A City Of Mystique, Boldly Balancing Between Europe And Asia / Istanbul
Istanbul is the largest city and port of Turkey, as well as the main cultural, economic and industrial center of the country. Its population of about 15 million inhabitants makes it one of the most populous cities but despite its crowdedness, it maintains such beauty and mystique that is enough to enchant the senses in just a short break…
This vast city is built on the site of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium on both sides of the Golden Horn and at the southern entrance of the narrow strait of Bosphorus.Therefore, its location alone renders it ample sea vistas towards the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara and a magical positioning between two continents – Europe and Asia, thus, presenting the visitor with an unbeatable combination of images.
Istanbul holds a history of wealth as it has been inhabited by a string of civilizations in the course of its luminous existence. In your walks within this massive city you will discover specimens of the three successive empires: The Byzantine, the Roman and the Ottoman Empire.
As the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Istanbul conveyed the Greek element for more than a thousand years.The historic areas of the city and important monuments are all listed as monuments of world heritage by UNESCO, therefore, it would be wise to research as much as you can prior to your visit and make a note of the most important attractions according to your tastes and interests.
Today, Istanbul constitutes one of the most interesting international destinations! The city is divided into three main areas, the first of which is essentially the old city known as Stamboul extending to the historic peninsula of Byzantium that includes the sub-areas of Eminonu and Fatih and surrounded by the Sea of Marmara and by the Bosphorus Strait upon a hilly terrain.
Admittedly, this area is the most interesting as far as buildings, monuments, mosques, churches and palaces is concerned. The most important attractions are the Top Kapi Palace, the Byzantine church of Ayia Sofia, the impressive Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar for extensive choices in shopping.
The second main area of Istanbul is located in the north / east of the Golden Horn – also in the European side – and consists of the historic neighborhoods of Besiktas and Beyoglu which however present visitors with a more modern architecture and a more contemporary approach in general.
By all means, this is the modern Istanbul! Here you will admire the Galata Tower and Bridge, Taxim square which is a pole of attraction and the most common meeting place, the pedestrian street named Istiklal Caddesi for your shopping and the Dolmabahce Saray? which is the most impressive palace at the banks or Bosporus in the sub-area of Besiktas. While there, do not omit to pass through the sub-area of Ortakoy which is full of places to eat, drink and admire the local architecture in housing. This is where Ciragan Palace Kempinski is also located where you will have fragrant tea and elaborate sweets with gorgeous views to Bosphorus.
The third main area spreads over the Asian side of the Bosphorus and its main sub-areas are Üsküdar and Kadıköy.
This is the part which you will visit in order to get acquainted with the more ‘reserved’ and traditional face of the city. One of the most beautiful attractions the Kiz Kulesi Tower built by the Athenian general Alkiviades in 408 BC which now operates as a cafe, bar-restaurant that you can only approach by boat.
The city boundaries extend and include the Adalar islets – the ‘Prigiponisia’ too, which are totally worthy to see if you have quite a few days at your disposal.
Without the merest of doubts, this is a destination that will invite your taste buds to their best culinary voyage yet… Enrich your stay by exploring in depth the local cuisine which is bound to delight you! Dishes mostly contain lamb, beef, chicken and fish alongside freshly-cut and cooked vegetables such as eggplant, green peppers, lentils, onions, garlic, beans and tomatoes.
The Turks love to add spices, herbs and nuts in their food to make it even tastier. Don’t be surprised if what you order contains ounces of cumin and parsley, as well as, black pepper, paprika, mint, oregano, thyme and red pepper!
Deserts usually contain dried fruits and nuts, and no meal is complete without a glass of tea (Yes, it is served in a glass and not a cup!) or Turkish coffee to complete the whole process. Last but not least, save some room for the famous ‘baklava’ desert… Unique.
In your daily walks, you should definitely fit in a visit to the covered market Kapali Carsi, where you will find all kinds of shops and numerous small restaurants serving what the locals would go for as far as lunch and dinner is concerned… If you are a fish-lover then you should head to the plethora of fish taverns at the banks of Bosphorus. They may be a bit dear but the view towards the sea and the whole setting is totally worth it. Meat lovers are the luckiest of all in this city which is packed with doner shops or mini restaurants in little streets serving deliciously cooked local specialties. In any case, whether you seek for traditional or international gourmet options, it is certain that the food will delight you will be spoilt for choice.
Your visit to Istanbul will be incomplete without a spa session in a Turkish hammam. The city is full of them since it is a local habit that plays an important role in the culture of Turkey.
For the locals, hammams are meeting places. For you, they can be a place for pampering, purification and architectural admiration! The procedure consists of steaming, exfoliation, massage by a ‘tellak’ local masseur and a foam of soap and shampoo bath to rinse the toxins off.
There is no better way to feel rejuvenated after all those daily walks and visits.
Istanbul has multiple faces combining skilfully European and Asian elements. It is a historical, modern and traditional melting pot all in one and this is precisely what makes it so enchanting and sensuous…
Atmospheric, mysterious and emitting sounds and flavours at every step. Next to the mosques you will discover trendy, gourmet restaurants next to the monuments and churches you will see great clubs and avant-garde galleries, next to the local bazaars you will find leading international brands and boutiques…Just discover as you walk its endless streets!
This massive city will show you from the start that you will never manage to conquer it all in one visit. You will have to return to it several times and still list plenty of experiences for next time. The business of life is the acquisition of memories though… and this is something you will certainly manage while in Istanbul.