TOURS

Highlights of Istanbul

Istanbul embraces two continents with one arm reaching out to Asia and the other to Europe. Through the city's heart, the Bosphorus, course the waters of the Black Sea, the sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn.

The former capital of three successive empires, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman, Istanbul today honors and preserves the legacy of its past while looking forward to a modern future.

It is Istanbul's endless variety that fascinates its visitors. The museums, churches, palaces, grand mosques, bazaars and sights of natural beauty seem innumerable. Reclining on the western shore of the Bosphorus at sunset contemplating the red evening light reflected in the windows of the opposite shore you may suddenly and profoundly understand why so many centuries ago settlers chose to build on this remarkable site. At such times you can see why Istanbul is truly one of the most glorious cities in the world.

Topkapı Palace, that maze of buildings that was the focal point of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries. In these opulent surroundings the sultans and their court lived and governed. A magnificent wooded garden fills the outer, or first, court. In the second court, on the right, shaded by cypress and plane trees, stand the palace kitchens, which now serve as galleries exhibiting the imperial collections of crystal, silver and Chinese porcelain. To the left is the Harem, the secluded quarters of the wives, concubines and children of the sultan, charming visitors with echoes of centuries- intrigue. Today the third court holds the Hall of Audience, the Library of Ahmet III, an exhibition of imperial costumes worn by the sultans and their families, the famous jewels of the treasury and a priceless collection of miniatures from medieval manuscripts. In the center of this innermost sanctuary, the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle enshrines the relics of the Prophet Mohammed brought to Istanbul when the Ottomans assumed the caliphate of Islam. (Open every day except Tuesday)

 

The facade of the Dolmabahçe Palace, built in the mid-19th century by Sultan Abdülmecit I, stretches for 600 meters along the European shore of the Bosphorus. The vast reception salon, with its 56 columns and four and a half ton crystal chandelier with 750 lights, never fails to astonish visitors. At one time, birds from all over the world were kept in the Bird Pavilion for the delight of the palace's privileged residents. Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic, died in the palace on November 10, 1938. (Open every day except Monday and Thursday)

In the 19th century, Sultan Abdülaziz built the Beylerbeyi Palace, a fantasy in white marble set amid magnolia filled gardens, on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus. Used as the Sultan's summer residence, it was offered to the most distinguished foreign dignitaries for their visits. Empress Eugenie of France was among its residents. (Open every day except Monday and Thursday)

the Basilica of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom),  now called the Ayasofya Museum,  isunquestionably 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. Linger here to admire the building's majestic serenity as well as the fine Byzantine mosaics. (Open every day except Monday)

Near Hagia Sophia is the sixth century Byzantine cistern known as the Yerebatan Cistern. Three hundred and thirtysix massive Corinthian columns support the immense chamber's fine brick vaulting. (Open every day)

Across from Hagia Sophia stands the supremely elegant Imperial Sultanahmet Mosque with six minarets. Built between 1609 and 1616 by the architect Mehmet, the building is more familiarly known as the Blue Mosque because of its magnificent interior paneling of blue and white İznik tiles. During the summer months an evening light and sound show both entertain and inform visitors.

 

The ancient Hippodrome, the scene of chariot races and the center of Byzantine civil life, stood in the area that is now in front of the Blue Mosque. The area is now named for the mosque, Sultanahmet. Of the monuments which once decorated it only three remain: the Obelisk of Theodosius, the bronze Serpentine Columnand the Column of Constantine. Remains from the curved-end of the Hippodrome wall can be seen on the south-west side of these three monuments. Today the square forms the center of İstanbul's historical, cultural and touristic pursuits. Take particular note of the surrounding wooden houses, especially the 18th century houses on Soğukçesme Street. Delightfully restored, they have a new lease on life as small hotels; one houses a fascinating library of books on istan

