While business movers and shakers may be just “discovering” Istanbul, seekers of culture, beauty, art and nightlife have known just how special the city is for some time. Istanbul, in its emerging grandeur is reminiscent of Henry Miller’s Paris, an old-world respite with a leaning towards a sexy, modern and very exciting future. For the business traveler it offers world class amenities wrapped in the Turks unique brand of hospitality. It’s a city that has been through a lot recently; terrorist attacks, street protests, an attempted coup, and through it all Istanbul remains thoroughly fascinating (and we mean that in a good way).
So whether you have one day off after meetings or are on more a leisurely holiday here is Part One of our Editor’s list on what you shouldn’t miss in the fantastic city of Istanbul.
We’ll start with its traditional side.
- Sulanahmet District or “Old City”
When in Istanbul, one must take the time to visit the touristy heart of historic Old Istanbul, the Sultanahmet area; to see Ayasofya, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) and the The Basilica Cistern or Yerebatan Cistern (Turkish translation: Yerebatan Sarnıcı – “Sunken Cistern”), (many tend to miss this last one, an underground basilica/cistern located 150 m south west of the famed Hagia Sophia). There are numerous museums and sights in this region, taking the time to wander a bit will not disappoint
Within the Sulanahmet District lies the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar, both great places to immerse oneself in a bit of old-world shopping. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world with 65 streets and nearly 5000 shops. Built in the 5th century, within the walls protecting the heart of old Istanbul, the colorful bazaar is a feast for the eyes and other senses, while every transaction is a dramatic event. Saying ‘no’ and getting through the bazaar can be a lesson in negotiations, but the experience, and the deals to be found are well worth the adventure. The Spice or Egyptian Bazaar is housed in a building built in the 1940’s. A similar experience in bartering and haggling, the Spice bazaar is primarily filled with dried foods and spices.
- Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia, as one of the world’s most fascinating and beautiful historic buildings, deserves special mention, as its incarnations through history stand out as symbolic to the chronological changes in growth that have taken place in Turkey.
Opened in 537, it started out as the world’s largest cathedral until Seville cathedral was completed in 1520. It remained a Christian cathedral for 900 years until the Turks took the city (at the time called Constantinople) in 1453. The Hagia Sophia was then transformed into a mosque for the next 500 years. In 1935 this magnificent structure became a museum; open for the enjoyment of the public. Inside this vast square building, columns and piers rise over massive Byzantine mosaics; the dome ceiling floats majestically on a circuit of 40 arched windows, which flood the vibrant interior with light.
Be sure to also check out Part two in this series, Day Off: Another Day in Istanbul where we highlight the best of modern Istanbul.