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Straddling the Bosphorus, its skyline studded with domes and minarets, Istanbul is one of the truly great romantic cities. Its history tracks back from Byzantium to Constantinople to its place at the head of the Ottoman Empire. Today it hums as Turkey's cultural heart and good-time capital.

In this sprawling, continent-spanning city you can tramp the streets where crusaders and janissaries once marched; admire mosques that are the most sublime architectural expressions of Islamic piety; peer into the sultan's harem; and hunt for bargains in the Kapali Çarsi (Grand Bazaar).

Side by side with Old Istanbul you'll find hip bars and clubs, flashy executives, malls and haute cuisine. And then there is a rich arts culture - opera, music, cinema - which nods its head to the Ottoman and Byzantine ways while taking cues from Europe. All this history, hustle and bustle coexists around the spine of the Bosphorus, a constantly busy, heaving mass, dotted with ships and ferries, and providing the link between Europe and Asia.

Whatever your interest - architecture, art, nightlife, cuisine, history, religion, shopping - Istanbul has more than enough of it, at prices which are among the lowest in Europe.

Area: 98 sq km
Population: 13 million
Country: Turkey
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +2 ((+3 in summer))
Telephone Area Code: 212 - European Istanbul; 216 - Asian Istanbul


The Bosphorus, the strait flowing between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, creates a natural north-south divide in Istanbul - European Istanbul comprises the bulk of the city to the west, while Asian Istanbul is to the east. European Istanbul is itself divided by the Golden Horn (Haliç) into the old city to the south, and Beyoglu and other modern districts to the north.

The Old City is where you'll find all the main sights, such as Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii), Aya Sofya (Sancta Sophia), the Atmeydani (Hippodrome) and the old city walls. The 21st-century version of Istanbul is a short walk north across the Galata Bridge, and is exemplified by bustling Taksim Square, the eye of the city's commercial storm. The Asian part of the city is of less interest to tourists.

There are clusters of budget places in the Sultanahmet district of the old city; Akbiyik Caddesi in Cankurtaran is the backpacker hub, other streets nearby are more low key. The heart of modern Istanbul, Taksim Square and Beyoglu, are also good places to stay, with lots of restaurants, theatres and shops nearby. If you want to spend a bit more, head for the luxury hotels of Harbiye and along the Bosphorus. Most cafes are clustered in Beyoglu, but many are dotted in the suburbs on both sides of the Bosphorus and in other well-heeled suburbs. Kumkapi and Çiçek Pasaji, and Nevizade Sokak in Beyoglu are home to clusters of meyhanes (taverns).



The Basilica of St. Sophia, now called the Ayasofya Museum , is unquestionably one of the finest buildings of all time .Built by Constantine the Great and reconstructed by Justinian in the 6th century, its immense dome rises 55 meters above the ground and its diameter spans 31 meters. You should linger here to absorb the building's majestic serenity and to admire the fine Byzantine mosaics. (Open every day except Monday).
Istanbul has some of the most I exciting museums, ranging from the magnificent Haghia Sophia to the intimate Sadberk Hamm Museum. Entrance fees, where charged, are very reasonable.


Sultanahmet, Tel: 520 77 40 Across from the Cinli (Tiled) Kiosk sn Topkap: Palace's outermost court zs the magnijacent Archaeological Museum. The first jlooy and the annex of the museum is open to the public, displaying a selection of the 60,000 Greco- Roman and Neay Eastern antiquities in the collection, including moye than 75,000 inscribed clay tablets. Don't miss the wonderfully preserved Alexander Saycophagus found in Sidon and the treaty of Kadesh, the first peace treaty evey to be signed in the world. The museum brings to life the peoples of the ancient Middle East. Recently opened special educational section for children. Open 09.30-16.30. Closed Mondays.


Halaskârgazi Caddesi 250, Sisli Tel: 240 6319 Ataturk, the foundey of modern Turkey, lived here briefly. The house displays some of hrs personal effects. 09.30-16.30. Closed Thuysdays and Sundays.

CALLIGRAPHY MUSEUM (Hat Sanatlari Muzesi)

Beyazit Square, Tel: 527 58 51 The Ottomans, always uneasy with human pictorial representation, found fulley urtistic expression in calligraphy. This is the only museum of calligraphy in the world. 09.00-16.00. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


(Next to the Blue Mosque), Sultanahmet, Tel: 518 13 30 A wonderjul collection of ancient kslsms and carpets in a very cool, marble environment. Also a large collection ofcarpets. 09.00-12.00, 13.00-16.00. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

DIVAN LITERATURE MUSEUM (Divan Edebiyati Muzesi)

Galip Dede Caddesi 15, Tünel, Beyoglu, Tel: 245 4141. Also called the Galata Mevlevihane, this is where the mystic "Whirling Dervishes" perform "Sema" dances and Suf music, on the last Sunday of every month. A memorable experience not to be missed. A fine display of instruments and dervish accessories. Closed Mondays.


