Top 9 Attractions of Istanbul

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Istanbul, one of the most important culture centers of the world, hosts various significant museums. We’ve compiled top 9 must see attractions in Istanbul.

1. Hagia Sophia Mosque

Hagia Sophia Museum Travel Turkey Rose the guide
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Hagia Sophia, which has a significant role in history of architecture for its size and design, is one of the must-see museums in the city. Hagia Sophia, which is one of the most important monuments that survived until today, makes up an important place in terms of functionality in the art world.

It is the biggest church built by Eastern Roman Empire Justinian. Constructed 3 times in same location, first church had the name “Megale Ekklesia”, which means “Big Church”. From 5th century and more it was called Hagia Sophia “Holy Wisdom”. Hagia Sophia is an important building, where the Roman Emperors’ coronations took place throughout the Eastern Roman Empire history, served as the cathedral as the capital’s largest church. Justinian sent orders to all states in his empire to get most beautiful architectural pieces collected in order to have a more magnificent and flamboyant church. Therefore, the marble and columns used in structure were brought from Syria, Aspendos, Ephesus, Baalbek, Tarsus. Hagia Sophia, which was converted to a mosque after Ottoman conquest, opened as a museum in 1935 by the will of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Latest news: Year 2020 Hagia Sophia is converted into a mosque again.

It seems like debates, about what exactly Hagia Sophia is, never going to end…

It’s always best having your professional guide for the latest info & updates. 

2. Topkapı Palace

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Following Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II’s conquest of Constantinople in 1453, construction of Topkapi Palace started in 1460 and completed in 1478. The palace is in Historical Peninsula between the Marmara Sea, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn.

Palace, which was the administrative center of Ottoman Empire for 400 years, was the house for 30 sultans. The palace became a museum in 1924 with the establishment of the Republic. It is one of the leading palace-museums in the world with its architectural structures, collections, special items of sultans, sacred relics, archival documents and the famous Diamond of Spoons.

3. Istanbul Archaeology Museums

Istanbul Archaeology Museums Iskender Lahdi Rose the Guide

Istanbul Archaeology Museums are a complex of museums: The Archaeological Museum, The Museum of Ancient Oriental Works and The Tiled Kiosk Museum. Renowned architect of time  Alexander Vallaury built it. Museums complex include many works from the Anatolian land (today’s Turkey), as well as artifacts from North Africa, the Balkans, Mesopotamia and the Arabian Peninsula, which were part of the Ottoman Empire in that time.

Osman Hamdi Bey, who founded and named the museum as Imperial Museum, opened it to public in 13 June 1891. Besides seasonal exhibitions, the museum has the world’s first known treaty tablet with the text of the Treaty of Kadesh(Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty) and Sarcophagus of Alexander.

4. Kariye (Chora) Museum

Chora Museum Kariye Rose the Guide
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The building, which was an enormous building complex during the Eastern Roman Empire, is a church structure dedicated to Jesus. Building was named Chora, meaning “rural area” or “extra-urban”, because of its location out of Constantinople city walls. The exact construction date of the building is unknown, but according to the narration of the writer Saint Symeon Metaphrastes, the relics of St. Babylas with his 84 martyred disciples were buried here in the beginning of the 4th century. It is obvious that the region where the Chora Monastery was located, started to gain importance as a sacred cemetery area (necropolis) after.

In Chora Monastery, today’s Chora Museum, we can see the best examples of mosaic and fresco style decoration techniques together commonly used in Eastern Roman religious painting art. Outer narthex exhibits Life of Jesus Christ and his miracles and inner narthex is decorated with mosaics depicting Virgin Mary’s life. Parekkesion has frescoes of religious stories from Old Testament such as Judgment Day(Deisis), resurrection.
The building has no damage during conquest of Constantinople and remained as a church until 1511, a mosque until 1945 and a museum until today. This monumental museum is an extremely important structure that hosts the most beautiful examples of Eastern Roman art with its architecture, magnificent mosaics and frescoes.

