Istanbul / This Magical Meeting Place Of East And West Has More Top-Drawer Attractions Than It Has Minarets (and that’s a lot).Research And Publication Lonely Planet / Janbolat Khanat Almaty Tourism News Office
Istanbul / This Magical Meeting Place Of East And West Has More Top-Drawer Attractions Than It Has Minarets (and that’s a lot).Research And Publication Lonely Planet / Janbolat Khanat Almaty Tourism News Office
İstanbul’s strategic location has attracted many marauding armies over the centuries. The Greeks, Romans and Venetians took turns ruling before the Ottomans stormed into town and decided to stay – physical reminders of their various tenures are found across the city.
The fact that the city straddles two continents wasn’t its only drawcard – it was the final stage on the legendary Silk Road linking Asia with Europe, and many merchants who came here liked it so much that they, too, decided to stay. In so doing, they gave the city a cultural diversity that it retains to this day.
Art & Architecture
The conquering armies of ancient times tended to ransack the city rather than endow it with artistic treasures, but all that changed with the Byzantines, who adorned their churches and palaces with mosaics and frescoes. Miraculously, many of these remain.
Their successors, the Ottomans, were quick to launch an ambitious building program and the magnificently decorated imperial mosques that resulted are architectural triumphs that together form one of the world’s great skylines.
In recent years, local banks and business dynasties have reprised the Ottomans’ grand ambitions and endowed an impressive array of galleries, museums and festivals for all to enjoy.
‘But what about the food?’ we hear you say. We’re happy to report that the city’s cuisine is as diverse as its heritage, and delicious to boot. Locals take their eating and drinking seriously – the restaurants here are the best in the country.
You can eat aromatic Asian dishes or Italian classics if you so choose, but most visitors prefer to sample the succulent kebaps, flavoursome mezes and freshly caught fish that are the city’s signature dishes, washing them down with the national drink, rakı (aniseed brandy), or a glass or two of locally produced wine.
Some ancient cities are the sum of their monuments, but İstanbul factors a lot more into the equation. Chief among its manifold attractions are the locals, who have an infectious love of life and generosity of spirit.
This vibrant, inclusive and expanding community is full of people who work and party hard, treasure family and friendships, and have no problem melding tradition and modernity in their everyday lives.
Joining them in their favourite haunts – çay bahçesis (tea gardens), kahvehans (coffeehouses), meyhanes (Turkish taverns) and kebapçıs (kebap restaurants) – will be a highlight of your visit…
Topkapı is the subject of more colourful stories than most of the world’s museums put together. Libidinous sultans, ambitious courtiers, beautiful concubines and scheming eunuchs lived and worked here between the 15th and 19th centuries when it was the court of the Ottoman empire. A visit to the palace’s opulent pavilions, jewel-filled Treasury and sprawling Harem gives a fascinating glimpse into their lives.
There are many important monuments in İstanbul, but this venerable structure – which was commissioned by the great Byzantine emperor Justinian, consecrated as a church in 537, converted to a mosque by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453 and declared a museum by Atatürk in 1935 – surpasses the rest due to its innovative architectural form, rich history, religious importance and extraordinary beauty.
İstanbul has more than its fair share of Byzantine monuments, but few are as drop-dead gorgeous as this mosaic- and fresco-laden church. Nestled in the shadow of Theodosius II’s monumental land walls and now a museum, it receives a fraction of the visitor numbers that the famous Aya Sofya attracts but offers equally fascinating insights into Byzantine art. The church has been closed in stages for renovation over a number of years; check the website for details of what’s open.
The Byzantine emperors loved nothing more than an afternoon at the chariot races, and this rectangular arena alongside Sultanahmet Park was their venue of choice. In its heyday, it was decorated by obelisks and statues, some of which remain in place today. Re-landscaped in more recent years, it is one of the city’s most popular meeting places and promenades.
The Süleymaniye crowns one of İstanbul’s seven hills and dominates the Golden Horn, providing a landmark for the entire city. Though it’s not the largest of the Ottoman mosques, it is certainly one of the grandest and most beautiful. It’s also unusual in that many of its original külliye (mosque complex) buildings have been retained and sympathetically adapted for reuse.
This subterranean structure was commissioned by Emperor Justinian and built in 532. The largest surviving Byzantine cistern in İstanbul, it was constructed using 336 columns, many of which were salvaged from ruined temples and feature fine carved capitals. Its symmetry and sheer grandeur of conception are quite breathtaking, and its cavernous depths make a great retreat on summer days.
