Why Turkey’s historical centre is truly a place of wonder.
Founded in 350AD, Constantinople was the capital city of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire. Today, the city is better known as Istanbul, though all the history and mystery and wonder from Turkey’s star attraction lives on today.
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The single greatest accomplishment of the Byzantium Empire was the construction of the Hagia Sofia Cathedral. This was built in 537AD and for over 900 years it was the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople.
Fast forward to 1453, and when the Ottoman Empire assumed control of the city, the Hagia Sophia became a mosque. It stayed that way until 1931, when it underwent a four-year transition to a museum. Since July 2020, it has been transformed back into a mosque.
THE GRAND BAZAAR
The Grand Bazaar is the oldest covered market in the world and also, at well over 30,000m2, one of the biggest. Over 4,000 shops are housed within it and there are 56 connected passages leading you around.
It was commissioned by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II who wanted to finance the Hagia Sophia, and building of the Grand Bazaar began in 1461. It was initially constructed from wood, while there is only stone and brick present there.
There once was a basilica here, hence the name, and there’s an estimated 100,000 tonnes of water in the underground reservoir.
Look out for two very creepy Medusa heads which seem to be used as supports for the column structure.
THE BLUE MOSQUE
Sultan Ahmed Mosque – also known as the Blue Mosque – is another imperial place of worship from the Ottoman era. It gets its first name from the time it was constructed, as part of the rule of Ahmed I and also the colour of the tiles used inside.
The wonderfully curved exterior and elegantly carved, sculptured marble of the mihrab – where the congregation faces to pray – are beautiful.
Another extremely decadent building and the interior is as lavish as you will find anywhere in Istanbul. It was used for 400 years as the administrative centre for the Ottoman Empire.
During spring, the gardens of the palace contain gorgeous hyacinths and tulips and some of the most incredible views that the city has to offer.
If you like to visit places that are always a hive of frenetic activity, make a beeline for Eminonu Square on the harbour. It sits on the famous Golden Horn waterway which runs through Istanbul.
You can take in a meal at a restaurant, catch a ferry, visit mosques, the Spice Market, or just simply take it all in and see how the people of Istanbul go about their daily lives.