Trip to Istanbul: One city, two continents

As we said in our previous article about Istanbul, this imposing city is called "the city of minarets" (or "Minaret": these are the names with which the Arabic word منار, which designates the towers, is translated in the Romance languages from Muslim mosques). Only on a trip to Turkey's biggest city, you can see more than 2,500 minarets.

But on a trip to Istanbul, you can not only enjoy a beautiful view of the mosques and their tall "lighthouses", called minarets but, for example, The Galata Köprüsü (Galata Bridge), which connects the old district of Sultanahmet in the old city with Beyoğlu (European Istanbul). This representative bridge crosses the Golden Horn (historic estuary at the entrance of the Bosphorus Strait, which divides the city, this site, which forms a spectacular natural harbor, has protected the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans and other ships for thousands of years and symbolizes the distance that separates East and West.

The transformation of Istanbul through its bridge

Over the past 500 years, the Galata Bridge took various forms. In 1453, a temporary structure was installed, made up of ships that travelers used to cross the expanse of water. At the beginning of the 16th century, Sultan Bayaceto II took the first steps to install a fixed bridge. Renowned Italian artist and inventor Leonardo Da Vinci drew the plans, but the sultan rejected them and asked –another renowned artist– Michelangelo to design it. However, the project was abandoned for more than 300 years.

Finally, Sultana Bezmiâlem, mother of Sultan Abdülmecit, managed to build the first Galata Bridge in 1845, where travelers from all over the world circulated. Due to a necessary modernization and devastating fire, the bridge was replaced three times over the next century and a half. On a trip to Istanbul, you can enjoy the current bridge (built between 1992 and 1994). It has two levels: at the bottom there are restaurants, bars and cafes that face east, overlooking the Bosphorus, towards Asia and also to the north: towards the Golden Horn.

The famous Topkapı Palace, the Sultanahmet and Süleymaniye

Also, on a trip to Istanbul, you have to visit the famous Topkapı Palace –the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1465 to 1853– which had 750,000 square meters and many inhabitants. Alone in the kitchen, they say, between 800 and 1,000 people were forced to feed the sultan and his inner circle 24 hours a day. These rooms included a dairy, a cellar and the harem kitchen, which prepared dishes for the sultan's family and for his concubines.

Currently, these rooms are equipped with weapons, kitchen utensils, watches and priceless treasures on displays. In the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle and the Holy Relics, under a dim light, lies the Holy Mantle of Muhammad, hair of his beard, a reliquary with a tooth, the prophet's bow and sword, land of the grave and a footprint. Also here, there is the rod of Moses. You can see all these things on a single trip to Istanbul.

In this city, the call to prayer is often heard five times a day, and wherever you are. To enter the mosques you have to take off your shoes, wear appropriate clothing and women must cover their heads. If you don't have it on hand, they lend you a handkerchief.

On a trip to Istanbul, while you organize your days, walk or philosophize, you can have a tea –black and strong, it is worth any time of the day and it is served in tulip-shaped glasses, a Turkish coffee or a glass of raki aniseed liquor–. If it is winter, you should ask for sahlep, a hot drink made from cinnamon orchid roots.

For its part, the Suleiman or Suleiman Mosque (Süleymaniye), in Fatih, is the largest in Istanbul. It was built by the architect Minar Sinan between 1550 and 1557. Sinan, whose life coincided with the golden age of the Ottoman Empire, left a legacy of 70 years of works, from mausoleums and hammams to this great mosque, whose interior and dome are overwhelming.

The tombs of Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife Roxelana are also on the same premises. You should not leave the place without first looking out to enjoy the spectacular views obtained from this location.

The Hippodrome of Constantinople

It will be difficult to imagine a trip to Istanbul without visiting the Hippodrome of Constantinople. This racecourse was located where today is located the great Sultan Ahmet Square, where tourists and street vendors walk among Greek and Egyptian relics. Its inauguration coincides with the ceremonies of the declaration of Istanbul as the second capital of the Roman Empire by Emperor Constantine the Great in 330 AD. It was rectangular in shape and almost 400 meters long by 120 meters wide. In other words, after the Circus Maximus in Rome, this was the second-largest racecourse in the world.

During the Byzantine and Ottoman eras, it was used for sporting and cultural activities (like horse racing, gladiator fights, athletics events), public demonstrations, and as an open-air museum with monuments of importance.

Check out the "Istanbulian" tour package, a detailed tour of the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia & Bosphorus and more!

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