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Istanbul

HISTORY

Legend attributes the founding of Byzantium, as the city was initially known, to a Greek expedition which set-out from the mainland under the command of one Byzas the Megarian. Guided by the words of the oracle at Delphi who had advised them to establish a city <opposite the land of the blind>, the colonists came ashore at Saray Burnu.

The oracular prophesy fulfilled, Byzas began in 676 BC to build a new polis which developed as an important trade and commercial centre. In co-operation with the Chalcedonians, tolls were extracted from ships loaded with olive oil, wine and luxuries bound for the Greek colonies of the Black Sea, and on their return south heavy with grain, salted fish, timber and skins.

Byzantine Constantinople

Constantine rapidly embarked on his plan to reinvigorate the Roman Empire around a new capital. Having initially favored Troy as the site of this <New Rome>, Constantine was swayed by the superior position of Byzantium, which from then on was known as Constantinople in his honor. He began an ambitious building program which transformed the city: constructing grand public buildings, churches and market places, all enclosed within a strong defensive wall stretching from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn.

As the focus of the Eastern Roman Empire, Constantinople’s rapid growth over the next 50 years necessitated the building of a new defensive perimeter several kilometers to the west of the original wall. The Theodosian wall, named after the emperor who commissioned its construction, remains to this day one of the most enduring features of the Byzantine city.

The reign of Justinian the Great (527-565 AD) witnessed an even greater transformation of the capital as he rebuilt in grander style many of the public buildings destroyed during the ‘Nika Revolt’. This uprising, sparked by discontent at high taxation, raged through the city in 532 AD before finally being brutally suppressed by mercenaries in the Hippodrome at the expense of 30,000 lives. Among the architectural achievements of this period, the church of Haghia Sophia stands as a glorious testament to what became a golden era for the Byzantine empire.

The Theodosian defenses were tested again in the following centuries as Bulgarian armies repeatedly attacked Constantinople; however, subsequently the city’s gravest threat came from the Latin armies of Western Europe.

Old Istanbul

With little or no effective support from its Christian allies in Europe, it was only a matter of time before the beleaguered city of Constantinople was overwhelmed by the Ottomans. After several unsuccessful assaults, the young and determined Sultan Mehmet 2 prepared to mount a decisive attack on the city. In preparation he constructed the fortress of Rumeli Hisarı (fortress) on the Bosphorous opposite the fort of Anadolu Hisarı (fortress), which effectively cut existing Byzantine lines of supply. He also enlisted the help of foreign experts to construct huge cannons which could hurl projectiles into the solid masonry of the Theodosian Wall. The siege began on 6th April 1453 with Mehmet 2 massing 100,000 troops who ‘surrounded the walls like bees’. Over the next seven weeks the Byzantine defenders and their Genoese allies, outnumbered more than ten to one, gallantly fought off repeated attacks, frantically rebuilding the walls as they crumbled in the face of an awesome artillery barrage. In a cunning plan to outflank the mighty chain stretched across the Golden Horn. Mehmet 2 ordered a slipway built over the heights of Galata from the Bosphorous. On 23rd April 80 ships were dragged on sledges up the hill, and then sliding down from the heights of Galata, they were launched on the Golden Horn. Now the city was completely encircled and the siege became a battle of attrition. By the end of May sensing the defenders weakness, Mehmet 2 launched a decisive attack, concentrating his forces at a point of relative weakness in the northern section of the walls. The janissary’s relentless attack eventually overwhelmed the defenses at the Gate of Romanos (now called the Edirne Kapısı) and the last Byzantine emperor Constantine 6 Palaeologus was killed fighting-to-the death on the battlements.

ISTANBUL

The city’s population, greatly diminished by out-migration during the twilight years of the Byzantine Empire, was swelled as people from across the empire were resettled, often forcibly, into new neighborhoods. Large Greek, Armenian and Genoese communities were joined during the 16th century by Sephardic Jews fleeing persecution in Spain, and later by Arabs, Moors and Europeans. Some measure of the city’s former diversity can be gauged by the fact that it had more resident Greeks than Athens, more Armenians than any other city. This colorful ethnic diversity was to last until the beginning of the modern era, when violence and discrimination encouraged the minorities to flee.