İstanbul’s most photogenic building was the grand project of Sultan Ahmet I (r 1603–17), whose tomb is located on the north side of the site facing Sultanahmet Park. The mosque’s wonderfully curvaceous exterior features a cascade of domes and six slender minarets. Blue İznik tiles adorn the interior and give the building its unofficial but commonly used name.
Dating from 1836, this church is part of the Greek Patriarchate compound. Inside the church are artefacts including Byzantine mosaics, religious relics and a wood-and-inlay patriarchal throne. The most eye-catching feature is an ornately carved wooden iconostasis (screen of icons) that was restored and lavishly gilded in 1994.
The colourful and chaotic Grand Bazaar is the heart of İstanbul’s Old City and has been so for centuries. Starting as a small vaulted bedesten (warehouse) built by order of Mehmet the Conqueror in 1461, it grew to cover a vast area as lanes between the bedesten, neighbouring shops and hans (caravanserais) were roofed and the market assumed the sprawling, labyrinthine form that it retains today.
There’s plenty to see at this impressive museum, but its major draw is undoubtedly the 2nd-floor exhibition of paintings featuring Turkish Orientalist themes. Drawn from Suna and İnan Kıraç’s world-class private collection, the works provide fascinating glimpses into the Ottoman world from the 17th to 20th centuries and include the most beloved painting in the Turkish canon – Osman Hamdı Bey’s The Tortoise Trainer (1906).
Other floors host high-profile temporary exhibitions (past exhibitions have showcased Warhol, de Chirico, Picasso and Botero).
The city’s foremost archaeological museum is housed in three buildings close to Topkapı Palace. There are many highlights, but the sarcophagi from the Royal Necropolis of Sidon are particularly striking.
Currently undergoing a massive renovation, much of the main building is closed and only the Tiled Pavilion, Museum of the Ancient Orient and Ancient Age Sculpture section (where the sarcophagi are displayed) can be visited. The remaining exhibits are due to reopen in 2020.
These days it’s fashionable for architects and critics influenced by the less-is-more aesthetic of Bauhaus masters to sneer at buildings such as Dolmabahçe. However, the crowds that throng to this imperial palace with its neoclassical exterior and over-the-top interior clearly don’t share that disdain, flocking here to tour its Selamlık (Ceremonial Quarters) and Harem. Both are visited on a self-guided audio tour (included in ticket cost). Of the two, the Selamlık is the more interesting.
An aromatic, colourful and alluring showcase of the best fresh produce in the city, the Kadıköy Pazarı is foodie central for locals and is becoming an increasingly popular destination for tourists. Equally rewarding to explore independently or on a guided culinary walk, it’s small enough to retain a local feel yet large enough to support a variety of specialist traders.
Part of the Aya Sofya complex but entered via Babıhümayun Caddesi, these tombs are the final resting places of five 16th- and 17th-century sultans – Mehmet III, Selim II, Murat III, İbrahim I and Mustafa I – most of whom are buried with members of their families. The ornate interior decoration in the tombs features the very best Ottoman tile work, calligraphy and decorative paintwork.
The painstaking attention to detail in this fascinating museum/piece of conceptual art will certainly provide every amateur psychologist with a theory or two about its creator, Nobel Prize–winning novelist Orhan Pamuk. Vitrines display a quirky collection of objects that evoke the minutiae of İstanbullu life in the mid- to late 20th century, when Pamuk’s novel The Museum of Innocence is set.
This important complex marks the supposed burial place of Ebu Eyüp el-Ensari, a friend of the Prophet who fell in battle outside the walls of Constantinople while carrying the banner of Islam during the Arab assault and siege of the city (AD 674 to 678). His tomb is İstanbul’s most important Islamic shrine.
This Ottoman palace was built in 1524 for İbrahim Paşa, childhood friend, brother-in-law and grand vizier of Süleyman the Magnificent. It now houses a splendid collection of artefacts, including exquisite calligraphy and one of the world’s most impressive antique carpet collections. Some large-scale carpets have been moved from the upper rooms to the Carpet Museum, but the collection remains a knockout with its palace carpets, prayer rugs and glittering artefacts such as a 17th-century Ottoman incense burner.
