A city like Istanbul has too many important sights to be seen, however not every trip allows to visit every one of them. For first time visitors, the list often includes the major stops on the historic peninsula, however this area needs several days on its own to be explored as it is home to several centuries old history. Besides Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace or Hippodrome Square, make sure you visit these three sites to get a full picture of our city’s history.

Underground Cistern
Located right across the street from Hagia Sophia, this 6th century cistern was built during the Byzantine Emperor Justinian’s reign. Also known as the Basilica Cistern, this is the largest one in the city with a water capacity of 100.000 tons, although today there are only a few feet of water on the bottom. Back in the day, the cistern provided a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople as well as Topkapi Palace after the 1453 conquest. Upon your visit, don’t forget to see the two Medusa heads sitting at the far end of the cistern. Fun fact; some scenes of the James Bond movie From Russia with Love were shot here.

Caferağa Medresesi
Another important but not frequently visited sight near Hagia Sophia is Caferağa Medresesi, a former educational institution built by the great architect Sinan in the 16th century. Today it operates as a museum as well as an arts institution where workshops on traditional Turkish arts such as calligraphy, jewelry making, pottery, miniature and paper marbling are held. For a relaxing afternoon, take an art workshop, sip a cup of hot tea in the pleasant courtyard and browse the on-site shop where you can buy traditional gifts. When you want to take a break from the crowds, catch your breath in this hidden gem. The weekend breakfasts at the cafe are popular amongst locals.

Süleymaniye Mosque
As the largest mosque in the city, Süleymaniye Mosque should definitely be one of the top three sights to see in Istanbul. Another architectural masterpiece by Sinan, built in the 16th century, the mosque was ordered by Süleyman the Magnificent and therefore has only 4 minarets, a number only allowed for mosques endowed by a sultan. With its astounding courtyard, beautiful Iznik tiles adorning the interior, and the low chandeliers that create a mystical aura, Süleymaniye Mosque overwhelms every visitor by its beauty. This is an active mosque, therefore open to visitors any time of the day; however avoid the Friday midday prayer call time to visit as this is the Muslim holy day and many people come here for their weekly prayer. Important fact not to be missed; the tomb of architect Sinan lays just outside the mosque walls.

When planning your trip to Istanbul, make sure you mark these three spots on your map as they are not to be missed. Be amazed by the incredible architecture of Süleymaniye Mosque, take in the mystical air of Basilica Cistern and travel back in time at Caferağa Medresesi.


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