Walking through the underground cistern in the half-light listening to the sounds of dripping water mingle with the strains of classical music is an eerie but magical experience.
Reputedly the orginal cistern was built by Constantine the Great with the curent one enlarged and rebuilt by Justinian in 532. It is an amazing feat of engineering seeing the columns (approx. 336) stretch away in front of you and above towards the arched roof.
Don't miss the Weeping Column and the Medussa Head column bases (thought to mark a shrine to water nymphs).
There is also a small coffee shop in the cistern.
13 Yerebatan Caddesi, Sultanahmet
Tram stop Sultanahmet
0212 522 12 59
It's an amazing place and well worth the walk around.
The entry fee gets you in and you pay extra to go the Armoury and Treasury sections but well worth it. Free is the view of the Bosphorus from the rear battlements of the palace. Along with the mosques, the spice market and the grand bazaar, Topkapi is a must see in Istanbul . I was amazed!
close to Sirkeet railway station
and a short walk away from the Grand Bazaar, St Sophia, Sultanahmet mosque
and the Hippodrome
"I have surpassed thee, Solomon!" Reputedly the words of the Byzantine emperor Justinian on completion of his architectural pierce de resistance. Talk about urban renewal. In this Sceptered Isle in the middle of the 6th-century AD we weren't even building in brick, let alone creating a dome unsurpassed for a thousand years.
There's plenty of books to describe the remarkable history that took place within it. If you can be bothered to read up, try John Julius Norwich if you want the building to speak to you. However, if you don't have opposable thumbs, just marvel at its sheer architectural genius. Church of the Divine Wisdom with added minarets - have it.
It's easy to miss the Hippodrome, in a sense, because it's the space between buildings. It's well worth paying attention to, though.
The space still retains the long shape of the chariot racing track which was famous in antiquity and was the site of a famous riot. The fans of the racing teams were as obsessed as modern day football fans.
In the centre, the late Roman and Byzantine emperors displayed numerous antiquities hauled to Constantinople from all over the empire, including Egyptian obelisks and the serpent column from the sanctuary of Delphi in Greece, which was set up to commemorate victory over the Persians by the Greeks in 480 BC. Only the column is there now, but it used to support a giant tripod (bowl on three legs) - a fitting symbol to put in the Hippodrome since tripods were, like modern 'cups', the usual prize in athletic games.
The Egyptian obelisk is from Karnak, brought to Constantinople by Theodosius I, and placed on a relief-decorated base. The base shows the imperial court and Hippodrome scenes, and around it is the original ground level of the Hippodrome.
The Hippodrome is between the Blue Mosque and the Museum of Islamic Art. A row of tea shops next to the Blue Mosque looks onto it
Street in Taksim? If your answer is no, you should take time to see it. It’s a great place to people watch. In addition, there are buildings from the Ottoman period, bookstores, consulates, exhibitions, bars and cafes.
Istanbul is choc full of exciting things to see but there is one spot that could easily be missed.
It’s the Yerebatan Saray Sarnici, one of the many cisterns the Byzantines built to make sure they had a plentiful supply of water. It's a vast underground space full of elaborate columns and arches, which are reflected in rippling water. Everything is bathed in coloured light and there is soft soothing music.
It's an eerily fascinating atmosphere. You climb the steps and you are suddenly in the bustling streets around the Topkapi Palace.
It’s a great place to go if the streets above are hot! Cool and peaceful.
Sultanahmet Square at the northeastern end of the Hippodrome, just off Divan Yolu
There are plenty of grand mosques to visit in Istanbul thanks to master builder Mimar Siman, but this small jewel of his beats them all in terms of intimacy and decoration.
The tiles are simply sensational, full of stylised tulips, carnations and geometrical shapes. It is located not far from the Eminönü end of the Galata Bridge, though it is not easy to spot the entrance , but when you look lost local shopkeepers sympathetically show you how to get in.
The advantage is that few tourists seem to find it, and you may get to look around in glorious silence.
In the alleyways about 100m to the north-west of the Spice Bazaar at the end of Galata Bridge, not to be confused with the much larger Yeni Camii in front of the ferry terminals. There are two entrances, up steps between small shops - neither of them looks like it leads to a mosque, so persist.
As a long weekend break I would highly recommend Istanbul. If the stunning mosques and Ottoman architecture don't fascinate you, there is always the grand bazaar or spice markets. Ferries run up and down the Bospherous, constantly connecting the Dead Sea with the Sea of Marmara. The food is exceptional. Whether you'd like to try a real kebab at the top of Istekal where the stall sells over 10,000 per day, or sit in an outdoor restaurant overlooking the sea drinking very quaffable Turkish wine and eating freshly caught fish, the food will never disappoint. Turks love to dance, and the clubs rival anything in London. In the summer the parties move onto the roof terraces. Locals tend to be warm, friendly and helpful to the point of bending over backwards. I came out here for a weekend earlier last year and now I live here. You can't get a better recommendation than that!
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