Roman Heritage Walking Tour II (Self Guided), Istanbul

Constantinople was an imperial capital for over a millennium and still contains many sites that demonstrate the importance and greatness of the Eastern Roman Empire. This tour will take you trough the most famous of them, located in the inner city of Constantinople.
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Roman Heritage Walking Tour II Map

Guide Name: Roman Heritage Walking Tour II
Guide Location: Turkey » Istanbul (See other walking tours in Istanbul)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.7 Km or 1.1 Miles
Author: kane
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Istanbul Archaeological Museums
  • Hagia Irene
  • Great Palace of Constantinople
  • Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)
  • Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı)
  • Milion
  • Palace of Antiochos
Istanbul Archaeological Museums

1) Istanbul Archaeological Museums (must see)

The Istanbul Archaeology Museums (IAM) consist of three distinct museums: 1. The Archeological Museum 2. The Museum of the Ancient Orient and 3. The Museum of Islamic Art. Located in the Eminonu district of Istanbul, near the Topkapi Palace, the IAM houses some of the most remarkable objects and collections that span over a millennium in world history. The most distinctive and famous item exhibited is the Alexander Sarcophagus which was once believed to be made for Alexander the Great. The Kadesh Peace Treaty (1258 BC) which was signed between Hattusili III of the Hittite Empire and Ramesses II of Egypt is also on display. There are over one million objects housed in the IAM and the oldest objects age thousands of years BC. The IAM is distinctive as it has a vast collection of locally found artifacts, which are reminiscent of the origin of the city of Istanbul. Over 800,000 Ottoman decorations, coins, seals medals, stone works and statues are housed on the upper floors of the building where there is also a library with over 70,000 books.

Why You Should Visit:
To get a wider perspective on how cultures and kingdoms have shaped the world. Where east meets west!

Visit all the separate buildings to see the variety of collections, but make sure to focus on the intricately carved sarcophagi: they are the reason the museum was founded in the 19th century.
The Istanbul Museum Pass Card is valid here; buy it to get discounted access to the Archeology Museums, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts, and a bunch more.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 9am-7pm
Hagia Irene

2) Hagia Irene

The Hagia Irene is also called the Hagia Eirene ("Holy Peace") in Greek and Aya İrini in Turkish. This is an Eastern Orthodox Church located in Istanbul, in the outer courtyard of the Topkapı Palace. After being closed, in April 2014 it was opened to public as a museum. The entrance fee is 20 TL per person.

The church originally stands on the location of a pre-Christian temple, and it is one of the first churches to be built in Constantinople. During the 4th century, Roman Emperor Constantine the Great commissioned the first Hagia Irene church to be built, but it was burned down in 532. In 538 the church was restored by Emperor Justinian I. Before the Hagia Sophia was completed, the Hagia Irene used to serve as the Patriarchate.

The church is typically built in the form of a Roman basilica and consists of two naives and an aisle, which have been divided by pillars and columns. Today, the Hagia Irene is one of the only existing examples of Byzantine architecture in the city of Istanbul, which has retained its original atrium. Constantine V had the church’s interior decorated with frescoes and mosaics.

Today, due to its extraordinary acoustic characteristics and impressive atmosphere, the museum is the setting for classical music concerts during the Istanbul Music Festival.
Great Palace of Constantinople

3) Great Palace of Constantinople

The Great Palace of Constantinople is known by many names including the Palatium Magnum in Latin, the Büyük Saray in Turkish and also as the “Sacred Palace”. The palace was an Imperial Byzantine Palace, and it is located in the district of “Old Istanbul”, between the Hippodrome (now Sultanahmet square) and Hagia Sophia.

It used to serve as the royal residence of the Byzantine Emperors from 330 AD to 1081 AD. For over 800 years, this palace has served as the center of Imperial Administration for the Eastern Roman Empire. Today, only a few remnants of its original foundation have survived.

Constantine the great planned out the palace for himself and for his heirs in 330 AD, and during its history, it has been rebuilt and expanded several times. The palace complex suffered a lot of damage during the Nika riots in 532. The Emperor Justinian I rebuilt the palace lavishly and alterations and extensions were added by Basileos I and Justinian II.

During the Ottoman era, much of the Great Palace of Constantinople was demolished, and its many buildings served as housing, and mosques. Sultan Ahmet I demolished the remaining structures of the palace in order to build the great Sultan Ahmed Mosque.
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

4) Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) (must see)

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, in fact, 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.

