One of the most remarkable monuments of the ancient world, the Hagia Sophia features a particularly massive dome widely considered the epitome of Byzantine architectural expertise. For nearly a thousand years from its construction by Emperor Justinian I in 537, it served as a Greek Orthodox cathedral and the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople until 1453. It was turned into a mosque for the next 500 years and opened as a museum in 1935 under the command of the first President of the Republic Kemal Ataturk. Today it is Turkey’s second most visited museum after Topkapi Palace and draws more than 3 million visitors yearly to its magnificent interior spaces adorned with golden mosaics, revealed following numerous restorations.
Cankurtaran Mh., Alemdar Cd. No:2, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey +90 532 608 3001
Rumelihisarı, also known as Rumeli Castle, is a fortress occupying roughly 16 acres of high walls, towers, and green surroundings. Situated on Istanbul’s European side at the narrowest section of the Bosphorus Strait, it was built over the course of four months in 1452 by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II in preparation for a final assault on Constantinople and the eventual downfall of the Byzantine Empire. Much of the interior structures have suffered considerable damage after a string of devastating earthquakes hit the city. Today, the site is open to the public as an open-air museum and frequently hosts concerts and performances in its amphitheater.
Yahya Kemal Cd. No:42, Turkey +90 212 263 5305
The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora is a former Byzantine church and, in more ways than one can be thought of as the Hagia Sophia’s little sister. Like it, it was converted into an Ottoman mosque in the 16th century and later secularized as a museum. For its smaller dimensions, it is no less beautiful. Situated in Erdinekapi district, just outside of the original city walls, its interiors are covered in gorgeous medieval mosaics and frescoes dating back to 1312 and coinciding with the church’s last of five reconstruction efforts.
Ayvansaray Mh., Kariye Cami Sk. No:26, 34087 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey +90 212 631 9241
Built as part of the expansion of Istanbul’s Genoese colony in 1348, the cone-capped, cylindrical Galata Tower, or as it was called at the time, the Christea Turris, stands high above the city’s Karakoy quarter, just north of the Golden Horn’s junction with the Bosphorus. It was the city’s tallest structure for centuries and still dominates a good part of Istanbul’s skyline. The reward for waiting through long queues and an often crowded elevator climb is a 360-degree panoramic view of the historic peninsula and its surroundings.
Galata Kulesi, Turkey +90 212 244 7736