TURKEY : 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.
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
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.
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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