İstanbul:

Points of Interest

The city is visited by many tourists and is a popular resort. The environs of İstanbul, particularly the villas, gardens, castles, and small communities along the Bosporus, are famed for their beauty. The part of İstanbul corresponding to historic Constantinople is situated entirely on the European side. It rises on both sides of the Golden Horn, an inlet of the Bosporus, on one of the finest sites of the world, and like Rome is built on seven hills. Several miles of its ancient moated and turreted walls are still standing. Outside the walls and N of the Golden Horn are the commercial quarter of Galata, originally a Genoese settlement; the quarter of Beyoğlu (formerly Pera), which under the Ottoman sultans was reserved for foreigners and their embassies; and Hasköy, the Jewish quarter.

The Golden Horn is crossed near its mouth by the new Galata Bridge (which replaced the famous old Galata Bridge) and the Atatürk Bridge. The former leads into the historic quarter of Stambul, the city's ancient core, abutting the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara. The quarter of Phanar in the northwest, near the former site of the palace of Blachernae of the Byzantine emperors, contains the see of the Greek Orthodox Church and is inhabited mainly by Greeks. Some palace walls still stand. Excavations on the sites of the former Byzantine palaces have found fine works of art, and İstanbul has many monuments of the Byzantine past. Remains of the imperial residence, the Great Palace, were unearthed in 1998. The chief monument surviving from Byzantine times is the great Hagia Sophia. Originally a church, it was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453, then was a museum from 1934 to 2020, when it became a mosque again.

The city was destroyed (1509) by an earthquake and was rebuilt by Sultan Beyazid II. Turkish culture reached its height in the 16th cent. and from that period date most of its magnificent mosques, notably those of Beyazid II, Sulayman I, and Ahmed I. They all reflect the influence of the Hagia Sophia—yet are distinctly Turkish—and give the skyline of İstanbul its unique character, a succession of perfectly proportioned domes punctuated by minarets. In the gardens by the Bosporus stand the buildings of the Seraglio, the former palace of the Ottoman sultans, now a museum. The Seraglio, begun by Muhammad II in 1462, consists of many buildings and kiosks, grouped into three courts, the last of which contained the treasury, the harem, and the private apartments of the ruler. In the 19th cent. the sultans shifted (1853) their residence to the Dolma Bahçe Palace and the Yildiz Kiosk, N of Beyoğlu on the Bosporus.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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