Reminding one of a biblical town, the Turkish city of Istanbul is the primary link between Europe and Asia. Founded in 100 BC, Istanbul has always had a crucial role since the prosperous Byzantine times. The ancient Silk Route passed through this belt and ensured trade and cultural exchange between the two continents. It also created a culture of its own – Eurasian culture. Needless to say, the city retained a part of its glorious past in the monuments that are strewn across it. The Byzantines and the Ottomans – who primarily ruled this country – were magnificent builders. Their penchant for mosaics and frescoes is reflected extravagantly in their architecture.
The brainchild of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, Ayasofya is one of the most precious jewels of both, the Byzantine and Ottoman civilisations. Originally called ‘Hagia Sophia’, it was built to be a church. The Ottomans later converted it into a mosque during their rule. Adorned with intricately inlaid marble flooring and outstanding gold mosaic, it has depictions of Virgin Mary and the young Jesus Christ, along with Ottoman additions of prayer niches. This cherished landmark is a must-visit for its architectural beauty and elegance.
Top Kap Palace
Built by King Mehmet in the 15th century, this spellbinding palace is from where the sultans of the Ottoman Empire controlled their kingdoms until the 19th century. Stories of reckless sultans, scheming courtiers, beautiful concubines and clever eunuchs add colour to its rich, dazzling past. Large open courtyards, private chambers, palace kitchens, the harem, imperial council chambers and imperial treasury are some of the captivating sights within the palace. The Islamic art with intricate hand-painted tile-work and elegantly decorated rooms is mesmerizing.
One of the most unusual mosques designed, the Sϋleymaniye Mosque, was built for Suleyman, the Magnificent by a famous architect named, Mimar Sinan. A perfect harmony of gardens, fountains and domes, this place appeals to all the senses. One would find a combination of tiles, mother-of –pearl and stained glass extensively used in this splendid landmark monument. Amid the idyllic garden area lies the Ottoman cemetery that is also home to the türbes or tombs of the Sultan Süleyman and his wife Haseki Hürrem Sultan.
The entertaining and colourful side of Istanbul can be seen in the chaotic and lively market area called the Grand Bazaar. True to its name, it is a large, grand area in the heart of Istanbul’s Old City and has vast lanes and shops around it. It is a visual treat to watch artisans at their work, drinking innumerable cups of tea. One can discover new treasures at every shop that one visits. It is considered to be the world’s first shopping mall. The Bazaar is barricaded by thick walls and has eleven entry gates.
Istanbul was ruled by the Greeks, Romans and Venetians before being conquered by the Ottomans. When the Ottomans took over the city, they made sure that they left their footprints behind in the sands of time. This cultural mix of people from various countries has led to this city’s diversity, which has been conserved to this day. While there are restaurants serving traditional kebabs and mezzes, modern bars, coffee shops and tea gardens also co-exist. The hospitality and cordiality of the people is commendable.