Istanbul Attractions

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Istanbul Attractions


Bosphorus is a natural strait connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, thus being a very strategic waterway. It was a river in the valley during the Tertiary period of the continents, which was drowned by the sea at the end of this period. It's length is 32 kilometers (20 miles) in the north to south direction, width varies between 730-3300 meters (800-3600 yards), and depth is between 30-120 meters (100-395 feet). Bosphorus strait separates the European part from the Asian part of Istanbul. The surface current flows always from north to south; however, a strong countercurrent under the surface creates swirls and eddies.

Bosphorus comes from a Thracian word which means "passage of the cow", deriving from the legend of Io who was one of many lovers of Zeus. When Hera, Zeus' wife, suspected her husband being involved in a love affair with Io, Zeus converted Io in a small cow and tried to send her away from Hera's rage. She (the cow) swam across the strait but Hera discovered it and she sent big flies after the cow to bite and disturb her all the time, ending Io in the Aegean Sea (thus named Ionian sea).

Bosphorus in Turkish is known as Bogazici, meaning "inner strait". Since the ancient times it held always an important role because of its strategic location, being the only passage from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean, along with the Dardanelles strait. Especially during the Cold War, the straits were crucial for Soviet navy.

Bosphorus is a very busy waterway with many ships and oil tankers going through it, as well as local fishing and ferries go to the Asian side back and forth. Around 48.000 ships pass through this strait annually, three times denser than the Suez Canal traffic and four times denser than the Panama Canal. Approximately 55 million tones of oil are shipped through the strait each year.

There are three suspension bridges on the Bosphorus connecting Europe to Asia (or vice versa). The first one is known as "Bosphorus Bridge" and was opened on 29th October 1973 between Beylerbeyi and Ortakoy neighborhoods. This bridge's name was changed into "Martyrs of July 15th" dedicated to the victims of the coup attemp on 15th of July 2016. It's 1074 meters (1175 yards) long between two pillars, has 6 lanes, 165 meters (540 feet) height of piers. The second one is known as "Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge" (or FSM Bridge shortly) and was opened in 3rd July 1988 between Anadolu Hisari and Rumeli Hisari neighborhoods. This one is 1090 meters (1192 yards) long, has 8 lanes, and is 65 meters high from the water surface. The FSM bridge is a part of TEM highway (Trans European Motorway) between Ankara and Edirne provinces. The third one is known as "Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge" (or YSS Bridge shortly) and was opened in 26th of August 2016 between Garipce and Poyrazkoy neighborhoods along the shores of the strait. It's one of the longest and highest suspension bridges in the World; 1408 meters (1540 yards) long between 322 meters-high pillars, is 59 meters (65 yards) wide with 8 lanes for motor vehicles + 2 lanes for trains. A new highway is built on both sides of the 3rd bridge for intercontinental trade and commuter traffic. All three bridges are tolled which is paid during the passage to the Asian direction only. On the suspension bridges only vehicles with electronic pass system (called OGS or HGS) are accepted, no cash. No bicycles nor pedestrian traffic is allowed on them.


Golden Horn (Haliç)

The Golden Horn, or Haliç in Turkish, is a horn-shaped fyord on the European side of Istanbul and is fed by two small streams. It is a natural harbor where Byzantine and Ottoman fleet and commercial ships were anchored. Today, it's surrounded by parks and promenades with ancient sites around it. Its name comes from the color of the water when at sunset it shines with a gold color because of the reflection of the sun.

Golden Horn was an old trading harbor and a popular residential area during the Byzantine period. Its entrance was blocked by a huge chain to stop unwanted ships to enter. During the Ottoman period it was largely inhabited by Jewish immigrants from Spain. The mixtures of Armenians, Greeks, Gypsies and Turks living along its shores reflected the city's colorful ethnic mosaic.

In the beginning of 16th century Leonardo da Vinci projected a bridge to be built over the Golden Horn for the sultan. It was intended to be a single span of 240 meters (787 feet), 8 meters (26 feet) wide, and 24 meters (78 feet) high from the water, but it was never built.

In the first half of 18th century the Golden Horn was famous for its tulip gardens where upscale people came to enjoy and row with their boats at the romantic sunset. Many poets called it as "Sadabad" in their poems, or "place of bliss". Later on, Cibali cigarette factory was built in 1880 followed by other factories, which today houses a private university, and the Golden Horn was industrilized.

With the population explosion in the 1950's and ineffective building laws, the Golden Horn became an ugly storage of grey city-sewage and industrial waste with a terrible odor. But in the 1980's an urban clean-up began, clearing up these factories and building proper sewage systems around the Golden Horn. Now, its shores are green once again with parks, promenades, and playgrounds. There is still lots to do but at least now people don't have to change their course because of the bad odor, and they can even fish there.

