Situated at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, it is no wonder that Istanbul has been a major cultural and political center for over 2,000 years. New archeological findings suggest that settlements existed on Istanbul’s peninsula over 9,000 years ago and there were also Thracian and Phoenician settlements, but the history of Istanbul itself dates to the 7th century BCE.
Founded by settlers sent from Megara by King Byzas, the city was originally christened Byzantium, however it was renamed Constantinople after Emperor Constantine made it the eastern capital of the Roman Empire in 330 CE. This ancient prominence contributes to the vast trove of history to be experienced in the city on the Bosporus.
Perhaps most the most famous site in the wealth of historic Istanbul attractions is the 1,500-year-old cathedral Hagia Sofia, built by the Roman/Byzantine Emperor Justinian. The spiritual importance of this building spans two religions: for a millennium Hagia Sofia was the largest cathedral on Earth, but its 31-meter dome was also covered with Islamic imagery and used as a mosque for nearly 500 years during Ottoman rule. Ottoman architecture is also prevalent in the city, notably including Sultan Ahmed Mosque, known as the Blue Mosque for the tiles on its interiors walls, and Süleymaniye Mosque.
A trip to Istanbul, though, requires a visit to the sprawling and stunning Topkapi Palace. This 15th century palace was home to the Ottoman sultanate from 1465 to 1856, and housed as many as 4,000 people at a time. The harem alone has over 400 rooms and was home to the Sultan’s many wives, children, concubines and servants. Topkapi Palace is centered on several courtyards and pavilions, and covers approximately 175 acres.
For local dining, the well-known restaurant district along İstiklal Avenue offers many traditional and newer dining options, including options influenced by European and Far Eastern cuisine. With Istanbul’s prime location on the Bosporus comes fine fresh seafood options, but meat dishes such as the lamb-based Doner Kebab are also traditional favorites. While Turkish coffee is the more famous beverage, the tea is delicious and absolutely worth a try.
With such an extensive history reflective of the city’s crossroads status, Istanbul is a city filled with sites, tastes and scenery. After all, it has spent 2,700 years at the focal point of western civilization.
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