Istanbul - Turkey

'The Gateway to the East', Istanbul stands on both sides of the Bosphorus, an important natural waterway linking the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and separating Europe from Asia. There are two bridges across the Bosphorus and another is planned. This city, known as Byzantium and then Constantinople in ancient times, abounds with monumental architecture and traffic congestion. But it has two faces - European with its tree lined boulevards and chic cafes and shops - Eastern in the crowded backstreets and bazaars. It has two city centres, both on the European side, separated by the inlet known as the Golden Horn - the historical Sultanahmet and Taksim CBD. Cruise ships berth at the Karakoy Passenger Terminal, across the Galata bridge from Sultanahmet, the main tourist area and centre for both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Here you will find Aya Sofya, once one of the greatest cathedrals in the world (now a museum), the stunning Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. Most excursions include the main sites but will also include a visit to the carpet shop and Grand Bazaar. If you do not take an excursion, it is not not walking distance to the main sites but you can take a bus or taxi into Sultanahmet or there is a hop on/off sightseeing bus that leaves from the terminal end of the Galata bridge. However you travel expect lots of hassle from street vendors and be prepared to haggle for any purchases. Aya Sofya (Haghia Sophia) was the largest enclosed space in the world for over a thousand years. Built in the 6th century, it was the third church to stand on this site and features a 30 metre dome and beautiful marbles and mosaics adorning the interior. The Topkapi Palace was completed in 1465 and was the centre of the Ottoman Empire for nealy four hundred years. The palace is arranged as a collection of buildings around a series of courtyards in Arab fashion. These buildings include the Divan, Throne Room, Imprerial Treasury and the Harem. Near is the Archaelogical Museum complex that incorporates several different museums well worth visiting for their interesting collections. Overlooking the Hippodrome (now a park) is the imposing Sultanahmet Camii (the Blue Mosque) with its six minarets and 20,000 blue tile interior. In the Beyazit district you will find Kapala Carsi (the covered bazaar) with 66 streets and alleys, 4000 shops, banks and a mosque; it is the largest covered market in the world. There are many more sites of interest in this large and historic city and in the surrounding area if you have the time to explore. The history of this capital dates back sixteen centuries to the powerful Byzantine Empire, which controlled many cities throughout the world. During this time, around the 5th century BC, the city was called Byzantium. Following Greek and Persian occupation, the city fell to the Romans. In 305 AD Emperor Constantine chose Byzantium as the new capital of the Roman Empire and renamed the city Constantinople. One hundred years later, when the Roman Empire was split in two, the city became capital of the Eastern Empire. As the Empire declined it was attacked by Persians, Slavs, Arabs and Bulgars but survived until it was sacked by the Crusaders in 1204. In 1452 it was taken by the Ottomans. They rebuilt the city, renamed it Istanbul and it became capital of the Ottoman Empire. The Empire expanded and prospered into the 17th century when it started its decline and lost territory to the West. WW1 left the city under Allied occupation until the War of Independence and the Treaty of Lausanne saw the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923. At this time Ankara was made the capital of the country. The following 13 cruises call at Istanbul. Discover more by clicking the cruise name or ship or click the Enquire button if you want to check availability and pricing.