TURKEY : ISTANBUL

Istanbul has a population of between 7 and 8 million people and is the largest city in the Turkish Republic. It used to be the capital of the Ottoman Empire, and before that is was the capital of the Eastern Roman and Byzantine Empires under the name of Constantinople. Istanbul lies at the strait of the Bosphorus, which links the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and the Mediterranean. In the Bosphorus ends the so-called "Golden Horn". This is a 7 km long estuary of several rivers that lie more inland. The estuary received this name because of the mirroring golden sunlight on its waters. It is considered one of the most beautiful bays in the world. It also separates the old part of the city (Stanbul) south of the bay from the newer part "Beyoglu", north of the bay. Two bridges, the Galata bridge and the Atatürk bridge, link both parts of the city.

The city is spread out over two continents, Europe and Asia, because the urban area on both sides of the Bosphorus has developed considerably. The total surface of Istanbul is now more than 400 km². In 1973 the city had a population of about 3 million people. Since then, the number of inhabitants has doubled, especially because of the ongoing immigration of country people looking for a better life. A Turkish saying goes "In Istanbul even the dust and the stones are golden !". Because of this spectacular rise in population, the city meets with a lot of problems. The infrastructure has difficulties keeping up with the pace. Certain parts of the city are virtual slums. Istanbul is not only an historic city but also the economic heart of the modern Turkish Republic. Every day a sheer unending trail of tankers and cargo ships pass through the Bosphorus.

The Topkapi Palace.The wealth of the city is perhaps most visible on the cultural level. There is an almost unending number of churches, mosques, palaces, bazaars and beautiful idyllic sites. When one looks during sunset from across the river of the Bosphorus to the reflecting red evening glow, it becomes easy to understand why so many centuries ago colonists settled here and why everybody has always wanted to lay his hands on this glorious city. Istanbul is filled to the rim with monuments. It was, after all, the capital of three successive empires (Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans). History is still very much visible in the city. Here are some of the monumental highlights of Istanbul :

The Ayasofya : this mosk is probably the most known symbol of Istanbul and the former Byzantium. Emperor Justinian had this immense church built in the 6th century on the sport where a former church had been destroyed by fire. In 1463, after Constantinople had been taken by the Ottomans, it became the main mosk of the city. Four minaret's were added. During the course of time, the Ayasofya-mosk was regularly rebuild and refurbished. The interior decoration is a mixture of Byzantine and Islamic art. It is now a museum.

There are also numerous splendid palaces : the Topkapi Palace (center of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and the 19th century), with the dwellings of the harem, the pavilion with the relics of the prophet Mohammed, etc. Atatürk died in the Dolmabahce Palace on November 10, 1938. Others worth visiting are the Beylerbeyi Palace (19th century) in white marble, and the very luxurious Yilditz Palace from the 19th century.

Among the important mosks are : the Sultanahmet mosk (1609-1616), also known as the "blue mosk", the Syleymaniye mosk (1550-1557), considered to be the most beautiful of all, the Rustempasa mosk (1561) with its beautiful Iznik tiles, the Fatih mosk (1463-1470), which harbours the mausoleum of Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the conqueror of Constantinople.

The museums bear witness to the incredible historic wealth : in the inner courtyard of the Topkapi Palace are the Archeological Museums. In the Cinili Kösk the Museum of Turkish Ceramics a beautiful collection of Iznik ceramics from the 16th century is on display. What used to be the residence of the Sultan Süleyman the Great is now the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art. In front of the Ibrahim Pasa Palace stands the Museum of Turkish Tapestry. Further on, in the important Mosaics Museum, a splendid collection of mosaics from the palaces of the Byzantine emperors is preserved.

The most impressive monuments are the city walls of Istanbul, that stretch for 7 km alongside the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn. Built in the 5th century, they are now considered universal cultural heritage by the UNESCO. The Galata Tower, a Genoese construction from 1348 and 62 m high offers a splendid view over the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. At the entrance to the harbour a medieval tower from the 12th century can be seen : the Leander Tower. At the entrance of the Topkapi Palace is another major monument built in the style of the end of the Ottoman Empire : the Ahmet III fountain.


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