Key AttractionsIstanbul is a romantic's delight. Elegant mosques, soaring minarets, 400-room sultan's palaces and ancient obelisks span magnificent expanses of land and water. While modern Islam is surely the city's heart and soul, traces of the great Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman cultures greet one at every step.
To immerse yourself in the greatness that was once Constantinople, make your way to the Old Town and the Hagia Sofia (Church of Holy Wisdom). Begun in 532 A.D., this was for 1,000 years the largest church in Christendom. The stunning interior must have been even more glorious when it was covered in gold mosaics centuries ago.
Just south of the Hagia Sofia is the delicate, majestic Sultan Ahmed Mosque, known popularly as the Blue Mosque. Inside you'll experience the luminous blue light--created by azure tiles--that gives the mosque its name.
For a dizzying display of pomp and luxury, turn northeast to the famed Topkapi Palace. Here, the pleasure-loving sultans lived, ruled and prayed. The wonders include a 400-room harem, a magnificent Aladdin's Cave-like treasury overflowing with gems and gold, and the cloak of the Prophet Mohammed. A walk in any direction leads to fascinating relics. The open space in front of the Blue Mosque was once the ancient Hippodrome, scene of chariot races and the center of Byzantine life. Still standing is the obelisk of Theodosium, whose razor-sharp hieroglyphics are 3,500 years old. Stretching from the Golden Horn to the Sea of Marmara, the Theodosian walls were erected in the year 420 A.D. and were impregnable for centuries.
Great BuysBargaining is a way of life in the Grand Bazaar and lesser market stalls, and you would be insulting the merchants if you didn't give it a go. Items to look for include copper and brassware, slippers, hand-painted pottery, meerschaum pipes, and, of course, carpets. Note that any antiques, however tempting, are forbidden for export.
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