XcelTrip|4 min read|May 15, 2019

People who have had the opportunity to travel to Istanbul know that it is more than just a destination. Yes, Istanbul is one of world’s greatest and oldest metropolises and therefore it is rich with history. And yet Istanbul is more than a historical site. People who have been here would tell you this: Istanbul is an emotion.


The historic architectures of Istanbul mesmerizes with every untold story their bricks hold. When you travel to Istanbul you will be transported to Byzantine Empire’s great capital of Constantinople that stood around 1000BC, its memory still standing tall in the various breathtakingly beautiful monuments scattered all around the city. 

It would be impossible to mention all the glorious sites one must visit when in Istanbul but here are some of our top picks for the first-time traveler. 

       1.     AYA SOFYA 

It's said that when the Byzantine Emperor Justinian entered his finished church for the first time in AD 536, he cried out "Glory to God that I have been judged worthy of such a work. Oh Solomon, I have outdone you!" The Aya Sofya (formerly the Hagia Sophia) was the emperor's swaggering statement to the world of the wealth and technical ability of his empire. Tradition maintained that the area surrounding the emperor's throne within the church was the official center of the world. 

Through its conversion to a mosque, after the Ottoman armies conquered Constantinople, to its further conversion into a museum in the 20th century, the Aya Sofya has remained one of Istanbul's most cherished landmarks. 

       2.     TOPKAPI PALACE 

First built by Mehmet the Conqueror in the 15th century, this glorious palace beside the Bosphorus was where the sultans of the Ottoman Empire ruled over their dominions up until the 19th century. The vast complex is a dazzling display of Islamic art, with opulent courtyards lined with intricate hand-painted tile-work, linking a warren of sumptuously decorated rooms, all bounded by battlemented walls and towers.


Sultan Ahmet I's grand architectural gift to his capital was this beautiful mosque, commonly known as the Blue Mosque today. Built between 1609 and 1616, the mosque caused a furore throughout the Muslim world when it was finished, as it had six minarets (the same number as the Great Mosque of Mecca). A seventh minaret was eventually gifted to Mecca to stem the dissent. 

Directly behind the Blue Mosque is the Arasta Bazaar; a great place for a shopping stop as the handicraft shops here sell high-quality souvenirs. Even if you're not interested in a browse, head here to see the Great Palace Mosaic Museum, which is tucked between the Arasta Bazaar and the mosque. 

       4.     BASILICA CISTERN 

The Basilica Cistern is one of Istanbul's most surprising tourist attractions. This huge, palace-like underground hall, supported by 336 columns in 12 rows, once stored the imperial water supply for the Byzantine emperors. The project was begun by Constantine the Great but finished by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. 

Many of the columns used in construction were recycled from earlier classical structures and feature decorative carvings. The most famous of these are the column bases known as the Medusa stones in the northwest corner with their Medusa head carvings. A visit here is very atmospheric with the columns beautifully lit and the soft, steady trickle of water all around you.


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