Located along the Bosphorus strait, the Turkish metropolis of Istanbul is steeped in history: a fact that is duly reflected in the myriad of gorgeous old buildings – largely ancient religious sites or cultural institutions – that are littered throughout the city. Contemporary architects have also made their mark here: from the cavernous and conceptual Yesil Vadi Mosque by Adnan Kazmaoglu to the upcoming Ataturk Cultural Centre designed by Murat Tabanlioglu of Tabanlioglu Architects (the firm was also behind the considered restoration of the Beyazit State Library).
For more information on Singapore Airlines’ flights to Istanbul as well as exclusive offers, visit singaporeair.com.
Once the world opens up again and you find yourself in this Mediterranean jewel, we suggest dedicating a good portion of your sightseeing itinerary to visiting its magnificent buildings. While hunting down each and every notable structure would take weeks – nay, even months – here are a few of our favourites that offer a decent survey of the city’s architectural marvels.
1. Hagia Sophia
One of the most important and well-known architectural structures in the city, the Hagia Sophia was constructed in 537 AD as a Christian place of worship during the Byzantine Empire. It has also served as a mosque and Catholic church over the course of its storied history. The awe-inspiring structure is revered for its fully pendentive dome feature, which includes both Christian and Islamic elements. Other key design features include the upper gallery, which contains runic graffiti and colourful mosaic artworks; and the four external minarets that were added during the reign of the Ottoman Empire.
2. Suleymaniye Mosque
The hilltop Suleymaniye Mosque was originally commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent – the tenth and longest-ruling head of the Ottoman Empire – and designed by the favoured imperial architect Mimar Sinan. In the grand courtyard, you’ll find columns made out of marble, granite and porphyry, as well as porticoes, a rectangular pool and towering minarets with balconies. Meanwhile, the interior includes a central dome structure flanked by four semi-domes, as well as stained-glass windows. Be sure to check out the interiors of the mausoleums, which are decorated with colourful Iznik tiles – a noted hallmark of Turkish design.
One of the city’s newer constructions is Vakko Fashion Center & Power Media HQ, which opened its doors in 2010 as the home base for a fashion house and a media company. The initial site contained an unfinished abandoned hotel. Rather than raze the existing structure entirely, REX Architects – in a textbook case of adaptive reuse – worked with the existing concrete skeleton to create the new building. The finished structure features plenty of glass and mirrors, creating a unique kaleidoscopic effect as one meanders through the site.
4. Sancaklar Mosque
Another of Istanbul’s stunning religious sites is the Sancaklar Mosque. Located in the suburb of Buyukcekmece on the outskirts of Istanbul, the bold structure challenges stereotypes of what a mosque “ought” to look like. The site, which was designed by Emre Arolat Architects, features no domes or ornamental designs – which are typically found in more traditional mosques – and just one lone minaret. Instead, you’ll find an exterior fashioned with primarily natural materials – including terraced stone steps that blend into the grassy landscape – and a cave-like, minimalist interior that makes for a dramatic, yet serene, space for worship.
Also known as the Blue Mosque, this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Istanbul (prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, it was pulling in over four million visitors per year). The structure is truly a sight to behold: it sports five main domes, eight secondary domes, six towering minarets and a spacious courtyard with a glittering water fountain. It was built between 1609 and 1616 during the reign of the Ottoman Empire’s Ahmed I, and gets its name from the blue hues that dominate the interior, along with over 200 stained-glass windows, ornate chandeliers and tablets on the walls inscribed with religious text.
You can’t get much grander than this. As the main residence of the Ottoman Empire sultans for over four centuries, Topkapi Palace – which now functions as a museum – boasts some of the most ornate design and architecture in all of Turkey. There’s the imposing Imperial Gate entrance, which is enveloped in 19th-century marble bearing Ottoman calligraphy; the Imperial Council building that sports gilded entrances featuring rococo-style grills and intricate wall paintings; and the Imperial Hall, where you’ll find a gorgeous dome ceiling.
Please check the establishments’ respective websites for opening hours as well as booking requirements before visiting, and remember to adhere to safe-distancing measures while out and about.
The information is accurate as of press time. For updated information, please refer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.
To learn more about Singapore Airlines flights and special fare packages to Istanbul, visit singaporeair.com.