Once the imperial capital of the Eastern Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires in succession, Istanbul is a historic city where Asia meets Europe, dating as far back as 5000 BC. lt also connects the Black Sea with the Mediterranean Sea. Divided by the Bosphorus and part of the Sea of Marmara, Istanbul was conquered by the Turks in 1453, resulting in a new era in world history. Istanbul is still an international center as it has been throughout the ages. People of different ethnic and national origins walk side by side on its streets. Christian churches, Muslim mosques and Jewish synagogues are located close to one another. The tolls of church bells mix with the call to prayers from mosques. The historical peninsula (Old City) lies between the Golden Horn (Halic) on the southern end of the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. This part of the city abounds in magnificent remains of the earliest settlements.
Sultanahmet Square and the vicinity is a conservation area not just for its historical buildings but for streets and houses as well. Haghia Sophia (Ayasofya) Museum, the supreme masterpiece of Byzantine art built in 537, and to the Blue Mosque, decorated with very beautiful ceramic tiles.
The Topkapi Palace, where Ottoman Sultans lived for more than 400 years, the Roman Cisterns (Yerebatan Sarnici) with a total capacity of 80l000 m3 supply of water, the Ibrahim Pasha Palace, the Carpet Museum, the Mosaic museum, and the Istanbul Museum of Archaeology are all in the area where a gigantic Byzantine Hippodrome with a 100,000-seating capacity used to be.
The Covered Bazaar stretches over a large area, including 4,000 shops, office blocks, cafes and restaurants.
Kumkapi is a district of fish restaurants. This is also where the Armenian Patriarchate is based.
Although its population is largely Muslim, Istanbul also hosts Greek Orthodox, Turkish Orthodox and Armenian patriarchates.
The historical peninsula was enclosed with a city walk which has only partly survived. The Topkapi gate, where the Turkish conquerors first entered the city, and the Yedikule, which was used as dungeons during the Ottoman period, are the best preserved of all. On the way from Topkapi towards Edirnekapi there lies a church, called Kariye Museum (Chora), which contains well-preserved frescoes and mosaics.
The Fener district on the south side of the Golden Horn (Halic) hosts the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and many historical remains. Synagogues, Orthodox churches, Armenian churches and mosques line up as a display of the Ottoman tolerance for religious diversity
Numerous mosques, each representing a distinct architecture, are scattered all around the city. The most important ones are undoubtedly those built by the architect Sinan, one of the most prominent figures in the world of architecture. His biggest work in Istanbul is the Mosque of Suleyman. However, the masterpiece of Sinan, who managed so well to use gradients and uneven grounds as an architectural advantage, the Selimiye Mosque, is in Edirne.
The other side of the Golden Horn was called in the past as Pera. It is now Beyoglu. In the past, Pera was mostly inhabited by non-Muslims. The Greeks, Belorussians and people from various European nationalities settled in Pera. They shaped this district to reflect their own cultures and faiths. They built various places of worship representing all religions and denominations, most of which are still active today. As Istanbul was the capital city until 1923, embassies were concentrated in Pera district. lstiklal Caddesi, a major entertainment district, is now a pedestrian zone with the exception of two nostalgic tramcars going up and down the high street.
Istiklal Caddesi leads to Taksim Square, one of the main centers of the city. The incomparable Bosphorus straits (Bogaziçi) comes on top of all places of interest worth seeing in Istanbul. The Dolmabahce Palace, where the Ottoman Sultans lived, was built in 1853 on the shores of the Bosphorus. With Europe on one side and Asia on the other, the shores of the Bosphorus are lined withnumerous beautiful yalis (old wooden waterside residences).
There are also several fish restaurants all along the coastline. Rumelihisari on the European side was the first fortress built by Turks to lay siege of Istanbul. Anadoluhisari on the opposite shore (Asian side) was built earlier. There are four islands in the Sea of Marmara that are open to settlement and tourism: Buyukada, Kinali, Heybeli and Burgaz. Colorful multicultural nightlife, shopping, food and drinks dominate Istanbul. Ottoman-Turkish cuisine mingles with the foods of the Greeks, Jews, Armenians and many others.
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