ISTANBUL TRAVEL GUIDE

THE IMPERIAL CITY

Istanbul owes its historic importance & its amazing cultural & architectural heritage to its perfect strategic location, straddling the Bosphorus straits which separate Europe & Asia Minor.

Through most of its 2,500-year-long history, the city (first known as Byzantium, then as Constantinople & since 1930 as Istanbul) was a cultural melting pot. Today, its population of more than 13 million is almost exclusively Turkish & many of its people are recent migrants from provincial Turkey, lured by the promise of jobs & careers in this vibrant, fast-growing city.

Istanbul is no longer the nation’s capital, but is Turkey’s economic & cultural powerhouse – a status underlined by its role as a European City of Culture in 2010 & the award of UNESCO World Heritage listing to many of its most important landmarks, which range from stunning Ottoman mosques & Byzantine churches & catacombs to the columns of Hellenistic temples & the remains of massive medieval city walls.

But there’s more to Istanbul than Byzantine & Ottoman heritage. A fast-growing economy contributed to a flourishing arts & music scene, with a plethora of new bars, clubs, private art galleries, restaurants & designer fashion outlets.

The charm & character of Istanbul lies in its endless variety & jumble of contradictions. Its fascinating history has bequeathed the city a vivid inheritance of Byzantine ruins, splendid palaces, ancient mosques & churches, hamams (bath-houses) & exotic bazaars. Modern Istanbul exudes trendy bars & nightclubs, western boutiques, office blocks & elegant suburbs. The call to prayer heralds the start of each day & the city comes to life with over 11 million residents forming a chaotic social & cultural mix of unscrupulous carpet merchants, wealthy shoppers, religiously veiled women & destitute beggars.

It is a city of contrasts, bustling with the cacophony of 21st century life, & is yet achingly beautiful. It is set in a stunning location, surrounded by water, which is the narrow strait of the Bosphorus & the serene sea of Marmara separating Europe from Asia. Istanbul has a foot in each, celebrating the best of both heritages. As Byzantium, Constantinople & finally, Istanbul, it has been the capital of three Empires, each leaving their mark in the form of stunning palaces, castles, mosques, churches & monuments. The legacy of its chequered past can be seen on every turn of the modern city.

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