Byzantion, Constantinople, Istanbul...
Do we need to remind you that this city of about 12 million habitants, is the only one on the world to be spread over two continents (Europe and Asia) and is the biggest tourism attraction of Turkey ?
The former capital of three empires - Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman - is a fascinating mixture of past and present, old and new, modern and traditional. The museums, churches, palaces, mosques and bazaars and the sights of natural beauty seem inexhaustible.
In addition to its unique historical and cultural background and innumerable attractions, modern hotels, exclusive restaurants, nightclubs and shops make Istanbul a superb venue for meetings, conferences and conventions.
For this half day tour, you have the choice amonst the following alternatives :
1. Topkapi Palace
Located directly behind the Ayasofya museum, the Topkapi Palace was the nerve center of this Ottoman Empire. It was the center of both the sublime as well as of the sordid events of the 500-year imperial story, untill the construction of the Dolmabahce Palace mid-XIXth century.
Built on the confluence of the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara, the Palace does not reflect any particular architectural style as each new sultan added some parts according to his needs or wills.
The Topkapi Palace has suffered in its history four major fires and several earthquakes.
Some of the major places to be visited are the Harem, kitchens and the "Kösks" (kiosks).
Note : The Topkapi Palace is closed on Tuesdays.
2. Haghia Sophia Museum and the Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque
Dedicated as a church in 536 AD during the reing of Justinain, the Hagia Sophia was an architectural wonder of its time. The Byzantine emperor Justinian had it filled with decorative mosaics amongst which figural ones later destroyed by the iconoclasts.
When the church has been converted into a mosque after the conquest of Constaninople by the Ottomans, all thiese mosaics and painting have been preserved thanks to the simple whitewashing over them.
The mosaics were rediscovered during renovations in the 1930's when Atatürk converted it into a national museum for posterity.
Note : the Ayasofya Museum is closed on Mondays.
The Sultanahmet Mosque owes its name of "Blue Mosque" to the blue Iznik tiles with which the interior walls are covered. Built just opposite the Ayasya museum (with which it shares the limelight in the simple but tasteful Sount and Light Show on summer evenings), it was built in the early 1600's by Mehmet Aga, a student of the great architect Sinan, to show that the Ottoman could do as good if not better than the Byzantines.
The only mosque with six minarets is also associated to a religious school, hospital, caravansaray and soup kitchen, globally a "Külliye" or complete social center in the Islamic sense.
3. The Dolmabahçe Palace
The Dolmabahce Palace, a blend of various European architectural styles, was built between 1843-1856 by Karabet Balyan, the court architect of Sultan Abdulmecid. The Ottoman sultans had many palaces in all ages, but the Topkapi was the official residence until the completion of the Dolmabahce Palace.
The three-storied palace built on a symmetrical plan has 285 rooms and 43 halls. There is a 600 m long quay along the sea and two monumental gates, one of them very ornate, on the land side. Well-kept, beautiful gardens surround this seaside palace. In the middle, there is a large ballroom with a ceiling higher than the other sections. The entrance section of the palace was used for the receptions and meetings of the sultan, and the wing behind the ballroom used as the harem section.
Note : the Dolmabahce Palace is closed on Thursdays.
Depending the time you have, a visit to the Covered and Egyptian bazaars will be included.