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Important Facts About Istanbul That Everyone Loves

History

As one might expect, Istanbul has a colorful and eventful history.

This story starts way back in the 7th century B.C. when the Megara king Byzas and his people settled into the Asian side.  Thus, the colony known as Byzantium was established.  King Byzas selected this place based on the statement of an oracle of Delphi.  The oracle specified that he should establish the city in front of the “land of the blind”.

Constantine The Great

Alexander the Great added this city to his empire during the 4th century B.C.  And in the 2nd century B.C. Septimus Severus (the Roman Emperor then) took the city in the name of the Roman Empire.   Severus renamed it in honor of his son – Augusta Antonina.  This city was catapulted into its position of power and influence during the reign of Constantine the Great.  He decided to rebuild the city upon seven hills and made it the capital of the Roman Empire.  He also named it after himself – Constantinople.  For around a thousand years, Constantinople enjoyed the prestige of being the last outpost of the Roman (and then the Byzantine) empire.

Justinian

Other emperors following Constantine started the task of filling the city with cultural and historic treasures.  However, because of riots during Justinian I’s reign, some of these were destroyed.  But the city managed to arise magnificently from the ashes.  After these destructive riots, more structures where built or rebuilt.  A prime example of this would be the Hagia Sophia.

Because of Istanbul’s desirable position, it has become a witness to many a struggle for control and possession.  Siege after siege and war after the war was fought within the city.  Arabs, “Barbarians” and Crusaders fought for control until the city was sacked and destroyed during the Fourth Crusade.

Mehmet II

Then in 1453 Sultan Mehmet II gained control of Constantinople after a siege of 53 days, thus ending the Middle Ages.  This started the reign of the Ottoman Turks.  During this period, mosques and public buildings were built, many of which were built by Sinan (a renowned architect) and are fine examples of Ottoman architecture, such as the Grand Bazaar, the Fatih Mosque (which was built on the ruins of the Church of the Holy Apostles) and the Topkapi Palace.  Istanbul saw the height of Ottoman architectural and artistic achievement during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, especially when it comes to calligraphy and ceramic art.

Ataturk

It was only during the First World War that Istanbul saw the end of the Ottoman rule.  Ataturk led the city into the next era.  Thus, the city witnessed the beginning and establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 after the War of Independence.  Ataturk then moved the capital of Turkey to Ankara.  However, the city of Istanbul continued to develop, as buildings, parks, and squares were constructed all throughout.

Post 2nd World War, Turkey experienced a lot of political upheavals, until the creation of the 3rd Republic and Modern Turkey.

People

One word describes the culture of Istanbul – complex.  You will find layer upon layer of culture – traditions, religious values, music, arts, and folklore.  The development of Turkish culture is brought about by its taking on the culture and traditions of the lands that it conquered.  Thus, you will see a wide variety of cultural influences – Ottoman, early Christian, Roman, Renaissance, and Byzantine.

Istanbul Mosaic

Istanbul’s artistry is depicted at length via jewelry, pottery, vases, and costumes.  Also, you will see details of Ottoman culture at the mosques’ artistic portals.  Byzantine Art is predominantly expressed in religious items.  Some of these are elaborate and grand and used expensive materials such as silver and gold.  However, for Islamic religious art, the hadith would rather use unpretentious materials, including interior inlays, woodcarvings, and ceramics.  Most of the designs depict geometric forms, Arabic script, and flowers.  Also, there is the use of mosaics, tiles and glazed bricks.  Another outlet of art would be the woven wool carpet, which is an artistic tradition that has been in the culture for over a thousand years.

Turkish And Islamic Museum Inside View

The city’s arts and culture scene continued to flourish during the leadership of Ataturk, who loved music and the opera, as well as sculpture and painting.  Also, in 1928, with the introduction of the Latin alphabet, literature started to thrive.  The literary giants that emerged include Nazim Hikmet, Yashar Kemal, and Orhan Pamuk.

As of now, there are some 20 theaters, a lot of museums, a number of cinemas and an opera house to be found in Istanbul.  Add to this some 2,000-plus mosques, over 100 churches, and over 20 synagogues.

Circumcision Istanbul

The population is also diverse – there are a considerable number of ethnic groups – Armenians, Greeks, Jews, and Christians.  The population is dominated by Muslims.  After all, the city was the last bastion of the Islamic Caliphate, until it was dissolved in the early 1900s.  As for the Christians, one also has to note that Istanbul was once the heart of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Handshake

As for a glimpse of the people of Istanbul, here are some things you should keep in mind.  Remember, you are a visitor in their own country and you should respect the mores and traditions of the place.