The cascading domes and four slender minarets of the Imperial Süleymaniye Mosque dominate the skyline on the Golden Horn's west bank. Considered the most beautiful of all imperial mosques in Istanbul, it was built between 1550 and 1557 by Sinan, the renowned architect of the Ottoman Empire's golden age. Erected on the crest of a hill, the building is conspicuous for its great size, emphasized by the four minarets that rise from each corner of the courtyard. Inside are the mihrab (prayer niche showing the direction to Mecca) and the mimber (pulpit) made of finely carvedwhite marble and exquisite stained-glass windows coloring the incoming streams of light. It was in the gardens of this complex that Süleyman and his wife Hürrem Sultan (Roxelane), had their Mausoleum built, and near here also Sinan built his own tomb. The Mosque complex also includes four medreses, or theological schools, a school of medicine, a caravanserai, a Turkish bath, and a kitchen and hospice for the poor.

The Rüstem Paşa Mosque, another skillful accomplishment of the architect Sinan, was built in 1561 by order of Rüstem Pasa, Grand Vizier and son-in-law of Süleyman the Magnificent. Exquisite İznik tiles panel the small and superbly proportioned interior.

The Archaeological Museums are found just inside the first court of the Topkapı Palace. Included among its treasures of antiquity are the celebrated Alexander Sarcophagus and the facade of the Temple to Athena from Assos.

 

The dark stone building that houses the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art was built in 1524 by the Grand Vizier to Süleyman the Magnificent, İbrahim Pasa, as his residence. It was the grandest private residence ever built in the Ottoman Empire. Today it holds a superb collection of ceramics, metalwork, miniatures, calligraphy, textiles, and woodwork as well as some of the oldest carpets in the world. (Open every day except Monday)

The Mosaic Museum preserves in situ exceptionally fine fifth and sixth century mosaic pavements from the Grand Palace of the Byzantine emperors. (Open every day except Tuesday)

The Kariye Museum, the 11th-century church of "St. Savior" in the Chora complex, is, after Hagia Sophia, the most important

Byzantine monument in Istanbul. Unremarkable in its architecture, inside, the walls are decorated with superb 14th-century mosaics. Illustrating scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary, these brilliantly colored paintings embody the vigor of Byzantine art. In restored wooden houses in the area surrounding the church you can enjoy tea and coffee in a relaxed atmosphere far removed from the city's hectic pace. (Open every day except Wednesday)

In the Military Museum the great field tents used by the Ottoman armies on campaigns are on display. Other exhibits include Ottoman weapons and the accoutrements of war. The Mehter Takımı (Ottoman military band) can be heard performing Ottoman martial music between 3:00 and 4:00 pm. (Open every day except Monday and Tuesday)

The Rahmi Koç Industry Museum, in the suburb of Hasköy on the coast of the Golden Horn, was an Ottoman-period building, formerly called Lengerhane, for iron and steel works. Today it houses exhibits on industrial development. (Open every day except Monday)

Up the Bosphorus in the picturesque suburb of Büyükdere, the collections of the Sadberk Hanım Museum fill two charming 19th-century wooden villas. A private Museum which originally displayed only Turkish decorative arts has recently been expanded for a new collection of archaeological finds. (Open every day except Wednesday)

The Istanbul city walls, once an impenetrable fortification, stretch seven kilometers from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn. Recently restored, as also many times before, these walls date from the fifth century and the reign of Emperor Theodosius II. UNESCO has declared the walls and the area which they enclose to be one of the cultural heritages of the world.

The Galata Tower, a Genoese construction of 1348, rises 62 meters above the Golden Horn. From the top there is a marvelous panorama of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. In the evening you can enjoy its popular restaurant, nightclub and bar.

Rumeli Hisarı, or European Fortress, was built by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1452 prior to his capture of Istanbul. Completed in only four months, it is one of the most beautiful works of military architecture in the world.

In the castle is the Open air  Kız Kulesi, also known as Leander's Tower, is one of the most romantic symbols of Istanbul. On a tiny island at the entrance to Istanbul's harbor, the first tower was constructed in the 12th century. The present building dates from the 18th century.

