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Istanbul is Europe's most populous city and Turkey's cultural and financial center. The city covers 27 districts of the Istanbul province. It is located on the Bosphorus Strait and encompasses the natural harbor known as the Golden Horn, in the northwest of the country. It extends both on the European (Thrace) and on the Asian (Anatolia) side of the Bosphorus, and is thereby the only metropolis in the world which is situated on two continents. In its long history, Istanbul served as the capital city of the Roman Empire (330–395), the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin Empire (1204–1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922). The city was chosen as joint European Capital of Culture for 2010. The historic areas of Istanbul were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985.

City of Many Names

The modern Turkish name İstanbul or colloquial can be attested, in a range of different variants, from as far back as the 10th century; it has been the common name for the city in normal Turkish speech since before the conquest of 1453. Etymologically, it derives from the Greek phrase or in the Aegean dialect, which means "in the city", "to the city" or "downtown". Byzantium is the first known name of the city. When Roman emperor Constantine I (Constantine the Great) made the city the new eastern capital of the Roman Empire on May 11, 330, he conferred on it the name Nova Roma ("New Rome"). Constantinople ("City of Constantine") was the name by which the city became instead more widely known. It is first attested in official use under emperor Theodosius II (408–450). It remained the principal official name of the city throughout the Byzantine period, and the most common name used for it in the West until the early 20th century. The city has also been nicknamed "The City on Seven Hills" because the historic peninsula, the oldest part of the city, was built on seven hills (just like Rome), each of which bears a historic mosque. The hills are represented in the city's emblem with seven triangles, above which rise four minarets. Two of many other old nicknames of Istanbul are Vasilevousa Polis (the Queen of Cities), which rose from the city's importance and wealth throughout the Middle Ages; and Dersaadet, originally Der-i Saadet (the Door to Happiness) which was first used towards the end of 19th century and is still remembered today. With the Turkish Postal Service Law of March 28, 1930, the Turkish authorities officially requested foreigners to adopt Istanbul as the sole name also in their own languages.

Geography & Climate

Istanbul is located in the north-west Marmara Region of Turkey. It encloses the southern Bosphorus which places the city on two continents—the western portion of Istanbul is in Europe, while the eastern portion is in Asia. The city boundaries cover a surface area of 1,539 square kilometres (594 sq mi), while the metropolitan region, or the Province of Istanbul, covers 6,220 square kilometres (2,402 sq mi). The city has a Mediterranean climate with hot and humid summers; and cool, rainy and often snowy winters. Humidity is generally rather high which can make temperatures feel much warmer or colder than they actually are. Yearly precipitation for Istanbul averages 640 millimetres (25.2 in). Snowfall is quite common, snowing for a week or two during the winter season, but it can be heavy once it snows. It is most likely to occur between the months of December and March. The summer months between June and September bring average daytime temperatures of 28 °C (82 °F). The warmest month is July with an average temperature of 23.3 °C (74 °F), the coldest is January with 5.6 °C (42 °F). The weather becomes slightly cooler as one moves toward eastern Istanbul. Summer is by far the driest season, although there is no real summer drought such as those occurring at Mediterranean climates or in the arid interior of Turkey. The city is quite windy, having an average wind speed of 17 km/h (11 mph).

Architecture

Throughout its long history, Istanbul has acquired a reputation for being a cultural and ethnic melting pot. As a result, there are many historical mosques, churches, synagogues, palaces, castles and towers to visit in the city. Some of these historical structures, which draw millions to the city every year, reflect the heart and soul of Istanbul. The famous Maiden's (Leander's) Tower, one of the symbols of Istanbul, was originally built by the ancient Athenian general Alcibiades in 408 BC to control the movements of the Persian ships in the Bosphorus strait. Back then it was located between the cities of Byzantion and Chrysopolis. The tower was later enlarged and rebuilt as a fortress by the Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus in 1110, and was rebuilt and restored several times by the Ottoman Turks, most significantly in 1509 and 1763.

The most important monuments of Roman architecture in the city include the Column of Constantine (Turkish: Çemberlitaş), which was erected in 330 by Constantine the Great for marking the declaration of the new capital city of the Roman Empire and contained several fragments of the True Cross and other artifacts belonging to Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary, the Mazulkemer Aqueduct, the Valens Aqueduct, the Column of the Goths at the Seraglio Point, the Milion which served for calculating the distances between Constantinople and other cities of the Roman Empire, and the Hippodrome of Constantinople which was built following the model of the Circus Maximus in Rome. Construction of the Walls of Constantinople began under Constantine the Great, who enlarged the previously existing walls of Byzantium in order to defend the new Roman capital city which quickly grew following its proclamation as Nova Roma. A new set of walls was built further west during the reign of Theodosius II, and rebuilt after an earthquake in 447 in their current shape.

