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A Day in Istanbul

By: Cityseeker
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Istanbul Archaeology Museums

Arkeoloji Müzesi (Istanbul Archaeology Museums) has twenty galleries filled with artifacts gathered from all over Turkey and the Near East celebrate 5000 years of history with exhibits from Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire and the many civilizations of Anatolia and ancient Egypt. The main building houses the finds of nineteenth-century archaeologist Osman Hamdi Bey, in particular the famous 4th-century Alexander sarcophagus discovered at the royal necropolis of Sidon in Lebanon. The Museum of the Ancient Orient contains artifacts from Egypt and Mesopotamia, including a magnificent frieze of a bull from the Ishtar gate in Babylon.

Istanbul, Turkey
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Basilica Cistern

A vision soaked in cavernous magnificence, Yerebatan Sarnıcı or Basilica Cistern is the largest of many cisterns thriving in the underneath Istanbul. Constructed in the 6th-century during Emperor Justinian I's reign, this cistern served as an incredible nexus of water filtration systems for many medieval empires. Historical records establish that once situated on the grounds of the cistern was a basilica, complete with an ornate facade and ornamental gardens. Filled with traces of timeworn Middle-Eastern architecture, curious explorers wander along wooden pathways, ancient pillars, carved columns and mystical arches. To the northwest lie the bases of two Medusa-headed beams that can be traced back to the Roman era. Such is its allure that the cistern has also been a setting for Hollywood blockbusters including one from the James Bond series. Permeated with a transcendental aura, this subterranean cistern is the only site of its kind which has been restored for public viewing.

Istanbul, Turkey
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Hagia Eirene Museum

Originally commissioned as a church in the 4th century, the Hagia Eirene ("Holy Peace") Museum is now open to the public. The museum hosts a number of exhibits, but is best known for hosting the İstanbul International Music Festival, since its acoustics make it an amazing venue. However, even without a special event taking place, the historical value and timeless beauty makes Hagia Eirene well worth a visit.

Istanbul, Turkey
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Hagia Sophia

The magnificent Hagia Sophia was built at the behest of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 537 BCE, then known as the Church of the Holy Wisdom. A remarkable testament to the ingenuity of the Byzantine architects, the Hagia Sophia was built upon a design that was rather unique for its time. The Turkish conquest of Constantinople marked the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the Hagia Sophia. Re-purposed by Mehmed II to be used as a mosque, its gold mosaics and frescoes were painted over with Islamic motifs and patterns. A few of these have since been uncovered, preserved for centuries beneath layers of plaster. The emperor also added minarets and added massive discs bearing Arabic calligraphy to the grand scheme. One of Istanbul's most recognizable and iconic landmarks, the Hagia Sophia is an ode to both the Byzantine and Ottoman penchant for art and architecture.

Istanbul, Turkey
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Topkapı Palace

Resting on a peninsular hilltop in Istanbul with sweeping views of the Golden Horn, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus strait, the grand Topkapı Sarayı was once the exalted seat of the Ottoman sultans. The palatial structure was built at the behest of Sultan Mehmet II in 1453, in the wake of the Conquest of Constantinople. From the 15th to the 19th Century, the palace was the cornerstone of the Ottoman Empire, until its gradual decline in the later years, when its power was relinquished to the newer Dolmabahce Palace on the Turkish waterfront. As is the case with any palatial residence, the Topkapi also underwent a slew of additions and renovations as various sultans reigned over the city over a 400-year-old span, but the core architectural form of the palace remained predominantly Middle Eastern. When the sun set on the Ottoman Empire in 1923, the palace was promptly converted into a museum by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The essence of this bygone empire still lingers in various corners of the palace's chambers, its treasury, and its imperial harems. Several items from the peak of the Ottoman Empire adorn the museum today, from illuminated manuscripts and age-old weaponry, to diamonds and intricate miniatures. The Topkapı Sarayı Museum is part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul.

Istanbul, Turkey
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Grand Bazaar

From swathes of silk to intricately designed carpets, from filigreed Turkish tea pots to ornate Ottoman lamps, the lantern-laced alleys of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar are home to the city's finest treasures. Vaulted archways are covered with wall-to-wall wares of traditional Turkish souvenirs and products in this historic retail paradise. A walk through the medieval alleys brings on as much awe and delight as it does a smidgen of entertainment. The bedesten, or warehouses date back to the thriving times of the 15th Century, when the Grand Bazaar was first proposed to be built by Sultan Mehmet, in a bid to encourage economic progress in the then-city of Constantinople. Today, the bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, its meandering alleys filled with as many as 4000 shops, and its grand sprawl consisting of nearly 61 shopping streets and alleys.

