Istanbul’s top four historic sites

Istanbul’s strategic location on the Bosphorus Peninsula has seen it witness many historic events over the past 2,000 years. As a result, the city is richly endowed with significant buildings, monuments and other attractions that will fascinate history buffs and ordinary visitors alike. Get ready to step into another age while exploring this historic city…

Much of Istanbul’s historic core was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 to help promote and preserve its outstanding historical value. Perched at the intersection of Europe and the Middle East where the Mediterranean meets the Black Sea, Istanbul has played a vital role in trade, politics and religious history throughout the centuries; with multiple rulers, faiths and cultures all leaving their mark on the fabric of the city.

Here are a few of the must-see historic attractions to add to your itinerary while visiting the city.

Aya Sophia

Perhaps most representative of Istanbul’s multifaceted past is the strikingly beautiful Aya Sophia (formerly the Hagia Sophia), which has served as a place of worship for several religions over the centuries.

Built as a Greek Eastern Orthodox basilica in the sixth century, it briefly became a Roman Catholic church during the 12th century before being converted to a mosque in 1453 by the conquering Ottomans, a status it retained until its closure in 1931. Since 1935 Aya Sophia has been run as a museum, drawing crowds of visitors from all faiths who are eager to appreciate the building’s stunning Byzantine architecture and intricate mosaics.

Topkapi Palace

For those interested in the history of the Ottoman Empire, the ornate Topkapi Palace is an essential place to visit. Built in the 15th century, the palace served as home to generations of sultans and their families, and is a masterpiece of Islamic art and architecture known for its richly decorated harem rooms and state chambers.

Highlights include the intricate hand-painted tiles that line many of the interiors, a glimpse of the vast palace kitchens, and the glittering collection of jewels and other treasures in the former imperial treasury, not to mention the impressive views over the Sea of Marmara.

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Dolmabahçe Palace

Built in 1854 as a replacement for Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahçe Palace served as the home of the Ottoman sultans and administrative centre for the empire between 1856 and 1887, and again from 1909 until 1922.

Located on the shores of the Bosphorus, just a five-minute drive from the Radisson Blu Bosphorus Hotel, Istanbul, the palace’s opulent interiors can be visited by guided tour. Reminiscent of Versailles with their gilded walls and immense, sparkling chandeliers, the rooms are a breathtaking mix of Ottoman, baroque, rococo and neoclassical styles which demonstrate the growing influence of European art and architecture amongst the 19th century sultans.

Basilica Cistern

This cavernous underground cistern was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the sixth century to provide a supply of drinking water for the city.

Constructed on the site of a third-century basilica, the cistern is supported by 336 massive columns grouped in rows of 12 and can contain as much as 2.8 million cubic feet of water – a technological feat in its age, and still pretty impressive today. Nowadays the so-called “Sunken Palace” is fitted out with atmospheric lights and music to highlight the imposing nature of the space, which really feels like an underground cathedral.

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