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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A bustling neighborhood in Istanbul's Fatih region, Cağaloğlu is the hub of the city's publishing trade. The quaint settlement is named after a renowned Ottoman senator Cigalazade Yusuf Sinan Pasha who enjoyed immense popularity in the 16th and the 17th centuries. Cağaloğlu also welcomes hordes of tourists for the rejuvenating Turkish baths, called Cağaloğlu Hamam. Built in the 18th Century, the ancient springs have remained virtually unchanged ever since. Several celebrities have taken a dip in the soothing waters of Cağaloğlu's hamam in the past.
Built in 1470 by Hoca Sinan Paşa as the Hodjapasha Hamam is now the Hodjapasha Cultural Center. Comprising of two main areas, it is one of the best places in town to get to know the dance culture of the country. The exhibition space gives insight into various Anatolian dance forms while the performance space has a more atmospheric feel to it. This circular, domed space does not have much space between the performers and the audience, giving an intimate feel to it. Whirling dervishes, belly dancing, theatrical dance shows and folk dance shows will keep you enthralled.
If you are cruising through the city of Istanbul, then you will a chance to see the Flora Han. This building was once the town's architecture marvel now left in ruined. The original building is a fine example of Art Nouveau style of architecture that is greatly influenced by European design. It was built is house a number of offices. However, over the years the building is used by various businesses.
Built along the outer walls of the Gülhane Park, Procession Kiosk is a 16th Century building which was used by Ottomans to receive salutes from passersby. The road ahead of the Kiosk was extensively used for carrying out processions in the past and thus the name of the building. The Ottoman rulers would be on the kiosk and monitor the happenings effectively.
Named after one of İstanbul's most famous, prolific writers of the 20th Century, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, the Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar Literature Museum Library is a haven for all book lovers in Istanbul. Opened in 2011, the library-museum is nestled on the second floor of the two-storey Alay Mansion, an ancient ruinous structure. The old building was renovated and refurbished and the end result is a relaxing place for students and bookworms to read or study away from the bother of city noise. Currently it houses over 7,000 volumes of books in the various fields of literature published in Turkey as well as volumes of more than 100 periodicals on literature and other fields of the arts. There is also a special corner dedicated to the life and works of renowned native Istanbul authors.