The ornate link between east and west, Istanbul straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus strait. This sprawling metropolis was built up by the Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires over 2,500 years, but today Istanbul reflects the modern world as much as the ancient. Beyoglu and İstiklal Caddesi, Istanbul's prominent pedestrian street, are centers for nightlife and sidewalk cafes. Just south, historical sights are concentrated in Sultanahmet (the section of the city that was old Constantinople), including the centuries-old Grand Bazaar, Topkapi Palace, the dazzling Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine masterpiece that dwarfs visitors with its massive dome and soaring minarets.
When the Oracle of Delphi said build it, a Greek explorer in the 7th century B.C. hopped to and called the city Byzantium. When Constantine said build over it in the 4th century A.D., the Romans closed rank and called her Constantinople. When the Ottomans rose to power in the 15th century, they claimed the capital city as their own and renamed it Istanbul. Today the city is no longer a capital, but remains one of the world's most ancient wonders.
Like the Colossus astride the harbor at Rhodes, Istanbul straddles the Bosphorus Strait, the vital waterway connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean. Quite literally, with one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, Istanbul stands where east meets west and is an enduring witness to the history of the world's most powerful tribes and nations.
A roll call of the peoples who've found a home in this "cradle of civilization" includes the Hittites, Ionians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, and Ottomans. Quite a roster, and that's not even all!
Naturally enough, the city's riches include relics from the ancient past, as well as newer treasures only centuries old. A small sampling of historical sights worth seeing include the ruins of the ancient Roman Hippodrome and the Obelisk of Teodosius; the Blue Mosque, with its large dome and six spiring minarets; the Haghia Sophia, once the largest church in the world until St. Peter's in Rome was completed; and the Dolmabahce Palace, a 19th century baroque residence considered one of the most ostentatious palaces in the world.
Far from having its best days behind it, however, Istanbul remains Turkey's largest city and hums with the energy of a modern metropolis. The commercial hub of the entire republic (owing to its crossroads location and, of course, the covered bazaar), the city also claims itself the arts capital of Turkey. Supporting a mix of high and popular culture, Istanbul maintains world-class museums and annually hosts a series of International Festivals, each celebrating one of the performing or visual arts.