5. Dolmabahçe Palace

Dolmabahçe Palace Rose the Guide
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Palace was built in 1853 by Sultan Abdülmecit in opulent European style for about 35 tons of gold cost. Once the palace was completed royal family moved here from Topkapı Palace. Sultans decorated all the halls of the palace with gifted furnitures from all around the world. Highlight of the palace, Main Hall, is located higher, and it is one of the few halls in the world in terms of its size and height. The giant crystal chandelier with 750 lamps weighting 4.500 kg in the hall is a gift of Victoria, queen of UK. Dolmabahçe Palace holds the biggest collection of Baccarat & Bohemian chandeliers.  Ataturk, founder and first president of Turkish Republic, occasionally stayed in the palace from 1927 until his death in 1938. Dolmabahçe hosted several governors such as Iran Shah, Lebanon, Irak and UK kings. The palace is open to visit as museum-palace since 1984.

6. Istanbul Modern Art Museum

Istanbul Modern Museum Rose the Guide
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Istanbul Modern Art Museum, which houses the interdisciplinary activities aimed at sharing the international art scene, characterized as a museum to Turkey’s cultural identity and artistic creativity to the masses. It collects, protects, documents and exhibits its productions in the fields of modern and contemporary art with an international orientation and offers it to the art lovers. Turkey’s first modern art museum founded in 2004, the museum offers permanent exhibition halls for modern and contemporary art followers. There’s photo gallery for photography lovers. Museum also provides education and social programs,libraries, cinemas. And there is a versatile service area with restaurants and shops. Istanbul Modern will host its visitors in the temporary place in Beyoglu for three years until the construction of the new museum building in Karaköy is completed.

Here you can check the details of my modern city tour. 

7. Miniaturk

Miniaturk Rose the Guide

Opened to visit in 2003, Miniaturk brought together the rich architectural heritage of the Anatolian cultures and civilizations that reigned in this land and left a trace from ancient times to Rome and Byzantine, Seljuk to Ottoman, and Modern Turkey.

Museum have total 135 scaled models that are 25 times smaller than their original sizes. 62 historical artifacts selected from Istanbul, 60 artifacts from Anatolia and 13 artifacts from old Ottoman territory that is off the modern country border today, are included in the museum.

In Miniaturk, everything is so convenient that you feel as if you are traveling all over the country from east to west, from north to south. Of course, it is not the same thing as seeing the originals of the works, but when you see the miniatures, it is another pleasure to see the original structures from this point of view, aside from longing to see the original.

8. Galata Tower

Galata Tower Roset the Guide
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Galata Tower, a symbol of Istanbul, was built in 528 by Roman Emperor Anastasius as a lighthouse. Damaged during Latin Crusade IV.  in 1204, the tower was additionally rebuilt with Galata walls by the Genoese in 1348. It was the tallest building in the town in this period. Later Ottomans used the tower as fire lookout tower and dungeon. According to some Ottoman sources Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi flied from the tower with wooden eagle wings he created and landed to Üsküdar safe.

It’s one of the oldest towers in the world with 69.90m height. Golden Horn and Bosphorus view from the top of the tower is breathtaking. You can reach the top with an elevator. There’s a cozy restaurant and one of the best views in the city.

9. Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern Rose the Guide
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It’s biggest Roman cistern in the town. Usually people call it Underground City or Forest of Columns. Basilica Cistern was built on Stoa Basilica during Emperor Justinian’s reign in 532. It has 100 thousand cubic meters of water capacity to provide enough water for the royal palace and buildings around. Ottomans used the cistern to water the plants, and it got forgotten by time until Dutch traveller Petrus Gyllius rediscovered it in 1546. 336 columns carry the 9m ceiling above and 2 mysteries Medusa heads are placed inverse under the columns. After 1500 years Roman water system still brings water to the cistern. With the ambiance in the cistern and especially the chill in hot summer days, it’s the most interesting spot in the old town to discover. 

Don’t forget to check out my private guided tours in Istanbul.

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