Guide Location: Turkey » Istanbul
Guide Type: Self-guided city tour
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.6 km
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Saperaud
Istanbul can offer its visitors quite an unforgettable experience when it comes to architecture. Here you can admire both the architectural achievements of the long vanished Eastern Roman Empire and its influence and the traditional Ottoman-Arabic style. Take this tour to see some of the best examples these architectural styles.
Tour Stops and Attractions
1) Fatih MosqueThe Fatih Camii translates to the “Conqueror’s Mosque” from the Turkish language. The Fatih Mosque is one of the largest examples of Turkish-Islamic architecture in Istanbul, and it was built over the original site of the Church of the Holy Apostles. It is an Ottoman Mosque, located in the Fatih district.
Constructed during 1462- 1470 by Sultan Fatih Mehmet (Mehmet the Conqueror), the Fatih Mosque is distinct in its construction. It consists of a hospital, a caravansary, kitchens, a market place and several hamams (Turkish baths). The mosque also consists of a madrassah (Islamic school) which can house over 1000 students.
The Sultan wanted to make a spectacular structure, rivaling the Avasofya Church (Hagia Sophia), and when the architect, Atik Sinan was unable to create a mosque higher than the Avasofya, the Sultan ordered both the architects hands cut off. Located atop the highest hill in Istanbul, the Fatih Mosque consists of a tall central dome, and semi domes on all four sides.
An earthquake devastated the structure in 1771, and the complex went under major restoration by Mustafa III. From the original complex, the inner courtyard, the madrassah (Islamic school) and the mirhab (prayer direction niche) survive today. The mosque’s interior has many depictions of Islamic Art. Outside the mirhab wall, tombs of Sultan Mehmet II and his wife are located.
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2) Şehzade MosqueThe Şehzade Cammi translates to the Prince Mosque from the Turkish language. This is an Ottoman Imperial mosque located in the Fatih district in Istanbul.
Sultan Suleiman I commissioned the mosque in memory of his son, Prince Mehmet, who died at the age of 21 of small pox. Hence the name of the mosque - Sehzade, or Prince. It was completed in 1548, and was the first major commission of the Imperial Architect Mimar Sinan. The mosque is still considered by historians as the first masterpiece of Ottoman architecture created by Mimar Sinan, who went on to complete many mosques and monuments after this.
The mosque complex, also called the Sehzade complex contains two madrassah (Islamic schools), kitchens which served food to the poor and a caravansary. The tomb of the prince is also located in the mosque complex. The mosque and its courtyard are separated from the rest of the complex by a wall. The courtyard is bordered by 5 bays that are domed on each side. White and pink marble arches are also present here. An ablution fountain is present in the center of the courtyard, a later donation by Sultan Murat IV. The mosque’s interior is simple, and does not have any galleries.
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3) Bodrum MosqueFormally known as “The Church of the Monastery of Myrelaion” or “The Place of Myrrah”, the Bodrum Mosque used to be a cross-in-square designed church in Istanbul. Bodrum translates as “basement” from Turkish, and this probably refers to the crypt that is still present beneath the mosque. The church was converted into a mosque by Ottoman Grand Vizier, Mesih Pasa, in 1500.
The mosque was damaged by fire in 1784 and 1911 and it was also abandoned for some time, until the Istanbul Archaeology Museum tried to replace most of its architecture with masonry during the 1960s. The mosque lost some of its historic appearance due to the renovation. A cistern was also restored during the 1990s and has been converted into an underground shopping mall.
The wooden portico that was present inside the mosque has been demolished during the many restorations and renovations that mosque has undergone. None of the original mosaics and marble revetments that decorated the church remain today and the mosque is surrounded on all four sides by apartment buildings. Regardless of the many restorations the mosque has endured, its crypt and interior are still worth visiting as they date as far back as the Byzantine period.
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4) Süleymaniye MosqueThe Süleymaniye Mosque is a 16th century mosque built by Suleiman “The Magnificent” in Istanbul in 1557. The mosque was built by the famous Imperial Architect Mimar Sinan. The mosque is modeled in part on the Hagia Sofia, and in part on a Byzantine Basilica, in order to reflect the grandeur of the city’s past architectural monuments.
In 1660, the Süleymaniye Mosque was ravaged by fire, and was restored by Mehmet IV. The restoration work was commissioned by the architect Fossati. Unfortunately the restoration changed the mosque into a baroque styled structure, and ruined the original architecture. The mosque has undergone many restorations ever since. Today it is one of the most popular tourist sites in Istanbul.
