Are you looking for some inspirational fun-facts before your first visit of Istanbul? Or have you already been to the city on Bosporus many times? If so, you must surely know that this magical place always has some surprises. Check out our list of 15 things about Istanbul that can surprise even some of the most seasoned Istanbul-lovers.
Although Istanbul is Turkey’s largest, most renowned and highest populated city (with more than 15 million inhabitants in the metropolitan area), it doesn’t mean that it’s Turkey’s capital. The country’s capital is Ankara, about two-thirds smaller and less populated city located in Central Anatolia.
Though what we refer to as the Istanbul subway today operates only for about 30 years, if you head to the popular district of Beyoğlu, you can find another and much older underground transportation system. This underground funicular is known as Tünel, it’s 573 meters long, and it was inaugurated in January 1875 – just 12 years after the world’s first and second undergrounds in London and New York (respectively).
Istanbul’s iconic Grand Bazaar with its 3,000 – 4,000 stalls (numbers oscillate) and 61 covered streets is the world’s largest and oldest operating market. It has 22 old gates, 2 mosques, 4 fountains and countless cafés and eateries. If you’d like to explore it thoroughly, you should be prepared to spend about three full days in this mesmerizing labyrinth.
If you’re familiar with Istanbul only in the heat of summer, you know how hot it can get with temperatures regularly reaching above 30°C. But if you feel tempted to visit the city during winter in hope of escaping snow and freezing temperatures, think again. Istanbul can get as cold as -7°C in the winter, and heavy snow is also no stranger to its inhabitants.
If you’re in love with beautiful historical mosques, Istanbul is an ideal place for you to be. The city currently hosts as many as 3,113 mosques, more than any other city in Turkey and the whole region. Some of the most significant ones include the historical Sultanahmet Mosque and the Süleymaniye Mosque.
Although contemporary Istanbul is not Turkey’s capital city, its historical predecessor was a capital of at least three different empires: Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman. Thanks to its strategic position between Black Sea and Mediterranean and its historical importance, it was considered both practically and symbolically prestigious by many emperors and nations.
As turbulent history of Istanbul implies, many different conquerors held the city during the times. Some of them wanted to highlight their rule by renaming the city. Thanks to its worldwide fame, Istanbul also had its different names in many foreign languages. As a result, there are dozens of names relating to the city, from well-known Constantinople, New Rome, and Byzantium to the less-familiar Miklagard, Carigrad or Kushta.
Istanbul’s famous Hagia Sophia, or Church of the Holy Wisdom, was completed in 539, when the city was part of the Byzantine Empire. Until 1520, when Sevilla Cathedral in Spain was completed, Hagia Sophia was the world’s largest church. It also almost made it to the 7 New Wonders of the World list in 2007, ending among the 20 finalists.
You’ve surely heard that the city of Istanbul lies directly on the border of Asia and Europe, allowing you to visit both continents in a single day with ease. Although it’s not the only city in the world that boasts this curious position, it’s by far the world’s largest and most populous one. FYI, some of the others include Suez, Egypt; Orenburg, Russia; Magnitogorsk, Russia and Atyrau, Kazakhstan.
Planning to visit Netherlands for the sake of tulips? Why not seeing them in the place of their true origin instead? The first tulip bulbs in Europe were actually those sent from the Ottoman Empire to Vienna in 1554. From there, tulips quickly spread all around the continent, becoming one of the most fashionable flowers of all times. Visit Istanbul in late March or early April, when its annual Tulip Festival is held.
The proudly photogenic cats of Istanbul are one of the most renowned symbols of the city. They are literally everywhere, photobombing your views of the city’s historical sights and crooked back alleys. Why are there so many? It’s because they are treated well. And not only by the individuals – the city itself helps by promoting public machines that give out food and water to stray animals in exchange for recyclable bottles.
Famous British writer Agatha Christie used to visit Istanbul frequently, and the city was, apparently, providing her with lots of creative inspiration. The writer often stayed in the Istanbul’s first luxurious hotel, Pera Palace, and that’s where her most famous novel was written too. Her favorite room (number 411) still has its antique furniture and many paraphernalia related to the author. Go and see it for yourself!
If you’ve already had the chance to experience Istanbul’s growing tourism and crave to escape the crowds, there’s a wonderful place to venture to. The Princes’ Islands is an archipelago of 9 peaceful and car-free islands right of the Istanbul’s coast. It offers clear and calm waters and nice beaches, too.
If you’ve been wrongly informed about the Middle East’s hygiene standards, you should probably know that not so long ago Istanbul was probably the world’s most hygienic city. While 16th century cities in Europe were drowning in rubbish and diseases, Ottoman Istanbul already had as many as 1,400 public toilets. Yay!
Whether you’re visiting Istanbul during a short layover or you’re planning a longer stay, contact us to plan your itinerary and make the most of this city!
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