Few cities in my travels around the world have impressed me as much as the ancient capital of the Byzantine Empire and later, capital of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul. One of the oldest cities in the world that accumulates history in its monuments and streets, but also diversity, modernity, style and life.
If we could apply a simple and clear term to understand for the visitor and the traveler we could say that Istanbul is a city … different … and beautiful. The so-called “pearl of the Bosphorus” is absolutely amazing. Because, in addition, it is the only great city in the world that has one of its parts in Europe…. and another in Asia. The Bosphorus Strait separates the two parts of the city that are inextricably linked, however, by several spectacular old and modern bridges. The most important of the ancient ones is the Gálata bridge, which takes its name from the imposing Gálata tower which is located a few meters from one of its ends and which leads to a wonderful area of the city where the European quarter is located, with its center in Beyoglu, with its old trams and its streets full of shops and restaurants. The main street is Istiklal Avenue, which is visited by more than three million visitors every weekend in the tourist season. A street that we could consider the tourist center of Istanbul although the whole city is impressive for the traveler.
Before continuing our itinerary and highlighting its life and monuments, it must be said that the first name of Istanbul was Constantinople, since it was founded by the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, making it the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.
An important place to start the other route, that of the great mosques, another of the enormous attractions of Istanbul, with Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque as the most outstanding, is the Hippodrome square, from which you can see both and where It was located, hence its name, the Hippodrome of Constantinople. The Blue Mosque, named for its incredible mosaics of that color, is also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and is the easternmost of the great mosques, the most Muslim, since Hagia Sophia was first a Byzantine Christian temple later converted into a mosque . Huge, impressive in every way, Hagia Sophia to me is one of the great wonders of the world. It is overwhelming to enter and know that it is probably the only place in the world where the God of Christians and the Allah of Arabs share greatness and worship. In fact, at the moment it has become more than a sacred place of prayer in a museum (it has been declared) shared by the two most important religions in the world.
Next to Hagia Sophia is the great underground cistern of Yerebatán, a place worth visiting and that, particularly, made a deep impression on me. Built in the 6th century and has 336 columns that make it an underground gem. A place that is always fresh due to the immense amount of water it accumulates, water that, for a long time, was the water reserve and the source of food for the entire city. The ocher tones of its columns are especially beautiful due to the special lighting with which this space has been endowed with immense beauty.
Relatively close by is another architectural jewel, the Topkapi Palace, a huge complex with four interior courtyards and numerous and beautiful Arab rooms with wonderful mosaics and tiles that was built by Sultan Mehmed II and which was the seat of the Ottoman government from 1465 to 1853. It is very interesting to visit the rooms of the Sultan’s harem, one of the most numerous and secret of its time.
But Istanbul is not only a city full of monuments from other times. It is an ideal city for shopping. If we want to find crafts, fabrics and perfumes, we must visit the Grand Bazaar, perhaps the most important in the world. But we must not forget the Spice Bazaar, a unique place, because in its stalls are the best and most exotic spices and condiments that one can imagine. A delicious smell will accompany us throughout the tour.
A special place, with wonderful views, is the Café de Pierre Loti, somewhat far from the center with a paradisiacal terrace and where the best teas in Istanbul are served. It was founded by a French writer and artist to whom it owes its name, two centuries ago, a great lover of the great Turkish metropolis.
But Istanbul is also, and very characteristically, a city of water. You have to make a trip through the Bosphorus, in any of the tourist boats that are offered to the traveler, to see the city on its two sides, the so-called European and the Asian and enjoy the views from the sea that the city offers. As you ascend and as soon as you start the small cruise, we find the Government Palace, a real gem on the waterfront, in the Besitkas neighborhood. And further on, the large and modern suspension bridge that connects traffic between Istanbul in the European zone and Istanbul in the Asian zone, where precisely the most beautiful houses and private residences in the city are located.
In short, Istanbul needs several days to visit it and soak up its magic and also its hospitality. And its sweets and gastronomy, as it is another of the strengths of an unforgettable city that has something of a thousand and one nights and is a mixture of cultures and civilizations that no other city can offer.