Sultanahmet, Tel: 52217 50 The Church ofHoly Wisdom is undoubtedly one of the greatest architectural creations in the world. Built by the Byzantine EmperorJustinian circa AD535, it was transformed into a mosque afler the Ottoman conquest of the city in 1453. Now a museum, it is awesome in size, and contains beautifully preserved Byzantine mosaics. Hanging alongside the pictures of Chrrst are huge wooden discs proclaiming the greatness of Allah: a meeting point of religions. A must for any visitor to Istanbul. 9.30-16.30. Closed Mondays.

KARIYE MUSEUM (The Church of St. Saviour fn Chora)

Kariye Catnu Sokak, Edirnekapi, Tel: 63192 41 A legendary Byzantine church decorated with extraordinary laté- l4th centuryfrescoes and mosaics portraying the life and miracles of Christ. The most important and extensive series of Byzantine paintings in the city and among the most significant in the world. 09.30-16.30. Closed Tuesdays.


Besiktas Tel: 26100 40 Includes examples of the extraordinary caiques that used to row the Sultans to and from their homes along the Bosphorus. 09.30- 17.00. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.


Opposite Arasta Bazaar (behind the Blue Mosque), Sultanahmet, Tel: 51812 05 Houses the beautiful mosaics discovered in Justinian's Grand Palace of Byzantium. 09.30-17.00. Closed Tuesdays.

MUSEUM OF THE 1839 REFORMS (Tanzimat Muzesi)

Gulhane Park, Tel: 512 63 84 A small museum celebrating the Ottomans' l9th century attempt to catch up with the rest of Europe. Open every day 09.00-17.00.


Haskoy Caddesi 27, Sutluce, on the Golden Horn, Tel: 256 7153/54 A recently opened museum which gives an excitingglimpse into Istanbul's industrial past. Displays include scale models of steam engines, ships, cars, a full Maklin train set which visitors can operate and a fully recreated ship's bridge. Open 10.00-17.00. Closed Monday.


Buyukdere Caddesi 27-29, Sanyer Tel: 242 3813 Excellent archaeological and ethnographical collections displayed in two handsome old mansions on the Bosphorus.10.30-17.00. Closed Wednesdays.


Sultanahmet, Tel: 512 04 80 The legendary palace of the Ottoman sultans from the l5th to the l9th centuries. Low buildings set in a series of courtyards, Topkapi is quite unlike a Western palace. Be sure to see the Harem, the Treasury and the golden-roofed Baghdad Kiosk. 09.30-17.00. Closed Tuesdays.


At Meydam 46, Sultanahmet, Tel: 51813 85, 51818 05 A delightjul museum on the ancient Hippodrome, housed in Ibrahim PaSa Sarayi, the home of Suleyman the Magnificent's Grand Vizier. Beautifully displayed Islamic objects and antique carpets.10.00- 17 00. Closed Mondays.


Yildiz Palace, Barbaros Bulvari, Besiktas, Tel: 258 30 80/ext. 280 The converted carpentry workshop of Sultan Abdulhamit now houses exquisite poycelain pieces, giant vases and the joinery produced by the Sultan himself. Open 10.00- 16.00. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Istanbul has hundreds of mosques, both monumental and intimate. Mosques are open to visitors every day outside worshipping hours, which are announced by the muezzins' call to prayer. All visitors are asked to remove their shoes and women are expected to cover their heads before entering. A few of the most architecturally interesting are:

BLUE MOSQUE(Sultanahmet Camii)

Sultanahmet Square The mostfamous mosque in the city, built in the early l7th century, distinguished by six slendey minarets and walls covered with amazing blue Iznik tiles. Open every day except during prayer times. Facing St. Sophia stands the supremely elegant, six-minaret, imperial Sultanahmet Mosque. Built between 1609 and 1616 by the architect Mehmet.


Eyup For the Islamic world, this is the holiest mosque in all of Istanbul. The Ottoman sultans held their coyonation ceyemonies here. The faithful still flock here to pray to the yelics of Eyup, a companion of the Prophet. Be suye not to visit on Fridays, when the mosque is packed with woyshippers. Up the hill through the graveyard is the atmospheric Pierre Loti Cafe, ofjersng yefreshments and an arresting view of the Golden Horn.


Cagaloglu An 18th century mosque incluenced by baroque architecture. Consideyed a turning point in mosque architecture. Ortakoy Mosque
Ortakoy A superb setting on a point jutting into the Bosphorus. This Ottoman bayoque mosque displays a wondeyful sculptuyal approach.


Sultanahmet Near the Covered Bazaay, an intimate Sinan mosque, built in a conf ned space, but neveytheless breathtakingly beautiful.


Beyazit Sinan's masterpiece. The massive scale of this mosque is best appreciated from a distance. Up close, the mosque is formal and rather forbidding, but it is interesting to wander around the surrounding complex of buildings.

YENI CAMII (New Mosque)

Eminonu A late example of classical Ottoman architectuye, this is one of the most familiar landmarks in the city.


