Istanbul owes its historic importance & its amazing cultural & architectural heritage to its perfect strategic location, straddling the Bosphorus straits which separate Europe & Asia Minor. 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. Istanbul is a city of contrasts, bustling with the cacophony of 21st century life, & is yet achingly beautiful. Through most of its 2,500 year-long history, the city has been a cultural melting pot...
Istanbul is a cosmopolitan city built on two continents. The most recent population census shows that it has a population of about 17 million people, from which almost 65% are inhabitants of the Asian side. Fulfilling the residential role of the city, it doesn't present a lot to see historically. In contrast, the European side is the commercial & cultural center, further divided into two districts (the Old City & the modern downtown) by a narrow channel of water called 'the Golden Horn'.
Istanbul is dubbed by Turkish poets & Turkish people alike, the City of Seven Hills, like Rome. Interestingly Istanbul was the capital of the Roman Empire after Rome. The city offers gorgeous views from not only from these hills but also from seaside locations.
Most countries' citizens require a visa to enter Turkey. For some countries this visa can be issued directly upon arrival at the airport, for others it is advisable to pre-arrange it at a Turkish Embassy overseas. Check with your local Turkish Embassy prior to departure.
Mosques can be visited daily 9am-6pm except during prayer times (about 30 min. five times a day) & midday on Fridays. You will need to remove your shoes at the entrance (plastic bags for shoes are provided). Modest dress is required for both men & women; women must cover their heads. Wraps are provided when deemed necessary by mosque officials.
Istanbul is Europe’s third & world’s 21st biggest city. As researches demonstrates, if these trends continue, Istanbul will be the most crowded city of Europe by 2020. Despite its population of more than 17 million people as well as the mass of visitors coming from various different countries, the city is enlisted among the safest cities in the world despite its highly dense population.
All taxis in the city (a total of 22,000 !) carry a taxi-metre . If the metre does not appear to be working, it is advisable to change taxis. The night fare commences after midnight.
Emergency Phone Numbers : Police 155. Traffic police 154. Ambulance 112. These numbers are toll free.
Public Telephones : There are three kinds of public phones :
- Token phones : For these you have to insert a special token that can be purchased from the post office. These phones are very hard to find & quite old-fashioned.
- Card phones : These work with a special prepaid card that can be purchased from the post offices & most street vendors. There are three kinds - 30 units, 60 units & 100 units. It is advisable to purchase 60 or 100 units for making international calls.
- Credit card phones : These work with all the major credit cards & they are available at the airport & all the major locations.
Courier services :
DHL : Yalcın Kores Caddesi 20, Gunesli (0212 478 1225). Open 9am-6pm Mon-Sat. International service only. Customer services 24 hours daily.
UPS : A Blok, Ambarlar Caddesi 6, Zeytinburnu (0212 413 2222 / www.ups.com). Open 8.30am-7.45pm Mon-Fri; 8.30am-5pm Sat. International & national deliveries.
FedEx : Fabrikalar Caddesi Tasoca 35 Yolu 19 Mahmutbey (0212 444 0505 www.fedex.com). Open 8am-11pm Mon-Fri; 8am-8pm Sat. International service only.
By law you need to carry a photo ID at all times, especially if you're out in the town.
Istanbul has embraced internet culture. The number of public terminals & Internet cafes has skyrocketed. Particularly around Sultanahmet, you'll find most hotels offer Internet access & many travel agents have a couple of online computers. Wi-fi access is available in most upscale cafes & restaurants.
To report a crime or lost property, go to the Tourist Police station (0212 527 4503) opposite Yerebatan Sarnici in Sultanahmet. Most officers speak English or German. If your passport is lost or stolen, you generally have to fill out a police report before the consulate will deal with you.
Cashpoints (ATM) are common. Most machines will accept cards linked into the Cirrus or Plus networks, & supply Turkish lira or cash advances on major credit cards, provided you know your PIN number.
Many shops & restaurants accept payment in US dollars, GBP or Euros, but there are dozens of exchange bureau (doviz burosu) in the main tourist & shopping districts. These are easier to deal with than banks, where transactions can take forever & exchange rates are generally lower. Exchange bureaus are open long hours, generally from from 9am to 8pm Monday to Sunday.
Four bronze horses which are decorating today San Marco Cathedral in Venice, were taken from Istanbul (Constantinople back than) by the Crusaders in the 13th century.
Istanbul may be a city of mosques, but there is a multitude of places to worship. After all, Istanbul was once a centre of a Christian empire & is still the home of the Greek & Armenian Orthodox Patriarchates. Istanbul is also a city with a strong Jewish tradition.
Christ Church (Anglican)
Serdari Ekrem Sokak 82, Tunel, Beyogu (0212 251 5616). Services 9am, 6pm Mon-Sat; 9am,10am Sun.
Union Church of Istanbul (Protestant)
Postaciar Sokak, Beyoglu (0212 244 5212). Services 9.30am, 11am, 1.30pm Sun.
St Anthony's (Catholic)
Istiklal Caddesi 325, Beyoglu (0212 244 0935). Open 8am-7.30pm Mon-Sat, 9am-12.30pm & 3-7.30pm Sun. Services English 8am Mon-Sat, 10am Sun.
Haghia Triada (Greek Orthodox)
Meselik Sokak 11/1, Taksim (0212 244 1358). Services Short 8.30am, 5pm daily (4pm in winter). Full-length 9am Sun.
Uc Horon (Gregorian Armenian)
Balik Pazari, Sahne Sokak 24, Beyoglu (0212 244 1382). Open 9am-5pm daily. Services 9.30am-1pm Tue; 9am-1pm Sun.
Security at the Istanbul's synagogues has been tighter than ever since 2003. To visit, you must first obtain permission. Call the office of the Chief Rabbinate for further information. Prayers are usually held daily at 7.30am, with Shabbat services at 8am. Friday evening services take place at sunset.
Yeminici Sokak 23, Tunel, (0212 293 8794/5). Open 9am-5pm Mon-Thur; 9am-1pm Fri.
Turkey is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). There is no Turkish equivalent of am & pm, so the 24-hour clock is used. Daylight saving runs from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.
Public toilets are plentiful. They'll be signposted 'WC' (when asking, use the term tuvalet); the gents' is Bay; the ladies' is Bayan. Public facilities usually consist of a hole in the floor. Toilet paper in these places is a rarity, so carry a pack of tissues (selpak). City plumbing cannot cope with toilet paper, so use the bin provided. Hotels, bars & restaurants all have Western-style (alafranga) toilets.
Needless to say the most important historical figure who has lived in Istanbul is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who has passed away in Dolmabahce Palace, a summer residence of the president at the time. Among other famous people who have spend time in Turkey or Ottoman Empire are Kaiser Wilhelm, Franz Liszt, Florence Nightingale, Gustave Flaubert, Agatha Cristie & Pierre Loti.
If you see in guidebooks, newspapers, travel magazines or internet sites phrases such as "Istanbul has become hip", "In", "worlds top destination", it is true but Istanbul has always been beautiful, it is not a recent happening!
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