The Magnificent Sultanahmet!
Sultanahmet, or what is known as the Old City of Istanbul, is one of the most important areas of Istanbul and the most attractive for tourists. This part of Istanbul is characterized by the abundance of archaeological and tourist attractions in it, in addition to the presence of many cultural, artistic, and entertainment activities in it. In this area, you will also find many restaurants, street fast food, hotels, and cafes. Tourists come every year to enjoy the cultural and architectural heritage of this region inhabited by many civilizations that have influenced this region, and perhaps the most important ones, as is known, are the Byzantine and Ottoman empires.
The Old City of Istanbul was named by Sultanahmet, in reference to the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed the First. Also, Istanbul is a city made up of seven hills, and the Sultanahmet district is the first hill in this city. Sultanahmet is a relatively free area from traffic and easy to explore on foot and tram.
In this article, you will find a guide to help you explore the most important sites that you should visit when you come to Sultanahmet.
Sultanahmet Square & Blue Mosque
Sultanahmet Square in Istanbul, or what was previously known as the Hippodrome in Istanbul, is a famous meeting point and an amazing tourist area, from this square you can reach many important archaeological sites surrounding it, such as Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. In this square, you will also find the Egyptian obelisk, the serpentine column, the giant column or column of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, and the German fountain.
One of the closest archaeological sites to this square is the "Blue Mosque" or "Sultan Ahmed Mosque", the most famous and beautiful mosque in Istanbul. This mosque was built between the years 1603-1617 by the order of Sultan Ahmed I. This mosque was called the Blue Mosque, due to the large number of blue-colored Iznik tiles that dominate most of the place.
Hagia Sophia or the church of holy wisdom, was established in the Byzantine era to be a cathedral for the Orthodox Christian Patriarchate, then it was transformed into a Roman Catholic cathedral, and after the conquest of Constantinople it turned into an Ottoman mosque, and after the establishment of the Turkish Republic it turned into a secular museum, and finally, it was announced that it would return as a mosque as of today. From July 24, 2020, after issuing the ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court of Turkey.
The building was initially built as a Christian cathedral in 537 AD, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Justinian the First, and at that time it was the largest building in the world and the first to use a fully suspended dome. The building was considered a jewel of Byzantine architecture and is said to have "changed the history of architecture". A number of writers described him as "occupying a prominent position in the Christian world" and as "the greatest of all the Christian churches." Historians note that Hagia Sophia was considered a cultural and architectural symbol and an icon of Byzantine and Orthodox Christian civilization.
Basilica Cistern is one of the most impressive and magical structures in Istanbul, the cistern is a very calm and pleasant place expressed by the columns through impressive arches. Some of the columns, as one of the most legendary parts, are mainly constructed of different forms of marble, as well as other blocks, pearls, and metals.
Topkapi Palace Museum
Topkapi Palace (Topkapı Sarayı), one of the world's most beautiful oriental palaces, is a marvelous piece of architecture, both physical and art show sites. It was the home of the Ottoman sultans, as well as the administrative and educational center of the Ottoman Kingdom. It holds the finest seal samples, bookbinding, craftsmanship of jewelry and cases, as well as inscriptions.
In the former imperial kitchen, the finest array of Chinese porcelain is one of the most popular attractions. The costumes of the Sultans were also displayed there. The Treasury has an immense treasure chest of riches at its absolute discretion, including crowns, diamonds, gold, and pearls adorned with jewels that adorn crowns, arms, and golden thrones.
Finally, there is the famed Harem, the private section of the palace where the sultan's wives and concubines stayed.
Hagia Irene Museum
The Hagia Irene Church was established in the 14th century and consists of three sections that include Naos, narthex, and atrium, while the permanent atrium is the only surviving specimen from the Byzantine period. It has been converted into a museum now, in addition to being a place to host cultural activities, literary and artistic exhibitions, and it is located in the first court of the Topkapi Palace Museum.
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
This museum is located in Ibrahim Pasha Palace, and it dates back to the sixteenth century. This building is one of the most important architectural buildings in Istanbul that show and display the Ottoman architectural civilization. This museum contains over 40,000 unique items in the carpet, manuscript, wood, glass, metal, ceramic, and ethnography departments.
Istanbul Archaeology Museums
One of the richest archeology museums in the world for you in terms of content and exhibits, Istanbul Archeology Museums consist of three separate museums on-site, including the Brick Pavilion, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Archeology Museum.
The museums contain more than a million huge collections from different civilizations such as the Assyrian, Hittite, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman civilizations that had a profound impact throughout history in this region and the world.
These were the most important places to see when visiting Sultanahmet archaeological area. However, there are also some other places we recommend you visit when in Sultanahmet, such as:
Arasta Bazaar, Great Palace Mosaics Museum, Hurrem Sultan Hamam (Turkish Bath), Fountain of Sultan Ahmet III, German Fountain, and Gulhane Park.