Dating back to 685 B.C., and was the capital for many civilizations such as the Romans, Byzantine and Ottoman Empire for ages, the Historical Peninsula is the tourist area in Istanbul where all tourists head for most. The region is the old Istanbul inside the city walls with all the sightseeing heavyweights packed together with must-see mosques, museums, palaces and more. The historical peninsula of Istanbul is now within the Fatih district.
Byzantion was the name of the city founded by the Megaran commander Byzas in 685 B.C. and Greeks were the first settlers here. During the expansion of the Roman Empire towards the Asia Minor, in 330, the Emperor Constantine declared the city as the capital and gave the city his name, Constantinople. In 395, the Roman Empire collapsed and the Eastern Roman Empire ruled, to be known as the Byzantine Empire. Byzantine Empire ruled the city until the Ottoman Empire’s conquest of Istanbul in 1453, by Fatih Sultan Mehmed.
The Byzantium period left Istanbul an immense cultural heritage with lots of sights such as the iconic Hagia Sophia, the Chora Church, the Pantocrator Monastery, Great Palace Mosaics Museum and the Church of Sts Sergius and Bacchus which can still be visited today. The Fener and Balat neighborhood also has rich Byzantine heritage.
After the conquest of Istanbul, the city became the heart and impressive capital of the Ottoman Empire. And the city was embellished with variety of great landmarks and places such as beautiful mosques, palaces, fountains and mansions through the Historical Peninsula, as well as the shores of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. The Hagia Sophia converted into a mosque, and than into a museum. The 15th century Fatih complex, Suleymaniye Mosque and Sehzade Mosque and the 17th century Blue Mosque are the beautiful examples of the Ottoman heritage, and of course, the Topkapi Palace, which is a grand complex that was home of the Sultan, and continually extended until the 19th century.
Districts and Neighborhoods
The Historical Peninsula of Istanbul was consisting of two districts, Fatih and Eminonu, but with the latest municipal regulations, Eminonu converted to a neighborhood and the Historical Peninsula declared as within the district of Fatih. The neighborhoods in the Historical Peninsula include; Aksaray, Beyazit, Eminonu, Fener, Haseki, Karagumruk, Kocamustafapasa, Kumkapi, Mahmutpasa, Sirkeci, Sultanahmet, Sehremini, Tahtakale and Vefa.
The Historical Peninsula, the Fatih district hosts the majority of the historical sites of Istanbul from the periods of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empire that include beautiful palaces, churches, mosques, fountains, museums and more…
Below, we gathered the popular neighborhoods and sights along the Historical Peninsula. Before you read them, we recommend you to check the neighborhoods map made by us, to make sure you map what’s on where…
Fatih District Center
Fatih district center is known for its beautiful Fatih Mosque and complex. Built in 1463 and named after the Fatih Sultan Mehmed, the conqueror of Istanbul, the complex houses hospice, medrese, hospital, caravanserai, library and baths. The Fevzi Pasa Street is the main street of the area. It was also serving as the main street during the Romans period. Popular historical sites in central Fatih include; the Millet Library, the famous Byzantine column named Kıztaşı (Maiden’s Stone and Hırka-ı Serif Mosque.
Eminonu and Sirkeci
The Eminonu and nearby Sirkeci are the two neighborhoods situated along the Golden Horn, on the shores down the Topkapi Palace. They are one of the most popular tourists areas in Istanbul, as well as the Istanbul’s important transportation hub. They offer great tourist attractions and facilities such as historic cafes, restaurants, as well as quality hotels. The Ferry decks, Eminonu Square, the famous Egyptian Spice Bazaar, Yeni Mosque, historical Sirkeci Orient Express Train Station and the Gulhane Park are the popular sights in Eminonu and Sirkeci. Read more about Eminonu and Sirkeci, Sights and Attractions
Majority of the popular sites of Istanbul are situated in Sultanahmet. It is the former heart of the Ottoman Empire. With the popular sights such as the such as the Hippodrome, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Istanbul Archaeology Museums and Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Sultanahmet is a natural magnet to millions of tourists in Istanbul also with its variety of souvenirs and carpets, restaurants and cafe, hotels and guest houses. The relatively traffic free region makes it easy to explore around on foot and by tram. Read more about Sultanahmet, Sights and Attractions
from Divan Road to Beyazit
Divan Road, which means “Road to the Imperial Council”, is an ancient road where today the tram line operates between Sultanahmet Square and Beyazit Square and hosts variety of historical sites and architectural relics from the Ottoman, Roman and Byzantine periods, hotels, tourist shops, cafes and restaurants. A very lively street in the Sultanahmet region. It was the most important road during the Byzantine era.
Along the Divan Road, you may see Mausoleums, Mosques, medreses (schools), Roman forums, Byzantine monuments such as Cemberlitas, the Burnt Column, and the remains of the Theodosian Arc d’Triumph and the Cemberlitas Hamam (Turkish Bath)
The Beyazit is a historic neighborhood located at the end of the Divan Road. The Beyazit square is also home to political and cultural events. famous Grand Bazaar is the one of the most visited tourist sites in the region.
