On a finger of land at the confluence of the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara stands the Topkapi Palace, that maze of buildings that was the focal point of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries.
In these opulent surroundings the sultans and their court lived and governed.
A stay in Istanbul is not complete without a traditional unforgettable boat excursion up the Bosphorus, that winding strait that separates Europe and Asia. Its shores offer a delightful mixture of past and present, grand splendor and simple beauty.
The ancient Hippodrome, the scene of chariot races and the center of Byzantine civic life, stood in the area that is now in front of the Blue Mosque. The area is now named for the mosque, Sultanahmet. Of the monuments which once decorated it only three remain: the Obelisk of Theodosius, the bronze Serpentine Column and the Column of Constantine. Remains from the curved end of the Hippodrome wall can be seen on the southwest side of these three monuments. Today the square forms the center of Istanbul’s historical, cultural and touristic pursuits.
There were no bridges over the Golden Horn in Byzantine times. People traveled from one side to the other in boats. The site of the bridge said to have been built by Justinian in the 6th century is not known with certainty. In fact it is almost certain that this bridge was not over the Golden Horn.
It is possible that the bridge in question spanned the mouth of the Kâğıthane Creek at the point where it flowed into the Golden Horn. It is not known what the remains, thought to have been the supports of the bridge, seen in the Ayvansaray course by the French traveller Pierre Gilles of Albi (Gyllius) in the l6th century, were. It is indeed doubtful that they belonged to a bridge.
In the 19th century, Sultan Abdulaziz built the Beylerbeyi Palace, a fantasy in white marble set amid magnolia-filled gardens, on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus.
Used as the Sultan’s summer residence, it was offered to the most distinguished foreign dignitaries for their visits. Empress Eugenie of France was among its residents. (Open every day except Monday and Thursday).
The İstanbul Strait links the Black Sea, referred to in ancient times as Pontius Euxinus, with the Sea of Marmara, known as Propontis. The İstanbul Strait was formerly known as Bosporos and there is a legend to enrich this name.