One could visit Istanbul for the shopping alone.Kapalı Çarşı, or Covered Bazaar, in the oldcity is the logical place to start. This labyrinth of streets and passages houses more than 4,000 shops. The names recall the days when each trade had its own quarter: the goldsmiths' street, the carpet sellers' street, the street of the skullcap makers. Still the commercial center of the old city, the bazaar is the original shopping mall with something to suit every taste and pocket.Charming souvenirs and gifts can be selected from among Turkish crafts, the world-renowned carpets, brilliant handpainted ceramics, copperware, brassware, and meerschaum pipes. The gold jewelry in brilliantly lit cases dazzles passersby. 

Leather and suede goods of excellent quality make a relatively inexpensive purchase. In the heart of the bazaar, the Old Bedesten offers a curious assortment of antiques. It is worth poking through the clutter of decades in the hope of finding a treasure.

Mısır Çarşısı or Spice Bazaar, next to the Yeni Mosque at Eminönü, transports you to fantasies from the mystical East. The enticing aromas of cinnamon, caraway, saffron, mint, thyme and every other conceivable herb and spice fill the air. Sultanahmet has become another shopping mecca in the old city. The Istanbul Sanatları Çarşısı (Bazaar of Istanbul Arts) in the 18th-century Mehmet Efendi Medresesi, and the nearby 16th-century Caferağa Medrese, built by Sinan, offer you the chance to see craftsmen at work and to purchase their wares. In the Arasta (old bazaar) of the Sultanahmet Mosque, a thriving shopping arcade makes both shopping and sightseeing very convenient.

The Princes' Islands, an archipelago of nine islands in the Sea of Marmara, were places of exile for Byzantine princes. Today, during the summer months, wealthy istanbul residents escape to the cool sea breezes and elegant 19th century houses. Büyükada is the largest of the islands. Here you can enjoy a ride in a horse-drawn phaeton (carriage) among the pine trees, or relax on a beach in one of the numerous coves that ring the island. The other popular islands are Kınalı, Sedef, Burgaz, and Heybeliada. Regular ferry boats connect the islands with both the European and Asian shores. A faster sea bus service operates from Kabataş in the summer.

 

Climate of Istanbul

The climate in Istanbul is generally similar to Marmara region; summer months are warm and humid with very little rain especially between July-August, winter months can be cold and wet with some snow but not that much extreme as some other areas of Turkey. Spring and autumn are mild and this would be the best time for visitors.

Istanbul is so huge as an area and it has so many topographic diversities that you can experience several different sub-climates in the same city. For example, Bosphorus Strait and surroundings are dominated by the Mediterranean climate (dry summers and mild and rainy winters) but to the north you can notice a Black Sea climate (mostly rainy). And meanwhile you can have a Balkan climate to the west (cold winters and snow) there is a Anatolian Continental climate to its east (hot summers and cold winters). You can even have completely different climates in the same day; while snowing in one area you can notice the sun shining (but cold of course) on another part of the city.

During the summer months, air temperature can go up to 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), highest recorded temperature in Istanbul was 45 degrees (113 Fahrenheit). During winter months, the temperature is around 10 degrees (50 Fahrenheit) with much colder nights, lowest recorded temperature was -15 degrees (5 Fahrenheit). We occasionally get some snow but it's not more than 10-12 days in a total winter period. In the springtime, especially between April-May and September-October, there is a very comfortable climate with around 15-25 degrees (59-77 Fahrenheit). Average temperature in Istanbul, in a year, is around 14 degrees (57 Fahrenheit) with average relative humidity of 76%.

Average rainfall is 787 millimeters a year (31 inches). 35% of the rainfall occurs in winter, 23% in spring, 14% in summer, and 28% in autumn. Generally, northeastern winds prevail in Istanbul (Poyraz in Turkish), with a long term average of 3,2 meters/second (11 feet/sec). Strongest wind speed recorded until today is 42,4 m/sec (139 feet/sec). Summers are dominated by northeastern winds (Poyraz), winters by northwestern (Karayel) or northern (Yıldız) or southwestern (Lodos) winds. Most foggy period for Istanbul is from March to May.

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