PUBLISHED: 12:38 24 November 2015 | UPDATED: 12:38 24 November 2015
At the heart of the clash of cultures where East meets West, Istanbul is a city of exotic tastes and exciting surprises. Rebecca Underwood shares more of its stunning appeal
Istanbul, nestled on both sides of the Bosphorus Strait between the sparkling waters of the Marmara Sea and the Black Sea, is a unique metropolis where the exotic East meets the cosmopolitan West. With domes and towering minarets, the call to prayer from a multitude of mosques and a swirling maelstrom of more than 15 million people, Istanbul offers visitors an intriguing glimpse into a rich and colourful history and a fascinating culture.
Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Christian world known as Sultanahmet, is the location for most of the city’s historical attractions including the Hagia Sophia Museum, dating back to the 6th century. The magnificent dome, considered the embodiment of Byzantine architecture, was constructed on the orders of the Emperor Justinian I and is widely recognised as a symbol of the city.
Another must see is the nearby Topkapi Sarayi palace; once the sultan’s residence and the heart of the Turkish Empire for four centuries. A warren of meandering paths leads the visitor to the kitchens where a frenzy of 150 chefs prepared daily feasts for 5,000 guests and the Harem, which housed hundreds of young women reserved for the sultan and guarded by eunuchs.
A short walk away is the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque due to the 20,000 handmade blue ceramic tiles papering the interior walls, which was constructed in the 17th century during the rule of Ahmet I. The mosque’s main dome, six towering minarets and eight secondary domes reflect the splendour of Byzantine and Islamic architecture.
For a unique shopping experience where you can practice your haggling skills, head for the Grand Covered Bazaar, an intricate maze of more than 4,000 shops. Istanbul’s top attraction, which dates back to the 15th century, entices even the most resistant visitor with a dazzling extravaganza of gold and silver jewellery, Oriental rugs of every size and colour, pungent spices, copper, suede and leather goods and trinkets galore. You are sure to be persuaded to part with more than a few Turkish Liras.
For weary explorers who prefer to be in the heart of the action, the Park Bosphorus Hotel offers luxurious accommodation. The hotel, which opened in 2013, is located in the European part of Istanbul and within walking distance to Taksim Square and Istiklal Avenue, crammed with shops and cafés.
For those seeking a tranquil retreat, the Radisson Blu Bosphorus is located on the scenic waterfront, close to the Ortaköy pier. Dining options include the Starboard open-air restaurant with tables located right beside the Bosphorus.
Should you wish to dine further afield, head for the nearby Laledan Restaurant at the Çırağan Palace Kempinski. Overlooking the Bosphorus Strait, it truly is an exceptional dining experience.
And as you take in the spectacular panoramic views across the glittering waters of the Bosphorus you will surely agree that Istanbul is indeed a unique city where the exotic Eastern world meets the modern West in harmony. w