Sultanahmet Guide

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Istanbul Sultanahmet guide. Places to visit and things to do in Istanbul.

Sultanahmet, the Old City of Istanbul was once the center of two great empires, the Eastern Roman Empire and Ottoman Empire. Today Sultanahmet peninsula located by the Marmara Sea, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn is one of the top tourist attractions in Istanbul with a lot of things to do and historical places to see.

The main atrractions in Sultanahmet avenue are Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Sultan Ahmet Mosque or the Blue Mosque, Arasta Bazaar, Mosaic Museum, Cistern and Museum of Turkish Islamic Art.

Check out the top attractions and places to visit in the Sultanahmed area.

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The Hippodrome

Sultanahmet Avenue was the social and sporting center of Constantinople with a horse-racing track as a common pastime feature of the Hellenistic and Roman eras. During the Roman times, in the area was the imperial palace called “The Big Palace” located near the Hippodrome reaching over to the seaside. The only remainings of the Roman times are the walls, mosaic ground of the palace, Cistern, Constantin Column and Serpentine Column (Snake Column). There is only a mosaic layer left from the palace today, which you can see in the Mosaic Museum near the Arasta Bazaar.

Did you know?

  • One of the most attractive monuments in the avenue was four bronze horses pulling the chariot called Quadriga, chariot of victory. The bronze statue was moved to Venecia during the fourth Crusade.
  • Sultanahmet was a base for the hippies going to India in the 60′s. The pudding shop, Lale Restaurant was famous for their hippi customers.

Ahırkapı, Fatih

The neighbourhood near the Topkapı Palace. The name comes from ahır, the stables of the Topkapı Palace and kapı, one of the main gates of the walls. It was also in the the gardens of the Managai Palace and Bukeleon Palace during the Roman period. This part of the city is known as one of the important archeological sites of the city. Today Ahırkapı is most well-known by the gypsy population, Ahırkapı Roman Orkestrası and Hıdrellez (Spring) Festival.

Arasta Bazaar

Arasta (shops of the same trade built in a row) Bazaar, also known as Sipahiler Çarşısı, is a small market located next to the Mosaics Museum behind the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet, the old city center.
Built in 17th century and used as the stables during hte Ottoman period, the Bazaar today is a small and simple traditional market with 40 shops selling traditional items such as jewelry, pottery, spice, textile, and carpet shops.

The Bazaar has a cafe, Mesale Café, a tea-garden (which also serves as a restaurant) where you can have a tea, coffee, smoke nargile and watch the free show of Whirling Dervishes Show (8-10 pm). The Bazaar also contains the Great Palace Mosaics Museum displaying a collection of mosaics, dating back to 5th century A.D. excavated from the site of the Byzantine Great Palace.

Arasta Bazaar is a nice spot in the Old City to go for shopping, visiting the museum and enjoy the tea garden after a long day around the Sultanahmet Avenue.

Archaeological Museum

Visit Istanbul Archaeological Museum

Basilica Cistern

Visit Basilica Cistern

Beyazıt Meydanı (Avenue)

Built in 393 B.C during the reign of Teodosius as the biggest avenue in the city, Beyazıt Meydanı today is one of the busiests parts of İstanbul with the shopping centers around, the Istanbul University and historical buildings. It was called “Form Tauri” in the Roman times because there was a big monument of the statue of the emperor with bronze bull heads, which there are only a few marble blocks kept today. One of the important buildings in the avenue is the Istanbul University located in the same place that Fatih Mehmet Sultan, Mehmet II the Conquerer built the first Ottoman palace after the conquest of Constantinople.

The avenue also hosts the Beyazıt Fire Tower built in the 19th century and a madrassah, hamam and sahaf, old book shops remained of the complex of Beyazıt Mosque built in the 15th century.
The avenue is most famous for the demonstrations during the Ottoman period , student movements and the demonstrations after the Friday pray at the Beyazıt Mosque.

How to get there You can get there by tramvay, street car running from Kabataş, Karaköy, Sirkeci and Sultanahmet or on foot enjoying the street.

Blue Mosque

Visit Blue Mosque

City Walls

Istanbul today refers to the whole city but actually Istanbul, Constantinople was the city inside the walls built during the Byzantine period. Today the walls surrounding the old city has two parts: Sea walls along the Marmara shores (total length is 8,5 km.) and Land walls between Yedikule and the Golden Horn.

Beside the walls around the historical peninsula there were also walls around Galata (Karakoy andBeyoglu today) and Kadikoy on the Asian side. Galata walls disappeared probably because it was (and is) an important port and become urbanized many times. Stones from Kadikoy (or Chalcedon) walls were carried to the European side to built new buildings in the city during the Roman and Ottoman period.

