Landmarks and Museums in Istanbul

Istanbul Travel Info

Its geographical position, the wonderful natural beauties, the remains of its thousands of years old history, its being the former capital of three great important empires and two major cultures-Islam and Christendom... For those people who are aware of these facts, it is not at all surprising that so many places of great importance and places of deep interest are situated in this city. On this web page we are only going to summarize basic information about major tourist attractions, historical monuments, landmarks, imperial palaces and museums in Istanbul

Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi)
One of the most outstanding and popular places to visit in Istanbul is Topkapi Palace, the symbolic and political centre of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries. It stands on the tip of land where the Golden Horn, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus come together, and is a maze of buildings centered around a series of courtyards, typical of Islamic tradition. Such is the complexity of each building, it will take many hours in order to be explored properly. In Byzantine times, monasteries and public houses belonging to the priests of Haghia Sophia stood on this site.

When Fatih Sultan Mehmet conquered the city in 1453 he chose to build his palace on the site of the old Byzantine palace ruins that had been looted and destroyed by the Latins. It was built between 1466 and 1478, a couple of years before the death of Fatih Sultan Mehmet. Shortly after his conquest of Constantinople, Sultan Mehmet II begun the construction of the palace as his principal residence. Unlike any European Palace, its architecture is predominantly Middle Eastern in character. New additions and alterations continued until the mid-nineteenth century, leaving traces of the characters and styles of Ottoman Architecture between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries.With its gardens and pavillions contained by four enormous courtyards , surrounded by enormous high walls , the palace covered a vast area

The Harem, the residence of the sultan's wives, concubines and children, is a vast labyrinth of rooms and corridors, only a part open to the public. The visitor's entrance is via the Kubbealti in the second courtyard. The most fascinating aspect of the Harem was the cloak of secrecy over life here. Virtually none of its inhabitants had the freedom to go out at will, and equally almost no one from the outside world was ever admitted. One of the loveliest buildings in the Harem is the Murad III Pavillion built by the renowned architect Sinan in 1578

There were originally 750 residents of the Palace, during Fatih’s period, which became about 5000 people during normal days and 10,000 during festivals. Extensions had to be built, and the harem was completed in 1595 during the third Sultan Murad’s era, after which the harem residents were moved in from the palace at Beyazit, with a total of 474 concubines. Special tours of the Harem are available. The Harem, literally meaning “forbidden” in Arabic, was the suite of apartments in the palace belonging to the wives, concubines and children of the head of the household.

Around the Harem were the Circumcision Room, the apartments of the Chief Black Eunuch, and apartments of the sultan – in total over 400 rooms. Other highlights in the Palace are the Spoonmaker’s Diamond (the fourth largest diamond in the world), the Topkapi Dagger, (a gift from Mahmut I), a vast collection of paintings and miniatures. In the Hirka-i Saadet (Holy Mantle) chamber, objects belonging to the Prophet Mohammed and the first caliphs of Islam are displayed.(including a footprint, a tooth and a hair of the Prophet Mohammed). Note that after Ottomans conquered the holly lands of Islam in Arabia, Sultans also held chaliphate until it was abolished by Ataturk, the founder of Modern Turkey.

Opening hours: Daily 09.00 – 17.00, winter closed Tuesday.
Location: Sultanahmet / Istanbul
Nearest Public Transportation Point: Sultanahmet Tramcar Station
Tel: (0212) 512 0480 - 512 0484

Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)
Hagia Sophia, the "Church of Holy Wisdom", was built by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. It was, for nearly a thousand years, the largest enclosed space in the world, and still seen as one of the world’s most important architectural monuments. More than 1400 years old, Haghia Sophia covers a total area of 7570 square meters and is over 100 metres long. Never again did the Byzantines attempt to build anything approaching the scale of Haghia Sophia.

Emperor Iustanianus (527 – 565) wanted to construct something even bigger than the original two and appointed architects Isidoros from Miletos, and Anthemios from Tralles to build the Aya Sophia which still stands. Columns, heads, marble and coloured stones were imported to Istanbul from ancient cities in Anatolia for the purpose. The construction began on 23 December 532, and was completed exactly five years later.

After 916 years as a church, Haghia Sophia was converted into a mosque in 1453, shortly after the conquest. Apart from whitewashing the paintings and mosaics and removing the Christian icons and statues, the Turks left Haghia Sophia untouched. They committed no acts of destruction as the eighth and ninth century Christian iconoclasts had done. The worst desecration of the church was in 1204, ransacked by Catholic soldiers during the Fourth Crusade. In 1935 the church was transformed into a museum.

