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Istanbul or Constantinople

Istanbul in Turkey is a city founded around 660 BC, which makes of it a very old one and therefore you can imagine how many stories it call tell! Called Constantinople in the past, it served as capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. In this article you will know all the main information about this fascinating destination.

Where is Istanbul located?

The city is located in Turkey, and curiously it is the only one in two continents at the same time, Europe and Asia. The Bosporus strait crosses the city and serves as connector to the Marmara Sea, the Black Sea, and the Golden Horn, which is a drowned waterway valley. This intersection is known as "the three seas".

What is the story of Istanbul?

The first inhabitants arrived in Istanbul in 2000 BC but throughout the centuries the city was invaded and occupied by different rulers, from Persians to Alexander the Great. The Megara king Byzas established a colony by the 7th century and named it Byzantium. From 193 AD to the 4th century the city was ruled by the Romans. The emperor Constantine the Great transformed it into capital of the Roman Empire and named it Constantinople.

The Arabs arrived in the 7th century and they, followed by the Barbarians, ruled the city until the 10th century. Unfortunately the 4th Crusades represented a watershed to the city in mid-XIII century, destroying and sacking the city, and this would lead a big transformation. 

By the XVI the Ottoman Turks were already ruling Constantinople but renamed it Islambol (City of Islam), that became a commercial and cultural centre. Finally, the city was named as we know it today as a combination of Islambol and "eis tin Polin" ("to the City" in Greek).

The Ottoman Empire was a strong one, collapsing only after the I World War. In 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the new Republic of Turkey and the capital was transferred from Istanbul to Ankara.

What is Istanbul's population?

Istanbul's population is over 15 million people. It is one of the biggest cities in the world and its area is 5 thousand square kilometres.

What is the best time to visit Istanbul?

Istanbul has cold winters and it can be pretty icy from December to February due the winds that come from the Black Sea and that sometimes can even freeze the Golden Horn and the Bosporus. The best time to plan a visit to Istanbul is between April-May and from mid-September until mid-November. Visitors can benefit from Spring and Fall temperatures because it is not too hot nor too cold.

What to see in Istanbul?

They is a lot to see in this marvellous city, amongst the main attraction are:

  • Hagia Sophia: It is the most famous attraction of the city, now a museum but it served to Islam and Christianity for the centuries.
  • Topkapi Palace: a beautiful palace that was the official house of Ottoman sultans and seat of government. It is a must-see and will require at least half of your day. Hats off to the Harem and the Treasure. 
  • Dolmabahçe Palace: This palace served as the new home of the last six Ottoman sultans and as the administrative centre of the Empire. It is amongst the most magnificent buildings in the world.
  • Suleymaniye Mosque: This mosque built in the XVI century is an example of cohabitation of Byzantine architecture and religion.
  • Blue Mosque:  It was built in the XVII century and it is the most important mosque in the city. Its real name is Sultan Ahmed Mosque but the blue interior decoration gave it the reputation of Blue Mosque. 
  • Grand Bazaar: This bazaar was built in the XV century and it is the oldest and largest covered market in the world. It is one of the best places to buy souvenirs and other local products.
  • Basilica Cistern: this historical building from the V century was first a cistern then a basilica. It contains stunning marble columns and many movies were shoot there.
  • Istanbul Archaeological Museum: it combines three museums (Ancient Orient, Archaeological, and Tiled Kiosk).
  • Sail on the Bosporus: Your trip will be incomplete without this experience. Admire many attractions along the trait, such as Rumeli Fortress, Beylerbeyi, Çiragan and Dolmabahçe palaces, etc.
  • Galata Tower: When it was built in 1348, it was the tallest building of its time (67 m) but it still offers a very nice view of the city.

Remember to also not stick only to the main attractions but walking around the city, there are many details and original places that give Istanbul a nice charm. Experiences that deserve to be mentioned: trying a real Turkish bath in a hamam, eating crepe in Besiktas, and admire the Bosporus. 

What makes Istanbul special?

Not only the attractions but its story makes of Istanbul a very special place. It is a city that has the privilege of blending Middle Eastern and European cultures and the result is unique.

It is also famous for being a very cat-friendly city. They actually are part of the spirit of Istanbul and are taken care of by the local community. Cats walk freely, including at shops, cafes, and restaurants; they are welcome everywhere around Istanbul.