Perched on top of the Sarayburnu Hill is a vast complex called Topkapi Palace. Topkapi Palace used to house ottoman sultans in the 15th century and is now a UNESCO-listed site. The palace has hundreds of rooms and chambers, but only a few parts of it are accessible to the public—some of which includes Harem, the area wherein the sultan’s concubines and children were sheltered; the Second Court that gives people access to the Palace Kitchens and Imperial Council Chamber; the Third Court wherein the Sultan’s private rooms were located, along with the Sacred Safekeeping Rooms that has Muhammad’s relics, and the Imperial Treasury dotted with gold objects and precious gems all over the room. The museum exhibits ottoman clothing, weaponry, armor, miniatures, religious relics, and manuscript. The Topkapi Museum is one of the top attraction of the city and is part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul.
Near Topkapi Palace is Hagia Sophia—a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the European part of Istanbul. One of Istanbul’s most cherished landmarks, Hagia Sophia has received almost 3.5 million people in 2015 and remained Istanbul’s top tourist attraction. What used to be the center of Byzantine faith is now a museum that features millennium-old mosaics and the architectural beauty of the church. Hagia Sophia was built under the direction of Justinian I in the 6th century. became Justinian’s statement of wealth to the world. As beautiful as the mosaics are, nothing compares to the dome of Hagia Sophia. 55 meters in height and 32 meters in diameter, the dome was the largest dome during the time it was constructed. With 40 windows spread around it, the dome perfectly lights up the Hagia Sophia.
Standing next to the Hagia Sophia is the Sultan Ahmed Camii. Also known as the Blue Mosque due to its beautiful, hand-painted, blue-tiled interior of the mosque, it was built between 1609 and 1616, and designed by the Ottoman architect Sedefkar Mehmed Agha. The Blue Mosque surpasses other mosques in the area with its spacious courtyard, 260 stained glass windows, and, the most notable feature of the mosque, 6 minarets, for others contain only 1 to 4 minarets. The mosque is open every day—twith a half hour closing time for daily prayers--and can be visited by tourists for free. Donations are, however, requested for the maintenance of this historical landmark. It is important to note that footwear should be removed before entering the mosque. Women are required to wear a head cover while in the mosque, and everyone should observe the proper dress code.
Basilica Cistern, or Yerebatan Sarnıcı, is one of the many interesting Turkish attractions. 150 meters from the Hagia Sophia, the cistern was built in the 6th century during the reign of Justinian I. Also known as Sunken Cistern, the basilica is one of the several ancient Turkish cisterns that lie underground. It was originally constructed as a basilica but was used to supply and filter water for the Great Palace and Topkapi Palace. It takes 52 steps to go down to the sunken cistern; more than 300 marble columns will greet you upon entering the cistern. The hidden Medusa heads in the back of the cavern are some of the highlights of the Basilica Cistern.
After a day of sightseeing, bargain your way through the aisles Grand Bazaar at Fatih. Located in the Walled City, Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. The market dates back to 1455 and became the #1 Most-Visited Tourist Attraction in 2014 as 91.25 million people visited the Grand Bazaar. Composed of 25 entrances and 64 streets, this covered market has over 4,000 shops in which you can find all sorts of merchandise—from carpets and jewelry to mirrors and tea leaves. Grand Bazaar also has food outlets that would allow you to taste authentic Turkish dishes. Havuzlu is a classic among Grand Bazaar restaurants. With its delicious, home-cooked Meals, Havuzlu’s dishes range from vegetarian meals to kebabs and meat dishes. Grand Bazaar is open daily except for Sundays and bank holidays, from 9 AM to 7 PM.
Another must-see bazaar is the Mısır Çarşısı—or Spice Bazaar—located at the Southern edge of the Galata Bridge. Another one of the largest bazaars in the city, Spice Bazaar has over 90 shops selling spices, Turkish delight, dried fruits, dried nuts, souvenirs, and jewelry. The market was built in 1664 as an extension of the Yeni Camii complex and is the most famous covered shopping complex after the Grand Bazaar. It is open daily from 8 AM to 7 PM.
Come and discover Istanbul!