Visit the Legendary Old City of Istanbul Turkey
Istanbul is such an interesting city to explore as it stands at the crossroads between liberal Europe and traditional Asia. Even though most Turkish people view Istanbul as a more European metropolis; the city has managed to honor its past by preserving its oldest district.
If you come to Istanbul Turkey and don’t know how to begin your metropolis exploration, visit the Old City, where the legacy of this great city started.
A Brief History
The city was founded around 660 BC as Byzantium. That city is now known as Istanbul and has developed to become one of the most significant cities in history. For nearly sixteen centuries following its reestablishment as Constantinople in 330 AD, it served as the capital of four empires: the Roman Empire (330–395), the Byzantine Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin Empire (1204–1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922).
It was instrumental in the advancement of Christianity during Roman and Byzantine times, before the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453 and transformed it into an Islamic stronghold. Although the Republic of Turkey established its capital in Ankara, palaces and imperial mosques still line Istanbul’s hills as visible reminders of the city’s previous past.
A Few Statistics
Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey. It constitutes the country’s economic, cultural, and historical heart. It has a population of 13.9 million and the city forms one of the largest urban agglomerations in Europe and is among the largest cities in the world by population within city limits. Istanbul has a huge area of 5,343 square kilometers (2,063 sq. mi). Because of its huge size it has a population density of only 2,593/km2 (6,720/sq. mi).
Istanbul is a transcontinental city, straddling the Bosphorus, also known as the Istanbul Strait, in northwestern Turkey, between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Its commercial and historical center lives in Europe, while a third of its population lives in Asia.
In 2010 seven million foreign visitors visited in Istanbul when it was named a European Capital of Culture. That made the city the world’s tenth-most-popular tourist destination. The city’s biggest draw remains its historic center, partially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but its cultural and entertainment hub can be found across the city’s natural harbor, the Golden Horn.
After Constantine the Great conquered the city he made it the new eastern capital of the Roman Empire in 330 AD, the city became widely known as Constantinopolis (Constantinople), which in Latin means the “City of Constantine”. By the 19th century, however, the city had acquired a number of other names used by either foreigners or Turks.
Istanbul (this is the English spelling) was officially adopted as the sole name of the city in 1930. The name Istanbul derives from a Medieval Greek phrase which meant “to the city”. This reflected its status as the only major city in the vicinity, much in the same way people today often colloquially refer to their nearby urban centers as “the City”. An alternative view is that the name evolved directly from the name Constantinople, with the first and third syllables dropped. While in English the stress is on the first syllable (Is), in Turkish it is on the second syllable (tan). In English a person from the city is an Istanbulite.
Istanbul has a borderline Mediterranean climate and humid subtropical climate; since it has only two summer months with less than 1.6 in of rainfall. Due to its vast size, diverse topography, and maritime location, Istanbul exhibits microclimates. Northern parts of the city express characteristics of an oceanic climate because of humidity from the Black Sea and the relatively high concentration of vegetation. The climate in the populated areas of the city in the south is warmer and less affected by humidity.
One of the most salient characteristics of the climate in parts of Istanbul is its usually high humidity, which reaches 80 percent most mornings. Due to these conditions, fog is very common, although more so in northern parts of the city and away from the city center.
During the two summer months, high temperatures average around 29 °C (84 °F) and rainfall is uncommon; there being only about fifteen days with measurable rain between June and August. Nevertheless, despite the low precipitation, the summer months also have the highest concentration of thunderstorms.
Winter is colder in Istanbul than in most other cities around the Mediterranean Basin, with low temperatures averaging 4–5 °C (39–41 °F). Spring and autumn are mild, but often wet and unpredictable; chilly winds from the northwest and warm gusts from the south, sometimes in the same day, tend to cause fluctuations in temperature.
Ethnic and Religious Groups
Istanbul has been a cosmopolitan city throughout much of its history, but it has become more homogenized since the end of the Ottoman Empire. However, most of Turkey’s religious and ethnic minorities remain concentrated in Istanbul. The vast majority of people across Turkey, and in Istanbul, consider themselves Muslim, and more specifically members of the Sunni branch of Islam. The largest non-Sunni Muslim sect, accounting for 4.5 million Turks, is the Alevis; a third of all Alevis in the country live in Istanbul.
There are between 50,000 and 70,000 Armenians in Istanbul. The largest ethnic minority in Istanbul is the Kurdish community, originating from eastern and southeastern Turkey. Between two and four million residents of Istanbul are Kurdish. This makes more Kurds in Istanbul than in any other city in the world. There are small numbers of Jewish, Greeks, and Latin Christians in the city.
The Old City of Istanbul
The Old City of Istanbul encompasses the Sultanahmet and Eminonu sections, which are situated on the peninsula surrounded by the Golden Horn River and Bosporus Sea. This is truly a historic area, as it was where Constantinople, the glorious Byzantine capital was located. As the previous administrative capital for the Ottoman Empire, the Old City flourished.
The palaces, government offices and other historical monuments built around the area are reminders of the city’s development and growth. To appreciate these structures up close, go for a walking tour around the area. If your feet are not up to the task, you can also ride the tram network, which has stops near most tourist landmarks.
One of the most impressive buildings in the Old City is the Ayasofya Müzesi. It was originally built as an Orthodox Church during the reign of the Byzantine Empire. By the 15th century, it was converted into a mosque. Today, the building is now the Hagia Sophia Museum, and has served as an iconic landmark for the Istanbul. Walk across Ayasofya, to visit another highly distinct landmark in the Old City, which is the Blue Mosque. Locally known as Sultanahmet Camii, it is considered the biggest and one of the most historically important mosques in the Istanbul. Do not be surprised this mosque’s exterior is not blue, as it has taken its name from the blue tiles used to decorate its interior walls.
Another architectural masterpiece you should not miss visiting is the Yerebatan Sarinci or the Basilica Cistern, which is the largest of its kind in Istanbul. Built under the order of Byzantine Emperor Justinian, the cistern features more than 300 marble columns that support a huge ceiling.
When it comes to design and historical value, the Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi) should also on the top of your itinerary. A former residence of the Ottoman Empire Sultan, the palace is quite enormous with four courtyards and spacious imperial rooms. A tour around the entire Topkapi Palace may take quite a bit of time, but it can definitely give you a fascinating glimpse of how a sultan lived his lavished life. The Old City is also home to some of the best museums in Istanbul, which includes the Great Palace Mosaic Museum and the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art.
After an exciting exploration of all the magnificent architectural pieces within the Old City, walk your way to the Grand Bazaar locally known as Kapali Carsi. This huge closed market has been in existence since the 15th century in 1461, and features various types of shops. Here, you can find the products that are of great value to the Turkish culture.
There is also the Mahmutpasha Bazaar which is an open-air market or a shopping street extending between the Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Bazaar, which has been Istanbul’s major spice market since 1660. This market area, with lots of small shops on both sides of the main street is a symbol of cheap shopping in Istanbul. The bazaar hosts over 200 shops.
These bazars and their wares are awfully tempting. Maybe you should buy a souvenir or two to bring home a small part of Istanbul with you when you visit old Istanbul, Turkey.
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