Located on the European side of Istanbul, Taksim Square is the heart of the modern part of the city. It takes its name from the stone reservoir on the west side of the square, which today houses the Taksim Republic Art Gallery. Sultan Mahmud I originally established the square as the point where water lines from north of Istanbul converged before branching off to other parts of the city.
Today, Taksim Square buzzes with activity day and night. With Istiklal Caddesi, the city’s main pedestrian thoroughfare, ending in the square, it is surrounded by shops, restaurants and high end hotels, making it a popular gathering spot for locals and tourists alike. Over the years, it has also been home to numerous public celebrations, parades and demonstrations.
In the center of the square, you’ll find the Monument of the Republic, constructed in 1928 to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey after the Turkish War of Independence.
The Church of the Holy Savior in Chora is one of the most beautiful Byzantine churches still in existence today. Originally built in the 5th century, it was part of a monastery complex that stood outside the old city walls of what was then Constantinople. The name “Chora” refers to that location and even after it was mostly rebuilt in the early 11th century, the church retained the name.
An earthquake in the 12th century caused a partial collapse of the church and repairs weren’t completed until the early 14th century that it was completed thanks to funding from the great Byzantine statesman, Theodore Metochites. Most of the gorgeous mosaics and frescoes in the building date to that period and represent the best of the Palaeogian Renaissance. The mosaics depict various biblical scenes, including the birth of Christ and the journey of the Magi, as well as major events in the life of the Virgin Mary.
Located on the Sixth Hill near the highest point in Istanbul, the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque is one of the most visible landmarks in the city. One of two mosques in the city with the same name (the other no longer functions as a mosque), it was designed by famous imperial architect Mimar Sinan and built in the mid-16th century in honor of Suleyman the Magnificent’s favorite daughter. The mosque forms part of a larger complex that includes a madrassah, primary school, Turkish bath and shrine.
The mosque stands on a terrace built over a row of shops, whose rents were intended to sustain the mosque financially. Visitors will enter the mosque through an impressive porch with seven domed bays flanked by marble and granite columns. The interior is simple, but elegant. Multiple earthquakes damaged the mosque in the 18th and 19th centuries, including the narrow minaret that fell through the roof of the mosque during an 1894 earthquake.
One of the largest public parks in Istanbul, Emirgan Park covers 117 acres on a hillside along the shores of the Bosphorus Strait. In Byzantine times, the area was covered with cypress trees and by the mid-16th century became known as Feridun Bey Park. By the 1860s, the park was owned by Khediva Ismail Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Egypt and Sudan, who built three wooden pavilions that remain standing today.
The Yellow, Pink and White Pavilions within the park were restored in the late 1970s and then opened to the public. The Yellow Pavilion stands in the center of the park, overlooking the Bosphorus, and features traditional Ottoman architecture and rich interior decorations. The Pink Pavilion is also a typical Ottoman house and is often used for weddings or other events. Not far from the Yellow Pavilion, the White Pavilion was built in a neo-classical style and is now a cafeteria and restaurant.
Located in the city of Bursa, the Green Mosque is part of a larger complex that also includes a madrassah, tomb, kitchen and bath. Commissioned by Sultan Mehmed I Celebi, it was built between 1419 and 1421 in an architectural style that would later become known as “Bursa Style.” Based on a reverse T-plan, the mosque was made of sandstone and covered with marble panels. Two minarets that could only be accessed through the sultan’s apartments were added later.
The Green Mosque likely got its name from the blue green tiles that once adorned the exteriors of its domes. Similar tiles still embellish the interior walls and ceiling. The imposing entrance features two marble sofas on either side and a variety of inscriptions and arabesques, including a long Arabic inscription in bronze above the door. Underneath the central dome sits white marble fountain with an octagonal pool. An earthquake damaged the mosque in 1855, after which it underwent extensive renovations.
The Koza Hani, also known as the Cocoon Inn, was a caravanseri commissioned by Sultan Bayezid II in the late 15th century. Constructed in the city of Bursa, it was intended to provide income for the sultan’s mosque in Istanbul. As the final stop on the Silk Road from China, the han was a place where merchants could try to sell the last of their goods, particularly silk.
Intricate turquoise tiling adorns the entrance to the han, which soon gives way to a cozy garden setting in the center courtyard. In classical Ottoman style, the structure features two stories of galleries surrounding an inner courtyard, with nearly 100 rooms altogether. An absolution fountain and small prayer room sit in the middle of the courtyard and cells to the east of the han were built as stables and storage rooms. The Koza Hani remains an active bazaar today and its tradition of being a center for the silk trade continues.