Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey
A Ottoman-style doctor’s surgery in Sultanahmet.
- Topkapi Palace and Harem, home to sultans for 400 years, a lush and luxurious tour, no independent tourists permitted.
- Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya), an ancient cathedral/ mosque/ museum.
- The gorgeous Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii).
- Museum of Islamic Art.
- Museum of Archeology hosts a huge and fascinating collection including Sumerian tablets, parts of the wall of Babylon and the spectacular Alexander Sarcophagus, once believed to be the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great.
- Hippodrome monolith.
- Suleymaniye Mosque.
- Basilica Cistern.
- Kariye Museum (Chora Church) which is covered by incredible frescoes and mosaics and adjacent to a fine section of ancient Theodosian walls.
- shop in the labyrinthine Grand Bazaar.
- Take a 4 hour Turkish cooking class in the Sarnic Hotel.
- See Turkish Dancing in costume and with live music at the Hodjapasha Cultural Center (including Belly Dancing and Whirling Dervishes).
Detail from the Obelisk at the Hippodrome of Constantinople.
The Hippodrome (no, not a hippo race track) was the center of Roman and Byzantine Constantinople, near the Basilica Cistern, Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The building no longer stands, but the obelisks and sculptures from Theodosius’ era are still there.
The Blue Mosque
The Sultan Ahmed Camii, otherwise known as the Blue Mosque.
Sultan Ahmet Camii, aka the Blue Mosque, is a fully active mosque and you are free to enter but adjust your clothing if you plan to go inside – shorts, bare shoulders and shoes are not permitted inside.
Some tourists are not impressed, probably due to the masses of ‘guides’ and ‘friends’ hustling to look after anyone who looks pretty vacant. However, Sultan Ahmet is free, beautifully decorated, conveniently located and historically important to Turkey. Wander in for a few minutes at least!
Blue Mosque interior ceiling.
6thC Hagia Sophia, aka Ayasofya, the world’s largest cathedral for 1, 000 years. Note the Christ figure on the right as well as Koranic inscriptions.
Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) in Sultanahmet Square, was constructed by command of Roman Emperor Justinian I in the sixth century as a Christian basilica and remained the largest enclosed space in the world for over 1000 years.
The Ottomans conquered Constantinople in the 15th century and converted Hagia Sofia to a mosque. Finally it was converted into a museum in 1935.
Aya Sofia is an amazing building with a fascinating history so bite the bullet and hire a guide. Choosing one will be the most stressful part of your day!
Sultanahmet Topkapi Museum
The Topkapi Palace was home to Ottoman emperors for four hundred years and is extravagantly decorated, particularly the Harem section which requires visitors to join a guided tour and costs extra, but is well worthwhile.
Apart from the elaborate, well restored decor, the museum displays Ottoman jewels, weapons, rugs, china, the Prophet Mohammed’s belongings and more. The terrace outside has panoramic views over the Bosphorus and both European and Asian sides of Istanbul.
Get there early (before 9. 0 am? ) and rent an audio or human guide, Topkapi is busy and complex! It’s not difficult to spend two or three hours there. It WILL be crowded.
Tourists wishing to visit the palace should not take bus or tram posted with Topkapi sign as they always go to Topkapi neighbourhood in the west of the old city near the city walls, whereas Topkapi Palace is in the east, about 8kms (5 miles) away. To visit the the palace, look for transport with signs to Sultanahmet.
Just below Topkapi is Gulhane Park a public park with lots of flowers, trees and outdoor cafés with a fine view of the Bosphorus.
However, many tourists find the palace is disappointing as you can expect large numbers of tours squeezing into quite small spaces. In addition there are no furnished rooms, it’s a museum rather than a recreation of a Sultan’s living quarters.
Pensions/Guest Houses in Sogukcesme Sok (street), behind Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Gulhane Park. Perfectly located if the budget permits.
Various mid-range hotels in Sultanahmet.