Istanbul, Turkey
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Sultan Ahmed Mosque

Dubbed the “Blue Mosque” by Europeans because of its rich blue interior ceiling tiles in the Iznik tradition, Sultan Ahmed Mosque, with its six minarets and series of elegant domes, is a one of a kind. Built at the behest of Ahmet I between 1609 and 1616, the mosque was designed by the architect Sedefkar Mehmet Ağa, one of Mimar Sinan's most prominent students. Inside, the entrance illuminated by a wrought iron chandelier, gives way to the central prayer space, that evokes wonder with its intricate interiors adorned with thousands of tiles and filtered natural light from arched stained glass windows. The shrine near the mosque houses the tombs of Ahmet I and his wife Kosem Sultan. The Blue Mosque is a working mosque, so non-worshiping tourists are not permitted to enter during prayer times, which occur 5 times daily for 30 minutes each.

Istanbul, Turkey
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Pera Müzesi

The Pera Museum was founded in 2005 as an initiative by the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation. Located in what was formerly Hotel Bristol, the refurbished space retains it Ottoman Greek architecture. It houses three permanent collections and a myriad of rotating exhibitions as a platform for emerging and established artists. Endowed by the industrialist Rahmi Koc and his descendants, it is a treasure trove of the wealthy family's inventory of culturally-significant Turkish works. It features handwritten Ottoman-era publications, Byzantine works, and a stunning book selection. With a host of cultural events and collaborations, this is a great place to soak in the country's culture.

Istanbul, Turkey
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İstiklal Caddesi

This two-mile pedestrian boulevard is a must-see for any visitor to Istanbul. Formerly known as the Grande Rue de Péra, the street's name was changed to İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue) after Turkish independence was declared in 1923. The grand boulevard's turn-of-the-century European-style facade is well cared for, and the shops and restaurants that line the promenade are not extremely touristy or expensive. If you start at Taksim Square, İstiklal Caddesi will lead you all the way to the famous Galata Tower. Before you reach Galata, you'll pass through Karaköy, where you can see (and ride) the world's second-oldest subway, the Tünel. The huge boulevard is full of history and mystery.

Beyoğlu, Turkey
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Dulcinea

The spacious interior at Dulcinea functions as a bar, café, and restaurant on weekdays. There's also a contemporary art gallery in the basement with an interesting exhibition every month. On Friday and Saturday nights, "deep eXperience" club nights take over. The turntables are handed over to this amateur DJ group, who spin uplifting trance and funky techno for clubbers who can't afford admission into other more expensive techno clubs.

Istanbul, Turkey
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Dolmabahçe Palace

Boasting of hundreds of opulent rooms, lavish Turkish baths and entrances which look like gateways to heaven, Dolmabahçe Palace is ostentatious. Nestled along the picturesque coast of Bosphorus, this elegant palace was built close to the mid-1800s, under the orders of the then-Sultan Abdülmecid I. Bearing a stately Neoclassical visage adorned with finial decorations, and fronted by ornamental gardens and jubilant fountains, the palace boasts an interior which is a different world in itself. Flamboyant, and unabashedly luxurious, the insides of this palace are a paradisaical mosaic of gilded ceiling work, effervescent chandeliers, crystal stairways and authentic bearskin rugs. Particularly noteworthy are the Pink Hall, the Medhal Hall, the Blue Hall and Ataturk’s Room, where the revered revolutionary took his last breaths. Also lodged on the palace grounds is the glorious Dolmabahçe Clock Tower and the ornate Dolmabahçe Mosque, both of which hearken back to the palace's bygone, yet everlasting splendor. A canopy of unhindered extravagance, the waterfront Dolmabahçe Palace reserves a special place in the hearts of the Turkish people.

Istanbul, Turkey
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Bağdat Caddesi

Considered to be among the top shopping avenues in the world, Bağdat Caddesi or Baghdad Avenue is located on the city's Anatolian side. Stretching across 14 kilometers (8.70 miles), this one-way street is straddled between the districts of Kadıköy and Maltepe. Dotted with old trees, it is lined with high-end boutiques, shopping malls, renowned brand shops, plush eateries, cafes, bars and luxury car dealers. This street is also a cultural spot which includes hosting the Republic Day's cultural parade or celebrating an sports victory.

Istanbul, Turkey
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