Over the following centuries the building continued apace despite the empires declining fortunes, with the European-style palaces built along the Bosphorous during the 19th century marking a final extravagant flourish which the Ottoman treasury could ill-afford. The tensions and conflicts within Ottoman society would frequently manifest themselves at the centre, with everyday life in the capital punctuated by violent intrigue, succession conflict and revolt.

The changing balance of world power during the 19th century also saw Istanbul exposed on several occasions to the threat of enemy occupation. This was avoided up until the Ottoman capitulation of 1918, when British troops marched in to secure the Straits and administer a coup de grace to the dying imperial administration. In response Ataturk and his fellow nationalists to Ankara from where they organized the struggle against foreign occupation and, subsequently, set-up the new Republic’s administration. This left Istanbul politically marginalized, isolated from the centre of government for only the second time in over 1,500 years. However, despite losing its political pre-eminence to an upstart provincial town, it remains the industrial, financial, cultural, intellectual and emotional heart of the country.

HAGHİA SOPHİA (Aya  Sofya)

History

Having brutally put down the Nika Revolt in 532 AD Emperor Justinian commissioned the architect Anthemius of Tralles and his assistant Isidore of Miletus to create a huge new church of unprecedented scale and grandeur. Building material was sourced across the empire with new stone shipped from as far away as Algeria and antique marble looted from Ephesus, Delphi and Athens.

Indeed, for its time Haghia Sofia was truly revolutionary, a graceful dome hovering 54 m above the marble floor with the soaring interior completely uncluttered by supporting columns or piers.

The church

From the gate at the southwest end of the church you proceed past an area littered with fragments of stone and marble to the entrance. Some of these pieces date from the fifth-century Theodosian church and were uncovered by German archaeologists in the 1930s.

TOPKAPI PALACE

Topkapı does not immediately dazzle the visitor with its scale or grandeur, although its had its fair share of admirers including the 17th-century Ottoman chronicler Evliya Celebi, who enthused: Never hath a more delightful residence been erected by the art of a man. ‘instead of one monumental structure, what you find is a collection of low buildings, notable for their lack of ostentation, grouped around a series of large, open courtyards.
Six years after his victorious entry into the city, Mehmet 2 ordered the construction of a new palace on the high ground overlooking the Bosphorous and Golden Horn. Originally year-marked for the rapidly growing Ottoman administration, the sultan later decided to take up residence himself in the palace, transferring his household in 1465 from the Eski Saray which stood on the site of Istanbul University. Occupied by successive sultans up until 1853, the Topkapı Palace was initially both the spiritual and administrative centre of the vast empire.

The palace evolved gradually over the centuries, with its irregular and seemingly haphazard plan in fact a carefully considered expression of Islamic and Turkic traditions, and the practical necessities and ceremonies of the Ottoman State.

The Imperial Gate

This is a blessed castle that has been put up with the consent of God and is secure and strong. May God the Most High make eternal the sultanate of the sultan of the two seas, the shadow of God in the two worlds, God’s servant between the two horizons, the hero of the water and the land, conqueror of the stronghold of Constantinople, Sultan Mehmet, son of Sultan Mehmet Khan, and may He place his position above the north star.

The palace kitchens where food was prepared for the sultan, his retinue and members of the court and palace staff. This amounted to as many as 4,000 mouths to feed twice a day, a task shouldered by 1,500 chefs, 600 of whom were concerned with producing confectionery alone.

The word harem derives from the Arabic for ‘forbidden’. The harem inviolate status was carefully guarded by a troop of black eunuchs, whose leader, the Kızlar Agası, was a powerful member of the Ottoman court. Essentially a palace within a palace, the labyrinthine network of over 250 rooms was home to the wives and concubines of the ruling sultan along with their female servants.

