Looking upon its unbelievably grand form, it’s hard to believe that the Süleymaniye Mosque is actually the second largest in the city (Çamlıca Mosque is the largest). Sitting proudly atop of one of Istanbul’s seven hills and dominating the famous Golden Horn as it snakes through the very heart of the city. The Süleymaniye Mosque was built between 1150 and 1557 by the most famous of all the Imperial architects, Mimar Sinan, and it stands today as one of his very best pieces of work. With its gigantic central dome and four towering minarets, this breathtaking mosque is a true landmark for the entire city. The awe-striking facade of one of the most beautiful buildings in Istanbul doesn’t stop at the front. Behind the Süleymaniye Mosque is a stunning garden offering panoramic views of the Golden Horn and Bosphorus.
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The most voluptuous building in Istanbul was the brainchild of Sultan Ahmet I, who so loved his creation that his final resting place is under the north side of the site. The Blue Mosque’s undulating exterior has made it the most photographed building in the city, and we’re not surprised. Talented architect Sedefkâr Mehmet Ağa perfectly set off the Blue Mosque’s curves with the juxtaposition of its slender minarets, and his masterpiece didn’t stop there. The interior of this grand mosque is covered in Blue İznik tiles that glimmer in the soft light from the impressive 260 windows. Known all over the world as one of the most beautiful buildings in Istanbul, admission to the Blue Mosque is highly controlled to preserve its sacred and tranquil atmosphere.
If walls could talk, you’d never hear the end of Topkapı Palace’s stories. This spectacular building has the most colourful past of all in Istanbul, as lustful sultans, hard-working courtiers, breathtaking concubines and revengeful eunuchs have all lived within its walls. The first stage of the impressive Topkapı Palace was built by Mehmet the Conqueror who lived there until his death in 1481. Since this time, many different sultans have graced its halls, and each has made renovations, additions and adjustments until the palace you see today was created. Walking through the palace with its intricate pavilions, infamous Harem, grand courtyards and gem-filled treasury gives you a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the court of the Ottoman empire.
Istanbul definitely has no shortage of Byzantine buildings, bet very few are as spectacular as this mosaic and mural filled church. The Kariye Museum was originally known as the Church of the Holy Saviour Outside the Walls as it was hidden in the outer shadows of the large Theodosius II’s land walls. Today, however, this wonderful church has been converted into a fascinating museum filled with Byzantine art. As impressive as the outside of the Kariye Museum is, almost everything you see isn’t original, however, the inside it a completely different story. Most of the mosaics and frescoes date back to 1320, funded by the official treasurer of Emperor Andronikos II and renowned poet, Theodore Metochites. Make sure not to miss the most famous of all Kariye Museum’s mosaics, a depiction of Theodore himself offering the church to Christ.
Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia)
There are many important monuments in İstanbul, but this venerable structure – which was commissioned by the great Byzantine emperor Justinian, consecrated as a church in 537, converted to a mosque by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453 and declared a museum by Atatürk in 1935 – surpasses the rest due to its innovative architectural form, rich history, religious importance and extraordinary beauty.
The Haydarpaşa Terminal was built in 1909 by German architects Otto Ritter and Helmut Conu and served the railways until its closure in 2012. Overlooking the Bosphorus near the Kadıköy ferry station, visitors can still wander inside to linger for a while in the past.
Nearby the Haydarpaşa Terminal is the Selimiye Barracks, quite an imposing structure that is always a highlight on the ferry ride from Europe to Asia. The barracks served as a military hospital during the Crimean War where the famous nurse, Florence Nightingale, cared for British soldiers. Today the structure serves as the headquarters of the First Army of Turkish Land Forces.