The early Byzantine architecture followed the classical Roman model of domes and arches, but further improved these architectural concepts, as evidenced with the Hagia Sophia, which is the largest structure on Sultanahmet Square in the Eminönü district. The Hagia Sophia was designed by Isidorus and Anthemius as the third church to rise on this location, between 532 and 537, following the Nika riots (532) during which the second church was destroyed (the first church, known as the Megala Ekklessia ("Great Church") was inaugurated by Constantius II in 360; the second church was inaugurated by Theodosius II in 405, while the third and current one was inaugurated by Justinian in 537). The Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus (commonly known as the Little Hagia Sophia), which was the first church built by Justinian in Constantinople and edificed between 527 and 536, had earlier signaled such an improvement in the design of domed buildings, which require complex solutions for carrying the structure. The present-day Hagia Irene (which was originally built by Constantine in the 4th century, but was later enlarged by Justinian in the 6th century) and the Basilica Cistern are also from this period.

The most important churches which were built after the Byzantines recovered Constantinople from the Latin Crusaders in 1261 include the Pammakaristos Church and Chora Church. Also in this period, the Genoese Podestà of Galata, Montano de Marinis, built the Palazzo del Comune (1314), a copy of the San Giorgio Palace in Genoa, which still stands in ruins on the back streets of Bankalar Caddesi in Galata, together with its adjacent buildings and numerous Genoese houses from the early 1300s. The Genoese also built the Galata Tower, which they named as Christea Turris (Tower of Christ), at the highest point of the citadel of Galata, in 1348.

The Ottoman Turks built the Anadoluhisarı on the Asian side of the Bosphorus in 1394, and the Rumelihisarı at the opposite (European) shore, in 1452, a year before the conquest of Constantinople. The main purpose of these castles, armed with the long range Balyemez (Faule Metze) cannons, was to block the sea traffic of the Bosphorus and prevent the support ships from the Genoese colonies on the Black Sea ports, such as Caffa, Sinop, and Amasra, from reaching Constantinople and helping the Byzantines during the Turkish siege of the city.

Following the Ottoman conquest of the city, Sultan Mehmed II initiated a wide scale reconstruction plan, which included the construction of grand buildings such as the Eyüp Sultan Mosque, Fatih Mosque, Topkapı Palace, the Grand Bazaar and the Yedikule (Seven Towers) Castle which guarded the main entrance gate of the city, the Porta Aurea (Golden Gate). In the centuries following Mehmed II, many new important buildings, such as the Süleymaniye Mosque, Sultanahmet Mosque, Yeni Mosque and numerous others were constructed. In the 18th and 19th centuries, traditional Ottoman architectural styles were gradually replaced by European styles, such as the Baroque style interiors of the Aynalıkavak Palace (1677–1679) and Nuruosmaniye Mosque (1748–1755, the first Baroque style mosque in the city, also famous for its Baroque fountain), and the 18th century Baroque additions to the Harem section of the Topkapı Palace. Following the Tanzimat reforms which effectively started Turkey's Europeanization process in 1839, new palaces and mosques were built in Neoclassical, Baroque and Rococo styles, or a mixture of all three, such as the Dolmabahçe Palace, Beylerbeyi Palace and Ortaköy (Mecidiye) Mosque.

Starting from the early 19th century, the areas around İstiklal Avenue were filled with grandiose embassy buildings belonging to prominent European states, and rows of European (mostly Neoclassical and later Art Nouveau) style buildings started to appear on both flanks of the avenue. Istanbul especially became a major center of the Art Nouveau movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with famous architects of this style like Raimondo D'Aronco building many palaces and mansions in the city proper and on the Princes' Islands. His most important works in the city include several buildings of the Yıldız Palace complex, and the Botter House on İstiklal Avenue. The famous Camondo Stairs on Bankalar Caddesi (Banks Street) in Karaköy (Galata) is also a beautiful example of Art Nouveau architecture. Other important examples are the Hıdiv Kasrı (Khedive Palace) on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, Flora Han in Sirkeci, and Frej Apartmanı in the Şişhane quarter of Beyoğlu.

