Of the many cultural tourism destinations in the world, Istanbul is one of the favorite destinations for tourists from all over the world. Not only does it offer cultural heritage that is still well maintained, Istanbul’s geographical location, which is on the edge of the Bosphorus Bay which separates Europe and Asia, is its own attraction.
If you only have a short time, you don’t need to worry about losing momentum. Istanbul has many tourist options that can be visited within a relatively short distance. Here are several places you can visit while in the city formerly known as Constantinople.
This main donna of the city of Istanbul is a place that must be visited when visiting Türkiye. Located in Fatah District, Hagia Sophia is a historical site founded in 360 by the Eastern Roman Empire as a church. Its function changed to a mosque when the Ottoman Empire took over power. Having become a museum in 1922, Hagia Sophia was re-functioned as a mosque by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2020.
Hagia Sophia is a magnificent building measuring 82 x 73 meters, with a height of 55 meters. Once known as the Church of Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia was built in a Byzantine architectural style. Changing functions many times has given Hagia Sophia a unique interior full of religious symbolism.
Even though it currently functions as a mosque, the public can still see the painting of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary above the Emperor’s Door (imperial door or imperial kapisi in local language), which is the main door to enter the prayer room.
The splendor of the giant dome with a diameter of 24 meters is also an attraction in itself. Supported by four giant pillars, the Hagia Sophia dome is one of the earliest applications of the pendentive architectural technique.
Sultan Ahmed Mosque aka Blue Mosque (Blue Mosque)
Built by Sultan Ahmed I in 1609, the Blue Mosque was designed to rival the grandeur of the Hagia Sophia. Architected by Mehmed Agha, an architect from the Ottoman Empire, the construction took up to 7 years. The name of the mosque is taken from the interior which is dominated by 21 thousand blue ceramic tiles.
The ceramics in the Blue Mosque come from Iznik, one of the best ceramic producing areas in Turkey. The ceramic designs have motifs of tulips, carnations and roses. “In Turkey, we believe that carnations symbolize Rasullullah. The Prophet’s breath is believed to smell like carnations and his sweat smells like roses. Meanwhile, tulips symbolize Allah,” said Ufuk Turan, a tourist guide from Turkey.
The Blue Mosque building is also known for its six minarets which rise as high as 64 meters around the mosque. The location is not far from Hagia Sophia. Residents or tourists only need to walk 450 meters across Sultanahmet Square.
Only an 8-minute walk northwest of Hagia Sophia is the Basilica Cistern, an ancient water reservoir from the era of the Eastern Roman Empire. Being underground, tourists seem to enter another world when inside the basilica.
A total of 336 ancient pillars made of marble and granite stand supporting the 80 thousand ton capacity shelter building. What’s interesting, even though almost all of them are Corinthian (Corinthian) style, not all pillars have the same design. These pillars were collected from various ruins from cities around the world during the Byzantine period. Some of the pillars even have carved heads of Medusa, the snake-haired goddess from Greek mythology. The Basilica Cistern became popular because it was often used as a backdrop for a number of Hollywood films, such as the James Bond films: From Russia with Love (1963) to Inferno (2016). This basilica is also often used as a venue for festivals and art and cultural exhibitions.
If you are interested in shopping, Istanbul also offers interesting places for tourists. Only 1.2 kilometers from Hagia Sophia, there is the Grand Bazaar, an old market that sells various kinds of typical Turkish souvenirs.
Standing on an area of 30 thousand square meters, this market has the architecture of the Ottoman Empire and has 27 entrances. There are around 40 thousand shop options to choose from. In the Ottoman era, the Grand Bazaar only sold pashmina. Now tourists can look for Turkish-style Anatolian carpets, Iznik ceramics, jewelry, clothing, and typical snacks such as Turkish Delight.
Even so, a number of Turkish citizens still rely on this place for sacred events. “Many Turkish people look for gold here as a dowry for marriage,” said Ufuk Turan.
If you want to shop in a more modern place. Istanbul also has Istiklal Street in the Beyoglu District. This 1.5 kilometer long road is always crowded with tourists or local residents shopping. Unlike the Grand Bazaar, the shops on this street offer like world brands ranging from fashion such as H&M to Adidas, to food outlets such as KFC and McDonald’s.
Even though it is filled with various modern outlets, some of them are located in ancient buildings. Neo-Gothic to Art Deco style buildings. Walking along the streets of Istiklal, tourists will also find several ancient Catholic churches such as St Anthony of Padua.
One end of Istiklal Street is another popular destination, namely the Galata Tower. The 66.9 meter high tower is a strategic location for viewing Istanbul 360 degrees from a height, from the beauty of the Bosphorus Strait, the Golden Horn waterway, the Sea of Marmara, to the Hagia Sophia.
Like other old buildings in Turkey, the Galata Tower is also included in the cultural heritage. This tower was built in 1384 by immigrants from Genoa, Italy, and gives it the Romanesque architectural style of Medieval Europe. Initially, this tower was built as the highest point in Istanbum for the city’s defense mechanism.