INTRIGUING ISTANBUL: Where ancient and modern meet (2023)

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Cynthia McLeod

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Oct 15, 20221day ago6 minute read Join the conversation

INTRIGUING ISTANBUL: Where ancient and modern meet (1)

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The rest of the world has always known “Turkey.”

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But now the country that straddles two continents wants its anglicized name ditched for Türkiye — a pronunciation (tur-key-YAY) and spelling that though might seem new have actually been used locally since independence in 1923.

One of the reasons for the international rebranding — already embraced by the United Nations, NATO and the Canadian government — is the association with the bird ‘turkey’ and other less flattering definitions of the word. And having recently visited I can attest that the move makes sense: ‘Türkiye’ is more exotic and interesting than ‘Turkey,’ fitting the bill of this ancient land pulsing with a modern vibe.

INTRIGUING ISTANBUL: Where ancient and modern meet (2)

In Istanbul, Türkiye’s largest city which dates back at least two millennia, the blend of the old with the new, is evident everywhere — including while cruising the Bosphorus Strait, which divides the city between Europe and Asia. (And how cool is that? One city but two continents?!) On the European side, the historical peninsula — featuring, among other landmarks, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace — gives way to the city’s ancient port area, now home to the impressive Galataport (galataport.com) project.

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Opened in October 2021, Galataport houses the world’s first underground cruise ship terminal, a marvel that allows public access the 1,500-metre-long Karaköy neighbourhood coastline for the first time since the 19th century.

Covering 52,000 square metres, Galataport sports 240 retail and dining establishments featuring both Turkish and international brands, plus arts and culture venues, so there’s no shortage of things to do. Honouring its historic Karaköy district, heritage buildings have been restored including the oldest on the pier, the beautiful 1911 passenger terminal and one-time post office that’s now a fashion galleria.

INTRIGUING ISTANBUL: Where ancient and modern meet (4)

Another landmark, theTophane Clock Towerdating back to 1848, for years welcomed sea visitors to Istanbul after a long journey. Eventually it began to tilt, similar to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, due to the weight of its flag tower and the ground shifting underneath. During its restoration, an unnoticed floor was discovered beneath the tower covered with a layer of soil. The section was lifted and cleaned with precision care — even using dental picks.

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Environment and sustainability were considered throughout the development and Galataport is the second-largest project in Europe to receive the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum rating for sustainability measures, such as using seawater as a coolant instead of cooling gases.

Another plus for the magnificent port is its stunning views of the historical peninsula, which of course must be visited on its own. One of the old city’s highlights is the architectural marvel that is Hagia Sophia, originally a Greek Orthodox church, then later a mosque and then a museum. In 2020, it was reverted back to a mosque.

INTRIGUING ISTANBUL: Where ancient and modern meet (6)

Considered one of the great monuments of the world, it is open to the public, with visitors asked to remove their footwear before stepping on the carpets and women asked to wear a head covering. (TIP: Bring a bag to hold your footwear.)

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Steps away is the 25-metre-tall Obelisk of Theodosius, built under Pharoah Thumose III around 1,450 BC before being moved by the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I from Luxor to the Hippodrome of Constantinople in 390 AD.

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Also within a short walk is Topkapi Palace (muze.gen.tr/muze-detay/topkapi), which served as the main residence of the Ottoman sultans for nearly four centuries. The Harem alone is a must-see. It was the living quarters of the sultan, his mother, wives, children and siblings, maids, Black eunuchs who guarded the premises, and, of course, up to 300 concubines. The Imperial Treasury holds a glittery collection including the jewel-encrusted Sword of Süleyman the Magnificent and the Topkapi Dagger, subject of the 1964 film Topkapi in which Peter Ustinov won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

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(TIP: Be sure to walk through lovely Gulhane Park and to stop at the nearby Marmaray Sirkeci Istasyonu train station, built in 1890 as the eastern terminus of the legendary Orient Express. And don’t leave the peninsula without taking in the sounds and smells of the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar.)

