Revered and fought over by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans alike, Istanbul has guarded the mouth of the mighty Bosphorus for more than 2,500 years. Standing at the crossroads between continents, Istanbul has a rich mosaic of cultural treasures reflecting its long history as the seat of empires. If you’ve managed to get yourself a cheap holiday to Turkey and are lucky enough to be visiting the city as part of your Turkish holiday, here are three special places to savour:
6th Century Basilica Cistern
An ideal refuge from the summer heat, the Basilica Cistern lies 52 stone steps below busy streets, hardly a stone’s throw from the Aya Sofya. Built by 7,000 slaves at the decree of the Emperor Justinian, the cistern is one of many constructed inside the walled city to secure the water supply. An elevated walkway surrounds the vast underground reservoir and 336 marble columns rise from the waters to meet the eye. Every detail of the magnificent ceiling they support is mirrored in the cool water below, disturbed occasionally by silently cruising carp. Some say the dimly-lit atmosphere is eerie and mysterious, whilst others find a deep serenity; all agree the Basilica Cistern is unforgettable.
The 11th-century Byzantine church of St. Savior became a mosque in the 16th century following the Ottoman conquest, and then a museum in modern times. Situated amidst picturesque Ottoman buildings, the church contains a stunning series of mosaics and frescoes portraying the life of Christ. Originally, these lay hidden beneath plaster in the mosque before re-discovery in the 19th century once again revealed their splendour to the world.
An iconic feature of the present city skyline, this mosque complex was designed for Süleyman the Magnificent by Sinan, the renowned Ottoman architect. The construction of Sinan’s masterpiece by 3,500 craftsmen began in 1550 and was completed within seven years. The grand mosque is the largest in the city and bears four minarets, a number reserved exclusively for mosques commissioned by sultans. Remarkably, most of the original mosque complex survives intact – this includes a courtyard, library, kitchen and caravanserai. The site also contains the carefully restored tombs of Süleyman the Magnificent, his wife Roxelana, and the architect Sinan.
The availability of cheap holidays to Turkey means the wonders of these hidden treasures of Istanbul and others such as the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum, the Galata Tower, Princes’ Islands and the Seven Towers Fortress, can at last be experienced and enjoyed by everyone.
Image by Aleksandra M. used under creative commons licence