Istanbul: In the footsteps of the sultans
IF THERE is one place visitors to Turkey will make a point of seeing, it's Istanbul. It has long lured tourists with its exotic charm and minaret-studded skyline, and is a particularly popular destination for Australians living in London.
Istanbul is the only city in the world that straddles two continents and you will see the influences of both Europe and Asia here. As the former capital of three world empires the Roman, the Byzantine and the Ottoman, it has borne three names: Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul, each of which has inscribed its mark on the palimpsest of modern Istanbul. Today it is the vast, bustling home of 13 million residents, mainly moderate Muslims, who are fiercely proud of their rich heritage.
The best way to soak up a sense of the city's grandeur is by wandering the cobbled streets. Retrace the steps of the Byzantine emperors when visiting Sultanahmets extraordinary monuments and marvel at the mosques built by the Ottoman sultans on the citys seven hills.
Probably Istanbul's most famous monument, the rust-hued Hagia Sophia is a former Orthodox church later converted into a mosque and now a museum. Its gravity-defying dome is an architectural marvel and its walls boast a handful of gold mosaic panels that survived the iconoclastic period, most notably the Deesis (Last Judgment) depicting Christ Jesus flanked by John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary. Avoid the hordes of school group and tourbus visitors by seeing this and other major attractions in the afternoon.
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