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Head over to Taksim Square, famous for its nightlife, restaurants and shops. Admire the Republic Monument commemorating the formation of the Turkish Republic as you listen to the call to prayer from Taksim Mosque while the city bustles around you. Then stroll along the bustling pedestrian street Istiklal Ave., flanked by gorgeous architecture, to St. Antoine Church. The largest Roman Catholic Church in Istanbul, it has a statue out front of Pope John XXIII, who preached here in 2003.

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A couple blocks away is one of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks and the world’s oldest towers, Galata Tower (muze.gen.tr/muze-detay/galatakulesi). First built in 528 and then reconstructed in 1348, it offers spectacular panoramic views. Legend has it that a couple who climb the tower together for the first time will get married — but if one had visited before, marriage won’t happen.

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INTRIGUING ISTANBUL: Where ancient and modern meet (10)

A PALATIAL STAY

Ciragan Palace Kempinski (kempinski.com/en/istanbul/ciragan-palace) feels like a resort in the heart of Istanbul along the Bosphorus. It has a total of 310 rooms — 279 rooms and 20 suites in the newer hotel section and 11 suites in the palace section.

The former Ottoman palace’s history dates back to the 17th century but it was devastated by a 1910 fire that left only the outer walls and Imperial Hammam intact. Decades later, a restoration — as well as construction of the modern building — led to the hotel being opened in 1991.

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INTRIGUING ISTANBUL: Where ancient and modern meet (11)

The palace section is a draw for guests seeking discretion and a royal stay, with its own lobby, helipad and butler service. Its soap service dates back to the ancient water therapies of the Turkish bath. Palace guests choose a scent from 100% pure olive oil handmade soaps and the butler slices your pick — one to use during your stay and another to take home. Complimentary Turkish delights, baklavas, fruits and nuts in suite help tide you over until dinner at one of the hotel’s fine restaurants.

INTRIGUING ISTANBUL: Where ancient and modern meet (12)

The five-star hotel’s Sultan Suite in the historical section ranks among the world’s most luxurious suites and has hosted such guests as Kobe Bryant, Bono, Madonna and Oprah.

The on-site Sanitas Spa offers an authentic Turkish bath experience that shouldn’t be missed. The hammam is very much a part of Turkish culture, in which an attendant first scrubs your body, then massages you with a foam-filled cloth before rinsing. Let any of your body insecurities go and just enjoy the pampering.

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INTRIGUING ISTANBUL: Where ancient and modern meet (13)

SOME DIVINE EATS

Alaf, with its outdoor rooftop patio looking at the Bhosphorus, was recently awarded the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand, which spotlights restaurants that offer three-course meals at reasonable prices.

Ali Ocakbasi at the Oligark eatery complex on the Bhosphorus serves up tasty kebab and mezze.

Matbah Restaurant,near Topaki Palace, serves Ottoman cuisine “fit for the sultans” and influenced by recipes from historical palace documents.

INTRIGUING ISTANBUL: Where ancient and modern meet (14)

FLY IN COMFORT AND STYLE WITH TURKISH AIRLINES

Turkish Airlines (turkishairlines.com) was recently named World’s Best Business Class Catering, Best Airline in Europe and the Best Airline in Southern Europe at the World Airline Awards organized by Skytrax, an air transport rating agency, in a survey of responses from more than 14 million online customers.

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There’s a reason for it. The delicious Turkish and world cuisine served in business class is prepared by the airline’s flying chefs and changes according to season to be its freshest. Their selection of Wellness Tea — once you’ve sampled the Turkish wines, of course — includes travel-friendly ones like promoting sleep and reducing swelling.

Did we mention Toronto to Istanbul is a 10-hour flight? The business-class lie-flat seats — complete with a massage feature — help you arrive refreshed. Other business-class perks include preferential check-in to skip long airport lines, extra baggage allowance, travel kits from fashion giants Coccinelle and Hackett, and Turkish Airlines Lounge Business access in Istanbul.

