Experiencing the empires of old: Istanbul

Istanbul is an absolute dream for anyone interested in history, with its fascinating buildings and colourful bazaars steeped in stories of the past. Perhaps one of the most intriguing elements of this is the clues they give to the Ottoman heyday, which will be the focus of today’s post.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral

Before we look at which sites you should visit to learn more about Istanbul’s Ottoman heritage, we’ll first talk about your holiday in general. Now, if you’re particularly interested in discovering old empires and immersing yourself in history, it’s worth picking a trip that will allow you to do so to the fullest – and a cruise is the ideal option.

Why? Well, it gives you the opportunity to visit a number of other destinations in addition to Turkey, including Tangier in Morocco and Athens in Greece. You can find out more about cruises by visiting this website, but now let’s move on to what you can see in exciting Istanbul.

Topkapi Palace

First up we have Topkapi Palace, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Historic Areas of Istanbul. Once upon a time, this was the primary residence of Ottoman Sultans – a function it retained for around 400 years.

It’s changed quite a lot over the years, largely down to major renovation works after an earthquake in 1509 and a fire in 1665. Today, it has four main courtyards and a cluster of smaller buildings too, and inside you’ll find a host of treasures – everything from Ottoman miniatures and murals to jewellery and weapons.

Beylerbeyi Palace

Next we have Beylerbeyi Palace, which is absolutely stunning to look at. Built between 1861 and 1865, it is a great place to get a feel for the opulence of the Ottoman heyday – and, interestingly, it’s reputed to have been the inspiration behind some of the elements of the Tuileries Palace in France, after Empress Eugenie visited and was duly impressed.

The palace is made up of three storeys, which are home to 26 rooms and six saloons, one of which includes a pool. Strolling around the interior, you can see things like period furniture and ornaments, which have been preserved extremely well.

Sehzade Mosque

Also known as Sehzade Camii and the Prince’s Mosque, Sehzade Mosque is an Ottoman imperial building. This vast mosque was built back in the 16th century, and is surrounded by an inner colonnaded courtyard.

Gazing up at it, you’ll immediately be struck by its grand dome and minarets, as well as the fact that the main dome is surrounded by four half-domes. Head inside and you’ll find the interior is actually quite simple, despite the mosque’s imposing appearance, but is still beautiful and well worth exploring.

The Grand Bazaar

Last of all is the Grand Bazaar, which is also known as Kapali Carsii. One of the biggest covered markets in the entire world, it includes over 5,000 shops spread across a whopping 60 streets – you can easily spend a day browsing everything on sale here.

What’s most fantastic about this market, though, is just how much you can see, from hand-painted ceramics and carpets to spices and antiques. Take a walk around and you’ll really get a feel for life in old Istanbul, especially as the market has been trading since the 15th century. And, as you’d expect, it’s a great place to pick up souvenirs.