İstanbul, the country’s cultural capital, has been an attractive settlement for various civilizations since ancient times. Today the city is visited each year by millions of travelers who come to catch a glimpse of its ancient city walls, enchanted churches, palaces and mosques, while savoring the delightful tastes of the city’s rich cuisine. İstanbul offers an unforgettable experience with its colorful daily life and dynamic nightlife. It is also an attractive destination for international meetings with its world class accommodation and convention facilities.
İstanbul, Dersaadet, Konstantiniye, Byzantion… The many names of this city is a reflection of its many faces. As the only city in the world situated on two continents -Asia and Europe- İstanbul has proved an attractive settlement for various civilizations since ancient times. Thanks to its rich history, colorful daily life and dynamic spirit, İstanbul continues to offer a once in a lifetime experience to its visitors. The largest city in modern Turkey, İstanbul’s cultural diversity, state of the art accommodation alternatives, unique blend of modern and traditional dining and entertainment options and stunningly rich history makes the 2010 European Capital of Culture an ideal destination for business organizations and leisure trips.
As the former capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, present day İstanbul retains the history that emerged from the city and integrates its historical values to the modern life. Sultanahmet, located at the center of the historic peninsula, is where most of the İstanbul’s famous historical sights are located. Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are both situated in this dynamic part of the city. A few hundred meters away is the world famous Grand Bazaar, which for the past six centuries has been a center for the trading of gold and authentic Turkish produce. The nearby Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı) is a breathtaking venue for banquets and special events. No visit to İstanbul is complete without crossing the beautiful Golden Horn the natural harbor opening to the Bosphorus- and relaxing on the green parks that stretch along the shore to enjoy magnificent sunsets. With their mixed Turkish, Greek and Jewish quarters, Eyüp, Fener and Balat are ideal for those who feel in the mood for a little time travel. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which administers 85 churches, stands in the Fener district. North of the historic peninsula, across the Golden Horn, is Galata, crowned by the Galata tower. Galata, Beyoğlu and the İstiklal Street accommodate much of the city’s nightlife venues. On the nearby front of Karaköy, you can find İstanbul Modern, a museum with exhibitions of contemporary Turkish art.
The Heart of the City: Beyoğlu
Beyoğlu, İstanbul’s culture and entertainment center, has always been a meeting point for cultures and peoples. The multiculturalism of this vibrant district is abundantly refl ected in architecture, daily life and culinary culture. İstiklal Street is the heart of this large district full of cinemas, theaters, restaurants, cafes, bars, and clubs and almost every visitor to İstanbul is attracted by the bright lights of the Street. North of the Taksim Square is the newer part of the city. High skyscrapers rise from Levent and Maslak, the main business districts, reflecting a different skyline from the old city. Moving forward to Kurtuluş, Osmanbey and Nişantaşı with neoclassical and Art Nouveau buildings, time starts to fl ow backwards. However modern cafes and shops are just around the corner to surprise you.
The Spectacular Bosphorus
The Bosphorus, separating Asia and Europe, is the ultimate treasure and beauty of İstanbul, where the city breathes. Both banks of the Bosphorus are decorated by characteristic, wooden waterside mansions, symbols of the old tradition of large, wealthy families residing on the Bosphorus’ shores.
Fishing dominates life on the Bosphorus thanks to the fertile sea that brings shoals of fresh fi sh daily and on every shore of the Bosphorus are restaurants serving delicious seafood. North of Beşiktaş you arrive at Ortaköy, whose cafés, restaurants and bars are enjoyable day or night. The districts beyond Ortaköy on the European side of the Bosphorus all have great natural beauty and places of entertainment: Kuruçeşme, Arnavutköy, Bebek, Rumelihisarı, Baltalimanı, Emirgan, İstinye, Yeniköy, Tarabya, Kireçburnu, Büyükdere, Sarıyer and Rumelifeneri are all charming districts.
Stepping to Asia
Across the Bosphorus to east is the Asian side centered on the historical districts of Üsküdar and Kadıköy. Üsküdar is symbolized by the Maiden Tower located on an islet just off the shore. The coasts of the Asian side are characterized by picturesque neighborhoods of Beykoz,Paşabahçe, Çubuklu, Kanlıca, Anadolu Hisarı, Kandilli, Çengelköy, Beylerbeyi, Kuzguncuk and Paşalimanı. These districts once hosted the grand summer houses of the Ottoman elite. Growing steadily, today this beautiful land is a vital part of the cultural life of İstanbul. Üsküdar and Kadıköy are quite popular with sea-side cafes, parks and traditional restaurants serving popular Turkish dishes.
The city has been conquered, fought over and rebuilt many times over the centuries. Istanbul’s history dates back to the first settlement possibly in the 13th Century BC, although was founded by Byzas the Megarian in the 7th Century BC, from when the city was named Byzantium. A small colony of Greeks inhabited the area until 3rd Century BC, and over the next 1000 years became a thriving trading and commercial centre. Whilst continuing life as a trading city during the Roman Empire, it was then conquered by Emperor Septimus Severius in 193 AD. During the 4th century, Istanbul was selected by the Roman Empire to be the new capital, instead of Rome, by Constantine. The city was re-organized within six years, its ramparts widened and the construction of many temples, official buildings, palaces, hamams and hippodrome. With a great ceremony, in the year 330, the city was officially announced as the capital of the Roman Empire, and known as Constantinople in the late eras.
It remained the capital of the eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine) for a long period, due to the fall of the west Roman Empire in the 5th century. By the sixth century, the population exceeded half a million, and was considered a golden age under Emperor Justinyen’s reign.
The Byzantium Empire and Istanbul's latter history is full of palace and church intrigues, was overrun by the Arabs in the 7th and 8th centuries, the Bulgarians in the 9th and 10th, but could not keep out the Crusaders who conquered in 1204. They destroyed and raided it for many more years - including churches, monasteries and monuments, which led to a decline in the population. The city passed reign to Byzantium again in 1261, did not regain its former richness, and was conquered by Turks in 1453 after a 53-day siege and the hands of control changed yet again.
It then became the capital city of Ottoman Empire, which saw a population increase with immigrants from other parts of the country, with religious freedom and social rights granted to Greeks, Armenians and Jews. Mehmet the Conqueror began to rebuild it, with a new palace and mosque (Fatih Camii) and tried to inject new life into the economy.
The reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-66) was considered the greatest of all the Ottoman leaders, and the military conquests paid for the most impressive Ottoman architecture, the work of Mimar Sinan. The city was also the centre of the Islamic work, and domes and minarets from hundreds of mosques dotted the skyline. A century after the death of Suleiman, the Empire started to decline but development of Istanbul continued in subsequent years. After 18th century the Empire became more interested in Western institutional models. These interests and interactions also affected the politic, cultural and economic life in Istanbul. All these effects reflected in the skyline of city which is still felt.
After establishing the Republic of Turkey in 1923, moving the capital to Ankara, then a small provincial town in Anatolia, Istanbul was simply the commercial and cultural centre, which it still remains today.
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