For nine centuries Hagia Sophia was a Christian place of worship, during Byzantium an Orthodox church and the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch. After the Turkish conquest of Constantinople, it was a mosque for the next five centuries, until in the first half of the 20th century, at the suggestion of the great reformer of the Turkish state, Kemal Ataturk, it was turned into a museum of both religions and cultures. This lasted until two years ago, when the current Turkish government decided to make Hagia Sophia a mosque again.
Besides religious ceremonies, tourists can still enter it. It is extremely visited, but the frescoes and marble floors are covered with carpets and canvas. The beauty of the mosaic at the front door, which depicts the emperors Justinian and Constantine, and the detail of the floor, are always visible.
Built to match its beauty, across the road is the Blue Mosque, currently closed for restoration, as is the Topkapi Sultan Palace.
The archaeological museum with more than a million exhibits is an unmissable place for every tourist. Founded in the 19th century, the museum offers evidence of all eras of civilization.
“The largest part of the rich collection comes from the ancient Roman era. The fact that it was founded next to the Topkapi Palace speaks of the importance the museum had for the Ottoman Empire. Here, exhibits have been collected from the entire territory of the Ottoman Empire,” says Osman Ozmen from the Agency for the Promotion and Development of Tourism in Turkey.
The new jewel of Istanbul is the Rami Library, now the largest. It covers more than 50,000 square meters, a restored two and a half century old Ottoman barracks.
“This library is open to all visitors 24 hours a day. It is visited by about 4,400 people a day and we are very happy about that. We have special exhibits such as the Ataturk Library, a section with old manuscripts and the personal book collection of Sultan Mehmet the Second Conqueror,” explains Osman Zorlu, chief coordinator of the Rami Library in Istanbul.
With more recent museums that offer local and visiting exhibits from around the world, such as the Pera Museum or the movie theater at the Atlas Cinema, Istanbul’s postcard is more colorful.
If traffic jams are excluded, the pulse of the city of 16 million inhabitants, and on weekdays a million more, is felt most strongly in Istiklal Street, which leads to the central Taksim Square. The experience is complete with the charm of the local markets and the view from the Galata Tower.
It is estimated that these days, for understandable reasons, there are fewer tourists in Turkey than usual. Employees in tourism do everything to enter the new season at full capacity. As for Istanbul, the tourist season lasts 365 days a year.
Perhaps because of the unique view of the Bosphorus, seven hills, two continents, and one city.
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