INTRIGUING ISTANBUL: Where ancient and modern meet (16)

Turkish Airlines also offers a stopover accommodation service providing a one-night stay in a 4-star hotel for economy passengers and a two-night stay in a 5-star hotel for business-class passengers departing from select countries, including Canada. Travellers can also add extra nights with Turkish Airlines prices at contracted hotels to have more time to explore beautiful Istanbul.

cmcleod@postmedia.com

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FAQs

Where is the modern part of Istanbul? ›

The modern part of Istanbul is the area north of the Golden Horn and consists of boroughs such as Beşiktaş, Galata, Karaköy, Nişantaşı, Ortaköy, Şişli, and Taksim. Below you find an overview of the ones you may (unknowingly) wander around in as a tourist.

What made Istanbul a unique city? ›

This unique city which is admired by its charming nature and the attractive atmosphere is also the symbol of dynamic and modern city life. Istanbul has a multicultural texture and a lively atmosphere that melts the past and future in a single pot which provides a sense of universal history at every step.

What do people say about Istanbul? ›

Istanbul is a magical seal which unites Europe and Asia since the ancient times. Without a doubt, Istanbul is certainly the most beautiful place of the world.”

Is Istanbul the greatest city in the world? ›

A U.K.-based culture magazine has picked the world's best 53 cities, ranking Türkiye's largest city Istanbul in the list. Out of the 53 ranked cities chosen by the Time Out magazine, Edinburgh made it to the top of the list and was followed by Chicago and Medellin, while Istanbul was listed 50th.

Is Istanbul a beautiful city? ›

Istanbul is a beautiful amalgamation of cultures, of old and new and has a welcoming vibe. By far, it is on my list of the topmost beautiful cities in the whole world.

Why is Istanbul so important? ›

Because of its size, Istanbul extends into both Europe and Asia. The city is the world's only metropolis to be on more than one continent. The city of Istanbul is important to geography because it has a long history that spans the rise and fall of the world's most famous empires.

Why should people visit Istanbul? ›

Istanbul has it all: over 2500 years of history, culture, and traditions, amazing landmarks, vibrant nightlife, and breathtaking views. This transcontinental metropolis is a fast-paced cultural melting pot you can't afford to miss.

Is Istanbul a clean city? ›

Overall, the streets of Istanbul are clean, but its metro is spotless, to such an extent that we can compare it to the fabulous Moscow Metro.

Why is Istanbul Turkey so popular? ›

Straddling Asia and Europe across the sprawling Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul is a major city in Turkey which is world-famous for its rich history and culture, stunning scenery, magnificent structures, and a plethora of aspects.

Is Istanbul the best city in Europe? ›

Istanbul is chosen as the 10th best place to visit in Europe in 2022 in the competition partaking at the European Best Destinations' website.

Why was Istanbul so successful? ›

Constantinople is an ancient city in modern-day Turkey that's now known as Istanbul. First settled in the seventh century B.C., Constantinople developed into a thriving port thanks to its prime geographic location between Europe and Asia and its natural harbor.

What is the culture like in Istanbul? ›

While the majority of the population are Muslims, it's a mix of cultures and backgrounds fused together in one city. It has a mix of Jewish, Greek and Armenian populations. It is a city where one can truly experience Middle Eastern and Western cultures all at once.

What kind of city is Istanbul? ›

Istanbul is a transcontinental city, straddling the Bosphorus strait in northwestern Turkey between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Founded on the Sarayburnu promontory around 660 BC as Byzantium, the city now known as Istanbul developed to become one of the most significant cities in history.

What should I wear in Istanbul? ›

The general Istanbul dress code for tourists and especially women is to cover your legs at least past to your knees, cover your chest and cover any cleavage and cover your stomach.

Which is the best area to stay in Turkey? ›

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Where can I find celebrities in Istanbul? ›

Where do Celebrities Go in Istanbul? – Top 16 Restaurants
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  • 7 Dragon Restaurant.
  • 8 Café Smyrna.

