An instant whirl of clashing colours and a cacophony of noises and smells, your senses may be overwhelmed when you first encounter Istanbul. It's an incredibly vibrant city, as noted for its energetic modern day merchants as it is for its amazing historical sights.
Turkey is a Muslim country, but also secular. This is a happy situation, as it means you can sample local beer and raki on a foray into the hectic and hedonistic Istanbul nightlife. Don't plan to begin your day Istanbul tours too early!
No other city in the world can claim to span two continents like Istanbul does, so whilst you can choose from the benefits of high-class Istanbul hotels and restaurants you can also experience the history and culture of this country which helped to shape both Europe and Asia.
Istanbul 's old city has one of the most recognisable skylines in the world, set against the hills which surround the city and with the Bosphorus in the foreground, the huge domes and tall minarets of Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque dominate the skyline and appear almost fairy-tale like and mystical at sunset in particular.
Evidence has been found of a significant human settlement on the site of Istanbul dating back as early as 6500BC, the Copper Age, though other findings show that there were inhabitants here as early as the Paleolithic Age.
The Greeks first arrived here in 685BC, colonising the Anatolian side in the area now known as Kadiköy, and by 667BC they had also colonised the European side of the Bosphorus, which they called Byzantium. The city was besieged by the Romans in 196AD, and was significantly damaged, though was quickly rebuilt again to the wealthy city it was before. Then in 324, Emperor Constantine became interested in the city and six years later it was proclaimed the new capital of the Roman Empire and renamed Constantinople in his honour.
When the Roman Empire was split in two following the death of Theodosius I in 395, Constantinople became the capital of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire which was predominantly Greek speaking and Greek Orthodox Christianity, whilst Rome was the centre of the Latin-speaking Western Empire. It was during this following period in which many of the city's churches, including Aya Sofya, were built.
After 800 years of prosperity the Byzantine Empire began to collapse in the centuries leading up to the 1200's, and in the 1300's the Ottoman Turks took advantage of the weakened empire, eventually capturing Constantinople in 1453, proclaiming it the capital of the Ottoman Empire.
The Ottoman Sultan encouraged all of the citizens back who had fled the city, and also invited people of all the three major religions, Muslim, Christians and Jews in an attempt to create a very cosmopolitan society. He also ordered the building of many lavish buildings and monuments around the city, including Topkapi Palace.
Constantinople remained the capital of the Ottoman Empire right into the 1900's when the Ottoman Empire fell. In 1923 the Republic of Turkey was founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the capital city was moved to Ankara. Constantinople was renamed Istanbul in 1453, though it wasn't until 1923 that this name was adopted by the rest of the world too.
Despite missing out on being the new Turkish capital city, Istanbul still thrived, helped by a major period of rejuvenation in the 1950's and a huge population influx which started in the 1970's and continues to this day.
Experiencing the holidays in Turkey are unlike any other in the world, rich in culture and fun.