This splendid museum is dedicated to the history of transport, industry and communications in Turkey. Founded by the head of the Koç industrial group, one of Turkey’s most prominent conglomerates, it exhibits artefacts from İstanbul’s industrial past and is highly interactive, making it a particularly enjoyable destination for those travelling with children.
Vividly coloured spices are displayed alongside jewel-like lokum (Turkish delight) at this Ottoman-era marketplace, providing eye candy for the thousands of tourists and locals who make their way here every day. Stalls also sell caviar, dried herbs, honey, nuts and dried fruits. The number of stalls selling tourist trinkets increases annually, yet this remains a great place to stock up on edible souvenirs, share a few jokes with vendors and marvel at the well-preserved building.
This lavishly funded and innovative museum has an extensive collection of Turkish art and also stages a constantly changing and uniformly excellent program of mixed-media exhibitions by high-profile local and international artists.
Its permanent home is next to the Bosphorus in Tophane, but the massive Galataport redevelopment project currently under way has led to it temporarily relocating to this site in Beyoğlu. A move back to a new building in Tophane is expected some time in 2021.
The sultan to whom this mosque was dedicated (Süleyman the Magnificent’s father, Selim I, known as ‘the Grim’) is famous for having killed two of his brothers, six of his nephews and three of his own sons in order to assure his succession and that of Süleyman. He did, however, lay the groundwork for his son’s imperial success and, to this day, İstanbullus love his mosque.
Justinian and his wife Theodora built this little church sometime between 527 and 536, just before Justinian built Aya Sofya. You can still see their monogram worked into some of the frilly white capitals.
The building is one of the most beautiful Byzantine structures in the city despite being converted into a mosque in the early 16th century and having many of its original features obscured during an extensive restoration in 2007.
Gülhane Park was once part of the grounds of Topkapı Palace, accessible only to the royal court.
These days crowds of locals come here to picnic under the many trees, promenade past the formally planted flowerbeds, and enjoy wonderful views of the Bosphorus, Sea of Marmara and Princes’ Islands from the park’s northeastern edge. The park is especially lovely during the İstanbul Tulip Festival, when thousands of tulips bloom.
Once called the Grand Rue de Pera but renamed İstiklal (Independence) in the early years of the Republic, Beyoğlu’s premier boulevard is a perfect metaphor for 21st-century Turkey, being an exciting mix of modernity and tradition.
Contemporary boutiques and cutting-edge cultural centres are housed in its grand 19th-century buildings, and an antique tram traverses its length alongside crowds of pedestrians making their way to the bustling cafes, bistros and bars for which Beyoğlu is known.
When archaeologists from the University of Ankara and Scotland’s University of St Andrews excavated around the nearby Arasta Bazaar in the 1930s and 1950s, they uncovered a stunning mosaic pavement featuring hunting and mythological scenes. Dating from early Byzantine times, it was restored between 1983 and 1997 and is now preserved in this museum.
Housed in a building attached to the Neve Shalom synagogue near the Galata Tower, this museum was established in 2001 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Sephardic Jews in the Ottoman Empire.
The imaginatively curated and chronologically arranged interactive collection comprises photographs, video, sound recordings and objects that document the history, language and culture of the Jewish people in Turkey. Visitors must have a passport to enter.
Coming up out of a hole in the ground, this strange column was once much taller and was topped by three serpents’ heads. Originally cast to commemorate a victory of the Hellenic confederation over the Persians in the battle of Plataea, it stood in front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi (Greece) from 478 BC until Constantine the Great had it brought to his new capital city around AD 330.
Built over a grand archway attached to the New Mosque, this small kasrı (pavilion) or mahfili (loge) dates from the same period and functioned as a waiting area and retreat for the sultans. It comprises a salon, bedchamber and toilet and is decorated with exquisite İznik tiles throughout.
Entry is via an extremely long and wide staircase that is now ulitised by the İstanbul Ticaret Odası (Chamber of Commerce) as a temporary exhibition space.
Opened to great fanfare in September 2019, the new home of the Koç Foundation’s collection of contemporary art – one of the most impressive in Turkey – was designed by London-based Grimshaw Architects and is located 1km northwest of Taksim Sq, in the Dolapdere district.
It incorporates exhibition spaces, a sculpture terrace, performance halls, a library, an arts bookstore and a cafe, and its exhibition program is sure to be as impressive as its six-floor building, which has a shimmering facade of glass-fibre mosaics.
