What to visit in Istambul

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It’s said that when the Byzantine Emperor Justinian entered his finished church for the first time in AD 536, he cried out “Glory to God that I have been judged worthy of such a work. Oh Solomon, I have outdone you!” The Aya Sofya (formerly the Hagia Sophia) was the emperor’s swaggering statement to the world of the wealth and technical ability of his empire. Tradition maintained that the area surrounding the emperor’s throne within the church was the official center of the world.

Through its conversion to a mosque, after the Ottoman armies conquered Constantinople, to its further conversion into a museum in the 20th century, the Aya Sofya has remained one of Istanbul’s most cherished landmarks.

From the moment you arrive in Istanbul it is evident that you are in one of the world’s greatest cities.

With a reputed population of 18 million, swelled by recent arrivals from the Anatolian interior and the Middle East, this rich source of European civilisation has layer upon layer of historical associations, from the founding of the city in the 7th century BC through the expansionist Ottomans – defeated at the Siege of Vienna – right up to Turkish Independence and the city’s re-emergence as a cultural and financial powerhouse.

Blue MosqueIn antiquity Istanbul’s name was Byzantium, before the Emperor Constantine re-created it as New Rome, later becoming Constantinople after his death. Signs of this history are dotted across the city – the Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque provide a mere sample of what’s on offer.

There is nowhere like it anywhere in either Europe or Asia, indeed Istanbul is the only metropolis on earth that spans two continents.

Littered with ancient monuments, astoundingly beautiful mosques and a surprising number of art galleries, Istanbul has enough sites to keep any visitor occupied for weeks.

However, the city is also home to a thriving cafe culture amid its labyrinthine smaller streets, and each of the numerous districts has its own distinct character. Exploring these is part of the charm of visiting Istanbul, and can provide a welcome break from the inevitable crowds at the ever-popular main sites.


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