Fener and Balat are old neighborhoods of the Golden Horn, with traditional old wooden houses, Byzantine churches, and a couple of old synagogues belonging to the first Jewish community who was settled here. The Orthodox Patriarchy resides here as well.

Eyup neighborhood towards the end of the Golden Horn is an important site for Muslims who are coming to visit and pray for the tomb of Eyub El Ensari, who was a companion of the Prophet Muhammad and died during the Arab siege of Constantinople in the 7th century. Around the mosque and the hills are covered with cemetaries from the Ottoman period. The Pierre Loti Cafe on top of the hill overlooking the shrine is a peaceful place to enjoy the view of the Golden Horn having a traditional Turkish coffee or tea.

There was no bridge over the Golden Horn before the 19th century. Small boats provided transportation between the two shores. The first Galata Bridge, which connects present day Karaköy to Eminönü, was built in 1836, rebuilt in 1845, again in 1912, and lastly in 1993. The Unkapani (also named as Atatürk) Bridge further up the Golden Horn handles the flow of traffic between Beyoglu and Saraçhane. The third one over the Golden Horn is called the Haliç Bridge with the highway passing thru.


Galata Bridge

The oldest recorded bridge over the Golden Horn was built as a simple one in 1453 during the Turkish siege of the city. In the beginning of 16th century it was decided to build a permanent bridge here and Leonardo da Vinci designed a single span bridge with double pillars at either end, 250 meters long, 8 meters wide and 24 meters high. However, technical drawbacks made it impossible to realize this project. Than another Italian artist, Michelangelo, was invited to design a bridge for Istanbul but he rejected the proposal, and the idea of building a bridge on the Golden Horn was shelved until the 19th century. In the early 19th century sultan Mahmut II (1808-1839) had a bridge built at some distance up the waterway between Azapkapi and Unkapani. This bridge, known as the Hayratiye, was opened on 3 September 1836. The project was carried out by Deputy Lord High Admiral Fevzi Ahmet Pasa using the workers and facilities of the naval arsenal. The bridge was built on linked pontoons and was around 500 to 540 meters long.

The first Galata Bridge at the entrance of the Golden Horn was constructed in 1845 by the mother of Sultan Abdulmecid and used for 18 years. It was known as the Cisr-i Cedid or New Bridge to distinguish it from the earlier bridge further up the Golden Horn, which became known as the Cisr-i Atik or Old Bridge.

The New Bridge was built by Abdulmecid Han. First to pass over the bridge was Sultan Abdulmecid, and the first to pass below it was the French captain Magnan in his ship the Cygne. For the first three days crossing the bridge was free, after which a toll known as mürüriye was paid to the Naval Ministry.

This was replaced by a second wooden bridge in 1863, built by Ethem Pertev Pasha on the orders of Sultan Abdulaziz in readiness for the visit to Istanbul of Napoleon III.

In 1870 a contract was signed with a French company, Forges et Chantiers de la Mediteranée for construction of a third bridge, but the outbreak of war between France and Germany delayed the project, which was given instead to a British firm G. Wells in 1872. This bridge completed in 1875 was 480 m long and 14 m wide and rested on 24 pontoons. It was built at a cost of 105,000 gold liras. This was used until 1912, when it was pulled upstream to replace the now genuinely old Cisr-i Atik Bridge.

The fourth Galata Bridge was built in 1912 by the German Man firm for 350,000 gold lira. This bridge was 466 m long and 25 m wide. It is the bridge still familiar to many people today that was badly damaged in a fire in 1992 and towed up the Golden Horn to make way for the modern bridge now in use.

The Galata Bridge was a symbolic link between the old Istanbul at Eminonu neighborhood, site of the imperial palace and principal religious and secular institutions of the Ottoman Empire, and the districts of Galata, Beyoglu, Sisli and Harbiye where a large proportion of the inhabitants were non-Muslims and where foreign merchants and diplomats lived and worked. In this respect the bridge connected these two distinctive cultures. As Peyami Safa said in his novel Fatih-Harbiye, a person who went from Fatih (in the old part) to Harbiye (in the new part) via the bridge set foot in a different civilization and different culture. Apart from its place in fiction, the romantic appearance of the Galata Bridge made it a subject of many paintings and engravings.

Today, the modern Galata Bridge has several restaurants and coffee houses underneath where local people enjoy their meal watching the rush of the ferry boats and fishermen. All daily city tours in Istanbul include this bridge as it's the passageway to the Old City of Constantinople. And the old bridge is now located deeper in the Golden Horn, between Sutluce and Feshane Convention and Fair centers.


Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar (Kapalicarsi in Turkish) is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. It was built of wood after the Conquest of Istanbul around an old Byzantine building which became the part of the Old Bedesten (Old Bazaar) today, and got bigger and larger throughout the centuries with the addition of new sections and inns. The Bazaar initially consisted of two warehouses only, known as Inner Bedesten and Sandal Bedesten. Than open streets were covered with doomed roofs connecting separate buildings to each other. Today the bazaar covers an area of approximately 31thousand square meters (333thousand square foot) with its over 3000 shops (some even say 4000), 17 inns (Han), 61 streets, over 20thousand employees, 4 fountains, 10 wells, 2 mosques, several cafes and restaurants, change offices, a police station, and 22 gates. It resembles a giant labyrinth and can be a little complicated for the first-time visitor, but after a couple of visits there you can familiarize with it because streets are arranged almost on a grid plan, and shops tend to group themselves according to the type of goods they sell.

The old wooden Grand Bazaar built by Mehmet II suffered several fires and earthquakes during centuries but has always been repaired after each disaster. Last restorations were made after a big fire in the mid-fifties when it was finally made of stone. During Ottoman times all kinds of jewelry, fabrics, weaponry and antiques were sold by merchants, unfortunately today quilt makers, slipper makers, turban and fez makers do not exists anymore. Today, it's very popular for tourists looking for traditional shops and goods. There are thousands of things you can find and buy in the Grand Bazaar, or just enjoy local people and Turkish hospitality with some window shopping. It's one of the most significant tourist sites in Istanbul owing to its location, architecture, history and fame. Depending on the season, between 250-400thousand people visit the Bazaar everyday.

The Grand Bazaar is open daily between 09:00-19.00 except on Sundays and during public or religious holidays.


Egyptian Bazaar 

The Egyptian Bazaar (Misir Carsisi in Turkish) is also known as Spice Market. It's located just behind the Yeni Mosque at Eminonu neighborhood, at the entrance of the Golden Horn. The Bazaar was originally made of wood in mid-17th century by the architect Kazim Aga, and got its final restorations during mid-forties. The name comes from the fact that Egyptians used to sell their spices here and that it once received income from taxes levied on Egypt. Instead the English name comes from the days when the Bazaar was specialized on selling spices and herbs, medicinal plants and drugs. Lately, there are also shops selling stuff other than spices but you can still see and smell many interesting spices, dried fruits and nuts, teas, oils and essences, sweets, honeycombs, and aphrodisiacs.

The Spice Market has 86 shops inside. Outside there is a plant market on one side and a food market on the other. There are 6 gates of the L-shaped Bazaar. The ceiling is higher respect to Grand Bazaar, and this is also covered with domes.


Princess Islands

The Princess Islands are a combination of nine islands off the Asian coast of Istanbul, in the Sea of Marmara. Regular or fast passenger ferries operate to the four of these islands from different parts of the city; from Bostanci, Kadikoy and Kartal neighborhoods on the Asian side, from Sirkeci and Kabatas neighborhoods on the European side. Motorists are not permitted on the islands except the ones belonging to the local municipality for public works, therefore you have to walk or rent a bicycle or horse-drawn carriage (fayton in Turkish), even a donkey. Many local people in Istanbul own or rent their summer houses, or just go there at the weekends for swimming in the tiny beaches and for picnicking.

These four islands are called in general as Adalar (Islands) in Turkish and their names are; Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, and Kinaliada. Sedefada is the fifth inhabited island but it isn't much popular as the other ones, there is a very small settlement on it. Beside these, Tavsan Adasi, Sivriada and Yassiada have no settlements on them, meanwhile Kasik Adasi is a private island. Yassiada whitnessed a tragic moment in our recent history when one of our early Republic period prime ministers, Adnan Menderes, was sentenced to death penalty after spending his last days of life in a prison on this island.

The name of the islands comes from the Byzantine period, when royal princes and empresses were exiled there. With the intruduction of steamboats during the late Ottoman period around the 19th century, these islands became popular resorts for the rich people who built their wooden houses. Jewish, Greek and Armenian communities were a large part of the inhabitants here. Today, the islands are popular tourist destinations for daily excursions especially in the summer time. There are many monasteries and historic buildings on the islands, besides 19th century Victorian style old wooden mansions.


Archaeological Museum

This complex was build by the end of 19th century by the architect Vallaury thanks to great efforts of famous Turkish painter Osman Hamdi Bey. It includes the exquisite Tiled Kiosk and the Museum of the Ancient Orient and houses a large collection of artifacts and works of art belonging to ancient Greek, Roman and other Anatolian civilizations dating back to the 6th century BC. The Sarcophagus of Alexander the Great, Sarcophagus of Mourning Ladies, and other ancient sarcophagi and various objects found in the Sidon excavation are among its most interesting pieces.

Ancient Eastern Archeological Museum was designed and open to service in 1917 by Halil Eldem Bey. The collection on displays comprised of about 15000 archeological pieces of Ancient Mesopotamia, Pre-Greek Anatolia, Assyrian, Sumerian, Acadian, Babylonian, Ancient Egyptian and Pre-Islamic Arabic culture.