Contemporary sources report there were 150 women in the harem of Selim the Sot, although this number grew substantially over the following centuries to reach nearly 700 by the 18th century.

Perhaps the best remembered favorite was Polish born Haseki Hürrem, known to the west as Roxelana, who stole the heart of Süleyman the Magnificent, becoming his “first woman”, but more unusually as it was rare for a sultan to marry at all, also his wife. Ambitious and manipulative, the indomitable Roxelana exerted considerable influence from behind the scenes, encouraging her husband to murder the grand vizier, Ibrahim Pass, and the crown prince Mustafa, thereby clearing the way for her own son’s accession to the throne. The precedent of strong, influential harem women set by Roxelana was continued by Nurbanu, the favorite of Selim the Sot, who encouraged her husband’s debauched practices and effectively assumed control of the Ottoman administration, beginning a period known as the ‘Sultanate of Women’.

The Harem Tour

Having entered through the Carriage Gate, so called because the women of the harem would only venture beyond it in a horse drawn carriage, you come into the guard room, its walls reverted with a stunning display of Iznik tiles and the patterned floor made from colored pebbles. Passing through this room you come out into the Court of the Black Eunuchs, where a contingent of up to 70 black guards charged with maintaining the harem’s security lived. Generally bought by agents of the palace in the slave markets of Nubia, the black eunuchs were castrated before their arrival in Istanbul. Those that survived the operation and the journey were given ridiculous sounding names which reflected their virginity, ‘sweet and undefiled’, such as Rose, Hyacinth or Narcissus.

AROUND THE TOPKAPI

Fountain of Ahmet 3, a large square structure which is without doubt the city’s finest Rococo street fountain. Penned by the Ottoman poet Seyit Vehbi, inscriptions on each of the faces compare the fountain’s water to that of the sacred spring Zemzem, also praising its founder.

Sogukcesme Sokak

Cold-spring Street is lined on its palace side with a row of wooden houses, the picturesque wooden houses. At the end of the row is a handsome Ottoman mansion, the Konut Evi (Guest House), whose peaceful garden café makes an excellent place to relax during your explorations.

Gülhane Parkı

Further north near the exit to waterside Kennedy Caddesi is a15-m high granite monument known as Goth’s Column due to the Latin inscription on it which reads: ‘fortune is restored to us by reason of defeat of the Goths.’ Historians have speculated that this victory monument dates from the third century during the reigns of either Claudius 2 Gothicus or Constantine the Great. Crossing the coastal thoroughfare, Kennedy Caddesi, brings you out onto Saray Burnu jutting out into the busy waters where the Bosphorous and Golden Horn meet.

Yerebatan Sarayı

There is little to prepare you for the serenity and grandeur of the city’s largest subterranean cistern. Known in Byzantine times as the Basilica Cistern, the huge underground reservoir was constructed in 532 AD during the reign of Justinian to meet the growing water requirements of the imperial palace. Used throughout the Byzantine era, the cistern slipped into obscurity following the Ottoman conquest only to be rediscovered again in 1545 by Petrus Gyllius, a Frenchman investigating Istanbul’s Byzantine legacy.

AROUND SULTANAHMET MEYDANI

Baths of Roxelana would certainly be the grandest baths in the city  is no longer in operation, with the building now housing a government- run carpet emporium. Built by Mimar Sinan at the request of Süleyman the Magnificent in 1556 and named after his wife Roxelana, the attractive twin-domed Turkish bath was intended for the use of those praying in Haghia Sophia.

Sultan Ahmet Mosque

The Sultan Ahmet Mosque, known to western tourists as the Blue Mosque on account of the glorious Iznik tiles covering much of its interior, stands magnificently across the formal gardens of Sultanahmet Square from Haghia Sophia. For many the mosque, built for Sultan Ahmet 1 by the imperial architect Mehmet Aga, stands at the pinnacle of Ottoman architectural achievement, however, paradoxically it was built at a time when imperial fortunes had already begun to decline. There was considerable opposition to the mosque’s construction from those who viewed it as an extravagance the Ottoman treasury could ill-afford, while Mehmet Aga’s plans to adorn the building with six towering minarets scandalized conservative elements of society, who viewed it as a sacrilegious attempt to rival the religious architecture of Mecca.