  • Handshakes and other forms of greetings:  When offering your hand for a handshake, be sure to offer only your right.  The left hand is believed to be unclean.  Turks will tend to greet you exuberantly.
  • Attire: When visiting mosques and traditional neighborhoods (particularly in the Old City), be sure to wear modest attire.   This will include coverings for the head, legs, and shoulders.  Don’t forget to take off your shoes when entering a mosque.
  • Cleanliness and hygiene: The practice of hand washing is taken seriously in Istanbul and Turkey.  However, because of the current scarcity of water, moist towelettes are offered as an option.  Usually, after you eat a meal, you are expected to offer your hands (palms up) to the waiter.  This way, he can spray some cologne into your proffered hands.
  • Taking pictures: Be careful about taking pictures, especially in military areas, state buildings, and some museums.  When taking the photo of an individual, be sure to ask permission prior to clicking the shutter. Remember that women, especially those in black robes called chadors, are wary of being photographed.
  • Topics to avoid: Try not to talk about volatile issues such as the Armenians, the Kurds, and the movie Midnight Express.

Photography

If you are an inveterate photographer, Istanbul is the city for you.  You just can’t resist clicking that shutter as there are plenty of subjects to photograph.  Magnificent mosques, historic buildings, avant-garde shopping malls, the people themselves – these are all worthwhile subjects.  The best thing to do is to wake up early in the morning and visit the major sights even before the tourists have had time to clutter your pictures.  Feel free to lug your trusty camera everywhere.  You never know when your next great shot will be.

Istanbul Golden Horn Scene

As for photos from the water, try getting on a sightseeing cruise of the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara or the Golden Horn.  These tours typically stop at all the places of interest.  These also give you great opportunities to get the best pictures of the city from the water.

Mustache Istanbul

Now, if you are thinking of taking pictures of a local, it wouldn’t hurt to ask permission before you take the picture.  That way, you don’t risk offending your subjects.

View From Galata Tower 2

In addition, if you are thinking of taking aerial photos of the city, well, we are sorry to say that there are no available helicopter or airplane tours over Istanbul.  The next best thing is to get up, up, upright to the top of the Galata Tower.  This can provide you will excellent panoramic views of Istanbul.  The best time to go would be around sundown.

Sultanahmet Square

We also have photos of the city.  We are sure that the free photos of Istanbul that are posted here would do wonders for enticing you to visit the country.  These photos sure are wonderful to look at, but we tell you, nothing beats the real thing.   So do try to visit Istanbul, it sure is worth it!

Safety

The best way to be safe is to stay alert and keep your presence of mind.  List down important emergency numbers so that you can have access to it as quickly as you need it.  Remember, your safety is of utmost importance.

Your health

Medical Tips

Vaccinations are not usually necessary, although it will be useful to have yourself vaccinated against typhoid and (in some unusual cases, like the south-eastern section of the country), malaria.   Street food should be eaten with caution.  The most common illnesses that hit tourists are diarrhea and food poisoning.  So be careful of what you put into your mouth.

Keep safe!

Police Car

Before leaving for Istanbul, check with your embassy for the latest travel advisory.  The political situation is a bit volatile (but still manageable).  When in Istanbul and in Turkey, try not to get yourself involved in political demonstrations.  Keep a low profile.  The good news is, petty crime is relatively low in Istanbul.

Some tips on keeping safe:

  • Copies of important documents such as ID cards, passports, credit cards, and others should be kept at home in case of loss.
  • Keep your cell phone in a secure place other than your bag.
  • Try not to bring too much cash when you are doing your sightseeing.  The same goes for personal items such as jewelry and other personal effects – if you don’t really need these might as well do without.
  • When withdrawing at the ATM, do so during the daytime.  Avoid withdrawals during the night and in crowded areas.
  • Carry your bag close to your body, on the opposite side of the direction of traffic. The zipper to the bag should be facing the body.
  • When eating or trying something out, do not leave your bag or put it beside you.  The bag should be where you can keep your eye on it the whole time.
  • When you are a victim of a theft, alert the others by calling attention to the thief.  Call 154 to summon the police.  Try not to slug it out with the thief.  Your life is more important than your money.

Insuring Yourself

Travel Insurance

The amount you need to pay for travel insurance depends on a variety of factors – age, overall health situation, length of your vacation and the cost of the vacation.  Check if you are already covered for eventualities such as medical expenses during the trip, lost luggage and canceled flights.  For canceled flights, insurance is only covered for reasons such as Force Majeure situations (natural calamities), sickness or cancellations by virtue of an announcement by the State Department.  As for medical insurance, most of these would require that you first pay for your medical bills and then the company will reimburse you when you return to your home country.

What to Do During Earthquakes

Earthquake Turkey

Istanbul stands on a fault.  Thus, it is an earthquake-prone area. It would help to be prepared in case of an earthquake.

  • When in the hotel, one of the first things you should check is the nearest exits/escape routes.  This is so that you can get out of the hotel building as soon as you can.
  • Try to remain calm.  When you are in panic mode, your attention to detail tends to go down.
  • During an earthquake, place yourself beside a heavy object or an open doorway.  Note, it’s beside and not below.  Falling debris and parts of the building have the tendency to form triangles in this area, thus ensuring that the person lying in the triangle of life (as they call it) will be saved.
  • Avoid the use of elevators.  Take the stairs instead.
  • Avoid lamp posts, telephone poles and heavy objects that may fall down during a strong earthquake.

Other Useful Numbers

Turkish police

Emergency    112
Police            155
Fire               110
International Operator    115
Toll Operator                  131
Operator Assistance       118

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