
The history of the Chora Church begins when its building location was chosen to be outside the walls of Constantinople and was called in Greek, Saint Saviour of the Village or in the Village. When Constantinople was rebuilt by Theodosius II he incorporated The Chora Church within the walls of Constantinople. The name Chora was kept to distinguish the Church as a place of prayer for the common people of Constantinople.
The ancient Greek Orthodox Church still keeps much of its original construction even though Alexius I Comnenus had the Church rebuilt in 1077 to 1081. The Church has had reconstruction work done to it in the 12th century and again in the 14th century. The 14th century reconstruction done by Theodore Metochites included the amazing mosaics and frescoes that still stand to this date. Theodora was exiled by the usurper Andronicus III of Palaeologus but spent the last two years of his life living as a monk in the Chora Church.
Wonder at the Hagia Sophia Museum and Church
The Church of Saint Wisdom as translated from the Greek for Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) is the Patriarchal seat of the Greek Orthodox Church. It was built in 537 AD and rises to a height of 55m. Built in Byzantine architecture and during the Latin Empire, the Church of Hagia Sophia or Ayia Sophia was used by the Roman Catholics as a cathedral. From May 1453 until the year 1931, it was used as a mosque. The Church is now a museum in Istanbul and is a splendid example of fine Greek Byzantine architecture. For more details read our post on the Hagia Sophia and watch our video where Europe meets Asia.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is also known as the Blue Mosque and is a magnificent Islamic and Ottoman Turkish architecture structure in Istanbul. The name Sultanahmet comes from the Sultan Ahmed and is still used as a mosque. The name Blue Mosque comes from the blue tiles used on the walls of the interior of the building. The Mosque was built in 1609 and completed in 1616 by Sultan Ahmed I. The tomb of the Sultan Ahmed is found at the Mosque as well as a hospice. This is one of the most interesting cultural sights in Istanbul.
Visit a traditional Hamam
A ‘haman’ is a traditional Turkish steam bath, much like a sauna. A popular Haman in Istanbul, Turkey, is found at Suleymaniye Bath. The ancient Bath was built by Sultan Suleyman in 1550. Both men and women can enjoy their Turkish bath together at the Suleymaniye Haman. This Bath is one of the few that allows washing privileges to both women and men in Istanbul.
Take a cruise on the mighty Bosphorus
The 20 mile waterway that borders Istanbul is the Bosphorus. The Bosphorus Cruise is a popular treat for travellers that can be taken for a short 25 minutes, an hour and a half or a full day during which you will see the magnificent sights of Istanbul from the charming strait that links the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. The Turkish waterway separates Europe from Asia. The cruise crosses the Bosphorus from Europe to Asia. From the ferryboat, you will see the buildings of Istanbul from its historical domes and minarets to its modern office towers while you travel on a very important waterway linking Europe to Istanbul, The Bosphorus. Marvel at the various bridges that cross the Bosphorus including the Fatih Sultan Mehmet suspension Bridge, Bridge to Russky Island and the First Bosphorus Bridge which spans the strait and truly connects Europe and Asia.
Walk along the Theodosian Walls
Located behind the Chora Church are the ancient walls known as The Theodosian Walls of Constantinople. The Walls were built by Constantine the Great and closed his city in from all sides. The Walls were almost impregnable to attacks from invaders like the Avars, the Arabs, and the Bulgars. Even after gunpowder was invented, the cannons were not able to capture the City of Constantinople. However, the Ottomans forced their way into the city on the 29TH of May in 1453 after having attacked the City for 6 weeks.
Discover the fascinating Topkapi Museum and Palace
The tourist attraction known as the Topkapi museum was a Turkish palace built following the successful attack of the Ottomans in Istanbul on what was then known as Constantinople. The magnificent palace served as the major living area of the Sultans for 400 years. Built in a combination of Baroque and Ottoman Turkish architecture, the Ottoman Empire and their Sultans reigned in Istanbul for 624 years encompassing the year 1465 to their demise in 1856.
By Julie Bowman