Where worlds collide, in perfect harmony
Ancient splendour and modern charm lure visitors to Istanbul, with its stunning mix of traditional and modern cultures.
There’s nowhere on the planet more fittingly described as a crossroads than Istanbul. Bridging two continents in a kaleidoscopic blend of traditional and modern cultures, ‘Istanbul is one of the world’s great cities, period,’ says the famed US travel writer Rick Steves. ‘For millennia, this point where Europe meets Asia has been the crossroads of civilisation. Few places on Earth have seen more history than this sprawling metropolis on the Bosphorus.’
Once called Byzantium, then Constantinople, the Turkish hotspot for tourism and business offers visitors the splendours of its epic past, and the charms of its modern present. It is home to awe-inspiring mosques, museums and other cultural and archaeological sites from the Selijuq, Byzantine, Mongol and Ottoman empires, but it’s also famed for its dazzling 21st century atmosphere, sparkling nightlife, diverse dining scene and more.
A mixture of today and yesterday
Istanbul is an irresistible blend of the old and the new, the serene and the vibrant, the intimate and the cosmopolitan – an unparalleled dig through Occidental and Oriental history and a world-class exploration of the contemporary. If there are two icons that symbolise the city, they are the Blue Mosque, named for its 20,000 richly hued Iznik tiles, and Emperor Justinian’s sixth-century Byzantine Aya Sofya.
But while the city’s heart lies in its yesterdays, its soul rests in its todays, as renaissance pervades nearly every corner of city life. Formerly run-down neighbourhoods such as Sogukcesme Street, Balat, Galata and Taksim are now delightful, with art galleries, boutiques, cultural centres and chic residences sharing pride of place.
With a legacy of trade dating to the Silk Road, Istanbul also is well positioned as a place to do business. Its primary meeting destinations all boast convenient international and domestic accessibility via reliable transportation routes, state-of-the-art convention facilities, top-flight business-centric hotels and a wealth of dining, sightseeing and entertainment opportunities. Istanbul hosts many important events and congresses each year, and has since 2010 been ranked in the world’s top 10 host cities for such. In 2015, the International Epilepsy Congress, the Asian Pacific Association for the Study of the Liver and the World Federation of the Deaf, among others, brought their delegates to the city; in 2016, the World Energy Congress, the World Congress of Political Science and the European Society of Cardiology are among the visiting organisations.
In short, for business or for pleasure, for something completely different yet utterly familiar, Istanbul’s colours, cultures and historical and economic dynamism await you.
10 TOP TOURIST ATTRACTIONS
1. Aya Sofya: Completed in AD 536 under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, this magnificent church was converted to a mosque and further converted to a museum.
2. Topkapi Palace: Built by Mehmet the Conqueror in the 15th century, this complex is a dazzling display of Islamic art and features opulent courtyards and sumptuously decorated rooms.
3. Blue Mosque: Sultan Ahmet I’s grand architectural gift to his capital, built between 1609 and 1616, gets its nickname from its interior decoration of tens of thousands of İznik tiles.
4. Basilica Cistern: This huge underground hall, supported by 336 columns in 12 rows, once stored the imperial water supply for the Byzantine emperors.
5. Hippodrome: The ancient arena was begun by Septimus Severus in AD 203 and completed by Constantine the Great in AD 330. The At Meydanı (park) on the site features several ancient monuments.
6. Istanbul Archaeology Museum: This important complex brings together a staggering array of artefacts from Turkey and throughout the Middle East.
7. Grand Bazaar: Basically the world’s first shopping mall, this massive covered market takes up a whole city quarter.
8. Suleymaniye Mosque: The mosque was built for Suleyman the Magnificent by the famed Ottoman architect Sinan between 1549 and 1575. A soaring 530-metre dome dominates the interior.
9. Spice Bazaar: This is the place to get your foodie fix of lokum (Turkish delight), dried fruit, nuts, herbs and of course spices. It’s best to visit before 11am or after 4pm before the crowds arrive.
10. Dolmabahce Palace: Built by Sultan Abdul Mecid I in 1854, this sumptuous palace replaced Topkapi Palace as the main residence of the sultans.