Sightseeing guide for Istanbul

St. Irene Church

St.Irene is the largest and oldest church from the Byzantine era, after the Agia Sofia, still standing in Istanbul. It was commissioned in the year 330 by Emperor Constantine the Great. The church takes its name from a saint who was at that time working for the spread of Christianity. A group of pagans tried to kill Saint Irene by first throwing her into a well full of snakes and later dragging her over the ground while stoning her. But in spite of the pagan' s effort, Irene miraculously did not die. Upon witnessing these supernatural occurrences, the majority of the pagans converted to Christianity and Irene became a saint in the eyes of the people. The church was initially built with wood, but was burnt during the Nikean Revolt of 532. Fortunately, the church was renewed. Later, it became the first museum in the Ottoman Empire, and has been used as such for quite a long time. Furthermore, it is the only church surviving today with an atrium (in other words, it is lighted from above through small windows). Due to its excellent acoustics, concerts and cultural events are often held there.

Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce Palace is the newest palace of all. The palace built by Abdulmecid from 1850 to 1856 was located in an area of 110 thousand square meters. Innovative technologies such as central heating installment, electricity and telephone were established in this palace. The palace has 285 rooms, 46 halls, 6 Turkish baths, 68 toilets and carpets covering a floor of 4.454 square metres. Zulvecheyn Saloon in the upper floor, is a passage to the special room of the sultan in the Mabeyn. In this special room, there is a splendid Turkish bath for the sultan, the marbles of which were brought from Egypt. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had used the palace as a residence passed away in this palace. He was the one that insisted in turning the palace into a museum.

Ciragan Palace

This palace has a magnificent architecture that fascinates every guest. For centuries, the palace has been one of the most significant buildings by the shores of Bosphorus. The columns of the palace are the most beautiful examples of stone work. Besides precious carpets and furniture, there are rooms decorated by handmade articles covered with gold and pearls. The front walls of the palace are made from colorful marbles that add vividness to the building.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace is one of the world' s largest and oldest palaces. After the declaration of the Turkish Republic, the palace works as a museum. At the time of its construction, it was the most magnificent palace ever built. Topkapi Palace functioned both as the residence of the Ottoman sultans and their families, and as the centre of the Ottoman government. All of the various Ministries of the government were located here. Additionally, the palace housed the imperial treasury, the imperial mint, the imperial archives, the advanced educational institutions of the Empire and the special Harem of the Sultans. The Harem is the name given to the section of the palaces that were occupied by the Sultan' s mother, the Valide Sultan, the sultan' s siblings, the concubines who serviced them, and the black eunuchs, the administrators of the Harem. Topkapi Palace' s Harem contains 400 rooms connected by long, narrow corridors. Above all, the harem was entirely closed to the outside world. The stories and legends that have surrounded the harem for hundreds of years are still fascinating today. The ultimate ruler of the harem was the most powerful woman in the Ottoman Empire, the Valide Sultan, or mother of the Sultan. The council room, was the location for the cabinet meetings of the Grand Vizier and his advisers. Although the Sultan was not allowed to participate in these meetings, he was able to listen to the proceedings from behind a large window looking inside the room. An extensive collection of weaponry is also to be seen in this section. The unique costumes of the Ottoman dynasty, which were hand-made in special workshops, are also on display in the palace. Extraordinary samples of Turkish jewelery from different time periods some brought from the Far East, India, and Europe are preserved in the palace' s treasury.

Galata Tower

Galata Tower was a watchtower used for Istanbul' s security for centuries. The tower was built in 1348 but was several times damaged by earthquakes. The tower has 9 floors and the top floor serves as a restaurant.

The Spice Bazaar

The Spice Bazaar is one of Istanbul' s oldest markets and a time-honored symbol of the city. The Spice Bazaar dates back to the 17th century. It is one of Istanbul' s oldest covered markets, where the exotic, oriental aspect of the city still survives. Thousands of spices from nations in the Far East, such as India and Arabia, as well as herbs are sold at the Spice Bazaar. Construction of the bazaar began in the year 1660, the mother of Sultan Mehmed the 4th. It was built by the architect Kazim Aga. There are 86 shops in the bazaar.


The square was the most central region in that period, where important activities were held such as various entertainments, coronation ceremonies and victory parades. The Hippodrome had a capacity of 100.000 people. During the invasion of the Venetians, the horse statues that decorated the Hippodrome were brought to San Marco Square in Venice, where they are still today.

The Constantine Pillar

The Constantine Pillar stands on the avenue that links Sultanahmet Square to Beyazit and was built in 330. Today' s pillar is rather smaller than the original monument. Its marble crests were added in the 12th century and the reinforcements at its bottom were added during the 18th century. Due to the fact that the monument was damaged by fire over its long history, it was outfitted with protective iron hoops.

The Snake Pillar

The Snake Pillar was made by Ancient Greeks, who defeated the Persians during the 5th century B.C. The Snake Pillar, which was brought to Istanbul from Delphi by Constantine the Great, is one of the oldest monuments from the Hellenistic period. The pillar is made from 29 coils and has 3 snakes grasping one another on its top.

The Obelisk (Dikilitas)

Without a doubt, the Obelisk (Dikilitas) located in Sultanahmet Square, is the most interesting of the stone pillars that still remain from the Roman and Byzantine eras. The obelisk was originally erected by the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmosis the 3rd in 1450 BC, and stood in Ancient Egypt for hundreds of years. The son of Constantine the 1st was the main reason the Obelisk came to Istanbul. Epigraphs in Latin and Greek adorn two sides of the pedestal, while its other two sides display scenes of the horse races that took place in the Hippodrome. Hieroglyphics depicting the ancient Egyptian god Amen-Ra and Thutmosis can be seen on all four sides of the obelisk itself.

Agia Sofia

The Church of the Divine Wisdom (Agia Sofia in Greek) in Sultanahmet, is one of the most impressive and important buildings ever constructed. Its wide, flat dome was a daring engineering feature in the 6th century and architects still marvel at the building's many innovations. It was built on the site of Byzantium's acropolis by Emperor Justinian in 537 AD. It was the greatest church in Christendom and was meant to be. His church remained the largest church ever built until St Peter's Basilica was constructed in Rome a thousand years later. The church is awe-inspiring. The 30 million gold tesserae (tiny mosaic tiles) which cover the church's interior are now being restored to the brilliance they boasted 1500 years ago.

Blue Mosque

Istanbul's imperial Mosque of Sultan Ahmet I is called the Blue Mosque because of its interior tiles, mostly on the upper level and difficult to see. The mosque (built 1603-17) is the masterwork of architect Sedefkar Mehmet Aga.

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