Despite the objections, work began in 1609 with the sultan himself often taking an active role, working alongside the craftsmen and labors. The mosque was finished in seven years but sadly its enthusiastic patron died just a year later aged only 27.

The Hippodrome

An important focus of civic life in Constantinople, the Hippodrome was constructed as part of a city-wide building program ordered by Emperor Septimus Severus after his sacking of the city in the second century. Later enlarged during the reign of Constantine the Great, a staggering 100,000 spectators are thought to have crammed into the arena to watch official ceremonies, games and chariot racing. These fiercely contested events became the expression for competition between rival political factions in the city, with ‘the Blues’ associated with the wealthier, conservative citizens and ‘the Greens’ supported by a more radical, lower class crowd. Temporarily united in opposition to Emperor Justinian, members of the two factions rioted in 532 AD. Much of the city was destroyed in the ensuing anarchy before an army of mercenaries commanded by General Belisarius restored order, massacring 30,000 rebels trapped in the arena in the process.

Along the central axis of the stadium, known as the spine, stood a row of obelisks and columns brought back from across the empire. The northern-most is the Egyptian Obelisk dating from about 1500 BC.

Nearby is the Serpentine Column, imported from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi by Constantine the Great. The column, consisting of three intertwined serpents, was dedicated to Apollo by 31 Greek cities in gratitude for their victory over the Persians in the battle of Plataea in 479 BC. Unfortunately, the monument lost its heads due to the actions of a drunken Polish official during the 18th century with one of the bronze pieces now on display in the Archaeological Museum.

Column of Constantine Porphyrogenitus as it was the Emperor Constantine 7 who restored it in the 10th century, encasing the dull masonry shaft in bronze.
Ibrahim Pasa Palace

Süleyman the Magnificent to his grand vizier Ibrahim Pasa in 1542, the Ibrahim Pasa Palace now houses the excellent Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. The son of a Greek fisherman collected in the periodic levy of Christian youths, Ibrahim Pasa became close friends with the sultan while serving as a page in the royal household. Enjoying the sultan’s approval the ambitious young man rapidly gained rank in the Ottoman administration serving as chief falconer and chief of the royal bedchamber before being awarded the grand vizierate. As grand vizier he displayed his considerable talents, not only leading the Ottoman horde on numerous campaigns but also amassing a huge personal fortune. In time his power grew to rival that of the sultan himself: a state of affairs that was unacceptable to both Süleyman and his scheming wife, Roxelana, and which ultimately brought about his strangulation at the hands of the royal mutes. The building later served as a dormitory, barracks and school with its balcony used by sultans as a vantage point from which to watch festivities held in the Hippodrome below.

Sokullu Mehmet Pasa Mosque

The building was commissioned in 1571 by Sokullu Mehmet Pasa, who served as grand vizier under Süleyman the Magnificent, then enjoying unrivalled power and influence under his successors Selim 2 and Murat 3. The courtyard, entered by climbing a steep set of steps from the street, also functioned as a Medrese with the students lodged in cells beneath the surrounding portico and theology classes given in the hall above the staircase or the mosque itself.

The spire of the Mimber is also sheathed in tiles with fragments of black rock, said to be from the sacred Kaaba in Mecca, set into its marble work.

Covered Bazaar

High on the list of compulsory sights to be seen on any visit to Istanbul is the Covered Bazaar. Entered through one of 22 gates, the bazaar is a huge maze of covered streets, arcades and hans containing over 4,000 shops selling everything from cheap souvenirs to carpets, leatherwear to jewelry. Thought to be the largest retail area of its type in the world, the bazaar contains a school, a police station, banks, mosques, restaurants and cafes serving shoppers and an estimated 25,000 people employed within its labyrinthine confines.

