Top Historical Landmarks in Istanbul

Istanbul is a unique city in that it actually is in both Europe and Asia as it straddles the Bosphorus Strait. This major Turkish city is filled with historical landmarks that remind us of times gone by, from the Roman invasion to the Byzantine era.

When you are in Istanbul, make an itinerary that takes you through the city to see the amazing historical landmarks such as the Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine mosque from the 6th century featuring rare Christian-inspired mosaics.

Before heading out to explore this impressive city, find a luggage storage locker and leave your belongings for safekeeping. The city is very crowded, so why not lighten your load?

Hagia Sophia

Officially called the Holy Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque, this unique mosque was originally the Church of Hagia Sophia and was designed by Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus, two Greek geometers, in 537. 

It was once the biggest Christian church within the Eastern Roman Empire. It was later converted to a mosque in 1453 once the Ottoman Empire took control of the city. Then, in 1935 it was converted into a museum by the Turkish Republic.

Hagia Sophia was converted back into a mosque in 2020 where services are regularly held. Visitors are still welcome to explore the mosque but are asked to be respectful of worshippers and to only visit at certain times. 

Topkapi Palace Museum

Construction of this museum began in 1460 and was completed in 1478. Fatih Sultan Mehmet requested the palace to be built. Topkapi Palace Museum opened as a museum in 1924 and is a great place to spend an afternoon. 

The Topkapi Palace is located in one of the oldest historical regions of the city on the Istanbul Peninsula. The entire palace was not all built at the same time, instead, certain wings and towers were added later during the 19th century. 

It was originally the administration, art, and education center for the Turkish empire for around 400 years. Wander through the museum and learn more about the sultans that ruled from Fatih Sultan Mehmet to Sultan Abdulmecid. 

The Blue Mosque

Construction on The Blue Mosque began in 1609, opened in 1616, and was designed by architect Sedefkar Mehmed Agha. In Turkish, it is called Sultanahmet Camii and is best known for the blue tiles on the interior walls. 

Inside the mosque is the Tomb of Sultan Ahmed I, who ruled as sultan when the mosque was completed. The Blue Mosque also has a madrasa which was where orphans and poorer children were given training and education.

The Blue Mosque is still an active mosque, therefore, it is closed to non-worshippers during the five daily prayers. Visitors are asked to exit the mosque prior to the beginning of each prayer time.

Basilica Cistern

When you are searching out historical landmarks in Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern should be on the list. There are hundreds of cisterns underneath Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern is one of the biggest cisterns that is beneath the city.

In Turkish, the Basilica Cistern is called Yerebatan Sarnici which means Subterranean Cistern, or Yerebatan Saray meaning Subterranean Palace. Located just less than 500 feet from the Hagia Sophia, you can see both in the same afternoon.

The Basilica Cistern was built during the 6th century during the rule of Emperor Justinian I as one of the main water sources for the city. Today, the cistern is kept drained low so the public can go down below and see the inside. 

Grand Bazaar

When you are in Istanbul checking out the top historical landmarks, you have to stop by the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and biggest covered markets in the entire world. There are over 4,000 shops in the bazaar spread out over 61 covered streets. 

The Grand Bazaar started as a small market in 1455 and grew into a larger covered market and officially opened in 1461. There are between 250,000 and 400,000 daily visitors and was listed as the most visited tourist attraction in the world. 

Many people consider this bazaar to be the first shopping mall in the world. You can find several amazing gifts and souvenirs when you explore the Grand Bazaar. Grab a cup of coffee and spend the morning checking out the amazing shops. 

Galata Tower

This 205-foot tower was designed by architect Köksal Anadol and has nine floors to explore. The Galata Tower opened in 1348 and is one of the most iconic historical landmarks in Istanbul.

Originally built to be part of the Galata walls by the Genoese, the Galata Tower has been used as a fire watchtower and a dungeon. The tower eventually fell into disrepair and had been repaired several times during the Ottoman period. 

In the 1960s the Istanbul Municipality restored the tower and opened it for visitors, complete with a cafeteria and museum. You can climb to the top floor of the tower to look out over the city for great views and photo ops. 

Kariye Mosque

One of the newer mosques in Istanbul, the Kariye Mosque was built in the Byzantine architectural style. Originally, the mosque was the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, a medieval Greek Orthodox church.

Located in the Edirnekapi neighborhood of the Fatih district, the Christian church was converted to a mosque during the 16th century. In 1945, the Kariye Mosque was turned into a museum but President Erdogan converted it back to a mosque in 2020. 

The mosque is not active, but worshippers are welcome to come during the five prayer times. The interior of the mosque has some of the finest and oldest surviving mosaics and frescoes from the Byzantine Christian church

Istanbul is a unique city filled with historical landmarks that pay homage to its very storied past. Locals get to experience these amazing landmarks on a daily basis but if you are only in the city for a few days you will want to pick the most important ones.

Plan your itinerary and soak up the history of this wonderful city. We know the place and our official multilingual guides will take you past and through several of the historic landmarks.


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