Istanbul: Heritage and History

Discover Istanbul, a city of legend, through its mosques, bazaars, museums and architecture.

Grand Bazaar

If you thought magic carpets only existed in cartoons, think again. Exotic, handmade, and high quality textiles abound in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, and visitors can stop to enjoy a ‘flying carpet’ show at one of the 4,000+ stalls, before perhaps buying their own rug as a souvenir. The Bazaar is one of the largest, oldest, and most vibrant covered markets in the world, where visitors can amble the 61 streets, perusing everything from glittering jewels to delicately stitched leather shoes.

Spice Bazaar

The most colorful and fragrant of Istanbul’s many markets is the Spice Bazaar. It is bright, fun, and interactive, as visitors can taste the spices while they browse the stalls and take home the famous flavors of Turkey. Look out for native black nigella seeds and deep red sumac, Turkey’s famous chilli flakes — Pul Biber — sure to upgrade any dish.

Hagia Sophia

This small section of ceiling at the Hagia Sophia museum shows a mosaic detailing of the figure of the Virgin Mary. It dates all the way back to the ninth century, when the building was a Greek Orthodox Christian church. Between 1204 and 1261 it was used by religious crusaders and was later converted into an Ottoman mosque, before being secularized in 1935 and turned into a museum.

Blue Mosque

The Hagia Sophia has remained a secular museum to this day, famed not just for its artifact collections, but also its stunning architecture and design. When it was built, it was the largest cathedral in the world and is now one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. It sits in a square filled with stunning buildings, most notably the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque). Inside the museum, the ceiling is decorated with stunning mosaics and held up by beautiful marble pillars. Its spectacular dome has fascinated historians and architects for centuries.

Church of the Holy Saviour

The walls inside the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, Istanbul, are covered with some of the finest surviving Byzantine mosaics and frescoes in the country, perhaps in the world. It is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the country and is worth stepping off the tourist trail to see. The artwork was uncovered and restored after the building was secularized and turned into a museum in 1948.

Süleymaniye Mosque

The interior of the Süleymaniye Mosque is an almost perfect square, with a central dome surrounded by smaller domes. It was built as a centre for both religious and cultural activity, originally consisting of the mosque itself, a hospital, primary school, hamam, a Caravanserai, specialized schools including four Qur’an schools, and a kitchen to feed the poor. The decor inside is striking in its simplicity, especially when compared to other exotic churches of the period. There is a refined use of Iznik tiles, white marble and simple designs in pale materials, ivory and mother of pearl.

The Süleymaniye Mosque was built on the order of Sultan Süleyman (known as Süleyman the Magnificent), drawing on the design talent of ‘architectural genius’ Mimar Sinan. Sinan’s work on the mosque was radical, incorporating the buttresses needed to support huge central piers into the walls of the building, with half projecting outside. These extrusions were hidden by colonnaded galleries and the overall effect is one of the world’s most unique buildings.

Sema Ceremony

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The Sema ceremony is a religious dance that feels a little like a theatrical performance. The men who perform the ceremony are the semazen, also known as Whirling Dervishes, who whirl around in circles in remembrance of God. The Dervishes are part of the Mevlevi Order, a strand of Sufism (mystical Islam). The best place to see a performance is the Galata Mevlevi Museum in Istanbul on Sundays, or at a tekke (a Mevlevi Whirling Dervish hall) in the Fatih district on Thursday evenings.

Topkapi Palace

This building was the main residence and headquarters of the Ottoman sultans. Inside the Private Audience Hall, also known as the Chamber of Petitions, the sultan would sit on a canopied throne and personally receive important visitors, from his own imperial government, and foreign ambassadors. The kiosk was built in the third courtyard of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul in the late 15th century. Inside is a main throne room with a stunning dome and two smaller rooms for guests to wait.

Traditional Artifacts

The art and artifacts of the Ottoman Empire are now sought after worldwide, with items such as this shining tombak (a traditional type of jug), in gilt-copper, demonstrating the new style of items their customs and habits introduced. The custom of eating on the floor brought in oversized round trays, and habit of eating from the same pot brought in the large, decorative pots. Meals were ended with a pleasant fragrance from rose rising from incense burners.

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