Istanbul – Historical Places

Istanbul is the bridge between Europe and Asia. It is not only connecting two continents physically but also connecting cultures, history, and natural beauties. There are an infinite number of activities with amazing beauty. There are also an enormous number of the historical and ancient monuments and buildings. In this article, you will find some of the historical places in Istanbul. When I say some, it means only fractions of the Istanbul heritage.

Topkapı Palace

topkapı palace main entrance

Main entrance of Topkapı Palace

Topkapı Palace was built between 1460 and 1478 by Mehmet the Conquerer. It was the centre of administration, education, and art of Ottoman empire for four centuries. Palace was abandoned by the Ottoman Dynasty by moving to the Dolmabahçe Palace but it has protected its importance every time. It became a museum in 1924.

The Twin Pavilions - Chamber of Crown Princes

The Twin Pavilions  (Chamber of Crown Princes) – Topkapı Palace

Topkapı Palace is one of the biggest palace-museums with its architectural structures, collections and approximately 300.000 archive papers. The palace museum has collections of arms and weapons, imperial treasury, pavilion of the holy mantle and holy relics, and much more. There are also valuable exhibitions. You can check the palace website for more information and current exhibitions.

imperial treasury - Topkapı palace

Imperial treasury – Topkapı palace

Dolmabahçe Palace

Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce Palace

The Palace is at the edge of the sea of Marmara. Although it was built in 1856 when the Ottoman Empire was not strong by Sultan Abdülmecid, the palace is hilarious with 285 rooms, 43 reception rooms, and six hammams. The place of the palace was a bay before it became the park. It was filled with soil so it was called Dolmabahçe (filled garden/park).  Symmetry was an important factor for Ottoman architecture therefore from rooms to the furniture everything is symmetric in the palace. The palace mainly consists of three parts, named as the Imperial Mabeyn (State Apartments), Muayede Salon (Ceremonial Hall) and the Imperial Harem.

Dolmabahce Palace

The Crystal Stairs – Dolmabahce Palace

Süleymaniye Complex

The Suleymaniye Complex, consisting of a large number of courtyards and a caravanserai, was built between in 1550 and 1557 by Architect Sinan (the grand master of Ottoman architecture). The complex is consist of 15 sections which include the mosque, elementary school to high school, medical school, the tomb of Suleiman the Magnificent and Hürrem Sultan, a hospital and more.

Suleymaniye Mosque

Suleymaniye Mosque

The mosque was lighted with 128 windows and a huge number of candles. The mosque has a soot room which prevents the doom of the mosque from becoming sooty and dark. The soot collected in the room also used for producing ink.

Maiden’s Tower

Maiden’s Tower

Sunset at Maiden’s Tower

It is not definite when the Maiden’s Tower was built but the tower’s architectural style is from 340 BCE. It is located 150-200 meters off the shore of the Salacak district in Üsküdar. The tower served as a tax collection area from merchantman, a defence tower, a lighthouse, radio station, and a quarantine hospital during the cholera epidemic. Now, the Maiden’s Tower is serving as a restaurant.

Madien's tower

Madien’s tower

There are also some legends about the tower. One of the legend says a sultan had a much-beloved daughter. An oracle prophecised she would be stung by a venomous snake bite so in order to protect her from snakes the sultan built the tower. However, this effort didn’t help and the daughter died as the oracle had predicted because of a snake which came to the tower in the sultan’s basket. Hence the name Maiden’s Tower.

Sultan Ahmed Complex

Sultan Ahmed Mosque is currently one of the most impressive monuments in the world. It was built in between 1609 and 1616 by Sedefkar Mehmed Aga.

Sultanahmed Mosque

Sultan Ahmed Mosque

The building is more familiarly known as the Blue Mosque because of its magnificent interior panelling of more than 20,000 blue and white which include floral motifs.

