Sultanahmet Square is the Old Historic Quarter of Istanbul:
The Sultanahmet Square (Sultanahmet Meydani) is the old historic quarter of Istanbul and here you will find some of the most significant historic monuments of Istanbul. The district was named after Sultan Ahmet I, the builder of the Blue Mosque which sits at one end of the leafy square. Facing the Blue Mosque at the opposite end of the square is the magnificent Hagia Sophia.
Many of Istanbul’s Byzantine and Ottoman monuments were built in the Old City and with the many historical attractions in and around Sultanahmet Square, this is the ideal location to start any sightseeing tour of Istanbul.
A good place to start your visit of the Sultanahmet quarter is at the Hippodrome which was once the centre of public life in Constantinople. The Hippodrome was the scene of ferocious chariot races which the Byzantines enjoyed, much like the gladiator fights that the Romans loved. There’s not much left of this stadium, but significant monuments here include the Obelisk of Theodosius, the Serpentine Column and the Column of Constantine. There’s also a pretty domed fountain commemorating the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II to Istanbul in 1898. The Hippodrome is now a public park which runs the length of Blue Mosque complex.
Next to the Hippodrome are Istanbul’s two most important monuments – the Blue Mosque with its six elegant minarets and the magnificent Hagia Sophia face each other at opposite ends of the square.
When visiting Hagia Sophia, don’t forget to also visit the nearby Basilica Cistern, one of the many hidden treasures of Istanbul. This giant underground cistern in Yerebatan Caddesi was built by Justinian in 532 to provide water to the city in case of sieges. Close to the entrance of the Basilica Cistern is the Milion, a marble pillar from where all distances were measured during the Byzantine era.
For lunch or a coffee break, we always like stopping at the Lale Restaurant at Divan Yolu Cd. which was the famous Pudding Shop during the hippie era. Tony was one of the young travellers seeking Eastern adventures so the Pudding Shop brings back sentimental memories for him. The Pudding Shop was started by the Çolpan brothers in 1957 and the family still runs this successful restaurant today.
Museums around Sultanahmet
For those interested in learning more about the history and culture of Istanbul, there are several museums on the fringe of Sultanahmet Square:
- The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts is next to the Hippodrome
- The Vakiflar Carpet Museum is a part of the Blue Mosque and has fine antique carpets
- The Mosaics Museum is south of the Blue Mosque
Adding more colour to the cultural sights in Sultanahmet Square are the many vendors and hawkers selling anything from drinks and watermelon to snack food, postcards and souvenirs. The drink vendors are particularly colourful. At the southern end of the Blue Mosque there is also the Cavalry Bazaar which has mainly carpets and handicrafts.
To fully enjoy all the attractions around Sultanahment Square requires more than a day’s visit. If you are looking to base yourself in this area, there are hotels to meet all budget types and many of these hotels have roof-top terraces with panoramic views of Sultanahmet Square and the Sea of Marmara.
For the list of hotels near the Blue Mosque see Here.
For the complete list of all hotels in Sultanahmet Old city see Here.
Istanbul’s modern and efficient tram line connects almost all of the popular tourist sights and Sultanahment is one of the stops. If you are coming in from Atatürk International Airport, the metro/light rail connects with Zeytinburnu from where you can change for the tram.If you think of anything I left out of this post, please feel free to put that on the comment.