A narrow, winding waterway that separates Europe and Asia and unites the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus has a history as rich as Istanbul itself.
This twisting strait gets its name from an affair the Greek god Zeus had with the goddess Io.Legend has it that Zeus’s wife, Hera, became jealous and sent a swarm of flying gnats to irritate her rival Io.
The Bosphorus also provided the setting for at least one other mythical story: When Jason and the Argonauts were seeking the Golden Fleece, in order to reach the land of the Colchis at the eastern end of the Black Sea, their treacherous journey included passage on the unpredictable Bosphorus. Shaped rather like an S, the Bosphorus today is one of the world’s busiest waterways. Important strategically and politically since ancient times with its unique position that both links and separates the continents, depending upon how one looks at it, the Bosphorus teems with a myriad of water vessels.
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The Golden Horn is an intriguing body of water. It is considered one of the best natural harbors in the world, so great, in fact, that the Ottoman and Byzantine navies and commercial shipping interests were centered here.
A horn-shaped estuary dividing European Istanbul, it once was lined with palace gardens and public parks, churches and mosques.
Whole streets of old wooden houses and churches dating from Byzantine times still exist midway up the Golden Horn, in the neighborhood of Fener. Much like a private lake, the Golden Horn was a favorite place for picnics and family gatherings. Then, with the neglect borne of a population explosion in the 1950’s and ineffective zoning laws, the once pristine Golden Horn became a churning cesspool of grey city-sewage and industrial waste. Only in the 1980’s did a much needed urban clean-up begin. Polluting factories were cleared and proper sewage needs met. Now, its shores green once again, lovely parks, promenades, and playgrounds greet visitors.
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Dedicated to the “Divine Wisdom” (Hagia Sophia), this great structure was built between 532-537 A.D. at the orders of the emperor Justinian. Its architects were Anthemius and Isidoros. A smaller church originally built here in 360 was destroyed in a fire in 404. Rebuilt eleven years later, the church was again destroyed by fire in 532 during a popular uprising.
The interior of Ayasofya was richly decorated with mosaics, many of which are still in palace. Over the door leading into the inner narthex is a famous mosaic depicting Mary holding the infant Christ her lap. To her right stands Constantine presenting a model of his new city while to her left is Justinian holding a model of his new church. The mosaic is in fact from the 10th century.
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Topkapi Sarayi (“Saray” means “Palace”. The source of the English words “serai” and “seraighlio” derive from this word.) is undoubtedly one of the most important of Istanbul’s many historical structures. It was one of the first buildings constructed after the Turkish conquest of the city and it was the uninterrupted seat of the Ottoman Empire until the building of Dolmabahce Palace in 1856.
Immediately after conquest of the city in 1453, Mehmed the Conqueror had a palace built for him in what is now the district called Fatih. This turned out to be too small however and so he began the construction of Topkapi, the first stage of which lasted from 1472 to 1478. The palace was built around four courtyards leading one into the next.
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Covered (Grand) Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar (Turkish: Kapalıçarşı, meaning Covered Bazaar) in Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with more than 58 covered streets and over 1,200 shops which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. Opened in 1461, it is well known for its jewelry, pottery, spice, and carpet shops. Many of the stalls in the bazaar are grouped by the type of goods, with special areas for leather coats, gold jewelry and the like. The bazaar contains two bedestens (domed masonry structures built for storage and safe keeping), the first of which was constructed between 1455 and 1461 by the order of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. The bazaar was vastly enlarged in the 16th century, during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, and in 1894 underwent a major restoration following an earthquake.
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This is probably the most beautiful mosque in Istanbul built after Sinan’s (Suleymaniye Mosque architect) death. Its architect was Sedefkar Mehmet Agha, who was chief architect to Sultan Ahmed I, and it was built between 1609-1617. This masterpiece has six minarets that form an area measuring 64 by 72 meters. Four semi domes and measures 23.50 meters in diameter and 43 meters in height support the main dome of the mosque. It rests on four pillars measuring 5 meters in diameter. Owing to the effects of the light filtering through 2,609 stained-glass windows and enhanced by the dark blue tiles and paintwork, the mosque is known popularly as the “Blue Mosque”.
The calligraphic decorations are by Kasim Gubera while the architect himself did the woodwork. The mosque is surrounded on three sides by a large inner courtyard. The complex includes the tomb of Sultan Ahmed I, a medresse, a soup kitchen, a hospital, a marketplace, and an arcade of shops.
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