Istanbul is the gateway between East and West and home to centuries of history and culture. Istanbul is Turkey’s social, artistic and commercial centre, full of vitality and activity day and night throughout all year. This makes the city, a place worth visiting at least once in your lifetime.
The city has a rich historic legacy. It was the crown city of three empires in a row; Roman Empire, Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire and the Ottoman Empire. These three empires left their signs all over the city which give Istanbul its unique character. The point at which Europe and Asia collide, Istanbul is one of the world’s most important and busiest trading ports and has been for more than 2,500 years.
You only need to take a walk through the immaculately kept gardens of Sultanahmet Park in Istanbul’s 2,500 year Old Town to realize that the city has something special. Its incredible history and heritage is made clear by the city’s three most famous and iconic landmarks; Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace.
The roots of the city’s unique cultural heritage can be identified in the daily activities of locals, the infrastructure of the city and the longstanding traditions that have become diluted by a combination of Western and Eastern influences.
Today, it is Turkey’s largest city and the country’s cultural and financial centre alive with bustling market bazaars and a host of restaurants and coffee shops.
The other cultural activity that has been around for generations is the ritual of the turkish bath. First introduced to the city in the 1400s, these baths, also known as hammams, were initially only used by commoners because their houses had no baths or running water. Later, they became popular places to meet and greet friends, regardless of age, social status or gender.
Hammams are everywhere in Istanbul, and are a welcome respite from all the sightseeing and shopping. Women and men normally bathe in different areas and the process is a lengthy one of several stages that should not to be rushed.
It starts with a trip to the hararet (steam room) where you bathe yourself with water from a small basin. You are then led into another room where you are vigorously scrubbed, washed and massaged by an attendant on both sides of the body. The attendant finishes by washing your hair and gently massaging your scalp. You are then free to return to the hararet and finish bathing at your leisure. The process is exhilarating and you will come out the cleanest you’ve ever been in your life!