From Andrew Harper
Straddling the Bosphorus strait between the Black and Marmara seas, Istanbul is also the historic threshold between Europe and Asia. Turkey’s largest city is a grand, chaotic, ancient and modern conglomeration of paradoxes that blends the features of both continents but retains a flavor uniquely its own.
Istanbul has served as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Its landscape is a palimpsest of these successive reigns. The Hagia Sophia, built as a church by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, was converted to a mosque in the 15th century. Today, it’s a museum, and its marble pillars, lavish mosaics and soaring dome remain a high-water mark of Byzantine architecture and an emblem of this city’s religious and cultural status. Just opposite, the Blue Mosque (above) mirrors some of the Byzantine elements of Sophia’s majesty and blends them with traditional Islamic design. The Topkapi Palace was home to generations of Ottoman emperors; its linked courts display treasures of the kingdom.
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is a covered labyrinth of thousands of shops offering everything from rugs to rice. The city’s numerous Turkish baths, or hammams, provide relaxing rest stops for ritualized series of steaming and massage. Istanbul’s myriad nightclubs and restaurants provide the city with a 21st-century layer of indulgence and sophistication, while its rich array of museums, alongside living ruins and royal palaces, keep the past alive.