Turkey > Destination > Istanbul and the Marmara Region


Istanbul and the Marmara Region


The Church of the Divine Wisdom, was dedicated by Justinian in 537. For nearly a thousand years thereafter St. Sophia served as the cathedral of Constantinopolis and was the center of the religious life of the Byzantine Empire. For almost five centuries after the Turkish conquest it ranked first among the imperial mosques of Istanbul. It continued to serve as a mosque during the early years of the Turkish Republic, until it was finally converted into a museum in 1935. Now emptied of the congregations which once worshipped there, Christians and Moslems in turn, it may seem just a cold and barren shell, devoid of life and spirit. But for those who are aware of its long and distinguished history and are familiar with its architectural principles, St. Sophia remains one of the truly great buildings in the world.

Ayasofya (St. Sophia) Museum and
 Sultanahmet Square, Istanbul

The present edifice is the third of that name to stand upon this site. It was started in 532 during the reign of Justinian. It took five years for the head architect Anthemius and his assistant Isidorus together with thousands of workers to complete this glorious spectacle.

Although the church has been restored several times during the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, the present edifice is essentially that of Justinian’s reign.

The building as a museum today is known for its architectural design, the mosaics and the marble work of the interior.


The Kariye Camii, is after the St. Sophia, the most interesting Byzantine church in the city because of its superb mosaics and frescoes. These mosaics and frescoes are far and away the most important and extensive series of Byzantine paintings in the city and among the most interesting in the world , so typical of the dawn of the Renaissance. No trace remains of the original ancient church, nor is anything certain known about its origin. The present building in its first form dated back from the late eleventh century. But it did not last long in its original form. The church itself and the decoration goes back to the 14th century. The church was converted into a mosque in the early 16th century and finally turned into a museum.


The structure was known in Byzantium as the Basilica Cistern because it lay underneath the Stoa Basilica, the second of the two great squares on the first hill of Constantinopolis. It was probably ordered to be built as an enlargement of an earlier cistern of Constantine by Justinian.

Throughout the Byzantine period it was used to store water for the great palace and the other buildings on the first hill and after the conquest its waters were used for the gardens of the Topkapi Palace. Nevertheless, general knowledge of the cistern’s existence seems to have been lost in the century after the conquest and it was not rediscovered until 1545. It is the largest and most beautiful of the many underground cisterns in the city. Recently restored and the invisible parts opened to public, this subterranean palace has excited the romantic imagination of many travellers.

The square in front of the Blue Mosque is located on the site of the ancient Hippodrome. It was the center of the civil activities in Constantinopolis. The Hippodrome was an immense structure first ordered to be built in 203 by the emperor Septimius Severus; later ordered to be extended and remodeled by Constantine the Great. About one hundred thousand spectators attended the chariot races that were held there. The Egyptian Obelisk, the Serpent Column, the Column of Constantine and the German Fountain are the monuments situated in the central line of the Hippodrome and are still outstanding.

It was founded  by the emperor Valens in 375 as part of the water supply system which he constructed. The water, tapped from various streams and lakes outside the city, appears to have entered the city through pipes and from there carried by the aqueduct. It was damaged at various times but was kept in repair by the emperors, both Byzantine and Ottoman. The long march of the double arches across the valley has a grand and Roman look and is almost as essential a characteristic of the city’s skyline as the great procession of mosques that crowns the ridge along the Golden Horn.

It is the apex of the Genoese fortifications of Medieval Galata. Originally known as the tower of Christ, it was built in 1348 in connection with the first expansion of the Genoese colony. The tower was built as a defense system with the walls around it. It has recently been restored and there is a restaurant on its roof level. From there one has a magnificent view of the entire city.

According to tradition, the original church of St. Irene was one of the first Christian churches in the old town of Byzantium. The church was ordered to be rebuilt on a larger scale by Constantine the Great or his son Constantius and it served as the patriarchal cathedral until the completion of the first church of St. Sophia. In 381, the second Ecumenical Council was held in this church. In 537 when Justinian rebuilt St.Sophia, the two churches were linked together and formed two parts of what was essentially one religious establishment. St.Irene was almost destroyed in 564 by fire and in 740 by a violent earthquake and ordered to be restored by Justinian. After the Ottoman conquest it was enclosed within the outer walls of the Topkapi Palace and it was given over to the Janissaries and used as an arsenal. After the destruction of the Janissaries in 1826 St. Irene became a storehouse for antiquities, mainly armaments. Finally within the past decades it has been cleared of its military exhibits and the plaster stripped from its walls. Now the church is used as a concert hall during the Istanbul Music Festival and other events and opened to visitors upon special request and permission.

