Sultanahmet district is in the very heart of historic Istanbul, Turkey where visitors will find the city’s big-ticket attractions such as Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the Istanbul Archaeological Museums. Travellers interested in Turkish culture, architecture and the city’s intriguing history, should ensure that the district of Sultanahmet is on their itinerary.
One of the most recognisable and striking sites on the Istanbul landscape is that of Hagia Sophia. Located on Sultanahmet Square, the mosque dates to the 6th century. With its huge dome, towering minarets and spectacularly ornate and decorative interior, it’s no surprise that Hagia Sophia is the top attraction in Istanbul. Topkapi Palace is another marvel of architecture worth visiting. Expect to see grand entrances, lavishly decorated rooms and a large display of weaponry, relics and porcelain. The views from the Fourth Court are astounding, and it is from here the Bosphorus River can be viewed in all its glory. While in the area, the Blue Mosque, or “Sultanahmet Mosque”, should not be missed, the sweeping architecture and distinctive minarets impress from the outset. An exceptional and unusual place to visit is the underground Basilica Cisterns, also located in Sultanahmet. The cisterns were built by Emperor Justinian in 532 to provide water to the city in case of attack or siege. It’s eerie, yet magical subterranean walkways cast a spell on visitors, as piped music echoes throughout the labyrinth of chambers. Those who wish to relax and explore by the river banks will find the Bosphorus a short walk away. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants in which to enjoy local cuisine while soaking up the atmosphere. Alternatively, visitors can enjoy a traditional Turkish bath or “hammam” which offers the chance to unwind after a hectic day of sightseeing.
Sultanahmet is easy to navigate for visitors on foot, and fortunately, the district is on almost all transportation routes. Tram services operate close to major sites of the district. Disembark at Sirkeci, Gülhane, Sultanahmet stops for Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, and Beyazıt for the Grand Bazaar. There are public bus services in addition to trams, and cruise ships and ferries arrive nearby at the terminals on the Bosphorus River.
It was in the district of Sultanahmet that the Byzantines built their Great Palace, and in 527 Emperor Justinian decided to build Hagia Sophia in the same area. The Ottomans arrived in 1453, keen to continue with construction they began to work on Topkapi Palace, and the Blue Mosque was constructed centuries later. Sultanahmet today is a bustling area, brimming with history, architecture and artistry which no visitor to Istanbul should overlook.