Art & Culture

Istanbul is becoming increasingly colorful in terms of its rich social, cultural, and commercial activities. While world famous pop stars fill stadiums, activities like opera, ballet and theater continue throughout the year. During seasonal festivals, world famous orchestras, chorale ensembles, concerts and jazz legends can be found often playing to a full house. The Istanbul International Film Festival is one of the most important film festivals in Europe, while the Istanbul Biennial is another major event of fine arts.

Istanbul Modern, located on the Bosphorus with a magnificent view of the Seraglio Point, resembles Tate Modern in many ways and frequently hosts the exhibitions of renowned Turkish and foreign artists. Pera Museum and Sakıp Sabancı Museum have hosted the exhibitions of world famous artists like Picasso, Rodin, Rembrandt and many others, and are among the most important private museums in the city. The Rahmi M. Koç Museum on the Golden Horn is an industrial museum, largely inspired by the Henry Ford Museum in the United States. It exhibits historic industrial equipment such as cars and locomotives from the 1800s and early 1900s, as well as boats, submarines, aircraft, and other similar vintage machines from past epochs.

Istanbul Archaeology Museum, established in 1881, is one of the largest and most famous museums of its kind in the world. The museum contains more than 1,000,000 archaeological pieces from the Mediterranean basin, the Balkans, the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. Istanbul Mosaic Museum contains the late Roman and early Byzantine floor mosaics and wall ornaments of the Great Palace of Constantinople. The nearby Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, originally the Ibrahim Pasha Palace (1524) on Sultanahmet Square, displays a vast collection of items from various Islamic civilizations. Sadberk Hanım Museum on the Bosphorus contains a wide variety of artifacts, dating from the earliest Anatolian civilizations to the Ottomans.

Occasionally, in November, the Silahhane (Armory Hall) of Yıldız Palace hosts the Istanbul Antiques Fair, which brings together rare pieces of antiques from the Orient and Occident. The items are sold either directly, or through auction. The multi-storey Mecidiyeköy Antikacılar Çarşısı (Mecidiyeköy Antiques Bazaar) in the Mecidiyeköy quarter of Şişli is the largest antiques market in the city, while the Çukurcuma neighbourhood of Beyoğlu has rows of antiques shops in its streets. The Grand Bazaar, edificed between 1455-1461 by the order of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror and later enlarged in the 16th century during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent also has numerous antiques shops, along with shops selling jewels, carpets and other items of art and artisanship. Historic and rare books are found in the Sahaflar Çarşısı near Beyazıt Square, which was known as the Forum Tauri in the Roman period. It is one of the oldest book markets in the world, and has continuously been active in the same location since the late Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods.

A significant culture has been developed around what is known as a Turkish Bath (Hamam), the origins of which can be traced back to the ancient Roman Bath, which was a part of the Byzantine lifestyle and customs that were inherited first by the Seljuk Turks and later the Ottomans, who developed it into something more elaborate. It was a culture of leisure during the Ottoman period. The hamams in the Ottoman culture started out as structural elements serving as annexes to mosques, however quickly evolved into institutions and eventually with the works of the great Ottoman architect Sinan, into monumental structural complexes, the finest example being the Çemberlitaş Hamamı (1584) in Istanbul, located on the Çemberlitaş (Column of Constantine) Square.

Live shows and concerts are hosted at a number of locations including historical sites such as the Hagia Irene, Rumeli Fortress, Yedikule Castle, the courtyard of Topkapı Palace, and Gülhane Park; as well as the Atatürk Cultural Center, Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall and other open air and modern theater halls. For those who enjoy night life, there are many night clubs, pubs, restaurants and taverns with live music. The night clubs, restaurants and bars increase in number and move to open air spaces in the summer. The areas around Istiklal Avenue and Nişantaşı offer all sorts of cafés, restaurants, pubs and clubs as well as art galleries, theaters and cinemas.

Beaches:

The most popular places for swimming in the city are in Bakırköy, Küçükçekmece, Sarıyer and the Bosphorus. Outside the city are the Marmara Sea's Princes' Islands, Silivri and Tuzla; as well as Kilyos and Şile on the Black Sea.

The Princes' Islands (Prens Adaları) are a group of islands in the Marmara Sea, south of the quarters Kartal and Pendik. Pine and stone-pine wooden neoclassical and art nouveau-style Ottoman era summer mansions from the 19th and early 20th centuries, horse-drawn carriages (motor vehicles are not permitted) and seafood restaurants make them a popular destination. They can be reached by ferry boats or high-speed catamaran Seabus (Deniz otobüsü) from Eminönü and Bostancı. Of the nine islands, only five are settled.