Which is the most beautiful district in Istanbul? ›

Arnavutkoy – the historical neighborhood of Istanbul in the Beşiktaş district is one of the most beautiful places in Istanbul. It is an ideal place for walks along the Bosphorus, for social life, beautiful sunsets, photography, and of course visits to Mediterranean cuisine restaurants.

Is living in Istanbul nice? ›

As Turkey's largest city, Istanbul offers so much including a low cost of living, a unique culture, the best nightlife and shopping scenes in the country, as well as abundance of tourist and historical attractions.

Is Istanbul a good city to live? ›

Istanbul is one of the most important cities suitable for life in Turkey. It is the only city in the world that is located on two different continents (Asia and Europe). It is also one of the few cities in the world that combines modernity with ancient monuments. Where people of the world are drawn to live in Istanbul.

Is Istanbul good place to visit? ›

Istanbul is much more than just a travel destination. It lies as the thread between the ethnic cultures of the east and the wild world of the west. It stands as the cradle of civilization, tradition, and history, all merging together.

Is Istanbul a good destination? ›

Istanbul is an excellent city break. However it is not small, with its 15 million population. It is a bridge between east and west and you go there for culture, history, entertainment, good food, different architecture, beautiful sights, fun, but first and foremost for its incredibly hospitable and friendly people.

Is Istanbul a good travel destination? ›

Most backpackers to Turkey pass through its' capital. Istanbul is definitely an awesome destination. There are plenty of things that are drawing you to this world city. History, food, and culture are just a few of the cities appeals.

What Istanbul means? ›

The name İstanbul (Turkish pronunciation: [isˈtanbuɫ] ( listen), colloquially Turkish pronunciation: [ɯsˈtambuɫ]) is commonly held to derive from the Medieval Greek phrase "εἰς τὴν Πόλιν" (pronounced Greek pronunciation: [is tim ˈbolin]), which means "to the city" and is how Constantinople was referred to by the local ...

Is Istanbul the oldest city in the world? ›

Gaziantep, Turkey – 3,900 years old

However, there is evidence that shows ancient human settlements in the region, dating back to 3650 B.C. Yes, it actually is a lot older than Istanbul (Constantinople).

Why is it called Istanbul? ›

The name İstanbul was in use from the 10th century onwards. It derives its name from the Greek “eis ten polin” which means “in the city.” In the 1930's the Turkish Postal Service created a law officially declaring the sole name be Istanbul.

Are people in Istanbul friendly? ›

Turkish people are incredibly friendly, love to help, and are very inquisitive.

Is Istanbul relaxing? ›

Even with the huge number of tourists that come to Istanbul, a peaceful serenity is largely kept up, and it is not a stressful experience at all as you drink in the history.

Can you drink Istanbul tap water? ›

Yes, it is safe to cook with tap water. The tap water in Istanbul is generally very clean, even good enough to drink straight from the tap.

Is Turkey safe to visit? ›

Exercise increased caution when traveling to Turkey due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions. Some areas have increased risk.

Why is Istanbul so big? ›

Istanbul experienced especially rapid growth during the second half of the 20th century, with its population increasing tenfold between 1950 and 2000. This growth in population comes, in part, from an expansion of city limits—particularly between 1980 and 1985, when the number of Istanbulites nearly doubled.

Why you should visit Turkey? ›

There are countless reasons to visit Turkey – breathtaking scenery, fascinating history, intricate architecture, lovely people, and the best shopping in all of Europe, just to name a few!

Why is Istanbul beautiful? ›

The beautiful silhouette of Istanbul combines historical sites and monuments such as Roman aqueducts, Byzantine churches, Venetian towers, Ottoman palaces from the Byzantine, Ottoman and Turkish periods. And the skyline covers monumental minarets with skyscrapers and plazas.

Who is the best city in Europe? ›

Istanbul, Turkey. Taking the top spot as Europe's best city in the 2021 Readers' Choice Awards, Istanbul has managed to hang onto a place in the top 10, and for good reason.