The city abounds with churches of various denominations. A few churches of particular interest are:


Istiklal Caddesi, Tunel One of the city's best known functioning Roman Catholic churches.


Fener The seat of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.


Serdari Ekrem Sokak 82, Tunel, Beyoglu A restored Anglican church, formerly known as the Crimean Memorial church, designed by the famous Victorian architect C.E. Street


Fener, Tel:522 17 50 Many Byzantine emperors are buried here. Permission to visit must be obtained from the Haghia Sophia Museum, 09.30-17.00, closed Mondays


Sultanahmet A Byzanttine church built in Emperor Justinian's era. A must for architectuyal historians.


Fener Styanded in the middle of the Golden Horn road, this l9th century structure is built entirely of iyon. It was pyefabricated in Vienna and sent via the Danube to be eyected here to celebyate the independence of the Bulgarian Church.



Cayirbasi Duragi, Beylerbeyi Tel: (216) 32193 20 A restored summer palace of the late Ottoman sultans, buiLt of white marble. 09.30-16.00. Closed Mondays and Thuysdays.


Besiktas The formey summer home of the Ottoman sultans, now rebuilt as part of the complex of the Ciragan Palace HoteL Kempinski.


Besiktas Tel: 258 55 44 The l9th century rococco residence of the Ottoman sultans, and the place where Ataturk died in 1938. BeautifulLy situated, with a 600 metre frontage on the Bosphorus, an impressive ballroom, and ornate Victorian furniture embodying the Turkish assimilatian of European cultulre. Visitors are admitted in groups, Led by the museum's guides. Try to go eayly in the moyning, later in the day it may be fully booked. 09.00-16.00. CLosed Monday and Thuysday.


Ihlamurdere Caddesi, Besiktas , Tel: 261 29 91 A sylvan imperial rest house that remains seyene in the midst of city traffic. 09.00-17.00. Closed Mondays and Thuysdays.

SALE KOSKU (Yildiz Park)

Besiktas, Tel: 259 45 70 Late Ottoman imperial palaces, this time set in the hills above the Bosphorus, in the leafy Yildiz Park. Sale (Chalet) Kosku is an elegant wooden building which served as residance for foreign state guests and is now a museum, 09.30-16.00, Closed Mondays and Thursdays.


BASILICA CISTERN (Yerebatan Sarayi)

Yerebatan Caddesi, Sultanahmet Square, Tel: 52212 59 The vast awesome columned cavern was the watey souyce foy both the Gyand PaLace of the Byzantines and for the Ottomans' Topkapi PaLace. Open 09.00-17.30.


The straits which divide Euyope from Asia and define Istan6uL. A txip to the city would not 6e complete without a cruise up and down its shores. Imperial palaces are interspersed with wooden seaside mansions, decorative ferry landings, the twin fortresses of RumeLi Hisar and Anadolu Hisay, and two intercontinental bridges. Along the way, stop to exploye Rumeli Hisar (Open 09.30-1700 except Monday). Sultan Mehmet had the castle built in 1452 so he could lay siege to the city. If you take the circulay touy from Eminonu (2 hours each way) you can enjoy a fish lunch at Anadolu Kavag2. Feyry-boats also leave from Eminonu for various points along the weterway. Private boats can be hiyed during the summer.


Has several gates: most used are at Cagaloglu and Beyazit Istanbul's legendary bazaar, a labyrinth of over 4000 little shops, is everything you dreamed an oriental mayket could be. Gold jewellery, carpets, siLver bibelots, leather, ceyamics, copper and bras objects, embroideries, hand-woven textiles, meerschaum pipes-in othey words a tyeasure tyove. Best approached from the Nuruosmaniye I entrance. Open 09.00-19.00 ' Monday-Saturday.

GALATA TOWER (Galata Kulesi)

Buyukhendek Sokak, Sishane Tel: 2451160 Worth climbing to the top for the view from this l4th century Genoese folly. 08.00-21.00. Open every day.


A group of nine islands four of them-Kinaliada, Burgazada, Heybeliada and Buyukada-inhabited. Afavourite summer place since Byzantine times, the islands are a haven of quiet. With their beautiful villas and pine groves, they offer lovely walks all year round. No private cars are allowed, so transportation is either by foot, horsedrawn carriage or donkey. Ferry-boats leave from Sirkeci, Kadakoy and Bostanca and sea buses operate infrequently from Kabatas and Bostanca (call 362 04 44 for sea 6us information). A charming excursion.


Eminonu An exotic food market and bazaar selling spices, dried fruits cheeses, olives, as well as towels, slippers, baskets and some jewellery. Outside, to the lefL, there is a wonderful flower and bird market and to the right merchants busily seLl vegetables and fish with lots of local coLour. Open Monday- Saturday 09.00-19.00.


(entrance on coast road between Besiktas and Ortakoy) The Sultans' private park, now open to the public, with two lovely buildings-Malta Kosk and Cadir Kosk. Both places have marvelous terraces. Also don't miss the elegant wooden Sale (Chalet) Kosku inside the park which is a museum. The park is a favourite of courting couples.


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