The great palace of the Ottoman Sultans, is the most extensive and fascinating monument of Ottoman civil architecture in existence. In addition to its architectural and historical interest, it contains a museum, a superb and unrivaled collection of porcelain, armor, fabrics, jewelry, illuminated manuscripts, calligraphy and many objects of art formerly belonging to the Sultans.

Ordered to be built by Sultan Mehmet, the Conqueror, it was used by his descendants until 1853 when they moved to the Dolmabahce Palace. The palace must not be thought of merely as the private residence of the sultan and his court, for it was much more than that. It was the seat of the supreme executive and judicial council of the empire and it housed the largest and most select of the training schools for the imperial civil service, the Palace School. The various divisions of the palace correspond pretty clearly with these various functions.

The first court, which was open to the public, was the service area for the palace. It contained a hospital, a bakery, an arsenal, the mint and outer treasure and a large number of storage places and dormitories for the guards.

The second court was devoted to the public administration of the empire, it could be entered by anyone who had business to transact with the council. Beyond this court were certain other service areas as the kitchens and privy stables.

The third court strictly reserved for officials of the court and government was largely given over to various divisions of the Palace School but also contained some of the chambers of the Selamlik, or reception rooms of the sultan.

The Harem, specifically the women’s quarters had additional rooms of the Selamlik and the sultan’s private apartments, as well as quarters for the black eunuchs.


The fourth court was a large enclosed garden on various levels with occasional pleasure domes. The total number of people permanently resident in the palace was between four and five thousand. Today, it is visited by thousands of people daily.


The Suleymaniye is the second largest but by far the finest and most magnificent of the imperial mosque complexes in the city. It is a fitting monument to its founder, Suleyman the Magnificent and a masterwork of the greatest of Ottoman architects, the incomparable Sinan. It is the most important Ottoman building in Istanbul.

The construction of the mosque began in 1550 and was completed in 1557. Like most of the other imperial mosques, the Suleymaniye is built as a complex, with other buildings such as a school, a hospital, a public kitchen etc. arranged around the courtyard with as much symmetry as the nature of the site would permit. Nearly all of these pious foundations have been restored and some of them are serving the people as they did in the days of Suleyman.

The interior only enlivened by some touches of color, gives the impression of a simple grandeur. The lovely stained glass windows, the tiles, which are the earliest known examples of the new techniques of the Iznik kilns, the marble niche and the woodwork are of great simplicity and distinction. Throughout the building there are inscriptions by the most famous calligraphers.

The mosque today is still in service.


The huge mosque complex ordered to be built by Sultan Mehmet II the Conqueror was the most extensive and elaborate in Istanbul and indeed in the whole of the Ottoman Empire. In addition to the great mosque with its beautiful courtyard and its graveyards with mausoleums, the complex consisted of eight medreses (religious high school) and their annexes, a tabhane(hospice), a hospital, a caravanserai, a primary school, a library and a hamam(Turkish bath).

The complex occupies approximately the site of the famous Church of the Holy Apostles which was already partially in ruins at the time of the conquest and was used as a source of building materials for the construction.

Most foreigners and indeed most of the local people of Istanbul find the Bazaar one of the most fascinating and irresistible attractions of the city. It is a labyrinth in which one takes delight in getting lost and finding one’s way out , after who knows how many purchases and other adventures. It is a city in itself with more than 4000 shops, 2000 ateliers, 500 stalls, 12 storehouses, 18 fountains, 12 mescits(small mosques). In the center of the Bazaar is the Old Bedesten which was originally used to house the most precious wares. Some of the most interesting and valuable objects are sold here; brass and copper, ancient swords and weapons, antique jewelry and costumes, fine glassware, antique coins and classical and Byzantine pottery and figurines.

On the Asian coast of the Bosphorus, right under the Bosphorus bridge, there is this 19th century palace in much the same style as Dolmabahce nearly opposite, ordered to be built by Sultan Abdulaziz. The building consists of two little marble pavilions at each end and is bordered by lovely gardens.
It was in this palace that the ruling royalty such as the Empress Eugenie of France, the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, the Shah Nasireddin of Persia and King Edward VIII of England with Mrs. Simpson were put up.

