Wednesday January 1, 2020


ISTANBUL, TURKEY. Formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople, Istanbul is the most populous city in Turkey and is the country’s economic, cultural, and historic center. Straddling the Bosporus strait (which separates Europe and Asia) between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea in Eurasia, its commercial and historical center lies on the European side with about a third of its population living in suburbs on the Asian side. With a total population of around 15 million in its metropolitan area, Istanbul is one of the world’s most populous cities, ranking as the world’s fourth largest city proper and the largest European city.

Christianity reigned during Roman and Byzantine times, before the Ottomans conquered the city and transformed it into an Islamic stronghold and the seat of the Ottoman Caliphate. Under the name Constantinople it was the Ottoman capital until 1923.

Being in the strategic position between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, it was on the historic Silk Road which controlled rail networks between the Balkans and the Middle East, and was the only sea route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. In 1923, after the Turkish War of Independence, Ankara was chosen as the new Turkish capital, and the city’s name was changed to Istanbul.

Nevertheless, the city maintained its prominence in geopolitical and cultural affairs. The population of the city has increased tenfold since the 1950s, as migrants from across Anatolia have moved in and city limits have expanded to accommodate them.

In 2015 it was named a European Capital of Culture, making the city the world’s fifth most popular tourist destination. The city’s biggest attraction is its historic center, partially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Winter is colder in Istanbul than in most other cities around the Mediterranean Basin, with low temperatures averaging 1–4 °C (34–39 °F). Early Byzantine architecture followed the classical Roman model of domes and arches, but improved upon these elements, as in the Church of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus. The oldest surviving Byzantine church in Istanbul—albeit in ruins—is the Monastery of Stoudios (later converted into the Imrahor Mosque).

Istanbul became more homogenized since the end of the Ottoman Empire. The vast majority of people across Turkey, and in Istanbul, are Muslim, and more specifically members of the Sunni branch of Islam. Most Sunni Turks follow the Hanafi school of Islamic thought, while Sunni Kurds tend to follow the Shafi’i school. The largest non-Sunni Muslim group, accounting 10–20% of Turkey’s population

Since the mid-1990s, Istanbul’s economy has been one of the fastest-growing among metro-regions. With its high population and significant contribution to the Turkish economy, Istanbul is responsible for two-fifths of the nation’s tax revenue. That includes the taxes of 37 US-dollar billionaires based in Istanbul, the fifth-highest number among cities around the world.


Constantine the Great became the emperor of the Roman Empire. Two months later, he laid out the plans for a new, Christian city to replace Byzantium. As the eastern capital of the empire, the city was named Nova Roma; most called it Constantinople, a name that persisted into the 20th century. On the 11th of May in 330, Constantinople was proclaimed the capital of the Roman Empire, which was later permanently divided between the two sons of Theodosius upon his death. The city then became the capital of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.

The establishment of Constantinople was one of Constantine’s most lasting accomplishments, shifting Roman power eastward as the city became a center of Greek culture and Christianity. Numerous churches were built across the city, including Hagia Sophia which was built during the reign of Justinian the Great & remained the world’s largest cathedral for a thousand years.


Sultan Ahmed Mosque is a historic mosque located in Istanbul, Turkey. It remains a functioning mosque, while also attracting large numbers of tourist visitors. It was constructed between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I. Its Külliye contains Ahmed’s tomb, a madrasah and a hospice.


The metropolis of Bursa, Turkey in northwestern Anatolia is a lively and historic city that boasts countless points of interest. Bursa’s roots can be traced back to 5200 B.C., the year the area was first settled. What is now Turkey’s fourth-largest city swapped hands between the Greek, Bithynia, and Roman Empires before it became the first major capital of the Ottoman Empire between 1335 and 1363.


Very different from the previous architecture that had its roots in the Seljuk aesthetic, the Yeşil Cami was built between 1412 and 1419 for Mehmet I. Named after the green hues of its interior tiles, the beautiful structure is bedecked in intricate carved marble and calligraphy.


Due to the Muradiye complex’s park and historic cemetery, it’s one of the city’s most serene places to wander about. The Sultan Murat II Mosque, built in 1426, is also part of the complex and impresses with its decorations that are similar to the Yeşil Cami.


Take the teleferik up Uludağ. In the wintertime, Uludağ is a snowy winter wonderland. In the summer, the mountain is a cool, refreshing getaway from the heat. The recently reopened teleferik (cable car) makes getting up and down the mountain fast and easy. Spend a day or two skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling in the winter, or enjoy hiking, picnicking, and playing in the mountain streams and meadows in the warmer months. At the very least, take the teleferik up to Sarıalan and grill your own meat right next to your table at the famous Palabıyık Restaurant.


Visit Cumalıkızık and eat a village breakfast. Cumalıkızık is a wonderful Ottoman village just outside the city known for its cobblestone streets, quaint houses, and excellent village breakfasts. Explore the downtown bazaar area. Bursa’s sprawling, labyrinth central bazaar area is a fantastic place for shopping, eating, sipping tea, watching people, taking photos, experiencing the culture, interacting with locals, and wandering aimlessly. Koza Han and the Ulu Cami’i (Grand Mosque) are two highlights in the central bazaar area. If you can find it, have a cup of tea in the quiet and hidden Çukur Han. If you’re serious about exploring Bursa’s historical areas, here’s a self-guided walking tour that we’ve developed.

Enjoy Bursa’s thermal springs at a spa or hamam. Bursa’s volcanic natural history has resulted in hot, mineral-rich springs that public bathhouses have tapped for centuries. Today, you can still take advantage of the therapeutic hot spring water at traditional hamams (Turkish baths) or at modern spas scattered throughout the city. One of the city’s oldest is the recently renovated Eski Kaplıca Hamam in Çekirge. Visiting a hamam is highly recommended as a relaxing way to enjoy the local culture.

One of the largest natural harbors in the world, Istanbul’s Golden Horn, or Haliç in Turkish, spans 7.5 kilometers. It cuts into the European side of Istanbul where the Bosporus meets the Marmara Sea. Splitting the oldest section of Istanbul in half, the estuary was formed when valleys fed by the Alibey and Kağıthane streams flooded eons ago. It now defines the city’s peninsula, home to “Old Istanbul,” where Topkapı Palace, Hagia Sofia, the Grand Bazaar and other famous structures still sit.

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