Istanbul’s Top 5 Historical Sites

Posted by admin | Posted in Europe | Posted on 07-03-2011

Helen Simpson is an Istanbul-based travel writer and editor working for online travel guide My Istanbul Info which covers everything from attractions to accommodation, restaurants, nightlife,
events, shopping, history, culture and more. When she’s not writing about Istanbul, she’s exploring its little known backstreets in search of the next best street food.

Istanbul’s Top 5 Historical Sites

Istanbul has enough ancient sites to make any historian drool. Once known as Constantinople, this mighty city has been witness to three empires- the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman- before becoming a republic
in 1923. Most of Istanbul’s most beautiful historical attractions in Istanbul are centred in Sultanahmet on the Eminonu Peninsula, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Its compact size makes it easy to navigate, with its most famous attractions all within minutes walk of each other.


Once the site of sporting events, ceremonies, chariot races, demonstrations and even executions, construction of Istanbul’s Hippodrome was first began by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus in 203AD. Constantine the Great finished it more than one hundred years later, and a number of prized monuments were put up along its path. The oldest of these is the very well preserved Egyptian Obelisk which dates back to 1490BC. It was brought to Istanbul in the 4th century by a Roman emperor and lay in a corner of the Hippodrome for many years before finally being erected. Come here during the month of Ramadan, when the area bursts at its seams with tempting food stalls and festivities after the sun sets.
Open: Everyday; Admission: Free.

Basilica Cistern

Without a doubt one of Istanbul’s most eerie- but also most peaceful- sites, the Basilica Cistern is the largest covered reservoir in the city. It was built in 532AD to supply water to nearby palaces such as Topkapi Palace and the Great Palace of Constantinople. The Cistern has been painstakingly restored, and visitors are free to wander the specially elevated walking platforms and admire the 336 intricately decorated marble and granite columns which include two bearing the head of Medusa. Thousands of
resident goldfish live in the Basilica Cistern’s waters; throw in a coin for good luck!
Open: Every day except Tuesday, 9am – 5.30pm; Admission: 10TL.

Hagia Sophia

Dating back to an incredible 537AD, Hagia Sophia is a grand testament to human architectural achievement. Built in under five and a half years by the Roman emperor Justinian I, it enjoyed fame as the greatest church in the Christian world until its conversion into a mosque following the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans. Its walls were once covered in stunningly beautiful mosaics depicting religious scenes, and when the Ottoman rulers converted it into a mosque these were plastered over and
replaced with equally beautiful geometric designs using gold, wood and mother of pearl. Two minarets were later added. Following the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1932, President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ordered that Hagia Sophia be restored and converted into a museum for all to enjoy, and many of the old Christian mosaics have been uncovered alongside the Islamic ones. Arrive here early to avoid the long queues and tour bus crowd.
Open: Tuesday – Sunday, 9am – 4.30pm; Admission: 20TL.

Topkapi Palace

Home to Ottoman rulers and their families for over four hundred years, Sultan Mehmet II had Topkapi Palace built in 1478. Spread over an area of 70,000m², this extensive complex encompasses lush gardens,
pavilions and other buildings set around four courtyards. Some of Istanbul’s most beautiful treasures are on display, including a huge collection of jewellery, holy artefacts, porcelain, costumes, weaponry and
more. Visitors can choose to just visit the Palace and its gardens or pay 15TL extra to include a guided tour of the Harem, once one of the city’s most mysterious places.
Open: Every day except Tuesday, 9am – 5pm; Admission: 20TL, Harem 15TL.

Blue Mosque

Standing opposite Hagia Sophia in Sultanahmet is the Sultanahmet/Blue Mosque, one of the most iconic symbols of Istanbul. Completed in 1616 by Sultan Ahmet I, this colossal mosque is named after the more than 20,000 blue and green hand-painted Iznik tiles which adorn its interior. One of the only mosques in the world to have six minarets, this huge complex once included a hospital, market, theological college, soup kitchen and the tomb of the Sultan and his wife and family. Men and women are asked to cover their shoulders and knees when entering the Blue Mosques; scarves are on hand for females.
Open: Every day, 9am – 6pm except during prayer time. Admission: Free.

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