Istanbul walls were constructed by Constantine the Great, the founder of the city, in the 4th century and Theodosius in the 5th century and frequently restored in the Byzantine period because it was vital for Byzantians to protect the city in the age of city states. Unlike Byzantine, the walls in the Ottoman period lost its importance, due to the age and impossibilty of a danger from the sea and land. Therefore, only the walls underneath the Topkapi Palace were restored.

Cemberlitas Column

Cemberlitas, 35 meter high banded stone/column located between Sultanahmet and Beyazıt was brought to Istanbul from the Temple of Apollo by Constantinus I (B.C. 324-327). The column was topped by a statue of Apollo clasping a javelin in one hand and a cross in the other. The cross was removed during the Ottoman period but the column was left untouched. Sultan Mustafa II re-enforced the column with iron bands and built the pedestal on which it still stands today. It is believed that the column contains relics belonging to Jesus Christ.

Column of Arcadius

The column of Arcadius was a Roman triumphal column begun in 401 in the forum of Arcadius in Constantinople to commemorate Arcadius’ triumph over the Goths in 400. Arcadius died in 408 but the decoration of the column was only completed in 421. the monument was dedicated to his successor Theodosius II. The column was destroyed either in the 16th or 18th centuries by the eartquakes and the column was taken down because it threatened to topple down. Today its 9-metre base survives in the garden of an old house near Cerrahpaşa Mosque in Fatih.

Column of Goths

Column of Goths, located near Sarayburnu entrance at the Gülhane Park, is the oldest column survived from the Roman era until today. It is a Roman triumphial column for the Goths victory dating to the 3rd or 4th century AD. The 18 meter high column is located on Proconnesian marble base with an inscription in Latin: FORTUNAE REDUCI OB DEVICTUS GOTHOS meaning “To Fortuna, who returns by reason of victory over the Goths”

Coppersmiths’ Bazaar

A market, literally Coppersmiths’ Bazaar, located near İstanbul Üniversitesi in Beyazıt. Coppersmiths still sell copper goods such as boilers, pots, pans, kettles, buckets, tray etc made both traditional and modern way.

Galata Bedesteni in Fatih Marketplace

A square-shaped (unlike other rectengualar bazaars) market built in 15th century by Mehmet II the Conquerer after the conquest of Constantinople. It was the biggest trade building constructed in the old city after the conquest and it made the area a trade site with the shops and hans built around. This building, built as a bedesten (shops sold valuable goods) in the beginning to support the Hagia Sophia foundation financially, today is used mostly by the hardware shops. Galata Bedesteni was restored in 1966 but it lost the original structure and the roots of very old tree roots in the yard during the restoration.

Grand Bazaar

Visit Grand Bazaar for details »

Hagia Sophia Museum

Visit Hagia Sophia Museum

Kumkapi

Kumkapi, a well-known neighbourhood located near Sultanahmet, Fatih by the Marmara Sea, is a famous area for fish restaurants where you can go for a lovely Turkish night with rakı-balık meal and the local music by the gypsy musicians.

Kumkapı was first founded as a fishing village during Byzantine times. The harbour was a common destination for sailors, who lived and worked on their boats during the day, made the area their first stop in the evenings. As such, Kumkapı became the centre of meyhane culture, until today.

Mosaic Museum

Visit Istanbul Mosaic Museum

Sogukcesme Sokagi (Street)

A small street with historic Ottoman houses located between Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace in the Sultanahmet neighbourhood.

Sultan Ahmet Köftecisi

A popular köfte restaurant with branches all over the city. The most popular menu is köfte, piyaz and irmik helvası. In addition to köfte meals, you can also have lamb and chicken meals. Sultanahmet köftecisi is very popular for both İstanbullu and the tourists visiting Istanbul.

Sahaflar Carsisi

The oldest Sahaflar Carsisi (old book sellers) in Istanbul is the one in Beyazıt located between Kapalıçarşı (Grand Bazaar) and Beyazıt Camii. When the construction was completed in 1460 some shops were allocated to book sellers. Due to the big İstanbul earthquake in 1894 the bookshops had to move where they are today. Old book sellers during the Ottoman Empire were affiliated with the guild of sahaf. They had ranks such as master, experienced apprentice and apprentice and also they opened the shops with a prayer every morning, just like other jobs.

Sirkeci

An area in Eminönü, Fatih on the European side; Train station on the European side.

Sirkeci Gari Sirkeci Train Staion is one of the two terminus in Istanbul. It was built by the German architect August Jachmund during the reign of Abdülhamit II in 1890. Orient Express departing from Paris carried passengers to Sirkeci for a long time from 1893 to 1977 and also the station took place in the famous book, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.

Did you know?
Topkapı Palace is the only palace in the world which a railway passes through?

Topkapi Palace Museum

Visit Topkapi Palace Museum

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