In the centre of the Hippodrome, this immaculately preserved pink granite obelisk was carved in Egypt during the reign of Thutmose III (r 1549–1503 BC) and erected in the Amon-Re temple at Karnak.
Theodosius the Great (r 379–95) had it brought from Egypt to Constantinople in AD 390. On the marble podium below the obelisk, look for the carvings of Theodosius, his wife, his sons, state officials and bodyguards watching the chariot-race action from the kathisma (imperial box).
Near the northern end of the Hippodrome, this little gazebo with beautiful stonework was presented to the sultan and his people as a token of friendship by the German emperor in 1901, following his state visit to Sultan Abdül Hamit II in 1898.
The monograms on the dome’s interior feature Abdül Hamit’s tuğra (calligraphic signature) and the first letter of Wilhelm’s name, representing their political union.
This historic arcade of shops was once part of the külliye (mosque complex) of the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii). Mosques built by the great and powerful usually included numerous public-service institutions, including an arasta (row of shops) such as this, as well as hospitals, soup kitchens and schools. The arasta is now home to some of Sultanahmet’s most alluring boutiques.
After sacking Aya Sofya in 1204, the soldiers of the Fourth Crusade tore all the plates from this obelisk, at the Hippodrome’s southern end, in the mistaken belief that they were solid gold (in fact, they were gold-covered bronze). The Crusaders also stole the famous Triumphal Quadriga (team of four horses cast in bronze) and placed them atop the main door of Venice’s Basilica di San Marco.
The only remaining built section of the Hippodrome hints at how monumental the arena was. The level of galleries that once topped this section was damaged during the Fourth Crusade and totally dismantled in the Ottoman period – many of the original columns were used in construction of the Süleymaniye Mosque.
To experience İstanbul at its most magical, walk across the Galata Bridge at sunset. At this time, the historic Galata Tower is surrounded by shrieking seagulls, the mosques atop the seven hills of the city are silhouetted against a soft red-pink sky and the evocative scent of apple tobacco wafts out of the nargile cafes under the bridge.
Prior to construction of the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge in the 1980s, this massive fortress was the major landmark on this part of the Bosphorus. Built by order of Mehmet the Conqueror in 1452 at the narrowest point of the strait, it and Anadolu Hisarı, the castle that had been built on the opposite shore in 1393–1395, enabled the Ottomans to control all water traffic, cutting the city off from resupply by sea and contributing significantly to the Ottoman defeat of Byzantine Constantinople.
This is one of the two great İstanbul mosque complexes designed by Mimar Sinan. Though not as spectacular as the Süleymaniye, it was designed to a similar plan and built in a similarly commanding location. Its extensive külliye (mosque complex) includes a now decommissioned hamam on Dr Fahri Atabey Caddesi and, closer to the mosque, an imaret (soup kitchen), medrese (Islamic school of higher studies), darüşşifa (hospital) and han (caravanserai). All were being restored at the time of research.
Only in İstanbul would a 400-year-old mosque be called ‘new’. Constructed between 1597 and 1665 and closed at the time of research as it undergoes a long-awaited restoration, its design references both the Blue Mosque and the Süleymaniye Mosque, with a large forecourt and a square sanctuary surmounted by a series of semidomes crowned by a grand dome. The interior is richly decorated with gold leaf, İznik tiles and carved marble.
The semahane (whirling-dervish hall) at the centre of this tekke (dervish lodge) was erected in 1491 and renovated in 1608 and 2009. It’s part of a complex including a meydan-ı şerif (courtyard), çeşme (drinking fountain), türbesi (tomb) and hamuşan (cemetery).
The oldest of six historic Mevlevihaneleri (Mevlevi tekkes) remaining in İstanbul, the complex was converted into a museum in 1946. Displays include Sufi artefacts including clothing, turbans and ceremonial accessories, as well as traditional musical instruments.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is the symbolic headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Church, and one of the most significant sites in the larger Eastern Orthodox Church. It has been led by 270 Ecumenical Patriarchs since its establishment in 330 AD. This compound of buildings nestled behind the sea walls fronting the Golden Horn includes the beautiful 19th-century Patriarchal Church of St George.
Rising majestically over the traffic on busy Atatürk Bulvarı, this limestone aqueduct is one of the city’s most distinctive landmarks. Commissioned by Emperor Valens and completed in AD 378, it linked the third and fourth hills and carried water to a cistern at Beyazıt Meydanı before finally ending up at the Great Palace of Byzantium.
