From the unmistakeable silhouette of majestic Hagia Sofia through the magical backstreets, passages and bazaars to the classy Topkapi palace, Istanbul and its wonderful sights have served as a setting for numerous movies – some of them star-packed and famous, while others allow their originality and atmosphere to captivate. Did you come to Istanbul because you fell for it on a silver screen? Or are you just looking for a unique way of exploring the city?
These are our tips for visiting Istanbul’s top 5 locations related to the films that were shot in or about the city. And since most of them are comfortably close to each other, you can use this as an itinerary even for a one-day tour! Why not explore the charms of Istanbul while retracing the steps of your favourite film heroes?
Notorious grand-heist comedy directed by Jules Dassin revolves around a pair of professional thieves striving to steal historical dagger of Sultan Mahmud I. This masterpiece full of shiny gems is stored in the famous Topkapı Palace (or Topkapı Sarayı as it’s known in Turkish) towering above the Golden Horn – urban waterway serving as a major inlet of Bosporus.
Aside from following the steps of the infamous movie criminals Elizabeth Lipp and Walter Harper, you’ll be able to enjoy breathtakingly beautiful Ottoman architecture, collections of weapons, porcelain, jewellery and other valuable artefacts here. And did we mention the wonderful panoramic views of the Asian side this hilltop place has to offer?
Although mentioning Russia in its title, this classical Bond movie directed by Terence Young and featuring Sean Connery as 007 actually unfolds in various exotic locations – including our beloved Istanbul. The film showcased the city’s basic, colourful and very traditional face that, unfortunately, cannot be enjoyed to the fullest anymore. For example, the whole Sulukule area of the historic Fatih neighbourhood, which appears in the film, is currently affected by demolition after being dubbed as “non-beneficial” to the modern face of the city.
Nevertheless, you still can see some other famous locations from the film in their best condition. Remember the scene where James Bond sails through the sunken hall full of majestic columns? This dreamy place actually really exists – head to Yerebatan Sarnıç, or Cisterna Bazilika, for your authentic experience.
Considered one of the best Turkish movies of all time, Distant (Uzak in Turkish) is a contemplative drama about a young dreamer coming to Istanbul in search of better future, only to find loneliness, denial and conflict with his involuntary roommate. This masterpiece, which earned its director Nuri Bilge Ceylan many awards including the Grand Prize of the Jury in Cannes, is soaked in melancholic atmosphere and inseparably related to the snowy, wintery streets of Cihangir, neighbourhood of the Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district.
Known to be some kind of an Istanbul’s Montmartre, this place is full of artists, poets, actors and inspirational ambience. Take a stroll through its narrow streets and you’ll surely understand, why The Guardian ranked Cihangir a 5th best place in the world to live in its 2015 article.
Fatih Akin is a famous German filmmaker of Turkish origin who is renown mainly for his feature films such as Head On (2004), The Edge of Heaven (2007) or In the Fade (2017). However, Crossing the Bridge is a documentary – or rather a documentary tribute paid to the famous musical scene of Istanbul.
It’s an eclectic mixture of sounds and artistic passions ranging from progressive electronics and urban hip-hop all the way to traditional oriental sounds. Although you can probably retrace the essence of this acclaimed documentary in any of numerous Istanbul’s music bars, varieties, dance halls and concert venues, the movie kicks-off in the Grand Hotel de Londres in the charismatic Beyoğlu district – and your steps should lead there too.
Who wouldn’t know this classical Hollywood take on a real-life story of American Bill Hayes who escaped from the Turkish prison after being caught with hashish and jailed for 30 years? Director Alan Parker and screenwriter Oliver Stone recreated this event in the most compelling, edge-of-the-seat thrilling manner and made their viewers gasp at the scenes of harshness and extremity in Turkish correctional institutions (for which both subsequently apologised).
Of course, most of us would gladly give a pass to exploring the barred locations from the movie on their own. But even if you would eventually like to see them, the movie itself was actually shot in Valetta, Malta after requests for shooting in Turkey were denied. Nevertheless, you can still retrace the steps of real Billy Hayes in Istanbul by visiting the Bakirköy mental hospital. The famous psychiatric hospital where the American was shortly held during his imprisonment now hosts a museum which documents chilling history of mental illness and its treatment in the city on Bosporus. If you dare to go, the admission is free.
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