Today the palace is open to public.

Ordered to be built by Sultan Mehmet II, the Conqueror in 1452, the year before the Ottoman conquest, the Rumeli Castle is a splendid late medieval fortification. It was built to cut the city off from communication with and possible aid from the Black Sea. After the fall of Constantinopolis it had no further military function and the north tower was used as a prison. The castle was restored in 1953 in connection with the celebration of the five hundredth anniversary of the conquest. The area inside has been turned into a charming park, and the circular cistern, where a small mosque once stood, has been converted into a Greek type theater.

The museum founded by Osman Hamdi Bey, a lover of art, is today one of the great museums of Europe. Antiquities collected from all over the empire are exhibited here. The most outstanding of these are the Sarcophagus of Alexander (though it is not actually his), that of the Mourners, and the Sidamara Sarcophagus. On the second floor we find the museum’s collection of ancient pottery, statuettes, jewelry and bronzes. The room of greatest interest on the second floor is the Treasure, which has a small but superb collection of silver, gold and bronze ornaments and jewelry, including a few pieces from Troy.

It is the holiest in Istanbul; indeed after Mecca and Jerusalem the third most sacred place of pilgrimage in the Islamic world. This is because it is the reputed burial place of Eyup (Jop) Ensari, the friend and standard bearer of the Prophet Mohammed. Long after the prophet’s death, Eyup is said to have been among the leaders of the first Arab siege of Constantinopolis and to have been killed and buried somewhere outside the walls. When some eight centuries later Fatih Sultan Mehmet conquered the city, he searched for the tomb and finally found it. Then the mosque complex was constructed at the site.

Today , the surroundings of the mosque is a very picturesque place with huge and aged plane trees in whose hollows lame storks live and in whose branches beautiful grey herons build their nests in spring and the flock of pampered pigeons. All this made the place one of the gay and  delightful ones in Istanbul.

The Blue Mosque is one of the principal adornments on the skyline of the city. It was founded by Sultan Ahmet I and constructed by the architect Mehmet Aga between 1609 and 1616. Local people call it the Blue Mosque, because of its blue interior.

What is original and very beautiful in the decoration of the interior is the revetment of tiles of the lower part of the walls, especially in the galleries. They are Iznik (ancient Nicea) tiles of the best period and they deserve study. The magnificent floral designs display the traditional lily, carnation, tulip and rose motives and also cypresses and other trees, all in exquisite colors.

One can also admire the fine examples of carved stone, bronze work of the great courtyard doors and the woodwork, encrusted with ivory and mother of pearl, of the doors and window-shutters of the mosque itself. Under the Sultan’s loge the wooden ceiling is painted with floral and geometrical arabesques in that exquisite early style in rich and gorgeous colors, of which so few examples remained.

The Blue Mosque which is the only one in the world with six minarets, is visited by many foreigners and is still in service for the local Moslems.


 Seen at a distance from a boat on the Bosphorus is its attractive white marble façade. The Sultan Abdulmecit founded  it in 1853, having decided that Topkapi was too old fashioned to be a suitable residence for a reforming sultan like himself. The palace was used as their residence by later Sultans. Ataturk also lived in this Palace when he came to Istanbul and he died here in 1938.

It is now used as a museum open the public. As the famous traveller and writer Evliya states, ‘’By order of Sultan Osman all ships of the fleet and all merchant ships at that time in the harbor of Constantinopolis, were obliged to load with stones, which were thrown into the sea before Dolmabahce, so that a space of 400 yards was filled up with stones where the sea formed a bay and the palace was called ‘’the filled up garden(Dolmabahce).’’

The richness of its decoration, its incredible crystal staircase and the alabaster bathroom are among the things which are worth to be seen in this museum.

Ibrahim Pasha was a Greek who became a convert to Islam and an intimate companion of Suleyman the Magnificent. Later he was appointed grand vizier and he married Suleyman’s sister, at which time his palace on the Hippodrome was completed. When Ibrahim was murdered, his wealth and possessions were confiscated by the state, including the palace. For a while Ibrahim’s palace seems to have been used as a dormitory and school for the apprentice pages in the ‘’Saray’’(Palace). In later times it seems to have been used as a barrack for unmarried Janissaries and also as a prison. The palace has gone under restoration and has been opened as a museum in 1983. The museum, one of the finest of its kind in the world, contains over 40.000 works of all kinds from almost every Islamic period. The rug collection contains some of the most important pile rugs in the world; the Manuscript/Binding/Calligraphy collection is one of the finest in the genre. The museum also possesses a significant collection of stonework and woodwork of the Selcuk and Ottoman periods.

