The city of Istanbul has one of the world’s most impressive collections of architecture with its buildings adorned with a contrast of Eastern and Western styles. The city dazzles with impressive domed mosques topped by minarets that touch the sky, as well as age old cathedrals and labyrinthine cobblestone alleyways lined with traditional market stalls.
Istanbul is a fascinating city just to wander through and you will want to be out exploring and soaking in the view all day. Walking through the city feels a little bit like stepping back in time. This metropolis, formerly Constantinople, was the seat of power for many years for the Romans and the Byzantines before it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
Make sure that once you find a hotel in Istanbul you remember to bring sturdy walking shoes as you will want to do a lot of wandering. Here are some tips for exploring the architecture of Istanbul and where to find the most impressive buildings.
The Hagia Sofia
This incredibly gorgeous Christian church is one of the must-see architectural wonders of Istanbul. The only thing more impressive than its soaring arches, religious icons and pink exterior surrounded by flowers and fountains, is its staggering history. It was dedicated in 360 A.D. and was a Greek cathedral until 1453. The building was turned into a Roman Catholic Cathedral when the Crusaders took over and for another 500 years it was a mosque.
There are very few religious buildings in the world that can boast so many years of service to so many different belief systems. It was also the largest church in the world for a period of about 1, 000 years, until it was finally topped by the Seville Cathedral in 1575. This amazing church is widely thought to be the masterpiece of Byzantine architecture.
This palace is a prime example of the over-the-top opulence of the Ottoman Empire. It is located right in the heart of the old city and it offers an insight into what life would have been like for the rich and favoured of the time.
This palace was the seat of the Turkish Empire for four centuries, until the sultans who lived there decided to live in estates along the Bosphorus where the weather was slightly cooler. As a visitor it is possible to wander through the grounds and a great deal of the interior of the Topkapi Palace. You will be able to see the enormous harem quarters and the kitchens that were capable of preparing food for more than 6, 000 people per day. Make sure you leave yourself at least a day for exploring this palace, as there is so much to see.
The Blue Mosque
This is one of Istanbul’s most popular landmarks and it gets its name from a dazzling array of more than 20, 000 beautiful cobalt blue tiles that decorate the prayer room. It is also known locally as the Sulttanahmet Mosque.
The mosque is closed to non-Muslim visitors during prayer times but is open at all other times throughout the day. It’s a true architectural marvel with 200 gorgeous stained glass windows filtering in the sunlight.
Remember that the Blue Mosque is still a working mosque, so make sure that you are respectful and wear appropriate clothing during your visit. Your shoulders and legs should be covered and women will be provided with shawls. You will need to remove your footwear and flash photography is not allowed. It is a place of worship, so keep your demeanour quiet and respectful.
Tips for Exploring Istanbul
If you are planning a city break to Istanbul, here are some tips for making the most of your time.
- Get up early so that you can get a head start on everyone else, not only will you have more time for sightseeing and beat the big crowds, you will also enjoy the slightly cooler temperatures in the morning.
- Stay hydrated. It can be very warm in Istanbul in the summer and while walking around you should have a bottle of water.
- Find out the prayer times in advance before visiting the Blue Mosque, as the building is only open to non-Muslims outside of these times.
- Many of the key attractions in Istanbul can be visited with a special museum pass, known as the MuzeKart, which will give you three-day entrance for a set fee.
Enjoy exploring the stunning architecture of Istanbul during your visit!
Image from Flickr’s Creative Commons
About the Author: Cheryl Mercer is a freelance writer who specialises in art and architecture around the globe. She loves to spend time in the city taking photographs for her blog.