Named in honour of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey, the Istanbul Atatürk Airport is situated in Yeşilköy, west of the Istanbul city centre. It is the main international airport serving Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, and the busiest airport in the country.
There are several ways to travel from the airport into the city centre, including taxis and a light rail service that runs between Aksaray and the airport. You can also opt to take the airport’s shuttle service operated by Havas, which is one of the major ground handling companies within Turkey. The shuttle buses ply routes that are connected to areas such as Taksim Square, Bakırköy, and Aksaray. Alternatively, the airport also offers fast ferry services in Bakırköy, or you could opt to take the cheaper, Municipality bus that stops in popular areas like Kozyatagi, Etiler and Taksim.
Due to Istanbul’s strategic position, it has served as the capital of four empires: the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Latin Empire, as well as the Ottoman Empire, and it remains a leading metropolis of the world today. Istanbul is categorized as a transcontinental city, straddling the Bosphorus between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. While the city’s commercial and historic hub is located in Europe, almost a third of its population resides in Asia.
Istanbul’s public transport network consists of trams, the metro, buses, and boats. The public transport network might be a little challenging for those new to the city as there are very few comprehensive maps. Nevertheless, do not let that deter you.
The city’s public bus services, generally differentiated by colours, are mainly run by the private sector and the city-owned İstanbul Electric Tram and Tünel Company (IETT). Buses that run between major centres tend to operate round the clock. However, do note that buses do not ply routes in Sultanahmet and Taksim area, so you will need to take either the metro or tram to travel there. The city’s metro consists of two lines: northern and southern, with plans to increase its connectivity to other parts of the city. Areas such as the Old City as well as industrial and residential suburbs can be accessed by trams. There is also a funicular system bridging Taksim to Kabatas. Once in Kabatas, you can get on ferries and cross to the Anatolian side. If the public transport system is too complex to figure out, take a taxi instead.
One of the best places to experience the historical gems on offer is the Old City of Istanbul, home to many Byzantine and Ottoman-era monuments. Most of them are located within walking distance of each other. At the Old City, one must definitely head to Sultanahmet Square, where the Hagia Sophia, Topkapı, and Sultanahmet Mosque are located.
Dating back to the sixth century, Hagia Sophia is one of the most stunning and historically significant monuments in the city. The structure is famous for its massive dome, considered the pinnacle of Byzantine architecture. Its interior is richly decorated with mosaics and marble pillars as well as coverings of great artistic value. It was originally a Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica built for the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, and later, an imperial mosque when the Ottomans conquered the city, before the UNESCO World Heritage Site was converted into its present form, a museum.
After marvelling at the architecture of Hagia Sophia, walk over to its neighbour, Topkapı Palace, the lavish imperial enclave of the Ottoman emperors for approximately 400 years. Set aside some time to explore the vast complex that was once home to as many as 4,000 people, consisting of four main courtyards, in addition to hundreds of rooms and chambers. However, only certain areas are open to the public. The palace contains an extensive collection of Ottoman artefacts and relics including porcelain, weapons, Islamic calligraphic manuscripts, and jewellery.
If you have time to spare, check out the majestic Sultanahmet Mosque, popularly known as the Blue Mosque, in reference to the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. The historic mosque unlike the Hagia Sophia, still functions as a place of worship today. There are numerous volunteers that will gladly give you a free tour of the monument. The mosque’s architecture, noted for its splendour, is a mixture of Ottoman influences and Byzantine Christian elements. It is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period.
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