Şile is a distant and well-known Turkish seaside resort on the Black Sea, 50 kilometres (31 mi) from Istanbul, where unspoiled white sand beaches can be found. Kilyos is a small calm seaside resort not far from the northern European entrance of the Bosphorus at the Black Sea. The place has good swimming possibilities and has become popular in the recent years among the inhabitants of Istanbul as a place for excursions. Kilyos offers a beach park with seafood restaurants and night clubs, being particularly active in the summer with many night parties and live concerts on the beach.

Shopping:

Istanbul has numerous historic shopping centers, such as the Grand Bazaar (1461), Mahmutpaşa Bazaar (1462) and the Egyptian Bazaar (1660). The first modern shopping mall was Galleria Ataköy (1987), which was followed by dozens of others in the later decades, such as Akmerkez (1993) which is the only mall to win both "Europe's Best" and "World's Best" awards by the ICSC; Metrocity (2003); Cevahir Mall (2005) which is the largest mall in Europe; and Kanyon Mall (2006) which won the 2006 Cityscape Architectural Review Award for its interesting design. İstinye Park (2007) and City's Nişantaşı (2008) are two new malls which target high-end consumers and are almost exclusively dedicated to world-famous fashion brands.

Bars & Restaurants:

Along with the traditional Turkish restaurants, many European and Far Eastern restaurants and numerous other cuisines are also thriving in the city.

Most of the city's historic pubs and winehouses are located in the areas around İstiklal Avenue in Beyoğlu. The 19th century Çiçek Pasajı (literally Flower Passage in Turkish, or Cité de Péra in French, opened in 1876) on İstiklal Avenue can be described as a miniature version of the famous Galleria in Milan, Italy, and has rows of historic pubs, winehouses and restaurants. Pano, established by Panayot Papadopoulos in 1898, and the neighbouring Viktor Levi, established in 1914, are among the oldest winehouses in the city and are located on Hamalbaşı Avenue near the British Consulate and Galatasaray Square. Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi (literally Republic Winehouse), called this way since the early 1930s but originally established in the early 1890s, is another popular historic tavern and is located in the nearby Sahne Street, along with the Hazzopulo Winehouse, established in 1871, inside the Hazzopulo Pasajı which connects Sahne Street and Meşrutiyet Avenue. The famous Nevizade Street, which has rows of historic pubs next to each other, is also in this area.

Other historic pubs are found in the areas around Tünel Pasajı and the nearby Asmalımescit Street. Some historic neighbourhoods around İstiklal Avenue have recently been recreated, such as Cezayir Street near Galatasaray Lisesi, which became known as La Rue Française and has rows of francophone pubs, cafés and restaurants playing live French music.

Istanbul is also famous for its historic seafood restaurants. Many of them were originally established by the local Greeks, such as Aleko'nun Yeri in Yeniköy on the European side of the Bosphorus, or Koço Restaurant in the Moda neighbourhood on the Asian side of the city, which also has a small Greek Orthodox Chapel and Hagiasma (Holy Spring) inside. The most popular seafood restaurants are generally found along the shores of the Bosphorus and by the Marmara Sea shore towards the south of the city; from the south to the north Kumkapı, Ortaköy, Kuruçeşme (Park Fora, Marina), Arnavutköy (Kuyu), Bebek (Bebek Balıkçısı), Rumeli Hisarı (İskele), Yeniköy (İzmirli Balıkçı), Kireçburnu (historic Ali Baba) and Sarıyer on the European side; or Üsküdar, Kuzguncuk (İsmet Baba), Beylerbeyi (Villa Bosphorus), Kandilli, Anadolu Hisarı, Çengelköy (Deniz Yıldızı) on the Anatolian side. The Princes' Islands in the Sea of Marmara (Büyük Ada, Heybeli Ada, Kınalı Ada, Burgaz Ada) and Anadolu Kavağı near the northern entrance of the Bosphorus towards the Black Sea (close to Yoros Castle, which was also known as the Genoese Castle due to Genoa's possession of it in the mid-15th century) also have many historic seafood restaurants.

Clubs:

There are thousands of alternatives for night life in Istanbul but the most popular open air summer time seaside night clubs are found on the Bosphorus, such as Reina, Sortie and Anjelique in the Ortaköy district. Babylon and Nu Pera in Beyoğlu are popular night clubs both in the summer and in the winter, while Istanbul Arena in Maslak frequently hosts the live concerts of famous singers and bands from all corners of the world. Parkorman in Maslak hosted the Isle of MTV Party in 2002 and is a popular venue for live concerts and rave parties in the summer. Q Jazz Bar in Ortaköy offers live jazz music in a stylish environment.



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