The third largest city in Europe spans the Asian and European continents at the famous Bosporus waterway and offers visitors many historic and modern destinations.
Istanbul has been in the news a lot lately since the disappearance and tragic demise of American tourist Sarai Sierra who was robbed and killed there. However, millions of tourists from all over the world visit Istanbul every year and find the streets safe and full of amazing architecture, historic castles, delicious food, museums, music, and exotic markets.
Istanbul was founded as Byzantium in the 7th Century B.C. Lying along the famous Silk Road, it connected Asia and European tradeways and saw the reign of four great empires: the Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman. It was a center for the spread of Christianity since The Apostle Paul traveled through it on his way to Greece and Rome in the 1st Century A.D. The Ottoman turks conquered it in 1453, and it became a center of Islamic culture. Now it is an interesting mix of Christian churches and Islamic mosques. Saint Sophia (also known as Haggia Sophia or "Ayasofya" in Turkish) is the most famous example of this. Dedicated in the 4th Century as a church, it later became a mosque and is now a museum.
Directly opposite Saint Sophia, in a lovely garden courtyard near a park, lies the majestic Blue Mosque ("Sultanahmet") which was build during the reign of Sultan Ahmed 1 in the 17th Century. It has six minarets and many colored tile designs and circular strings of lights inside its impressive domes. Visitors can respectfully enter.
Not far away is Topkapi Palce ("Topkapı Sarayı") which was built by Sultan Mehmed II who conquered Istanbul in 1453 and set up the Ottoman reign which lasted until 1921. For over 400 years, sultans resided in Topkapi Palace. A huge complex set within majestically-gated castle walls, it holds many courtyards, gardens, and royal chambers. You can see collections of swords, armor, manuscripts, and clothing. The "Harem" section highlights an amazing collection of jewelry worn by sultanas. A cafe in the largest courtyard and garden area offers strong Turkish tea and coffee, and a nearby gift shop features duplicates of Hürrem Sultan's famous ring, books, veils, and other treasures.
Besides walking through grand, historical places and taking photos of old stone walls, tourists can ride a ferry across the Bosporus, shop at the traditional Grand Bazaar, and walk along the main street at Taksim with its Victorian architecture, art galleries, book stores, clothing boutiques, cafes, pubs, and discos.
These are just the beginning of things to see and do in Istanbul.