A Complete Guide To Sultanahmet, Istanbul
A complete guide to Istanbul’s main attraction – Sultanahmet .
…with its breathtaking mosques and palaces.
Istanbul’s most beautiful quarter can, without exaggeration, be called a visual history textbook from which you can see how people lived in the past, and learn about the development of the Roman, Greek, Byzantine and Ottoman peoples. Yes, Sultanahmet is a great historical encyclopedia, and only one day to study it is simply not enough. But it is quite possible to flip through and capture, in memory, the brightest of its pages.
Sultanahmet district, located at the center of the metropolis in Fatih district, is one of the busiest parts of the city. In the south, the quarter is washed by the waters of the Sea of Marmara, and in the east by the Bosphorus Strait, while in the north it is bounded by the Golden Horn Bay. Sultanahmet is Istanbul’s main historical district and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is here, where a large number of the city’s famous sights are concentrated, that many travelers begin their acquaintance with the metropolis.
In this guide to Sultanahmet I will show you the key attractions you can’t miss when visiting , and share my impressions .
Best things to see and do in Sultanahmet
The Sultanahmet district in Istanbul has managed to maintain its authenticity and enchanting atmosphere despite the passage of time, and is capable of plunging you into a completely different dimension. Clean, neat streets; old houses; green spaces and fountains; miniature cafes and the enticing smell of restaurants; a tram running along the main road – all these invariably surrounding you in the historic quarter. But the real adventure awaits you at Sultanahmet Square: after all, it is from here that the long and fascinating road to the most famous sights of the metropolis begins.
Sultanahmet Square (Hippodrome)
Most of Sultanahmet Square is located on the territory of the ancient Hippodrome. In the era of the Byzantine Empire, this place served as a center for horse races, and political and public meetings. The Hippodrome, given the name “Horse Square,” was used for religious celebrations and festivals, and spectacular chariot competitions were held there. The races were attended by a myriad of fans, and passions ran so high that races were often accompanied by fights and even riots. It is worth learning more about those people that made up the audience – traditionally, there were four groups divided by color: green, red, blue and white. According to centuries-old tradition, the greatest influence and strength were shown by venets (blue group) and prasins (green group). A fierce confrontation developed between them.
Today, a neat square is equipped here, and almost nothing remains of the former marble masonry and columns. The equestrian racetracks are buried under a five-meter layer of earth, and only small fragments remain of the ancient stands. Only one monument stood the test of time, and is well preserved today: the Obelisk of Theodosius.
Obelisk of Theodosius
The obelisk was erected in the 15th century BC by order of Pharaoh Thutmose III, and in the 4th century AD it was transported to the territory of what is now Istanbul and installed at the Hippodrome. Emperor Theodosius I ordered the transportation of the monument, so the obelisk was renamed in his honor. Many scientists have come to the conclusion that the monolith was damaged during transportation or, due to its large dimensions, intentionally shortened: it was reduced from a length of 32m to 19m.
During the Byzantine period, the obelisk was erected on a marble pedestal, on the bas-reliefs of which looms the image of Theodosius I and members of his family. Thus, together with the pedestal, the total height of the monolith exceeds 25m. Today, the Obelisk of Theodosius is the oldest monument in Istanbul.
Saint Sophie Cathedral
It is best to come to this Istanbul shrine in the morning, at about 9 o’clock. It is at this time that the cathedral opens its doors to the first visitors, and you will have an opportunity to explore its beauty in peace and quiet. Excursion groups begin to arrive here a little later. Externally, the Museum of Hagia Sophia looks monumental and even severe, which makes the spaciousness and lightness that prevail in the cathedral interior all the more striking and surprising.
Aya Sofya is one of the Sultanahmet district’s most valuable monuments, the history of which dates back 1,500 years. This is one of the most unique places in the world, where cultures of completely different religions – Christian and Islamic – have united. Once operating as a Byzantine church, it was rebuilt as a mosque when Turkish invaders arrived in Constantinople, and today the building appears before us as a historical museum.
Topkapi Palace in Sultanahmet
This famous residence of Turkish Sultans dates back more than five centuries, but its heyday fell during the rule of Suleiman I the Magnificent. The huge historical complex is comprised of four courtyards, each of which has its own attractions, including churches and mosques. It’s no wonder Topkapi Palace is considered one of the largest museums in the world and is often referred to as the hotel city of Istanbul.
Another unique facility in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square area is the Basilica Cistern. Built more than 1500 years ago, this underground structure long served as the main reservoir for Constantinople. Inside the building, 336 ancient columns have been preserved, with the column displaying the inverted head of Medusa being of greatest interest.
Gulhane Park in Sultanahmet
The Gulhane Park zone was a place favored by the sultans and their families for walking and leisure activities. The oldest park in Istanbul, the history of which is inextricably linked with the Topkapi Palace, it has become popular among tourists due to the thousands roses and tulips planted there which open with the onset of the thaw. The park contains two museums and an old Roman column, as well as an observation deck with views of the Bosphorus.
The main park gate leads the way to the tram line.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum
This landmark in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul will plunge you into the history of the ancient civilizations that once existed on the territory of modern Turkey. Here you can see ancient tombs, antique sculptures of the ancient Roman and Greek periods, as well as admire the museum’s unique collection of pottery and tiles.
Being the most popular tourist area in Istanbul, Sultanahmet offers plenty in the way of accommodation. Among the hotels you can find expensive options with luxurious interiors and high-quality service, as well as budgetary institutions with the minimum set of necessary services.