Five doors led into the outer narthex, the largest in the centre reserved for the emperor and members of his family. At the entrance to the narthex is a mosaic depicting Constantine and Justinian presenting the walled city of constantinople and Haghia Sophia respectively to the Virgin Mary, who holds the infant Christ in her arms. Other mosaics depict the angel Gabriel, the angel Michael, three saints: St.Ignatius, St. John Chrysostom, St. Ignatius Theophorus. Any siver, gold or jewels which were in Haghia Sophia were plundered by the Latins of the Fourth Crusade who occupied Istanbul in 1204 and ruled here for over a century.

In the upper galleries known as the gynaceum, there are several mosaic panels representing the Emperor Alexander, the Empress Zoe and her third husband Constantine IX, the Emperor John Comnenus and his wife Eirene. Near the Deesis mosaic is the tomb of Dandalo, Doge of Venice, one of the leaders of the Fourth Crusade. The impressive figurative mosaics include Virgin and Child flanked by two emperors, dating back to the late 10th century, and one depicting Christ, the Virgin, and St John the Baptists. Even though there is partial damage, the haunting images on their faces remain as strong as ever.

Another indication of reverence in which the Turks held Haghia Sophia is the collection of royal tombs in the precinct. The tombs of Mustafa I, Sultan Ibrahim, Selim II, Murat III and Mehmet III are all worth visiting

Open daily except Mondays, 09:30-17:00 
Location: Sultanahmet Square
Nearest Public Transportation Point: Sultanahmet Tramcar Station

Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Turkish: Sultanahmet Camii; is a historical mosque in Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey and the capital of the Ottoman Empire (from 1453 to 1923). The mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior.

It was built between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. Like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice. While still used as a mosque, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque has also become a popular tourist attraction.

The design of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is the culmination of two centuries of both Ottoman mosque and Byzantine church development. It incorporates some Byzantine elements of the neighboring Hagia Sophia with traditional Islamic architecture and is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period. The architect has ably synthesized the ideas of his master Sinan, aiming for overwhelming size, majesty and splendor

Open: Everyday
Location: Sultanahmet Square,  Istanbul
Nearest Public Transportation Point: Sultanahmet Tramcar Station

Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi)
A street in Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
Kapali Carsi means Closed/Covered Bazaar in Turkish. It is the oldest and biggest closed bazaar in the world, also known as the Grand Bazaar, has around 4000 shops and over 60 alleyway, covering a huge labyrinth in the city centre. The original two structures, covered with a series of domes and remains of the 15th century walls, became a shopping area by covering the surrounding streets and adding to it over the following centuries. In Ottoman times this was the centre of trading, and a vital area of town. The Sandal Bedesten was added during Suleyman’s reign, to cope with the rising trade in fabrics, during the 16th century.

Traditionally the more valuable goods were in the old central area, called Ic Bedesten, because it was more secure. As quite typical of the area, most streets are laid out and devoted to a particular trade, for example gold on Kuyumcular Caddesi, leather on Bodrum Han, and shoes on Kavaflar Sokak. But the trade has also spilled out onto the surrounding streets, and it is very common to see Russian traders buying up huge sacks of leather jackets or shoes outside the main entrance. Even the streets leading to the Golden Horn are lined with outdoor stalls, which have traditionally been controlled by strict trading laws to reduce competition between traders.

Apart from the usual shops selling clothes, textiles, jewellry and carpets, there are small workshops where craftsmen cast and beat silver or brass, in a skilled trade handed down through the generations. If all that shopping, bargaining and fending off persuasive salesmen is a little too tiring, there are also traditional cafes dotted inside the bazaar in which to relax, eat and sip tea. There are also money-changing booths inside and out. It is slightly less crowded during weekdays, as most locals shop at weekends

Open: Everyday except Sunday.
Location: Beyazit, Istanbul
Nearest Public Transportation Point: Beyazit or Cemberlitas Tramcar Station

Chora Church Museum (Kariye Muzesi)  
Now serving as a museum, this is actually Kariye Mosque, once the 11th century church of St Saviour in Chora. It is considered to be the most important Byzantine monument in Istanbul, after Hagia Sofia. Whilst unremarkable in its architecture, the interior walls are decorated with superb 14th century mosaics. Illustrating scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary, these brilliantly colored paintings embody the vigor of Byzantine art. With the restored wooden houses, the surrounding area is a good place for relaxation and refreshment.