Housed in an imaret (soup kitchen) added to the Aya Sofya complex in the 18th century, this museum is entered through a spectacular baroque gate and gives the visitor an excellent overview of the history of Anatolian carpet making. The carpets, which have been sourced from mosques throughout the country, date from the 14th to 20th centuries.
Located opposite the grandiose entrance to the 1868 Galatasaray Lycée, one of the city’s most prestigious educational institutions, this much-loved historic produce market is an essential stop when exploring İstiklal Caddesi.
At its entrance are stands selling midye tava (skewered mussels fried in hot oil), kokoreç (seasoned lamb or mutton intestines wrapped around a skewer and grilled over charcoal) and other snacks. Further inside are shops selling fish, caviar, fruit, vegetables and other produce.
On a sunny weekend afternoon, you’ll find this slender green oasis in central İstanbul full of picnicking families, canoodling couples and slackline-balancing teens. Year-round, it’s beloved by neighbourhood dog-walkers, joggers and anyone else seeking a bit of open space and fresh air as a respite from the city’s crowds and chaos. The park’s facilities include a well-equipped children’s playground, some outdoor exercise machines, a small dog run and a public toilet.
Not long after the Conquest, Mehmet the Conqueror visited this 13th-century church to discuss theological questions with the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church. They talked in the southern side chapel known as the parecclesion, which is decorated with gold mosaics. This part of the building, which functions as a museum and is overseen by Aya Sofya, was closed for restoration at the time of research for an indefinite period.
With works displayed under glass on top of worn wooden desks or lecterns, and exhibition titles written on blackboards, the historical atmosphere of the former Greek Primary School – now a venue for shows by local contemporary artists – often becomes part of the visual experience. The space also hosts big art events, occasional conferences and lectures.
The Fatih was the first great imperial mosque built in İstanbul following the Conquest. Mehmet the Conqueror chose to locate it on the hilltop site of the ruined Church of the Apostles, burial place of Constantine and other Byzantine emperors. Mehmet decided to be buried here as well; his tomb is behind the mosque and is inevitably filled with worshippers.
Contemporary Turkish and international artists are featured in the shows at this gallery space, opened in late 2016 in one of the historic buildings in İstanbul’s old finance district. Though the gallery covers five floors, each is small, making for an intimate viewing experience. A shop sells jewellery, prints and other small artworks.
Facing one of the major gateways into the Grand Bazaar, this large mosque complex was built in Ottoman baroque style between 1748 and 1755.
Construction was started by order of Mahmut I and finished during the reign of his successor, Osman III. Meticulously restored in recent years, it has a central prayer hall topped by one of the largest domes ever built in an Ottoman mosque, a unique polygonal rear courtyard and a külliye comprising medrese (seminary), imaret (soup kitchen), kütüphane (library) and türbe (tomb).
Now a bohemian arts, music and entertainment hub, this section of the old Bomonti beer factory hosts workshops, exhibitions, live performances, screenings and markets. It’s home to the much-loved Babylon Bomonti music venue and Populist brewpub.
This opulently furnished 1865 building was designed by Sarkis Balyan, brother of Nikoğos (architect of Dolmabahçe Palace). It delighted both Sultan Abdül Aziz (r 1861–76), who commissioned it, and the many foreign dignitaries who visited. Its last imperial ‘guest’ was former Sultan Abdül Hamit II, who spent the last five years of his life under house arrest here.
Look for the whimsical marble bathing pavilions by the water’s edge; one was for men, the other for women of the harem.
Perched above a picturesque line of poplar trees in a spot that has been occupied by a Greek monastery since Byzantine times, this 1896 complex of buildings housed a Greek Orthodox theological school until 1971, when it was closed on the government’s orders; the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate is waging an ongoing campaign to have it reopened.
There’s a small 17th-century church with an ornate altar on the site, as well as a library housing many old and rare manuscripts.
Established over a century ago to celebrate and commemorate Turkish naval history, this museum’s architecturally noteworthy copper-clad exhibition hall opened in 2013 and showcases a spectacular collection of 19th-century imperial caiques, ornately decorated wooden rowboats used by the royal household.
Temporary exhibitions take place in the downstairs gallery.