Shops selling a particular type of goods continue to congregate in the traditional manner, although these groupings have become less rigid with time. Age-old trades have disappeared leaving street names such as Terlikciler Sokak (Street of the Slipper-makers) and Fesciler Caddesi (Street of the Fez-makers).
If hunger strikes during your shopping expedition, you won’t have to look far to find a snack bar serving-up sandwiches or döner kebap, or for a sit-down meal try the Havuzlu Restaurant. If it is a just a brief pit stop that you are looking for, seek out the traditional Sark Kahvesi on Yaglıkcılar Caddesi, or the trendy Fes Café on Halıcılar Carsısı.

Süleymaniye Mosque

Built on part of the grounds of the Eski Saray, the huge construction project continued for oven seven years with Mimar Sinan proudly proclaiming at the inauguration ceremony. ! I have built thee, O emperor, a mosque which will remain on the face of the earth until judgment day’.

Two pairs of minarets, said to represent Süleyman’s position as the fourth sultan to rule from Istanbul, project skyward from each corner of the courtyard.

The kitchens of the imaret, set around a peaceful courtyard shaded by an aged plain tree planted in 1550 at the time of its construction, house a restaurant. Turning the corner into Tiryaki Carsısı, the ‘Market of the Addicts’, so called because its cafes were once frequented by dealers peddling opium and hashish, the medical centre and sanatorium of the Süleymaniye külliye line one side of the quiet street. Two identical Medrese, the Sani and Evvel seminaries, which contain the Süleymaniye library, an important collection of over 100,000 manuscripts and books. The tombs of  Sultan Süleyman and his beloved wife Roxelana stuns surrounded by Ottoman gravestones.

Eminönü

Historically the site of the city’s docks, during Byzantine times the area was peopled largely by Genoese and Venetian merchants who enjoyed a privileged position within the empire due to generous concessions extracted from their Byzantine hosts. A large community of Karaite Jews, members of a sect which separated from Orthodox Jewry in the eighth century, also lived in the district; however, they were moved across the Golden Horn to Hasköy in order to make way for the Yeni Camii.

The Mısır Carsısı, known to westerners as the Spice Bazaar, is the most distinguished of the markets. Then there is Sirkeci, where the illustrious Orient Express pulled into town.

The Golden Horn

In typically pragmatic form the Turks have always called the gently tapering body of water which curves westwards from the Bosphorous the Halic, the ‘Estuary’. The origins of its more romantic Greek name Chrysokeras, translated into English as the Golden Horn., are however about as clear as the turbid waters themselves. It has been suggested that the name dates from the Ottoman conquest when terrified Byzantines hurled their valuables into the water rather than give them up to the rampaging Turks. Golden Horn is a wonderful natural harbor which has been used as such since the time of Byzas. With a huge chain stretched across its mouth it was also a valuable defense, protecting the city’s northern walls from attack until wily N-Mehmet the Conqueror came upon the plan of dragging boats over the heights of Pera from Besiktas.

Mısır Carsısı – Spice Bazaar

Its Turkish name dates from when it was endowed with the customs duties from Cairo, although nowadays foreign visitors commonly refer to it as the Spice Bazaar on account of the large number of spice outlets occupying its vaulted arcades.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate

The Patriarchate has been situated at this site in the backstreets of Fener since 1601, however, despite remaining the spiritual centre of the Greek Orthodox faith, its ecclesiastical role has been marginalized by political events of the 20th century, with the mass  exodus of Greeks after the War of Independence, anti-Greek riots and expulsions later in the century robbing the church of its flock.

Kariye Camii (Church of St Saviour in Chora)

Situated in a quiet residential area just inside the Theodosian city walls, the Church of St Saviour in Chora, known to the local Turkish population as the Kariye Camii, contains a priceless record of Byzantine art in the form of a whole series of beautiful frescoes and mosaics. Although the origins of the church go back much further, as suggested by the name ‘in Chora’ which means ‘in the country’, the present structure dates from the late 11th century. However, with its conversation into a mosque in the 16th century, the church’s exquisite pictorial decoration was lost beneath layers of paint, plaster and grime, only to be revealed 500 years later during a restoration program conducted by the Byzantine Institute of America.

