20 Mart 2009 Cuma

Istanbul city guide

One city, two continents. Istanbul's location as the bridge between Europe and Asia over the Bosporus is not just physical, but cultural as well. On the one hand, it is a thriving metropolis comparable to the greatest cities of the west and the fourth-century capital of the Roman Empire under Constantine, but the minarets which pepper the landscape and the atmosphere of the bazaars highlight the eastern character of the heart of the mighty Ottoman Empire. No wonder Napoleon Bonaparte said: "If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital." Although Ankara is the modern seat of government, the city founded as Byzantium in 667 BC, and later known as Nova Roma (330 AD-337) and Constantinople (337-1927) is Turkey's largest, with a population of – at least – 12.4 million. Sights such as Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque give Istanbul one of the world's great skylines.

Getting there
Istanbul has two airports, one on each continent. Atatürk International Airport, on the European side, is 24km from the city centre and is the main hub. The fast-expanding Sabiha Gökçen International Airport is in the Asian sector (as is the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium), and has connections to some German cities, London, Amsterdam, Milan and several other European, Asian and domestic locations. The central Sirkeci railway station, the former terminus of the Orient Express, is the destination of international trains from Europe via Thessaloniki, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia.

What to see
The most famous sights are in the Sultanahmet district at the heart of the city and is best first glimpsed by taking the cheap ferry from the Asian port of Kadikoy (near Şükrü Saracoğlu) and Eminönü. A short walk away is the Topkapi Palace, the magnificent home of the Ottoman emperors. The city's most famous landmark, the Aya Sofia, is also close, a magnificent Byzantine cathedral built in 537 AD. The largest church for nearly 900 years before its conversion into a mosque, it proclaimed a museum in 1935. The Blue Mosque is also close with its towering six minarets, and can be approached via the Hippodrome which was once the centre of life in Constantinople and is filled with interesting monuments. Not far from there is the famous Grand Bazaar, home to thousands of stalls and shops, and that is just one small part of the city – elsewhere is the Golden Horn, Taksim Square, the Galata Tower and scenic cruises on the river.

Where to relax
Near the stadium, on the Asian side, Bağdat Caddesi (Baghdad Avenue) is the traditional location for Fenerbahçe SK celebrations and there are plenty of bars and cafes. If you are staying centrally on the European side, Taksim Square is the hub of nightlife though there are also bars, restaurants and clubs by the river.

When in Istanbul...
The Bosporus is the physical and metaphorical heart of Istanbul and ferry tours are cheap and rewarding. As well as the ferries between Kadikoy and Eminonu you can go further afield and visit the historic Princess Islands; leave from the Asian port of Bostanci or Kabataş and Eminönü on the European side. Maybe get a class of Turkish tea (çay) on the way over.

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