Sultanahmet ( Blue Mosque ), Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazaar, Topkapı Palace
We begin our tour of the Sultanahmet district, the heart of old Istanbul, at Hagia Sophia*. Built by the Emperor Justinian in the early 6th century AD and designed by Anthemius of Tralles and Isodore of Miletus, the church is one of the marvels of world architecture. Converted into a mosque in 1453, it is now a museum. Its massive dome still dominates the skyline of old Istanbul. It is also famed for its mosaics, including glittering portraits of emperors and empresses and a poignant Virgin and Child. Next we visit the Blue Mosque which takes its name from the exquisite tiles adorning its interior. Built by Sultan Ahmet I in the early 17th century and designed by a pupil of Sinan, the greatest of Ottoman architects, it is the only imperial mosque with six minarets. Its courtyard is especially grand. The Hippodrome, the stadium of ancient Byzantium, held 100,000 spectators and featured objects from all corners of the empire. Of these, an Egyptian obelisk and a bronze sculpture of three entwined serpents from Delphi survive. The Grand Bazaar was the commercial heart of the old city and its 4,000 shops are full of treasures including carpets and kilims, silks, jewelry, ceramics, icons, and leather goods. Wandering through the Grand Bazaar, indulge in some shopping, Ottoman style.
In the afternoon we begin our tour at Topkapi Palace*, which, from the 15th to the 19th century, was the principal residence of the Ottoman Sultans. We will visit the fabulous Imperial Treasury and the Baghdad Kiosk. Topkapi Palace is now a museum and has unrivalled collections of jewelry, including the Spoonmaker’s Diamond, the 3rd largest in the world. It also possesses numerous Ottoman court costumes and ceramics, notably including one of the world’s finest collections of Chinese celadon ceramics, many of which were gifts from other rulers. Interestingly, some of the ceramics have a special glaze that was said to change color in the presence of poison. We also visit the Imperial Armory, displaying centuries of Ottoman weaponry. But perhaps the loveliest feature of Topkapi Palace are its courtyards with their ancient trees; it is easy to imagine the sultan strolling here far from the cares of state and empire.
- Licensed guides throughout Istanbul tours
- Local taxes and service charges
- Arrival/departure transfers
- Personal expenses
- Optional tours
- Customary tips to guide and drivers