Yedikule

Mehmet 2 followed his victorious entry into the city with orders to repair the Theodosian Walls and raise o fortress inside them at their Marmara end. Garrisoned by about 50 troops, this stronghold became known as Yedikule (Castle of the Seven Towers) after the turrets which top its strong walls. Part of the Ottoman Treasury was secured in the keep with several of the towers functioning as prisons for luckless foreign emissaries and those who had fallen foul of the Ottoman authorities.

Across the courtyard, now overgrown with vegetation, the outline of a Roman triumphal arch, known as the Golden Gate, can still be recognized between two marble turrets.

Plated with gold and adorned with sculptures, it was through this resplendent archway that imperial processions passed following triumphs on the field of war. The tower to the left of the Golden Gate was used as a torture chamber during Ottoman times and among the grisly relics inside is the ‘well of blood’ into which severed heads would roll.

The Theodosian Walls

Built to replace the earlier Byzantine defenses, which by the fourth century had begun to restrict the city’s growth, the ramparts were completed in 413 AD during the reign of Theodosian 2. However, 34 years later much of this hard work was undone by a major earthquake which toppled 57 of the walls defensive towers. This disaster left the city completely exposed, and with the news that Atilla the Hun was baring down on the city with his Golden Horde, the entire population, even the mutually antagonistic Hippodrome factions, co-operated in the efforts to rebuilding the tattered ramparts. Within an incredible 60 days the landward approaches to Constantinople were secured not just by the single pre-quake wall, but also by a second outer wall and a 20-m wide moat. This formidable double curtain, guarded by 96 towers set at 50-m intervals along each wall and pierced by 11 gates, succeeded in repelling numerous armies over the next 1,000 years, finally succumbing in 1453 to the persistent attacks of Mehmet 2. The conqueror promptly ordered the walls to be repaired and they continued to be well maintained up until the end of the 17th century.

North of the Golden Horn

Across the Golden Horn from Eminönü is the district of Galata. It rises steeply away from the waterline, a chaotic jumble of office buildings, warehouses and tenements topped by the conical and rather incongruous looking. The land was granted to the Genoese as a reward for their help in reclaiming the city from the Latin Crusaders. They established a trading colony on the slopes beside the Golden Horn, which prospered and grew.

As the 19th century progressed, trade with Europe developed rapidly and many a fortune was made by the merchants. Fine European-style mansions, town houses and churches were built on the crest of the hill above Galata, an area which became known as Pera, after the Greek word for ‘beyond’.

The 20th century saw great change sweep over Galata and Pera as the Armenian pogroms: the Treaty of Lausanne and the discriminatory taxes of the 1940s encouraged the areas ethnic minorities to leave.

GALATA

Galata Mevlevihanesi

At the top of Galip Dede Caddesi on the left-hand side, a gateway leads into the peaceful courtyard of the Galata Mevlevihanesi. The first Whirling Dervish tekke or lodge to be built in the city.

The conical form of the 62-m high Galata Kulesi is a distinctive landmark on the Galata sky-line. It’s also an excellent spot to head for a bird’s-eye-view over the rooftops of this part of town with access to the viewing gallery and restaurant by way of a lift or long spiral staircase.

Beyoglu

Asmalı Mescit Sokak is a narrow street of meyhane-taverns, cheap hotels and frame shops which was once the haunt of a Bohemian crowd of artists and intellectuals including Salvador Dali and the celebrated Turkish photographer Ara Güler.

