UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Istanbul

By Viator, August 2013

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Located on perhaps the world’s most strategic peninsula, at the crossroads of the Balkans, Anatolia, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, Istanbul has been the capital of both the Eastern Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire and has been a major player in world events for more than 2,000 years.

It should be no surprise then that this long legacy has produced some astounding architectural works, reflecting the creative genius of both Byzantine and Ottoman architects. In 1985, a number of these treasures were added the UNESCO World Heritage list and designated as the Historic Areas of Istanbul. They include sites such as the Hagia Sophia, Yeni Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Galata Bridge and Suleymaniye Mosque.

The Historic Areas of Istanbul is divided into four zones: the Archaeological Park at the tip of the Bosphorus Peninsula, the Suleymaniye Quarter, the Zeyrek Quarter and the zone of the ramparts. Each zone illustrates a major phase in Istanbul’s history.

Of these, visitors are usually most familiar with Archaeological Park, also know as the ‘Sultanahmet’ district. One could spend days exploring all the riches this area has to offer. Within the archeological park you’ll find the Hagia Sophia, whose vast dome reflects the architectural and decorative expertise of the 6th century Romans, the 17th-century Blue Mosque, the ancient Hippodrome of Constantine, the Basilica Cistern and the 15th-century Topkapi Palace, former residence of the Ottoman sultans.

A short walk to the west of Sultanahmet, the Suleymaniye Quarter features the 4th century aqueduct of Valens and the Suleymaniye and Sehzade Mosques, constructed under Süleyman the Magnificent in 1550-1557 and designed by the famous imperial architect Koça Sinan. The latter reflect the climax of Ottoman architecture in the 16th century and are some of the best examples of Ottoman architecture in the city.

Adjacent to the Suleymaniye Quarter is the Zeyrek Quarter, whose highlight is the the ancient Pantocrator Monastery, founded under John II Comnenus (1118-43) by the Empress Irene. It once was part of a Byzantine sanctuary consisting of two churches, a chapel and a monastery. Now known as the Zeyrek Mosque, it has fallen into an unfortunate state of disrepair. In addition, the housing around the quarter’s major religious monuments provide a great example of late-Ottoman urban architecture.

The zone of the ramparts covers the area along both sides of the Theodosian land walls, commissioned by Emperor Theodosius II in 413AD. The current layout of the walls is due to modifications made in the 7th and 12th centuries. If you walk uphill from Ayvansaray along Derviszade Sokak and Sishane Caddesi, you can see what remains of the walls. Also in this zone you’ll also find the old church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, now the Kariye Museum, with its magnificent mosaics and paintings from the 14th and 15th centuries.

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