Which is the best city to live in Europe? ›

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What is the most famous street in Istanbul? ›

Istiklal Street in Taksim

Istiklal Street is probably the most famous street and entertainment area in Istanbul. It is a long colorful pedestrian street full of all kind of shops, restaurants, cafes and street shows.

Which side of Istanbul is European? ›

European Side (Turkish: Avrupa Yakası) is the western half of Istanbul, located west of the Bosphorus and on the European mainland.

How is Istanbul divided? ›

Istanbul Sights

Istanbul is divided in three parts by the north-south Bosphorus Strait , the estuary of the Golden Horn bisecting the western part and the Sea of Marmara forming a boundary to the south.

Which city is bigger London or Istanbul? ›

Istanbul (Turkey) is 1.31 times as big as London (UK)

Where is the main shopping area in Istanbul? ›

Let's start with the most popular and obvious one, the Istiklal Avenue. This street is easily the one of the most crowded places in Istanbul. It has so many brands of stores, cafés and restaurants that experiencing everything this street has can easily take a month.

What is the famous square in Istanbul? ›

Taksim Square (Turkish: Taksim Meydanı, IPA: [ˈtaksim ˈmejdanɯ]), situated in Beyoğlu in the European part of Istanbul, Turkey, is a major tourist and leisure district famed for its restaurants, shops, and hotels. It is considered the heart of modern Istanbul, with the central station of the Istanbul Metro network.

Is there luxury shopping in Turkey? ›

The Nişantaşı neighbourhood is known for its luxury, whether it's the atelier and showroom of a local designer or the boutique of a world-famous brand. On Abdi İpekçi Caddesi, discover everything from Prada to Louis Vuitton, as well as Vakko and Beymen, Turkey's premier luxury brands.

Where does rich people live in Istanbul? ›

Besiktas, located in the European part of Istanbul, which is located in the middle of the city and in the heart of the tourist and historical areas in Istanbul, is one of the most luxurious and upscale areas in Istanbul, as it tops its properties at the expense of all neighborhoods of the city, as the neighborhood ...

Is Istanbul the biggest city in Europe? ›

The largest cities in Europe according to the population within their city boundary have populations over 1 million inhabitants. Cities are sorted by official population.
...
Largest cities.
1
CityIstanbul
CountryTurkey
Official population15,840,900
Date31 December 2021
32 more columns

How important is Istanbul? ›

İstanbul, with its thousands of years of history, unique architectural structures, rich cultural texture, millions of population and vibrant economic life, is an important center of attraction today as it was yesterday. It was the capital city during the Roman, Eastern Roman/Byzantine and Ottoman periods.

Why is Istanbul famous? ›

Istanbul has a timeless charm that owes much to its rich history. The city was historically referred to as Byzantium and Constantinople. It served as a focal point of several ancient empires. Numerous architectural wonders, remnants of these empires, still stand tall in the heart of the city.

What was Istanbul called before? ›

Constantinople is an ancient city in modern-day Turkey that's now known as Istanbul. First settled in the seventh century B.C., Constantinople developed into a thriving port thanks to its prime geographic location between Europe and Asia and its natural harbor.

What kind of city is Istanbul? ›

Istanbul is a transcontinental city, straddling the Bosphorus strait in northwestern Turkey between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Founded on the Sarayburnu promontory around 660 BC as Byzantium, the city now known as Istanbul developed to become one of the most significant cities in history.

Is Istanbul a beautiful city? ›

Istanbul is a beautiful amalgamation of cultures, of old and new and has a welcoming vibe. By far, it is on my list of the topmost beautiful cities in the whole world.

Is Istanbul bigger than Paris? ›

Istanbul, Turkey: 14.8 million. London, UK: 14 million. Paris, France: 12 million.

Is Istanbul worth visiting? ›

Istanbul is famous for its rich history and culture. Once named Constantinople, many of the city's most famous landmarks were built during the Golden Golden Age of Byzantium, such as the Hagia Sophia.

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