Asmalı Mescit Sokak brings you out onto Mesrutiyet Caddesi near the fortress-like US Consulate and, to the right, the Pera Palas Hotel. Built in 1890 by the Belgian entrepreneur Georges Nagelmackers to accommodate passengers from the Orient Express, the Pera Palas was the finest, most luxurious hotel in the entire city. Its guestbook is littered with the names of heads of state, politicians, poets and stars from the world of theatre and film. Agatha Christie was a regular guest and it was during one of her stays that she was inspired to pen ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. Other celebrated visitors included Atatürk, whose suite, no 101, is maintained in its original state as a museum. Zsa Zsa Gabor and Mata Hari, the infamous spy. The staff are happy to take you up in the creaky vintage lift and show you around: while the faded grandeur of the hotel bar or patisserie, where you can enjoy a pot of English tea, are excellent places to soak-up the nostalgic atmosphere.

Çiçek Pasajı – Flower Passage

Next to the Balik Pazarı is the so-called ‘Passage of the Flowers’, Çiçek Pasajı, a narrow covered courtyard within the rococo- style Cite de Pera building.

The Bosphorous

A 36-km long channel varying in width from 660 m to 4,500 m the Bosphorous, Bogaziçi in Turkish, has always held an almost magical fascination for foreign visitors. Not only does it link the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea, but it also divides the continents of Europe and Asia.

THE EUROPEAN SHORE

Dolmabahçe

Considering the Topkapı Palace to be out-dated and impractical in 1842 Sultan Abdülmecit commissioned Armenian architect Karabet Balyan and his son Nikogos to construct a new European-style imperial palace.

The Dolmabahçe was completed in 1853. the architects fusion of Oriental and European styles produces a tawdry, over-ornamented, result which strains the boundaries of good taste and leaves your head spinning. It seems that even 19th century visitors, such as the French writer Theophile Gautier, did not know quite what to make of it: ‘ it is not Greek, nor Roman, not Gothic, nor Saracen, nor Arab, nor yet Turkish’. The ostentatious display is harder to stomach as it belies the fact that the palace was constructed at a time when the Ottoman Empire, raven by internal revolt and besieged by aggressive foreign powers, was in terminal decline.

The cost of construction was far beyond the means of the Ottoman treasury and the sultan borrowed heavily to finance it, helping to build up debts that would eventually bankrupt the state.

Çıragan Sarayı – Palace

Work began on the palace in 1855 during the reign of Abdül Mescit, however, it progressed at a snail’s pace, only reaching completion 19 years later. By that time Abdülaziz had acceded to the throne, with the new sultan insisting the architect, Nikogos Balian, add Arabic elements to the building’s design, most conspicuous of which are the ornately carved stalactite niches above the windows.

Despite all the effort and expense the sultan hardly used the palace, declaring it to be damp and uncomfortable. Ironically, two years after the Çıragan Sarayı’s completion, Abdülaziz was overthrow and imprisoned in the palace, where on 4 June, 1876 he slit his wrists with a pair of scissors. His successor, Murat 5, fared little better, as having shown signs of mental instability he too was replaced only months later by his brother Abdül Hamit.

The ill-fated palace lay abandoned and derelict for the next 30 years, enjoying a brief upturn in its fortunes in 1908 when it was chosen as the site of the new Turkish Parliament. However, two years later disaster struck and the palace was gutted by fire. And so it remained a smoke-blackened shell, for nearly 75years until in 1986 the German Kempinski group redeveloped it as a luxury hotel.

Ortaköy

Küçük Esma Sultan Sarayı, a 17th century palace named after its most infamous resident, Küçük Esma Sultan, the daughter of Sultan Abdülhamit. Married to an important court official at the age of 14, Küçük Esma Sultan was widowed a decade later. However, instead of remarrying was customary for Ottoman princesses, she embarked on a scandalous life of debauchery and excess more commonly associated with the sultan and his harem.

Kuruçeşme

The next Bosphorous suburb is fairly unremarkable except for a series of lavish nightclubs where the cream of Istanbul society come to prance, pose and pay-out extortionate sums of cash for the privilege.

Arnavutköy

The ‘Village of the Albanians’ is a bit of misnomer as for much of its history the area was inhabited predominantly by Greeks and Jews. Although the Jewish community has long since moved on there still remain about 25 families of Greek descent, many of them attending the local Orthodox church of Taxiarchs.

