Spectacular Places in Istanbul
If the world was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital. Napoleon Bonaparte
Istanbul embraces two continents with one arm reaching out to Asia and the other Europe. Through the city’s heart, the Istanbul Strait, courses the waters of the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and the Golden Horn.
The onetime capital of three successive empires; Ottoman, Byzantine, and Roman. Istanbul today honors and preserves the legacy of its past while looking forward to a modern future.
It is Istanbul’s endless variety that fascinates its visitors. The museums, churches, palaces, grand mosques, bazaars and sights of natural beauty seem innumerable. Reclining on the western shore of the Strait at sunset contemplating the re d evening light reflected in the windows of the opposite shore you may suddenly and profoundly understand why so many centuries ago settlers chose to build on this remarkable site. At such times you can see why Istanbul is truly one of the most glorious cities in the world.
On a finger of land at the confluence of the Strait, the Golden Horn, and the Sea of Marmara stands the Topkapı Palace, that maze of buildings that was the focal point of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries. In these opulent surroundings, the sultans and their court lived and governed. A magnificent wooded garden fills the outer, or first court, In the second court, on the right, shaded by cypress and plane trees, stand the palace kitchens, which now serve as galleries exhibiting the imperial collections of crystal, silver and Chinese porcelain. To the left is the Harem, the secluded quarters of the wives, concubines and children of the sultan, charming visitors with echoes of centuries-intrigued.
Today their court holds the Hall of Audience, the Library of Ahmet III, an exhibition of imperial costumes worn by the sultans and their families, the famous jewels of the treasury and a priceless collection of miniatures from medieval manuscripts. In the center of this innermost sanctuary, the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle enshrines the relics of the Prophet Mohammed brought to Istanbul when the Ottomans assumed the caliphate of Islam. (Open every day except Tuesday).
The facade of the Dolmabahçe Palace, built in the mid-19thcentury by Sultan Abdulmecit, stretches for 600 meters along the European shore of the Strait. The vast reception salon, with its 56 columns and four-and-a-half-ton crystal chandelier with 750 lights, never fails to astonish visitors. At one time, birds from all over the world were kept in the Bird Pavilion for the delight of the palace’s privileged residents. Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, died in the palace on November 10, 1938. (Open every day except Monday and Thursday)
In the 19th century, Sultan Abdülaziz built the Beylerbeyi Palace, a fantasy in white marble set amid magnolia-filled gardens, on the Asian shore of the Strait. Used as the Sultan’s summer residence, it was offered to the most distinguished foreign dignitaries for their visits. Empress Eugenie of France was among its residents. (Open every day except Monday and Thursday).
In addition to the State Pavilions at the Yıldız Palace complex, the compound includes a series of pavilions and a mosque. It was completed by Abdülhamit II at the end of the 19th century. The Sale, the largest and most exquisite of the buildings, reveals the luxury in which the sultans lived and entertained. Set in a huge park of flowers, shrubs and trees gathered from every part of the world, the palace grounds offer one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the Strait. Because of restoration work, only the Sale and park are open to the public. (Open every day except Tuesday) The Goksu Palace, also known as Küçüksu, takes its name from the streams which empty into the Strait near the tiny palace. Built by Abdulmecit in the middle of the 19th century, it was used as a summer residence. (Open every day except Monday and Thursday) Originally built in the 18th century and later restored by various sultans, the Aynalı Kavak Summer Pavilion assumed its name, Mirrored Poplar, when its famed mirrors, a gift from the Venetians, were installed in 1718. This palace on the Golden Horn is one of the most beautiful examples of traditional Turkish architecture. (Open every day except Monday and Thursday) The 19th-century Ihlamur Pavilion is named for the linden trees that grow in its gardens. Now in the heart of metropolitan Istanbul, when it was originally constructed, the pavilion was in the rolling countryside that surrounded the city. The Merasim Pavilion was used for official ceremonies while the Maiyet Pavilion sheltered the sultan’s entourage and, on occasions, his harem on their excursions out of the palace confines. (Open every day except Monday and Thursday).
The Maslak Pavilions on a shady green hill were conceived by Sultan Abdülaziz as hunting lodges. These are particularly noteworthy as superb examples of the late 19th-century Ottoman decorative style. The Malta Pavilion is presently used as an inexpensive restaurant while both the Maslak Pavilion and Limonlu Gate are open as cafes. The Florya Atatürk Sea Pavilion served as a summer residence for Turkish presidents, beginning with Atatürk. Built-in 1935 in a T-shaped design on land jutting out over the Sea of Marmara, this building serves as a showcase for some of the loveliest examples of early 20th century furnishings.