Tarihi Yerler
Ahrida Sinagogu
The oldest of Istanbul’s sixteen active synagogues, Ahrida dates back to the early 1400’s. Due to a fire, it was terribly damaged in the late 17th century - and ultimately rebuilt in the Baroque style in the Tulip Period.
The Ahrida Synagogue is especially notable for its Teva (the pulpit), which takes the shape of a ship’s prow.
Legend has it that the Teva represents either Noah’s Ark or the Ottoman ships that transported the Sephardim from Spain to Turkey. It is truly magnificent in design.
Anadolu Hisarı
Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I built Anadolu Hisarı (Anatolian Fortress) between 1393 and 1394 on the narrowest point of the Bosphorus strait, on the Asian (Anatolian) side of the city. He aimed to create a safe way to cross the Bosphorus for his armies at the time of war.
Sultan Mehmed II added a thick 2 meter wall and three additional watch towers to protect the fortress. After the conquest of Constantinople, it served as a military prison.
Arasta Pazarı
The Arasta Bazaar is a tidy market street in the heart of Sultan Ahmet’s historical district. This modest bazaar was built in the 17th century by savvy Ottoman officials; rental revenues from its vendors were meant to finance the upkeep of the neighboring Blue Mosque.
Today the street caters to tourists, its wooden-facade shops filled with carpets, mock Ottoman artifacts and all manner of nazar merchandise. The Mosaic Museum is the street’s standout attraction, displaying an ornamental pavement mosaic from the Byzantine Great Palace that was uncovered at the site in the 1950s. The mosaic’s fantastical depictions and accompanying displays are a window into Byzantine royal life.
Apart from the museum, the Arasta Bazaar is a pleasant interlude from the bustle of the main tourist attractions. The shops in the bazaar offer everything including jewelry, carpets, souvenirs, ceramics, and more.
Ashkenazi Sinagogu
Askenazi Sinagogu, Turkey’s only Ashkenazi Synagogue, was designed by Gabriel Tedoschi and officially opened for service in 1900.
Originally established for Jewish immigrants hailing from Macedonia and Poland, the synagogue’s first members were poor tailors and female prostitutes. Today, its congregants share roots from Baghdad, as well as Turkish cities like Adana, Bursa, and Konya.
The synagogue features an especially imposing façade, with three Oriental arches and octagonal rosette windows. Its domed ceiling, painted blue, contrasts markedly with the black wooden ark contained within, which was brought from Kiev. The ark, carved with letters of the Hebrew alphabet, holds Torah scrolls that were brought by Jews on their way to Israel.
Aya İrini Müzesi
The Hagia Irene or “Holy Peace” basilica, located right beside Hagia Sophia, was an Orthodox church that is now a museum and a performance hall.
The 6th century Byzantine structure is often referenced as the first church to be built in Constantinople, commissioned by Constantine I and later restored to its present form by Justinian I. It was incorporated into the Topkapi Palace complex by the Ottomans, who used it as an armory and warehouse.
Typical of early Byzantine architecture, the domed Roman basilica was originally decorated with tile mosaics, none of which remain. Under the influence of Iconoclasm, the church lacks religious iconography; the great cross over the main narthex may have replaced an earlier iconic representation.
Today the church is used for music performances, most notably hosting concerts for the Istanbul Music Festival.
Aya Sofya
Facing the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia (meaning “Divine Wisdom” in ancient Greek) is a remarkable structure.
It was originally built as an Orthodox patriarchal basilica in the 6th century AD and was the largest Christian cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years. After the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, Hagia Sophia was taken over by the Ottomans and converted into a mosque; it became a museum in 1935, and now contains a collection of Christian and Islamic art, Byzantine mosaics, holy relics, and extraordinary examples of iconography.
The building, with its immense dome, soars to a height of 56 meters. Astonishingly, it was built in only five years (by about 10,000 workers and 100 master craftsmen). Hagia Sophia was designed by the Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus under the Emperor Justinian, who decided to build on the site of two previously destroyed churches.
When it was completed, it is reported that Justinian compared it to the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, saying “Oh Solomon! I have outdone you.” The buttresses were added in 1317 (when it looked like the structure might collapse) and the minarets were added after its post-Conquest conversion to a mosque.
One of the most impressive aspects of Hagia Sophia is the plethora of mosaics with their glittering gold surfaces. Restorations are still ongoing; in 2009, a painting of a six-winged seraph, thought to date to the 14th century, was rediscovered. Another remarkable feature is the “weeping column”, which by popular superstition is believed to cure people with eye infections and boost fertility.
Aya Yorgi Fener
This is the home of the Ecumenical Greek Patriarchate, which is the highest and holiest center of the Orthodox Christian Church in the world. Though not the most impressive architecturally, the church hosts a number of unique items, such as the patriarch throne, mosaic icons, and tombs of three female saints. Before it was dedicated as a church in the 17th Century, it was used as a monastery.
Ayın Biri Kilisesi
The Ayin Biri Church, which translates to “The First Day of the Month,” is located behind the Istanbul Manifaturacilar Carsisi. On the first day of each month, religious devotees of all faiths visit the site, where they purchase silver and gold keys that represent their wishes. If a person’s wish comes true, he / she must return the key to the church. Salesmen outside the gates sell different charms as well, which are believed to induce other successes in life.
Ayin Biri is an especially popular pilgrimage site given its location on the grounds of a sacred spring. Visitors from all over the world come to the spring, where they are allowed to bottle the blessed water for their own use.
Beylerbeyi Sarayı
This beautiful palace is located right on the Bosphorus on the Asian side in the neighborhood Beylerbeyi, just north of the Bosphorus Bridge.
Designed by Ottoman architect Sarkis Balyan (the brother of architect Nikogos Balyan), the present structure was built between 1861 and 1865 under Sultan Abdulaziz.
Beylerbeyi Palace was the summer home of the Sultans and temporary residence of visiting foreign heads of state; it was also where deposed Sultan Abdulhamid II stayed until his death in 1918.
The three-story palace has more than two dozen rooms including six staterooms, and is lavishly furnished with exquisite Bohemian crystal chandeliers, French clocks and porcelain vases from Turkey, China, Japan and France.
Binbirdirek Sarnıcı
The 1001 Columns Cistern, also called the ‘Philoxenus Cistern’ or ‘Binbirdirek Cistern’ in Turkish, is the oldest known cistern in Istanbul.
Thought to have been constructed in 330 AD by the Roman Senator Philoxenus during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine, its original purpose was to serve the Lavsus Palace. Later it was converted into a silk manufacturing warehouse during Ottoman times until falling into disrepair and becoming a garbage dump for a long period.
Closed for many years, the Cistern, located near to the popularly visited Basilica Cistern in Sultanahmet, was recently renovated and reopened with a restaurant, cafes, bar and a wine house. It is also a popular place to enjoy nargile.
Despite its name, the origin of which is unclear, the 1001 Columns Cistern actually has 224 marble columns. Each column is in fact made of two columns joined together by a ring clamp.