Apart from wandering the streets soaking up the atmosphere, you may want to seek out the Church of Taxiarchs which is reached by walking up Gül Sokagı from the ferry station and taking the third turning on the right. The cream colored building is approached through a courtyard filled with fragrant blooms in summer and the guardian. Yani, lets visitors in to inspect the interior on weekdays at 08:00 or 17:00. housed in a chapel beside the church is a holy spring, or ayazma, reached down a highly polished marble staircase.

Rumeli Hisarı - Fortress

Rumeli Hisarı which was built in 1452 as part of Mehmet 2’s hurried preparations for the siege of Constantinople. Planned personally by the sultan himself, the fort consists of three massive towers linked by long crenellated curtain walls up to 15-m thick. Incredibly, in spite of its scale the structure took only four months to complete, a testament as much to the strength and skill of the Ottoman workforce as to the healthy spirit of competition which developed between the sultan’s three chief ministers, each entrusted with the task of building one of the main towers. Once garrisoned by a force of Janissaries and bristling with cannon, the fortress and its smaller predecessor on the opposite shore, achieved their purpose admirably, closing the straits to Byzantine shipping and effectively cutting the city’s last remaining supply route.

MUSEUMS

Museum of Turkish& Islamic Arts

Housed in what’s left of the Ibrahim Pasa Sarayı, the museum has a fascinating collection of over 40,000 artifacts, with the displays concentrating primarily on the Mamluk, Selçuk and Ottoman periods, but also featuring items from other Islamic cultures of the Middle-east. Downstairs in the ethnography section are a series of informative exhibits on the art and traditions of various nomadic groups, including the ‘Karaevli’, now settled near Adana. There is also an exhibition about traditional techniques used for producing natural dyes from plant and animal materials which is based largely on research by the Marmara University. The hall on the ground floor hosts visiting exhibitions and the café on the museum terrace is a good place to take the weight off your feet with excellent views across the Hippodrome to the Sultan Ahmet Camii.

The Price’s Islands

Background:

Known as the Kızıl Adalar or ‘Red Islands’, on account of the reddish cliffs which grace several of the chain, the islands have a long history of human occupation dating back to Classical times when copper ore was extracted from mines on Heybeliada. The Byzantines, favoring their seclusion, dotted the islands with monasteries and convents, several of which were used as places of internal exile.

However in 1849 all this was to change as a regular steam ferry service brought the island closer to city enabling wealthy Armenian, Greek and Jewish merchants to construct summer houses on the islands, many of which survive to the present-day.

Büyükada

Having landed at one of the islands’ piers you will immediately become aware of the rich architectural heritage left by the islands’ 19th century residents. Wandering up past the clock tower the streets are lined with grand wooden villas, mostly shut-up behind louver shutters until the end of May when the island slowly wakes from its winter slumber.

Heybeliada

Second of the archipelago in terms of size is Heybeliada, ‘Saddle Bag Island’, so called because of its shape. Blissfully devoid of traffic, outside the main holiday months a sleepy calm pervades the main settlement which climbs up the hillside behind a waterfront promenade dotted with a handful of small cafes and restaurants.

The most conspicuous building in town, clearly visible as you approach, is the Naval Academy where young men receive an education before serving their country on the high seas.

Sights along the way include the Greek Orthodox School of Theology built in the 19th century on the hill to the north of town.

Burgazada& Kınalıada

Similar size, these two smaller members of the archipelago attract far fewer visitors and have retained a backwater feel despite in recent years being the target of extensive summer house development. The greener, more fertile of the pair, Burgazada is scattered with ruined monasteries and cemeteries, while in town you can check-out the home of the novelist Sait Faik, preserved as a museum.

Kınalıada, ‘Henna Island’, named after its red colored cliffs, is a rockier more barren affair still favored as a home or summer retreat by Istanbul’s Armenian community. Facilities on both islands are limited to a couple of simple restaurants which shut-up shop for the winter at the end of the school holidays in September.