Located in the Sultanahmet neighborhood, Hagia Sophia is, without doubt, 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.

Why You Should Visit:
Unique in it being both a church and a mosque, with respective symbols omnipresent.
Even if you are not familiar with Byzantine history, you will surely be impressed.
The multi-domed enclosure is so mesmerizing you can't take your eyes away from it!

Should you want to visit multiple museums, buy a Museum Pass at the Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts as there are few people in the line (the queues at the Hagia Sophia are usually enormous and it can take an hour or more to get a ticket). The Museum Pass (valid for 5 days) allows you to queue-jump and gets you into other museums/attractions as well.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-7pm, last entrance: 6pm (Apr 15-Oct 31); 9am-5pm, last entrance: 4pm (Nov 1-Apr 14)
Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı)

5) Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı) (must see)

The Yerebatan Sarnıcı or the Basilica Cistern translates as “Cistern Sinking Into Ground” and is one of the many ancient cisterns that are present in the city of Istanbul. Located near the Hagia Sophia, on the peninsula of Sarayburnu, it was built in the 6th century AD by the Byzantine emperor Justinian the first. The name is derived from the Stoa Basilica upon which it was built. The Basilica was said to be built by Ilias and housed many structures and gardens. Historical texts state that over seven thousand slaves were involved in the construction of the Cistern.

The cistern used to provide a filtration system for the water for the Great Palace of Constantinople and surrounding buildings on the historic First Hill. After the Ottoman conquest, it continued to provide water to the Topkapi Palace and continues to do so in modern times. It has undergone many restorations, both by Ottoman emperors and the Roman emperors before them.

Today, the cistern is open to visitors and houses many historical relics like the Medusa columns and triumphal arches. The former can be viewed in the cistern's North West corner.

Why You Should Visit:
Great (spooky) atmosphere that makes for magnificent photos and the preservation of history is done remarkably.
Right next to Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Blue Mosque, so easy to fit it in along with the other attractions.

Watch your step as some parts (near Medusa heads) can be extra slippery, and take a jacket especially if you get cold easily.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5:30pm

6) Milion

The Milion was a mile-marker monument that was erected in Constantinople in the 4th century AD. It had the same function as the Milliarium Aureum present in Rome, and acted as the starting point for measurement for all the roads leading to the main cities of the Byzantine Empire.

The monument remained intact as late as the 15th century, and during the 1960’s its fragments were discovered once again. The Milion is located in the district of Eminönü, in Istanbul, in the neighborhood of Cağaloğlu. It is located close to the Basilica Cistern, at the North corner of the square of the Hagia Sophia.

The Milion was built by Constantine the Great, when he was re building Byzantium which he had named Nova Roma (new Rome). He tried to emulate many features that Old Rome had including the Milion. When it was originally built, it was a tetra-pylon structure, surmounted by a dome, or a double triumphal arch, surmounted by a dome. It was built near the old Byzantium Walls, in the first region of the city. The monument was considered the origin of all the roads leading form Constantinople, to the European cities of the Byzantine Empire with distances marked on the structure.
Palace of Antiochos

7) Palace of Antiochos

The ruins of the Palace of Antiochos lie close to the Firuz Ağa Camii or the Firuz Aga Mosque, south of the Mese, and Northwest of the Hippodrome. The palace was most probably the residence of the Persian eunuch Praepositos Antiochos, who was serving at the court of Theodosios II.

The building is a hexagonal structure, built with five deep semicircular apses, and consisted of circular rooms located between the apses. The original 5th Century palace consisted of 2 sectors, the northern sector and the southern sector. The apses of the palace were polygonal from the outside and semicircular inside. The circular rooms were built between neighboring apses and a marble pool was built in the floor of the main hall. The palace was elaborately built, but when Antiochos fell from Imperial favor, all work was abandoned in 429. The palace was confiscated and used for imperial purposes until its conversion into the church of Saint Euphemia of Chalcedon.

During the early 7th century, when the body of St. Euphemia was brought to Constantinople from Chalcedon, the palace was converted into the church of St. Euphemia. The saint was a virgin who had performed a miracle and had been martyred in Chalcedon during the year 303. The church was also decorated with the relics of Saint Euphemia.

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