Iznik tiles

Iznik tiles – Sultan Ahmed Mosque

Primary structures of the complex include the mosque, imaret(soup kitchen), madrasah (Qur’an School), Hünkar Kasrı (sultan’s summer palace), bath, fountain, darüşşifa (hospital), sıbyan mektebi (Ottoman elementary-primary school), arasta (Ottoman bazaar), sebil (public fountain), lodgings, houses and cellars.

Inside of Blue Mosque

Inside of Blue Mosque

Ortakoy Mosque

The Ortakoy Mosque, built in the 19th century, is located on the Ortakoy pier square and one of the most popular places on the Bosphorus. It is one of the most beautiful samples of the Baroque architecture in Istanbul. It is composed of a Harim (sanctum sanctorum) and a Hünkar Kasrı (sultan’s summer palace) which is the two-storey house with its elliptical stairs at the northern entrance.

Ortakoy Mosque

Ortakoy Mosque

Saint Antoine Church

The Saint Antoine Church on bustling Istiklal Street is the largest Roman Catholic Church in Istanbul. The current building of the church was built between 1906 and 1912 as a fine example of the Italian neo-Gothic and Tuscan-Lombard styles.

Saint Antoine Church

Saint Antoine Church – Image credit:

Pope John XXIII preached in this church for 10 years, when he was the Vatican’s ambassador to Turkey before being elected as pope. He is known in Turkey with the nickname “The Turkish Pope” because of his fluent Turkish and his often expressed love for Turkey and the city of Istanbul.

Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia, the biggest church constructed by the East Roman Empire in Istanbul and it has been constructed three times in the same location. It is one of the historical architectural wonders which has an important place in the art world with its architecture, grandness, size and functionality.

Hagia Sophia Interior

Hagia Sophia Interior

During the East Roman period, the Hagia Sophia was the Empire Church until Istanbul was occupied by Latins between 1204 and 1261 when both the city and the church were damaged. The Hagia Sophia was known to be in bad condition in 1261 when Eastern Rome took over the city again. Following Fatih Sultan Mehmed’s  conquer in 1453, Hagia Sophia was renovated into a mosque. The Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s orders and has been functioning as one since  1935 welcoming both local and foreign visitors.

The Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

One of the magnificent ancient buildings of Istanbul is the Basilica Cistern. This big underground water reservoir is called as “Yerebatan Cistern” among the public because of the underground marble columns. As there used to be a basilica in the place of the cistern, it is also called Basilica Cistern.  The Cistern shelters 336 columns most of which is understood to have been compiled from the ancient structures and sculpted of various kinds of marbles.

Medusa - Basilica Cistern

Medusa – Basilica Cistern

The most popular columns are two columns which have the Medusa heads. The Basilica Cistern functions as a museum and is the home for many national and international events.

Galata Tower

Istanbul Galata Tower

Istanbul Galata Tower

It was built in 507 and shaped as today in 1348. It is the 66.9m length and has the breathtaking panoramic view of Istanbul. Galata Tower was built as a lighthouse but today it is a museum. There is also a restaurant inside so you can have your dinner with the amazing view.


Galata Tower

Chora Museum

 Chora Museum (Kariye Müzesi) is a church building that constitutes the centre of the Chora Monastery, which was a great building complex in the Eastern Roman Empire period, and it was dedicated to Jesus Christ. Since it stood outside of the city walls built by Constantine, the building was called “Chora”, which means “in the country” or “outside of the city” in Greek.

Dormition of the Virgin (koimesis) Mosaic - Chora Museum

Dormition of the Virgin (koimesis) Mosaic – Chora Museum

Although the exact construction date of the building is unknown, according to the description of Symeon the Metaphrast, an author and saint who lived in the late 10th century, the region where the Chora monastery was located began to gain importance as a holy cemetery (necropolis) when the relics of Saint Babylas, who had been martyred in the early periods of Christianity, in 298, together with his 84 disciples, in Nicomedia (İznik), were buried here in the early 4th century.

The museum includes great mosaics and frescos. You will be amazed by the history and art of the museum.


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