Designed by Mimar Sinan and constructed around 1572, this türbe was part of a külliye (mosque complex) commissioned by Ottoman statesman Sokullu Mehmet Paşa (c 1506–79). Assassinated after 14 years as grand vizier, he was buried here next to his wife Ismihan, the daughter of Sultan Selim II. Inside, the stained glass is particularly noteworthy.
The külliye also includes a medrese (seminary), which was under restoration when we last visited.
Housed in an eccentric-looking turreted building known locally as the Perili Köşk (Haunted Mansion), this cultural centre tucked under the western approach of the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge is home to the contemporary art collection owned by Borusan Holding, a local steel, energy and logistics conglomerate.
The centre hosts a multi-platform program of art exhibitions, events and site-specific installations, with a particular focus on digital and video arts. It also has a cafe with magnificent Bosphorus views.
Relegated to an isolated site next to Aya Nikola Beach on the southeastern side of the island, this excellent museum is often overlooked by visitors but we highly recommend making the effort to get here.
Multimedia exhibits focus on the history and culture of the Adalar and cover every aspect of island life, including geology, flora, religious heritage, food, architecture, music, festivals and literature. Interpretative panels and videos are in both Turkish and English, and there are objects galore to admire.
When an unremarkable 1950s municipal building on this site was demolished in 2010, the construction crew made an exciting subterranean discovery: a Byzantine cistern dating from the reign of Emperor Theodosius. Research has found that the structure was built between 428 and 443 and was known as the Constantinus or Theodosius Cistern. Now restored, a wooden walkway allows visitors to easily admire the water-covered marble base, vaulted brick ceiling and 32 massive marble columns (unfortunately marred with modern metal braces).
Süleyman the Magnificent built this square-shaped mosque between 1543 and 1548 as a memorial to his son Mehmet, who died of smallpox in 1543 at the age of 22. It was the first important mosque to be designed by Mimar Sinan and has a lovely garden setting, two double-balconied minarets and attractive exterior decoration. Inside, the central dome is supported by four semidomes (one on each side of the square).
Named after the wife of the late Vehbi Koç, founder of Turkey’s foremost commercial empire, this museum is housed in two late-19th-century yalıs and is a showcase of both Turkish-Islamic artefacts collected by Mrs Koç and antiquities from the noted Hüseyin Kocabaş collection.
Objects include İznik and Kütahya ceramics; Ottoman silk textiles and costumes; glass from the early Greek, Hellenistic and Roman periods; and an exquisite collection of jewellery and diadems from the Mycenaean, Archaic and Classical periods.
Constructed by order of the mother of Selim I and one of the wives of Beyazıt II, this now-decommissioned early-16th-century hamam is one of the largest in the city.
Also known as the Hamam-ı Kebır (Old Bathhouse), the square-planned building with its original male and female domed sections now functions as a museum of the hamam, with displays explaining the rituals and practicalities associated with this much-loved Turkish tradition.
This elegant baroque-style structure was designed by Nikoğos Balyan, one of the architects of Dolmabahçe Palace, and built for Sultan Abdül Mecit I between 1853 and 1855.
The modern Bosphorus Bridge (aka Bridge of the Martyrs of July 15) looms behind the restored mosque, providing a fabulous photo opportunity for those wanting to illustrate İstanbul’s ‘old meets new’ character.
Consecrated in the 13th century and saved from conversion into a mosque by the personal decree of Mehmet the Conqueror, this is the only church in İstanbul to remain in Greek hands ever since Byzantine times.
It was named after Princess Maria Paleologina, an illegitimate daughter of Emperor Michael VIII Paleologos.
Mimar Sinan designed this mosque in 1571 at the height of his architectural career. Besides its architectural harmony, the mosque is unusual because the medrese (seminary) is not a separate building but part of the mosque structure, built around the forecourt.
The interior walls and mimber (pulpit) are decorated with spectacular red-and-blue İznik tiles – some of the best ever made.
One of the few architecturally notable modern mosques in İstanbul, this 2009 building was designed by Hüsrev Tayla and its interior is the work of Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu, best known for her glamorous restaurant and nightclub fit-outs.
The building itself has a wonderful transparency, but the highlight is the interior, which features a gorgeous turquoise-and-gold mihrab (niche indicating the direction of Mecca) and a magnificent ‘dripping glass’ chandelier.
Built into the wall of Gülhane Park, the 19th-century Alay Köşkü (Parade Kiosk) is a polygonal building where the sultan would sit and watch the periodic parades of troops and trade guilds that commemorated great holidays and military victories.
