Few places in the world have born closer witness to history in the making than majestic Istanbul, the gateway to the Orient and the crucible in which Eastern and Western cultures have blended and melted. Walk down any street in Istanbul and you will be following in the footsteps of Roman emperors, Ottoman sultans, standard bearers of Turkey’s modern Republic and sophisticated Eurocrats of the 21st century. Istanbul is the only major city in the world to span two continents, literally and figuratively the bridge between the Orient and European cultures informed by the classical traditions of Greece and Rome.
If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.
Alphonse de Lamartine, 19th century French poet and writer
The history of Istanbul owes much to its fortuitous geography. Like Rome, the city is built on seven hills. Those hills are spread over a peninsula surrounded by one of the greatest harbors the world has ever seen called the Golden Horn. A Bosphorus cruise at sunset when the waterway is alive with golden light will demonstrate exactly how this waterway came by its exotic name! The Golden Horn separates the older, European side of Istanbul from the newer, Asiatic sector. To the east of the city lies the Bosphorus strait connecting the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea. The Byzantine Empire maneuvered its navies here, and after them the Ottomans. Today, the Bosphorus is crisscrossed with ferries, fishing boats and oil tankers. In the works is a project Turkish officials call Canal Istanbul, a man-made waterway connecting the Black Sea to the sea of Marmara, that will make Istanbul the most important center of commercial shipping in the world when it is complete.
Istanbul has been known by several names during its long and fascinating history. During its earliest incarnation as a Greek colony it was called Byzantion (which derives from the name of King Byzas who led the colonists from the city of Megara, Greece). In the 3rd century AD, its name was changed to Constantinople after the first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity. When Mehmed II (Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror) brought the city under Turkish control in 1453 AD, the city’s name became Istanbul after being known as Konstantiniyye for some time.
Today, Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey with an estimated population of about 17 million. Though Ankara is the official capital, Istanbul remains Turkey’s beating heart, the center of Turkey’s art and culture as well as its economic life. After London and Moscow, Istanbul is the third largest city in Europe. Istanbul’s strategic importance in the world was acknowledged by its designation as an alpha world city.
Istanbul is one of the premiere tourism destinations in the world. Shopping in Istanbul is world class; no trip is complete without a visit to Nisantasi district (where you can find many design boutiques as well as world wide famous brands like Prada, Louis Vuitton) of Beyoglu, the Grand Bazaar where you can buy anything under the sun, Spice Bazaar is the right place where you can taste several different aromas of Lokum (popularly referred as Turkish Delight), smell exotic spices, dried fruit and herbal teas. Not yet finished! Istanbul is also home of several huge shopping malls such as Cevahir (opened in 2005, biggest mall in Europe and 7th biggest shopping mall in the world as of the end of 2012) in Sisli, Kanyon in Levent or Olivium 15 minutes drive away from Ataturk Airport. Istanbul is home to some of the world’s most celebrated buildings like the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the Museum of Hagia Sophia which are the highlights of many Istanbul tours.
There are Istanbul hotels and other accommodation in Istanbul to fit every pocketbook. Istanbul tours can take you to places like the Fener and Balat neighborhoods where some churches date back to Byzantine times, to Eyup with its wonderful Ottoman architecture or to the Princes’ Islands where royalty were exiled in Byzantine and Ottoman times. The Turkish Cuisine served in Istanbul’s restaurants could best be described as a fusion of all that’s best in Central Asian and Balkan cookery with a vast array of specialties including mouthwatering kebabs. A trip to Istanbul is the trip of a lifetime. Each time you visit, you’ll find new wonders to be amazed by.