Sultanahmet was once named Byzantium and Constantinople. It is within walking distance of two of the most magnificent masterpieces of world architecture, the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.
Other must see attractions are Topkapi Palace, the Archaeology Museum, St. Irene Church, Sultanahmet Square, Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Bazaar.
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The Old City of Istanbul was referred to as "Stamboul” by 19th century travellers. Today it is known as the “Walled City” thanks to its ancient walls, built to protect its inhabitants from invasion. Istanbul is also famed for its “Historical Peninsula” formed by the waters that are bound to the north, east and south of the city. Previously the site of Constantinople (the capital of the Byzantine and Roman empires), the city is surrounded by the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus strait, and the Sea of Marmara, and was acknowledged as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985.
As the oldest part of Istanbul, Sultanahmet was known as Byzantium in 667 BC when the Greek colonists settled there. Sultan Ahmed I renamed the city (after himself) as Sultanahmet when he became ruler of the Ottoman Empire in 1603. Sultanahmet is one of the oldest inhabited places in the world and has ancient buildings which date back 8000 years.
The city's glorious past is reflected by the mosques, palaces, churches, and houses that date back to the Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman ages. Sultanahmet Square, known locally as Sultanahmet Meydanı, houses the ruins of the Hippodrome of Constantinople, as well as many other historical sights. The iconic Bosphorus Bridge crosses the Bosphorus Strait, connecting Europe and Asia and is the meeting point of the Black Sea from the East and the Sea of Marmara from the West.
- Currency: TRY: Turkish Lira
Approximate flight time from the UK: 4 hours
Time zone: GMT +2
Sight-seeing: Sultanahmet is packed with historical sites, the most iconic of which is the Blue Mosque, erected by Sultan Ahmed I. The ruins of the Hippodrome of Constantinople lie in the Sultanahmet Square and it was once a circus and a centre for sporting activities, including horse and chariot racing.
Culture: The best way to see all of the museums in Sultanahmet is to purchase a Museum Pass Istanbul which gives visitors full access for 72 hours. The pass allows entry into all the major sites including the Chora Museum, the Topkapı Palace Museum and Harem Apartments, and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, as well as many more, with one ticket costing 85 TL.
Walking: Gülhane Park was once home to royal hunting grounds. Today it is a public park with plenty of paths, seasonal flowers, and large platanus trees which offer shade. Another good walking spot is Soğukçeşme Street which is located between Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, and the gate of the Gülhane Park. The car-free, cobbled street is lined with renovated, traditional wooden houses from the Ottoman period.
Often referred to as Blue Mosque, the curvaceous architecture features six minarets and 260 windows. The Sultanahmet Mosque was the grand project of Sultan Ahmet I who is buried in a tomb on north side of the building, facing Sultanahmet Park.
The mosque is still used for daily prayers, and free presentations about the Mosque and Islam are offered to visitors. The central prayer space is huge and attracts worshippers and visitors in their hundreds. There is a separate entrance to ease congregation through the main door, whereas tourists must use the south door via the Hippodrome, as this preserves the sacred atmosphere.
The courtyard is the biggest of all of the Ottoman mosques and inside blue İznik tiles adorn the interior giving the building its unofficial “Blue Mosque” name.
Address: Meydani No.7, 34122, Istanbul, Turkey
Opening hours: Visiting times 8.30am-11.30am, 1pm-2.30pm, 3.30pm-4.45pm, Friday opening is 1.30pm. These times are so prays are not interrupted, the mosque can be visited during prays but photographs cannot be taken during this time.
Entry cost: Free
Official website: http://sultanahmetcamii.org/
Hagia Sophia was built in the 6th century and was originally a Christian basilica built for the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I. It later became an imperial mosque in the 15th century when the Ottomans conquered Sultanahmet. Today it is a museum and with its impressive Roman engineering and beautiful architecture, Hagia Sophia sports a huge dome with a 30m diameter that covers a vast expanse of enclosed space.
Many of the floors of the museum are marble and an ornate library lies behind the omphalion (the spot where Byzantine Emperors were crowned). More mosaics, from the 9th century, featuring portraits of St Ignatius the Younger, St John Chrysostom, and St Ignatius Theodorus of Antioch adorn the base of the northern tympanum. In the upstairs galleries are yet more mosaics depicting biblical scenes.
On the opposite side of the square are the Baths of Lady Hürrem which were built between 1556 and 1557 and dedicated to Süleyman the Magnificent’s wife Hürrem Sultan.
Address: Sultanahmet Square, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey
Opening hours: April to October 9am-7pm, October to April 9am-5pm
Entry cost: Adult 30 TL, child under 12 years free
Official website: www.ayasofyamuzesi.gov.tr
The giant underground Basilica Cistern, or Yerebatan Sarnici, was built by Justinian I in the 6th century to service the Great Palace and surrounding buildings, as well as providing water to Sultanahmet’s residents. As the largest surviving Byzantine cistern in Istanbul, it was built using over 300 columns, many of which were recovered from ruined temples and feature fine carved images.
In 1985 the cistern was renovated by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and opened to the public in 1987. Inside visitors can walk along its raised wooden platforms and experience water dripping from the vaulted ceiling. Schools of carp swim in the water creating a unique atmosphere.
Address: Yerebatan Cad. Alemdar Mah. 1/3 34410, Sultanahmet Istanbul, Turkey
Opening hours: 9am - 6.30pm Summer, 9am – 5.30pm Winter
Entry cost: 20 TL
Official website: www.yerebatan.com
The vibrant Grand Bazaar is at the heart of Istanbul's Old City on the European side. The bazaar was built under the rule of Mehmet the Conqueror in 1461 and is made up of a vast area of laneways that link the bedesten (a covered market), neighbouring shops and Hans (Taverns/inns).
The sprawling labyrinth is located inside the walled city in the district of Faith, and is home to artisans at work and many Turkish tea outlets.
Along Kalpakcılar Caddesi are jewellers; gold bracelets can be purchased at Kuyumcular Carsısı; furniture can be found down the path of Divrikli Sk.; and leather goods can be bought along Perdahçılar Caddesi.
Address: Beyazıt Mh, Istanbul, Turkey
Opening hours: 9am – 7.00pm Monday - Saturday
Entry cost: Free
Official website: http://grandbazaaristanbul.org/Grand_Bazaar_Istanbul.html
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