One may also see scenes from folk life reconstructed in a new and specialized Ethnographic Section.

Sadberk Hanim was the daughter of a prominent family from Ankara and married to Mr. Vehbi Koc, a famous Turkish businessman. Her ability to add value and to appreciate even the smallest item, led her to collect things she liked and she ended up with many beautiful and historically priceless objects and diverse collections.

Some years ago, after seeing the Benaki Museum in Athens, she decided to exhibit her collection in a permanent site but died without realizing her dream. To fulfill her wishes, Sadberk Hanim’s husband and children made her dream come true in 1980.

Today the museum is one of the best in town which houses works of art mostly from daily life. The second part of the museum which has been added recently includes a great collection from the civilization of Asia Minor, the oldest dating from the Neolithic Age.

The Rahmi Koc Museum was first founded in the historical Lengerhane (Anchor Casting Building), next to the Golden Horn in Haskoy Piri Pasha district. The first museum rapidly outgrew itself and in November 1996 the 11,068 sq.m. Haskoy Dockyard, which was then nothing but a ruin on the shore of the Golden Horn opposite the museum, was purchased. Fourteen ruins on the site were faithfully restored to their original conditions, as well as the historic ship cradle and winch. The museum, which following the restoration of the two historical buildings has 11,250 sq.m. of covered space on a site of 20,250 sq.m.,opened to the public on July 10th, 2001.

The collections of the Rahmi M.Koc Museum is composed of examples reflecting the history and development of industry. A large part of the collection consists of pieces from the private collection of Rahmi M.Koc. There are also gifts and temporary exhibits from various institutions and individuals.

Steam engines and models as well as life-size examples of these comprise the basis of the museum’s collection. On the entrance level, models of training, fighter, reconnaissance and passenger planes dating back to the beginning of and mid 20th century are exhibited. In this section, one can also find various aircraft propellers and engines of smaller planes. Another section on the second floor is dedicated to communications. This section displays old telegraphs and telephones, radios dating back to the 1930s-1950s, gramophones, early sound recorders, televisions dating back to 1950s, cameras, film recorders and players, stereoscopes and typewriters.

In the two-wheeler section, one can wander around motorcycles, bicycles, children’s carts dating back to the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, as well as some of the latest motorcycle models.

Machines for minting coins and precious documents, which date back to the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century , are also on display. These machines were produced in Germany and the UK and were used in the mint until the mid-20th century. Other life-size objects in the museum are the steam traction and mobile engines built in England in the 19th century. In the maritime section on the entrance level, one can find navigation instruments, models, accessories and a ship’s bridge, complete with original pieces assembled from various ships. In the section of scientific instruments on the second level of the museum, astrolabes, quadrants and various types of sundials and telescopes used by Turkish astronomers of the 13th and 14th centuries are on display.

The building, known as the Equestrian Villa, today serves as Sabanci University Sakip Sabanci Museum, along with the Gallery recently constructed in the park, after having accommodated the Sabanci family for over fifty years.

The Villa and the Gallery, which have been renovated to conform with international museology standards, are pioneers in Turkey, in that they are fully equipped with numerous state of the art facilities and a strong infrastructure. The selected works of the Sakip Sabanci Museum that comprise of over four hundred works of calligraphy, of fifteenth through twentieth centuries and more than three hundred paintings dating from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, are exhibited in the three thousand five hundred square meter-wide exhibition areas of the museum. Visitors can find a selection of the calligraphy collection in the Villa, whereas national and international exhibitions are held in the Gallery.

Within the framework of its mission regarding education at all levels, in close ties with the Sabanci University, the museum, has been designed to address to any stratum in the society and to qualify for any user profile. Adults, children, elderly and the handicapped, all have respective visitor routes. The guests can access any hall in the museum with either elevators or ramps. Aiming to be a source for all, the collection is also available to the public via internet and kiosks within the museum. The museum also offers membership programs for Sakip Sabanci Museum Volunteers and Friends.

With all its qualifications Sakip Sabanci Museum dedicates itself to being an exemplary foundation.



Legal Notice