Istanbul is situated like an open air museum on both shores of the strait which is 33 km in length and separates the continents of Asia and Europe. We know that habitations had existed in the whereabouts of Istanbul during the Neolithic age. The first habitation succeeding these ones, came into existence in Kadikoy which was named Khalkedon in the VII century B.C. The city that was founded later on the opposite shore of Khalkedon, namely Byzantium, progressed rapidly because of its importance and became an important center. This progressive city became subject to Roman sovereignty, was adorned with temples and public squares during the period of Constantinus, and was surrounded with city walls.
The city was made the capital of Rome in the year 330 and named Constantinapolis and, after Rome was divided into two parts as the Eastern Rome and Western Rome, it was made the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Finally, when the Ottomans captured Byzantium in the year 1453, Istanbul was converted into the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Many historical works of art showing traces of these empires, have been able to survive up to date. The obelisks belonging to the Roman period, which were used as ornaments of the public square Sultanahmet, are still maintained in their places today. One of these is the obelisk which Theodosius I had ordered to be brought from Egypt in the year 390; it is 18.54 m (61 ft) in height and seems magnificent today with the hieroglyph scripture on it. Another column which is seen here is the braided column with a height of 20.68 m (68 ft), which Constantinus VII had ordered to be erected in the year 944. The third column, formed by three winding snakes, was ordered to be brought from the Temple of Apollon in Delphi in the year 360 by Constantinus I.
The most important historical remain belonging to Byzantium is Hagia Sophia. Justinianus had this most magnificent temple of the world constructed between the years 532-537 in the place of a temple which had existed there formerly, and it contains very valuable mosaics and is still visited as a museum today. St. Irene located at its side which Justinianus had ordered to be constructed in the year 537, is also being used as a museum today. The monastery of Chora, which attracts attention owing to the mosaic art works inside, and the mosque of Fethiye are also historical works of art belonging to Byzantium and being visited as museums at present.
When Istanbul was conquered by Fatih Sultan Mehmet in 1453, the buildings of Byzantium were repaired and new ones were built, and the architectural activities were continued. For example, the magnificent Topkapi Palace the domicile of the Sultan and center of government administration, was constructed. The palace which was built between the years 1472-1478, later acquired the identity of a great city of 700,000 sqm owing to the extensions which the other sultans ordered to be made and to its population exceeding 10,000. It is a magnificent museum today which contains the seraglio and where the treasures belonging to the Ottoman Empire are exhibited.
The Dolmabahce Palace was constructed during the years 1843-1853 and the Ottoman sultans started to live in it. Sultan Abdulaziz had the Palace of Beylerbeyi Palace constructed on the opposite shore of the Bosphorus between the years 1861-1865. Besides these palaces, which are used as museums at present, many buildings which have survived until today such as the Kiosks named Kucuksu, Chalet, Malta and Aynalikavak, are also open to visitors and are used as museums. In addition to these palaces, many historical mosques, which form the silhouette of Istanbul, are also places worthy of visiting.
Istanbul is adorned with the works of the great architect Sinan, who was a master of perfection during the Ottoman period in the 16th century. Some of Sinan’s master works which show his genius are; the Sehzade Mosque which he built for Prince Mustafa, son of Suleyman the Law Maker in the years 1543-1548; the Mihrimah Mosque which he built in 1548; the Suleymaniye Mosque which he built in the years 1550-1557; and the Rustem Pasa Mosque, completely adorned with encaustic tiles of Iznik, which he built in the years 1550-1557. The Sultanahmet Mosque, which Sultan Ahmet I had ordered Sedefkar Mehmet Aga to construct between the years 1609-1617, is one of the most important works of art worthy of seeing in Istanbul because of the encaustic tiles therein.
The Archeological Museum of Istanbul situated near the Topkapi Palace, is one of the richest museums of the world. There are many other museums in Istanbul besides this one, such as The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Museum of Tapestry and Museum of Sadberk Hanim. Istanbul, the city of beauties where the history and nature are interwoven, maintains its quality of one of the most interesting centers in the world.