Opening hours: 09.30 – 16.30, closed Wednesdays.
Location: Edirnekapi, Fatih / Istanbul 
Nearest Public Transportation Point: Edirnekapi public bus station

Hagia Irene (Aya Irini)  
One of the earliest churches of Constantinople, St. Irene served as the church of the Patriarchate before Hagia Sophia was built. The church took its contemporary shape at the beginning of the 4th century under Constantine. It is the only example of a Byzantine church in the city with its original atrium. The building stands in the outer courtyard of Topkapi Palace and was used as an armory by the Janissaries after the conquest of Istanbul. Today it serves mainly as a concert hall because of its excellent acoustics and impressive atmosphere.
Closed Tuesday.
Address: Topkapi Palace, 34400 Sultanahmet 

Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsisi)  
Also known as the Spice Market, this is Istanbul’s second bazaar, constructed in the same complex as Yeni Camii (or New Mosque). There are six gates, which make it an attractive exterior. The L-shaped market, together with the mosque, were built for the mother of Mehmet IV, a powerful woman who ruled the harem and, some would say, much of the empire.

Although no longer the prime spice trading area of the city, there is still the aroma of ginger, cardamom, pepper and saffron from the piles of spices sold from many stalls. These days it is also popular for great varieties of lokum (turkish delight), small souvenirs, flavoured teas and local delicacies – including the dubious sounding “Turkish Viagra”. Locals come here to shop for bed linen and towels, as well as for fruit and vegetables, coffee, clothes, pots and pans in the surrounding cramped backstreets. Outside the market on the Galata Bridge end, is this is the best place to choose olives from huge barrels, and many varieties of white cheese.
Location: Eminonu, Istanbul - 
Nearest Public Transportation Point: Eminonu Tramcar Station/Bus station

Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern ,also known as the "Sunken Palace", was constructed by Justinian in 532 to supply water to the Byzantine Palace primarily. Cities in ancient and medieval times were always in danger of siege. In a siege, the main problem was inadequate supply of food and water. The Roman and Byzantine emperors built huge cisterns to solve this problem. It fell out of use with the Turkish conquest and is the largest of all Istanbul's ancient cisterns. The cistern was restored in 1980's and today walkways have been constructed right through the cistern and subdued illumination lends the place a suitably mysterious atmosphere. It can contain up to 80,000 cubic meters of water, covers an area of 140 x 70 meters and is supported by 336 columns
Address: Yerebatan Caddesi No. 13, 34410 Sultanahmet  
Tel: (0212) 522 1259
Open daily except Mondays , 09:00-18:00

Yedikule Dungeons
The Yedikule (Seven Towers) city gate is located along the 5,632 meter-long land walls, which start at the end of the sea walls. It is one of the main entrances to the city. Over the gate, there is the double-headed eagle of Byzantium. Inside Yedikule is another imposing gate, built in 390 by Theodosius I as the arch of victory for the commanders returning home from victorious battle. It was later turned into one of the fortress gates after Theodosius II added the new city walls to the old ones. The Byzantines called this gate Porta Aurea (golden gate). After the conquest, the Turks added new fortress which formed an independent castle and gave it the name Yedikule. The Ottoman Treasury was kept in this tower for a while, and it was turned into a prison for political prisoners in later times. Only the ruins of the minaret of the mosque which was built for the guardians can be seen today. The ruins of the amphitheater also remain.
Open: Everyday.
Location: Yedikule district, Fatih (municipality) / Istanbul 

Rumeli Castle Museum (Rumeli Hisari)
Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror built Rumeli Fortress in four months only and directly opposite Anadoluhisari in 1452 in preparation for the final attack on Istanbul, which led to the downfall of the Byzantine Empire. It is located on a hill at the European side, somewhere in the middle of the Bosphorus
Location: Rumali Hisari quarter of Sariyer township, Istanbul. 

Anatolian Fortress (Anadolu Hisari)
A 14th century relic of the Ottoman's first attempt to conquer Istanbul, Anatolia Fortress is located on the Asian shore at the narrowest point of the Bosphorus. Sultan Yildirim Bayezit built this fortress in 1393 on the ruins of a Byzantine temple of Zeus.
Not open to visitors.
Location: Anadolu Hisari, Uskudar, Istanbul.

