Situated along the shores of the Marmora Sea and of the Bosporus Strait, Istanbul straddles the geographic border between Europe and Asia; one of the longest suspension bridges in the world now physically connects the two continents and two parts of the city.
The capital between 330 and 1453, as Constantinople, first of the Eastern Roman, then of the Byzantine Empires, it became between 1453 and 1923 the capital of one of the most highly developed empires – that of the Ottoman-Turks. Today it is “only” Turkey’s largest city and economic and cultural centre – Ankara having gained the title of “Capital”.
Also known as the “Gate to the East”, thanks to its 3000 year history, there are a vast number of interesting sights awaiting the tourists; the colourful agglomeration of mosques, palaces, baths and museums make the city unforgettable. The historic quarters of the city are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
One of the most famous landmarks in Istanbul is the Topkapi Palace, which served as the residence of the sultans from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Two of the buildings which stand out from the rest of the palace-complex, are the former harem, and the treasury. From the hill on which the Palace stands, one can gain a splendid view of the boats bustling about in Golden Horn Bay.
The last sultans made the monumental Dolmabahce Palace, built in the 19th century on the opposite side of the Golden Horn, their residence.
Istanbul has perhaps the East’s most beautiful mosques; irrespective of where you go, the minarets of the mosques define the city’s silhouette. Particularly splendid are those of Sultan Ahmed (known as the “Blue Mosque”), the Suleiman Mosque, and the picturesquely set Ortaköy Mosque.
Istanbul’s other famous landmark is the Hagias Sophia Basilica, built in the 6th century, which was converted under Turkish rule into a mosque.
The Beyoğlu quarter of Istanbul, on the Golden Horn, is one of its important shopping and entertainment areas; its most prominent structure is the Galata Tower.
A not-to-be-missed experience is to wander through the several kilometres long labyrinth of the Large- and the Egyptian-Bazaars; these bazaars offer one of the richest choices in eastern goods.
Gastronomes can also satisfy their expectations, since tasty specialities of the Turkish cuisine await them on almost every corner of this city.