Beautifully decorated inside, with painted walls, stained-glass windows, chandeliers and highly polished wooden floors, it is now open to the public as a literature museum and library named in honour of novelist and essayist Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar (1901–62).
This ornate hunting lodge was built in 1856–57 by order of Sultan Abdül Mecit. Earlier sultans had built wooden kiosks in this idyllic spot where the Bosphorus mets the Göksü Deresi (Creek), but architect Nikoğos Balyan designed a rococo gem in marble for his monarch.
You’ll see its ornate cast-iron fence, boat dock and wedding-cake exterior from the ferry. Visits to the furnished interior are enriched by an informative audiotour (included in ticket cost). There’s a cafe in a nearby pavilion.
Occupying the warehouse-like Dolmabahçe Palace kitchens, this museum exhibits items used in the royal palaces and pavilions during the late Ottoman Empire and early Turkish Republic. It is a fascinating hotchpotch of some 5000 objects, including palace portraits and photos, tea sets, tiled Islamic wall inscriptions, prayer rugs and embroidery. Hereke carpets and Yıldız Porselen Fabrikası porcelain are also here.
The türbe (tomb) of Sultan Ahmet I, the Blue Mosque’s great patron, is on the north side of the mosque facing Sultanahmet Park. Ahmet, who had ascended to the imperial throne aged 13, died in 1617 aged only 27; his türbe was constructed between 1617 and 1619 and like the mosque, features fine İznik tiles.
Reopened in 2019 after a decade-long restoration, this 17th-century imperial türbe (tomb) with its gorgeous İznik tiles and mother-of-pearl inlaid woodwork was commissioned by Turhan Hatice Sultan, mother of Sultan Mehmet IV, and is part of the New Mosque complex. It is the final resting place of Turhan Hatice Sultan, Mehmet IV, Mustafa II, Ahmet III, Mahmut I and Osman III, as well as many princes, princesses and valide sultans (mothers of reigning sultans).
The Veliaht Dairesi (Apartments of the Crown Prince) in Dolmabahçe Palace are now home to the palace’s collection of paintings. Highlights include the downstairs ‘Turkish Painters 1870–1890’ room, which includes two Osman Hamdi Bey works, and the upstairs ‘İstanbul views’ room, which is home to 19th-century street scenes by Germain Fabius Brest.
The gallery can be accessed from the palace grounds (turn left when exiting the Selamlık) or from Dolmabahçe Caddesi just before it turns into Beşiktaş Caddesi.
Located in the wealthy suburb of Emirgan, this museum has a permanent collection showcasing Ottoman manuscripts and calligraphy, but is best known for its blockbuster temporary exhibitions.
The permanent collection occupies a 1925 mansion designed by Italian architect Edouard De Nari for the Egyptian Prince Mehmed Ali Hasan and the temporary exhibitions are staged in an impressive modern extension designed by local firm Savaş, Erkel and Çırakoğlu. The Çınaraltı bus stop is in front of the museum.
Housed in the Koç family’s former summer house, this museum houses a notable collection of 36 Anatolian kilims (pileless woven rugs) that was compiled by American photographer and ethnographer Josephine Powell (1919–2007), the first foreigner allowed to travel across Turkey and explore the country after the founding of the Republic.
Most of the rugs date from the 19th century and are displayed alongside informative panels in both English and Turkish that explain the motifs used in their designs.
This lovely little building tucked away in the shadow of Aya Sofya was designed by Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan on the orders of Cafer Ağa, Süleyman the Magnificent’s chief black eunuch.
Built in 1560 as a school, it now houses a cultural organisation that teaches and promotes traditional Turkish handicrafts. The courtyard is home to the unassuming Caferağa Medresesi Çay Bahçesi where it’s possible to enjoy a glass of tea or simple meal.
The beating heart of Beşiktaş, this bustling backstreet area packed with shops, restaurants, bars, cafes – and the neighbourhood’s youthful crowd – is known simply as ‘çarşı’ (market). Its hubs are the fish market, covered by a distinctive steel canopy and lined at the back by meyhane (tavern) restaurants, and the small square centred around a statue of a black eagle, the symbol of the Beşiktaş football club and a rallying point on match nights.
FOUNDER / GENERAL DIRECTOR/ REGIONAL MANAGER
JANBOLAT KHANAT + 7 702 230 42 17 (whatsapp)
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