Kiz Kulesi (Leander's Tower - Maiden Tower)
Istanbul Travel Info
A 12th century stone tower erected on a rock at the entrance of the Bosphorus by Byzantine Emperor Manuel Komnenos. This tower, which has served as a prison and a lighthouse, became the source of many legends in ancient days. It soon will be opened to the public as a cafeteria and will host concerts and meetings. This unique tower with a history dating back to 2500 years, has eye - witnessed everything that the city has encountered throughout the history. This tower has been erected during the ancient age and constructed by renovations from the ages of the Ancient Rome, the Byzantine Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, the tower has reached to present time with its mysterious appe
Location: Off-shore from Uskudar district, Istanbul
Web (restaurant)

Galata Tower (Galata kulesi)
A medieval stone tower Galata Kulesi was built by the Genoese as part of the wall surrounding their district of Galata directly opposite Byzantium (Constantinopolis). It was used for the surveillance of the harbour in the Golden Horn. The tower now houses a restaurant and a night club. It was called Christea Turris (the Tower of Christ in Latin) by the Genoese located just to the north of the Golden Horn. One of the city's most striking landmarks, it is a high, cone-capped cylinder that dominates the skyline and affords a panoramic vista of Old Istanbul and its environs.
Location: Karakoy district, Beyoglu/Istanbul.

Dolmabahce Palace
Dolmabahce Palace, along the European coast of the Bosphorus, built by the brothers Nikagos and Karabet Balyan in 1853 for the Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid II, was the most monumental work of the time.
Dolmabahce marks the beginning of the period in which Ottoman traditional architectural style is ignored and more and more western patterns are used for the new palaces. The palace which consists of 285 rooms , 46 halls, four grand salons, six galleries and six baths is divided into two sections: the Ceremonial Section - where the sultan would receive distinguished guests from all over the world and the Harem - where the Sultan's wife, mother and concubines lived
The palace has a level of luxury not present in most other palaces, with walls and ceilings decorated with gold, and European art from the period. The crystal hanging-lamp in the reciprocal room, which weighs 4.5 tons, was a present from Queen Victoria and is said to be the largest in the world. As Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, died here on November 10, 1938, this palace holds special significance for Turks.
Opening hours: Daily 09.00 – 16.00, except Monday and Thursday
Location: Between Besiktas and Kabatas districts by the Bosphorus.

Archeological Museum
The building was constructed by the architect Vallaury through the efforts of the first scientific museum organizer of Turkey, Osman Hamdi Bey, and was opened to public in 1891. The museum displays objects from Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire and the many civilizations of Anatolia and nearby regions including ancient Egypt. Closed Monday.
Address: Osman Hamdi Bey Yokusu, 34400 Gülhane, Sultanahmet

Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
Built in 1524 by İbrahim Pasa, the Grand Vizier to Suleyman the Magnificent, this was originally a palace and the grandest private residences in the Ottoman Empire – and one of the few which have survived. Some of it, however, was destroyed and rebuilt in stone to the original designs in 1843.  Now home to the museum, this is considered one of the finest collections of Islamic art in the world, with a superb display of ceramics, metalwork, miniatures, calligraphy and textiles, as well as some of the oldest carpets in the world. Equally as impressive is the grace of the building, with the central courtyard giving something of an insight into the atmosphere of the residence. Opposite is the Great Hall, which houses a collection of Turkish carpets, with exquisite antique carpets and kilims and one of the finest collections in the world, the oldest exhibit dating back to 13th century.
Opening hours: 09.30 – 17.00, closed Mondays
Location: At Meydani (Hippodrome) No. 46, 34410 Sultanahmet

Museum of Turkish Carpets
Across the street from the Ibrahim Pasa residence, which stands north of the mosque inside the Sultanahmet Mosque complex is the Museum of Turkish Carpets which contains exquisite antique carpets and kilims gathered from all over Turkey.
Open days to visit: Everyday except Monday
Location:  Sultanahmet

Museum of Calligraphy
The Beyazid Medresesi (Educational Instituon), which was used as the municipality library since 1945 was evacuated, restored and rearanged as the Turkish Foundations Calligraphic Arts Museum where the objects displayed in the Sultan Selim Medresesi on Vatan Street previously are exhibited today. The Korans, imperial seals, diplomas, Hilye-i serif (descriptions of the Prophet), equipment and apparatus for calligraphic writing, samples of bookbinding, holy relics, miniatures are some of the object displayed. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Address: Bayezit Meydani


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