Cultural Corridors of South East Europe

Heritage by Period / Antiquity

Istanbul - Historic Areas

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Istanbul - Historic Areas

About the site

Corridor: Via Egnatia, Via Pontica, Diagonal Road, Via Anatolia
Country: Turkey, Istanbul
Type: Historic Town
Epoch: Middle Ages, Antiquity
World Heritage: Cultural Heritage
Middle AgesAntiquityHistoric TownCultural Heritage

With its strategic location on the Bosphorus peninsula between the Balkans and Anatolia, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, Istanbul has been associated with major political, religious and artistic events for more than 2,000 years. Its masterpieces include the ancient Hippodrome of Constantine, the 6th-century Hagia Sophia and the 16th-century Suleymaniye Mosque, all now under threat from population pressure, industrial pollution and uncontrolled urbanization. 


The Church Hagia Sophia was reconstructed in 562, is one of the most important monuments of the Orthodox faith in Byzantine period. Its architectural design reflects a combination of the basilical plan type with the centralized schemes covered with a dome. The impressive and rich interior decorative programme, the greatness of its architectural scale and the height and diameter of the dome combine to create a strong spatial monumentality. Seen as one of the unique symbols of medieval mysticism, the building was transformed into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of the city in 1453 and has been in use as a museum exhibiting itself since 1935. The maintenance and restoration of the structure is undertaken according to highest scientific standards. It is one of the candidates for the UNESCO World Heritage List from Turkey due to its universal character as an architectural, artistic and spiritual human creation.
Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque is a prominent landmark. The mosque was constructed during the reign of Ahmet I in 1609- 1616 by royal architect Sedefkar Mehmet Aga, is the one of the latest examples of Islamic architecture. Its exterior form defined with a large dome and six tall minarets creates a prominent landmark. It is especially famous for its decorative programme including some of the finest examples of traditional Iznik tiles, and derives its international name from their blue-green color. The complex also includes a medrese, a primary school, a hospital, an imaret (soup-kitchen), a caravanserai, a bazaar and the mausoleum of the founder, all belonging to the same sultan’s vaqf.It is especially famous for its decorative programme including some of the finest examples of traditional Iznik tiles, and derives its international name from their blue-green color.
Suleymaniye Mosque is located on a hill over the port of the city.The mosque constructed during the reign of Suleyman I, the Magnificent in 1550- 1557 by royal architect Sinan, is one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in terms of structural engineering, architectural finesse and decorative arts. A hierarchy of domes culminating in a large single one rises on the hill next to a courtyard with four tall minarets on its corners. The complex also includes five medreses (religious academies), two hospitals (tabhane for the physically and bimarhane for the mentally ill) and a medical school, an imaret (soup-kitchen), a caravanserai and a hamam (public bath) as well as the mausoleums of the sultan and his wife Hurrem (Roxalane) and that of the architect, all included on the founder’s vaqf.
Another very interesting place is the Topkapi Palace. The new great palace was constructed by Mehmed II, following the conquest of Istanbul, in the 1460s. The complex is an example of classical Islamic palatial architecture, based on a series of courts serving different functions based on a hierarchy from the more public to the more private, and including small kiosks and other buildings from different periods, reflecting the styles of 15th-19th centuries. The imperial gate was a ceremonial structure, providing access to the first court, where administrative buildings, the royal mint, schools, barracks of the royal pages and corps, the office of the royal architects, store-houses, stables, outhouses, etc. were located. The second court included the imperial administrative council’s meeting hall and service quarters including the kitchens. The third court housed more private functions, including the throne or petition room, the royal treasury and that of Islamic relics, several kiosks, privy chambers and gardens for the sultan and the harem as well as the school and dormitories of the royal pages. The harem, or the private apartments for the sultan and his family, is also composed of buildings dating from successive periods with a plan again based on a series of courtyards. The earliest sections were demolished in the 19th century when the royal palace was transferred to Dolmabahce in 1856. The complex became a national museum on April 3, 1924, following the foundation of the Turkish Republic.

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Read more about Istanbul - Historic Areas at the Unesco World Heritage List.