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.
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.
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. Secularized by President Kemal Atatürk and converted into a museum in 1935, the Hagia Sophia is an ode to both the Byzantine and Ottoman penchant for art and architecture.
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.
Once the outer garden of Topkapı Palace and meant only for the royal court, the Gülhane Park today is a popular and bustling local park, ideal for that lazy weekend picnic. It is considered to be one of the oldest public parks in Istanbul. Beautiful panoramic views over the Golden Horn and Sea of Marmara can be enjoyed from the Set Üstü Çay Bahçesi on the park's north-eastern edge.
Set against a majestic backdrop of distant hilltops and timber-clad houses, the magnificent Chora Church is a vestige of the 4th Century. A moving escape into the country’s historic and religious nuances, the church was revamped in the coming centuries, only to be converted into a mosque, and subsequently, the Kariye Museum. Enclosed within the sturdy fabric of the ancient Theodosian Walls, the church-museum is a rich - and often, astounding - repository of Byzantine artwork. The museum is distinctly demarcated into a tapestry of sections, each with an appeal which is distinctively its own. The building's unusual design consists of a string of domes, numerous windows and arches, reflecting the beautiful quintessence of Byzantine architecture. The museum is essentially characterized by a wealth of mosaics, frescoes and medieval paintings, which serve as vibrant windows into the Old Testament, chronicling scenes like the ‘Virgin and Angels Praying’, the ‘Inquiry of King Herod’, the ‘Journey of the Magi’ and ‘Journey to Bethlehem’, among many others. Ancient and relatively less-frequented, the iconic Chora Church is a remarkable crowned jewel of Turkey.
Established in 1993, the Iznik Foundation aims to revive the traditional art of Iznik, an early ceramic-ware technique. This has led the foundation to employ archaeologists and experts who excavate the sites of original Iznik kilns of the 15th and 16th Centuries. The foundation also tries to promote the ancient art by offering courses and research options to young students. Tourists can take a guided tour through the site of the old factory and ceramic workshops and even have the option of purchasing items at the showroom.
Adasanat is an art gallery and workshop in Istanbul that aims at promoting and providing art education to young artists. The gallery offers several workshops and courses in various forms of art such as painting, stained glass, mosaics, and even interior decoration. The gallery's dedication towards art is apparent to anyone who sets foot inside its halls and it is one of Turkey's most important cultural sites.
Located across from the famed “Blue Mosque,” this small but impressive gallery features a collection of rare antique textiles from Central Asia, Anatolia and the Caucasus. You'll find beautiful embroideries in the form of everything from wall panels to Turkish bags. For serious collectors, there's also a large selection of plush decorative carpets dating from the 19th Century.
Istanbul has a long and fascinating history. For over 2000 years, Turkey has been a hub of social, cultural and artistic events. Declared a World Heritage Site, the city is divided into largely four zones comprising of the archaeological park, Sulemaniye quarter, Zeyrek quater and the ramparts. Interesting sites to visit include the Hagia Sophia, Hippodrome of Constantine, Sulemaniye Mosque, Zeyrek Mosque and Topkapi Palace. From ancient times to modern times, Turkey's rich heritage offers a diverse variety of places to visit that allow us a glimpse of it's complex and diverse history.
Rahmi M. Koç Museum is a great place to learn about the history of communications, transport, and industry. It's located on the shores of the Golden Horn and showcases research and engineering objects used throughout history. Items on display here are from around the world, and visitors will learn interesting tidbits about this rich subject. The museum has a tearoom, shop, pub, and restaurant on site.