A masterpiece of Roman engineering, the basilica was built in the sixth century for the Eastern Roman emperor Justinian I. It overlooks the historical peninsula with its huge dome, of 30m in diameter and was the largest enclosed space in the world for over 1000 years. When the Ottomans conquered the city in the 15th century, Hagia Sophia started to serve as a mosque until 1935 when it was transformed into a museum where you can explore the historical diversity of Istanbul. Visitors from all over the world come to Hagia Sophia to admire the architectural and artistic offerings of both the Ottoman Empire and the East Roman Empire.
For four centuries, this spectacular building served as the main residence of the Ottoman family. Its magnificent decoration style attracts many art and history enthusiasts and it has four courts which are even more impressive; Alay Square, Divan Square, and Enderun Courtyard. You can wander around in the gardens, see the weaponry exhibits with examples of both Islamic and Byzantian handcrafts including porcelain and rugs, or lose track of time with the outstanding views of Istanbul from the fourth courtyard.
This building is one of the things that you shouldn’t miss out on your tour of Topkapı Palace. It is located in the outer courtyard of Topkapı Palace and it’s one of the few churches from that era that didn’t become a mosque. The building was used as an arsenal by the Ottomans and it now hosts concerts and serves as a museum. Though it was only used for events or specially permitted visitation until 2014, it’s now open to the public every day except Tuesday.
One of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture, if not the best, Sultanahmet Mosque stands next to the Hagia Sophia Museum and rises into the sky with its six eccentric minarets. While you are in the mosque’s wide courtyard, you can witness the magnificence of Ottoman architecture and history firsthand. The architect Mimar Sinan’s excellent work of art is the perfect place for those who want to experience the Ottoman grandeur at its best to visit. Don’t miss the hand-painted interior tiles and light blue domes, because they gave it the nickname, ‘The Blue Mosque’. Sultanahmet Mosque is still functioning and it’s open to visitors for free except during prayer hours.
In case you didn’t know, Istanbul has hundreds of cisterns beneath it. These cisterns were mostly built in the Byzantian era to provide the city with water at times of war or siege and the Basilica Cistern is the biggest and the most famous because of its artistic value. It was built in the year 532 by Justinian and the perfect opportunity to experience an otherworldly atmosphere is between its countless columns and Medussa statues built with touches from exquisite Ancient Greek and Byzantine architecture.
The Hippodrome of Constantinople was the cultural and social center of the city, capital of the Byzantine Empire and the place people gathered for sports events or celebrations. The original Hippodrome building was destroyed after the city was conquered but some of the statues, like Serpent Column, Obelisk of Thutmose III, Walled Obelisk and those of Porphyrios, are still intact and very well-preserved, although the Hippodrome Square is now called Sultanahmet Square. So, where the Byzantian Emperor once greeted his public is the perfect way to start your journey through the unique coexistence of the Byzantian and Ottoman cultures.
There is a group of three archeological museums located near Topkapı Palace and they were actually the first museum in Turkey. They give you a great overview of the history of humanity because the museums house more than one million objects from different eras, civilizations, and locations. In the main building of the Archaeological Museum, you can see the foundations brought from the Hagia Irene Church. The Tiled Kiosk is one of the oldest examples of Ottoman Architecture and it displays Turkish tiles and ceramics. In the last of the museums, the Museum of The Ancient Orient, you can see objects brought from pre-Islamic Egypt, the Arabian peninsula, and pre-Greek Mesopotamia and Anatolia.
Great Palace Mosaics Museum
In this museum located near Sultanahmet Mosque, you can see mosaics dating back to the 6th and 7th centuries, from the reigns of the Byzantian emperors Justinian and Heraclius. These tiles offer a special glance into the daily life and rich cultural heritage of the Byzantian Empire. The museum displays the mosaics used to decorate the pavement of the peristyle court that the museum was built upon.
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art
If you consider yourself an admirer of magnificent and elegant Ottoman and Islamic art, this museum is perfect for you. On your visit, you will be surrounded with the richest Islamic art collection of the world. The first ever Turkish-Islamic arts museum, it hosts excellent works from different eras and many different Islamic societies like the Umayyads, Ayyubids, Artuqids, Mamluks, Seljuks and Ottomans. The museum is located in Sultanahmet Square.
This pillar was a fragment of a domed building with four arches and it was used to mark the zero-mile distance for Byzantian cities. It was the starting place for the measurement of the roads and, after the domed building disappeared, one of the fragments of it was found in excavations around years 1967 and 1968. It has since been re-erected as a pillar near the entrance of the Basilica Cistern
This park on the grounds of Topkapı Palace is next door to the Museum of Archaeology. Gulhane Park is one of the most famous, oldest, and biggest parks in Istanbul. A walk among the colorful flowers, mighty trees, and birdsong of Gulhane will be the perfect break from your tour of the rich historical peninsula of Istanbul. You can either enjoy the outdoor cafes in the park or wander around appreciating the historical atmosphere.
St. Antoine Church
In your visit to Istiklal Street, don’t forget to check out this work of art. This splendid work of Italian neo-Gothic architecture is a must-see for your travels and it’s hard to miss. The building dates back to the beginning of the 1900s and offers its visitors a memorable peek into the religious diversity of the Ottoman Empire.
Beautiful old houses, gorgeous flowers, little cobblestone pavements and a dreamy atmosphere seem right out of a fairytale on this quiet, traffic-free street . All these are waiting for you on Soğukçeşme Street near Hagia Sophia Museum. This street is a must-see to feel like you are in a beautiful painting of an Ottoman street.
Historical Galatasaray Bath
One more thing that you shouldn’t miss out on during your visit to Istiklal Street. A Turkish bath is one of the things that you need to try during your stay in Istanbul because, once again, it will make you feel like a member of the royal family. So, check out the Historical Galatasaray Bath and experience the way the sultans bathed.
Formerly the trade center of Constantinople and old Istanbul, now the Grand Bazaar offers you the perfect shopping experience among excited shopkeepers, the haste of a historical city, a characteristic spice and fruit odor, and a mystical atmosphere like you’re strolling through an old marketplace in the imperial era. The Bazaar and its unprecedented atmosphere is something you must experience to complete your visit to Istanbul. One of the oldest and biggest covered markets in the world, it offers its visitors a fine selection of local goods and crafts like jewelry, carpets, antiques and any kind of textiles with around 4000 shops located in 61 streets.
If you’re looking for the unique glamour of the Ottoman Empire, Dolmabahce is the right place for you. The palace, built in the 19th century with nearly 30 tons of gold, served as the administrative center of the empire in its final years. Now, the restored palace is the perfect opportunity to feel the grandeur of the Ottoman Empire. You will walk through the corridors the sultans once walked and you will see the view the members of the royal family of Ottoman woke up to. The palace is where the superior Ottoman architecture meets the ultimate elegance of royal courts of Europe and it’s waiting to make its visitors feel like they are part of the royal family.
You can witness and even experience history yourself by riding the subway in Karakoy, which is actually the second oldest subway line in Europe. You can explore the neighborhoods surrounding the subway and find yourself in the most elegant streets of the Ottoman Empire. Don’t forget to bring a camera!