Istanbul, Turkey

About Istanbul

Over millennia, the land that now comprises Istanbul has been home to many cultures, and had many names. As far back as 7,000 B.C., Tracian tribes settled the peninsula on which today’s city stands. The Phoenicians established a small trading post here around 1,000 B.C. Greek settlers followed around 600 B.C., building an acropolis that came to be known as Byzantium. Persians captured the city for a time, but the Greeks reclaimed it during the Greco-Persian wars.

When Emperor Constantine the Great rose to power in the 4th century he took Byzantium for Rome and transformed it into a grand, eastern capital for his expansive Empire. Constantine named it “Nea Roma,” but locals called it “Constantinople,” and the name stuck. It grew to become one of the Roman Empire’s finest cities. Ideally positioned to repel seafaring invaders, it soon became a center of learning, commerce, and wealth.

After the Fourth Crusade, the Eastern Jewel of the Roman Empire fell into decline. Its government in disarray, the grand buildings began to deteriorate and its residents abandoned their home. The weakened city fell to the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century, who made it the core of their empire and restored its status as one of the most erudite and cosmopolitan cities of its time.

In the early 19th century, Sultan Mahmud II brought railway transportation to the region, which connected Istanbul to the rest of Europe. Soon, the city had electricity, telephones, trolleys, and a public water system. But all this industry and progress came too late for many of the city’s forward-thinking residents, many of whom moved on to other, more technologically advanced societies.

The last of the Sultans, Mehmed VI, was exiled in 1922, following the Young Turk Revolution and World War I. This marked the end of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of the Republic of Turkey. Its capital was renamed Istanbul and its new leadership devoted itself to bring the city into the 20th century, building new gathering places, laying new streets, and constructing new factories. This modernization brought a population boom, as Anatolians converged on the city to find work.

Today’s Istanbul is a bustling city of 14 million, the most populous in Europe. A major cultural and historic center, it is at once ancient and modern, both Asian and European. It is also one of the finest travel destinations in the world, and a city that begs to be explored.

Istanbul Lifestyle and Culture

Istanbul provides an endless array of sights and activities. If you’re looking for the excitement of a modern metropolis, you can head out to experience the city’s exuberant nightlife and sample its exploding culinary scene.

If you’re a history buff, Istanbul is a magnificent open air museum. Each of the three imperial superpowers left behind grand mosques, monuments, castles and churches, shaping a unique cityscape that is equal parts European and Asian.

The city is home to many sporting venues, from its three premiere golf courses to its stadiums that host professional soccer matches, basketball games, and motorsports events. Gymnasiums, swimming pools, and tennis courts also dot the city.

You’ll find opportunities for luxury and relaxation in Istanbul. Indulge in a treatment at one of the city’s health spas or salons, get fitted for a tailor-made suit at a custom clothier, or take in a traditional Turkish bath at a local hamam. All add a warm and welcoming touch to your visit.

Istanbul Sights and Landmarks

Istanbul offers a rich canvas of fascinating sites and historic treasures. Because several itineraries with Viking Cruises include overnight stays here, you’ll have the opportunity to explore them in depth.

Hagia Sophia may well be Istanbul’s crown jewel. Inside this former cathedral and mosque, you’ll admire golden tiles, masterful frescoes, and a dazzling central dome that helped make this the grandest church in the world for hundreds of years. Today, it is a richly appointed museum. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also stunning, is still active to worshippers but open to visitors. It is nicknamed the Blue Mosque for its countless iznik tiles that adorn the interior.

The Basilica Cistern is one of Istanbul’s more interesting sites. It was once used to store water for the Stoa Basilica, but was later forgotten and abandoned. It was rediscovered in the 1500s by accident when a scholar learned that locals were drawing up buckets of water from beneath their basement floors. Upon investigation, he found an underground palace, filled with ornately carved marble columns and grand vaulted ceilings.

A beloved symbol of Istanbul, the Maiden Tower sits in the middle of the Bosporus Strait, visible from the city’s shores. Legend tells of the princess who was sequestered here to keep her out of harm’s way.

If you’re visiting the Asian side of Istanbul, you might cross the Bosporus Bridge. This impressive span stretches more than 5,000 feet. When it was completed in 1973, it was heralded as the first modern-age bridge to link Europe and Asia.

Istanbul Restaurants and Shopping

Istanbul has long been a center of varied cuisine and lively commerce.

In the Sultanahmet District, you’ll find a bustling and vibrant atmosphere echoing with the voices of street vendors. The scents of exotic spice, local seafood and sweet hookah tobacco waft from shops and cafés. If you’re looking for a keepsake of your travels, you’ll likely find it here. Browse the Grand Bazaar for Ottoman antiques, elaborate carpets and kilims, fine linens, and ornate jewelry. Once you find the perfect souvenir, you’re not expected to pay full price; haggling is part of the buying process. For a more modern shopping experience, visit Akmerkez, widely regarded as one of the finest shopping centers in the world for its dazzling architecture and high-end stores.

Take a break from shopping at one of Istanbul’s many eateries.

Locals know Pizzeria Pera as the best pizza place in town. Here, you can try a pie topped with local Turkish ingredients or opt for a more traditional slice. Salkim Sogut serves authentic, flavorful Turkish fare. The service at this local favorite is friendly and engaging, and the homey décor makes for a relaxing atmosphere For lighter fare or just a sweet snack, stop at Hafiz Mustafa 1864. Pause over a delicious coffee, perhaps with ice cream, homemade cake, or Turkish Delight.

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