A magical, ancient place where cultures collide and east meets west. Regarded as a transcontinental city in Eurasia, its commercial and historical centre lies in Europe and one-third of its population live in Asia. In fact, it is the only such city in the world. With a population in the region of 14 million people, Istanbul is the fifth-largest city in the world. While Istanbul is its current moniker, it has been called a number of names down through the centuries.
When it was first settled three millennia ago, it was called Lygos and by 330AD, it had become known as Constantinople or New Rome. Today, it marries a myriad of cultures together in a truly unique and magical visitor experience. For more than 1,600 years, 120 emperors and sultans ruled the world from Istanbul – no other city can make the same claim. Its powerful location is the main reason why it attracted Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Istanbul lies at a point where Asia and Europe are separated by the Bosphorus Strait and is flanked on three sides by the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn.
The oriental skyline of domes and minarets and the cobbled streets lined with wooden houses, epitomise the old quarter, while relics of Byzantine Christian and Ottoman Empires are dotted throughout. The mighty Byzantine Church of the Holy Wisdom (Aya Sofya) and the ornate pavilions of Topkapı Palace, the centre of the Ottoman Empire still tower over the old quarter in all their majesty. Then there’s the magical Süleymaniye Mosque Complex, which looks over the medieval Grand Bazaar – even in modern times, this eclectic market houses more than 4,000 shops. Much is the same today at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar as it was in 1461 when it was established. Its crowded narrow streets are filled with exotic aromas, side shows and merchants promoting their wares.
A timeless scene that one could imagine taking place at the height of the Ottoman Empire. At the same time, Istanbul is every bit a modern city with a bustling stock exchange cast against a skyline that rivals Manhattan. In some ways, it’s difficult to imagine that gleaming skyscrapers rise from the same ground that was once capital of the Byzantine Christian world. Wars were fought here and Constantinople was the main barrier between Islam and the rest of Western Europe. This it did successfully until 1453 when it fell to the Ottoman Turks. The modern entertainment districts of Karaköy, Galata and Beyoğlu are all you would expect of nightlife in a cosmopolitan city. Meanwhile, Istanbul Modern art gallery is close by at the Bosphorus waterfront. Visitors can take the ferry across to the Asian suburbs from Bosphorus or to the city’s ancient land walls or north to the mouth of the Black Sea.