Visit several of Istanbul’s iconic landmarks on this comprehensive half-day tour designed to give you a good overview of the city’s historic past, that also plays a prominent role in its bustling present day life.
Starting off from the pier, your first stop will be at the world famous Blue Mosque - one of two supreme imperial mosques of the Ottoman Empire. It is also the only mosque in the world with six minarets. Built between 1609 and 1616 by Sultan Ahmed I, and named after him, the mosque is now known as the Blue Mosque because of the 20,000 blue-green Iznik tiles that adorn the interior. The inside is staggeringly beautiful with soft patterned rugs and 20,000 brilliant blue glazed tiles decorating every graceful column and arching dome with a beautiful floral motif. The overwhelming sense of space and of quiet intensity here evokes feelings that can’t be forgotten. Making it even more special in today’s world, the formula for the tile glaze has long been lost, and not one of the 20,000 tiles can ever be copied or replaced. The Blue Mosque also houses a museum of antique Turkish rugs with rare examples from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century.
Continuing on, you’ll make your way to the Hippodrome which lies adjacent to the Blue Mosque and represents the less serene side of ancient life. It was here that Byzantine entertainment spectacles took place, including violent gladiator fights, chariot races, and other sporting events. With seating for 100,000, this enormous stadium was at the center of Constantinople’s entertainment and political life.
Next, you’ll visit the St. Sophia Museum, the magnificent Byzantine Church built directly across from the Blue Mosque, and one of the finest architectural works in the world. The Haghia Sophia (Church of Divine Wisdom), first erected by Constantine in 325 and later rebuilt by Holy Roman Emperor Justinian, has been nominated the 8th Wonder of the World by many historians. At one time, it may have been the largest building on the world’s entire surface, and as a manmade structure, ranked behind only the Great Pyramids of Egypt and the Great Wall of China. For many centuries it stood as the largest church in the world and today remains the 4th largest, behind St. Paul’s in London, St. Peter’s in Rome and the Duomo in Milan. The minarets that now tower above the gigantic dome were added after the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, when the church was converted into a mosque. As a testament to its grandeur, the greatest Ottoman architect, Mimar Sinan, once attested that he had spent his entire life trying to surpass its technical achievements.
Your final stop will be at the Grand Bazaar, a massive, historically important covered bazaar (the largest covered shopping space in the world), that can tempt even the most thrifty of shoppers with its unfathomable collection of precious handmade carpets, jewelry, leather and souvenirs. Keep your eyes out for bargains, get ready to negotiate, and soak in the unparalleled atmosphere of one the world’s great merchant centers. Following a visit of just over one-hour, you’ll re-join your coach and transfer back to the ship, perhaps carrying a bit more than you left with.
Please note: This tour includes just over 2 1/2 hours of moderate walking/standing and there are some steps to negotiate. The tour is available to wheelchair guests who have a collapsible wheelchair, are able to make their own way on and off the coach and have an able-bodied companion to assist them. Wheelchair guests who are not able to climb the steps may wait outside the Mosque. Those with mobility concerns are cautioned to carefully evaluate their personal level of stamina and ability. Conservative dress is required for visiting the mosques. All female guests will be required to cover their heads, shoulders and arms and shorts above knee-length are not allowed for both male and female visitors. Flat, comfortable walking shoes are recommended. The order of the sites may change to avoid the crowds. Please expect dense traffic conditions in Istanbul. The Blue Mosque will be closed to all visitors until after 2:30 pm on Fridays. Morning tours will have an exterior visit only. On Mondays, the Hagia Sophia Museum will be replaced with the Chora Museum.