The mosque complex consists of a caravanserai, an imaret (public kitchen), a madressa (Islamic school), a hospital and a hammam (Turkish bath). The public kitchen was constructed to serve food to the poor. The gardens behind the mosque consist of Turbe (tombs) of the great Sultan Suleiman, his wife Roxelana, his mother Dilasub Saliham, his daughter Mihrimah and his sister Asiye. The tombs are fashioned on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The mosque is distinct from others as it contains the tomb of the great architect Sinan, designed by the occupant himself.
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5) Beyazıt TowerThe Beyazıt Tower is an old fire tower made of stone that was built in the year 1828. It stands at the site of the old wooden fire towers, made during the ancient times, which were actually swallowed up by flames. The 85 meter high tower stands in the old quarter of Istanbul, and it is still used today as a fire tower.
Before Aga Huseyin Pasa built a stone fire tower in 1828, two wooden fire towers had already been destroyed by flames. The tower can be visited by tourists, but a special permission needs to be taken in order to visit it. Ever since it was built, the tower has been manned 24 hours a day. In the olden days, fires all across the Bosphorus Strait could be spotted from the tower, from the Golden Horn all the way to Yesilkoy.
Today visibility has been greatly been reduced due to air pollution, and the tower is also used to predict the weather forecast for the following day. Colored lights have been fitted on the tower that depict different kinds of weather conditions, and they also guide ships sailing into the Golden Horn when the Ataturk and Galata bridges are closed off.
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6) Hagia SophiaHagia Sophia means “Holy Wisdom” in Greek. This monumental structure was once an Orthodox patriarchal Basilica, then a mosque, and now, finally, is a Museum in the city of Istanbul. It was built in the fourth century by Constantine the Great as a Church, and it has seen much of the changing ruling powers of Istanbul ever since.
Many people mistake it as being dedicated to Saint Sofia, but the church was originally dedicated to the second person of the Holy Trinity, and its full Greek name is “Church of the Holy Wisdom of God”, with Sophia meaning “Wisdom”.
Before its takeover by the Ottoman Turks in 1435, the church housed many holy relics. It was converted into a Mosque by Sultan Mehmed II, and it remained a mosque for the next 500 years.
Hagia Sophia is located in the Sultanahmet neighborhood and it is no doubt, one of the most important museums of Istanbul. It is one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture and was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1985. It houses many decorations that make it distinctive and it is famous for its beautiful mosaics that decorate the entire structure.
Operation hours: Tuesday - Sunday: April - October 9 am - 7 pm (last entrance 6 pm);
October - April 9 am - 5 pm (last entrance 4 pm).
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7) Fountain of Ahmed IIIThe Fountain of Ahmed III is also known as the Ahmet Çeşmesi in Turkish. The fountain is located in front of the Imperial Gate of the great Topkapı Palace in Istanbul at the site of an older Byzantine fountain called Perayton. The fountain is a Turkish rococo structure. The fountain of Sultan Ahmed III was built in 1728 under Ottoman sultan Ahmed III. During the Ottoman period, it was a very popular gathering place and social center.
The fountains architecture is a combination of contemporary western and traditional Ottoman styles. It consists of a large square block along with smaller domes. Foliate and floral designs decorate the Mirhab (a niche present in mosques) shaped niches present in the four facades. Each façade contains a çeşme (drinking fountain). An octagonal pool inside the kiosk supplies the water and there is space for an attendant to stand inside the fountain as well. Sherbet or water is distributed from behind a grille to people, free of charge.
Large calligraphic plates are present above the drinking fountains, which are bordered with red and blue tiles. These plates bear calligraphy of a fourteen line poem about water, donated by Seyyid Hüseyin Vehbi bin Ahmed.
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8) Topkapi PalaceThe Topkapi Palace is usually number one on the list of places to visit in Istanbul for most tourists. This grand palace was the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans for almost 400 years and ever since 1985, the palace is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
The Topkapi Palace is built on a huge scale with four court yards and a Harem, and each location in the Palace houses incredible displays of Islamic art, holy relics and history. The most prized collection is that of the Islamic relics which include the Prophet Mohamed’s (PBUH) sword along with the swords of his closest companions, the cloak of his daughter Fatima and other holy relics.
The spacious grounds, many gardens and rest stops are ideal for strolling at your leisure, but most of the exhibits have very long waiting lines especially the Harem and the Islamic Relics displays. There is a museum shop, a cafe and also a coffee shop present for tourists. To visit all the exciting places and displays in the Topkapi Palace, you need a full day or ideally a tour should be booked.
Operation hours: Wednesday - Monday: winter 9 am - 4:45 pm; summer 9 am - 6:45 pm.
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