Make sure to visit this famous historical bazaar featuring over 4,000 shops and vendors selling colorful textiles, aromatic spices and beautiful handcrafted pottery. Other popular sights of interest include; the Beyazit Mosque, Nuruosmaniye Mosque, the Sahaflar Antique Books Market, the glorious Istanbul University building and the Beyazit Tower that is used to be a watch-out tower for fires in the city.
Laleli and Aksaray
Downwards from Beyazit, you’ll come up to the Laleli ve Aksaray neighborhoods. There are numerous touristic stores, markets, designer shops selling textile goods especially to the Russian and old Eastern Block countries, as well as many cafes, restaurants, hotels and pensions along the back streets. The famous Koska Helvacisi is situated in the main road of Laleli. We recommend you to buy Turkish delight and halvah from there. Popular historical sights in Laleli include; the Laleli Mosque, The Big Stone Inn, the Bodrum Mosque (formerly Myrelaion Church), Valide Sultan Mosque, Church of Constantine Lips (Fenari Isa Mosque) and Murat Pasha Mosque.
Downwards from Laleli, you’ll come up to Aksaray, that was once the famous Bovis Forum, a square from the Byzantine period. Aksaray today is a transportation hub as hosts couple of historical sites, such as Sofular Hamam (Turkish bath) and various artisan restaurants offering delicious local food.
Suleymaniye Mosque Area
The spectacular Suleymaniye Mosque was built in honor of the magnificent Sultan Suleyman by the famous architect Sinan between the year 1550-1557. The decoration of the mosque is outstanding with colored tiles, stained glass windows and antique columns. And there is a Suleymaniye complex housing many historic places such as Mausoleums, Mosques, medreses (schools) and monuments.
Other points of interest in the region include; the beautiful botanical gardens near the Suleymaniye Mosque, the Burmali Mosque, the Sehzade Mosque that was built in between 1544-1548 for the memory of Mehmet, the son of Sultan Magnificent Suleiman, the Kalenderhane Mosque, which was a 12th century Byzantine church of Theotokas Kyriotissa and also allocated for the dervishes during the Ottoman era, the wooden houses around and the Suleymaniye Hamam (Turkish bath).
Fener and Balat
The former Greek neighborhood Fener and nearby the old Jewish quarter Balat, situated on the southern shore of Golden Horn, have very rich historical heritage. Did you know that Fener is the “Vatican of the Greek Orthodoxy”? Fener houses the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Bulgarian Church of St. Stephen, which is one of few prefabricated cast iron churches in the world. The Greek Patriarchate is still mother-church for Greek Orthodox Christianity worldwide. The Greeks lived in Fener until the mid-20th century. Afterwards has been more resident by the poor immigrants from eastern Turkey. There is a UNESCO/EU project in the region to restore the many buildings together with Balat.
The Balat area also very rich with Byzantine heritage. Being an old Jewish quarter, it always have been a poor one than Fener. There are big number of Jewish population in Balat, so that you may find many synagogues and Jewish establishments, as well as some churches and mosques. Both Fener and Balat is popular with its touristic cafes, restaurants and antiques shops.
Bozdogan (Valens) Aqueduct, Vefa Neighborhood
The Bozdogan Aqueduct, a kilometer long aqueduct that was built in 375 by the Roman Emperor Valen, forms a very beautiful prominent landscape of the region. It was used to carry water to the city. The Vefa district and Zeyrek along, is a residential area and home to some historic places such as Vefa Church Mosque and Ayin Biri (First of the Month) Church. Vefa is also famous for its Vefa Bozacisi (Katip Celebi Str. No:102), which has serving the drink named boza since 1876, made from fermented barley. It is a popular winter drink for locals.
In Zeyrek, you may see the famous monastic complex of Pantokrator, dating back to 1124 and consisting of two churches, a chapel, a mental hospital and a hospice for elderly men. The churches include; the Church of St Savior Pantocrator, and the Church of Virgin Elousa. The complex was also declared as the UNESCO Heritage Sites. After the conquest of Istanbul, the chapel was converted into a mosque and named as Zeybek Mosque. The Tiled Hamam is the other historic place of interest here.
Edirnekapı and Karagumruk
Edirnekapi is the neighborhood situated inside the city walls and also the gate where Fatih Sultan Mehmed entered the historical center on the conquest of Istanbul. There are some popular sights in the area that should be visited. The Mihrimah Mosque, that was built by the famous architect Sinan, for the daughter of the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, the Chora Museum, formerly church-mosque, which dates back to the 6th century and houses very beautiful examples of Byzantine mosaics and frescoes, the 1400 years old Byzantine Tekfur Palace and the Fethiye Museum, formerly church of the East Roman Empire, now serving as a museum and a small part as a mosque.
How to Best Explore
You’ll see below that there are hundreds of historic sites in the region that worth a visit and see. Majority of them are a must see in Istanbul. You may visit and explore all those sights and neighborhoods by yourself by walking or taking the tram as they are all within easy reach from Sultanahmet or Taksim. But as you realize that there is a very big history beyond them and to experience all the sights with their histories, as well as visiting tips, we highly recommend you to take tours made by the agents. You’ll be able to explore the Historical Peninsula in a very easy and comfortable way by daily tours.
It is also a very good option if you don’t want to go through the hassle of making all the arrangements including the tickets, waiting at the queue and 2-ways transportation by your own and feel like you may have troubles with them. And we recommend the two world brands GetYourGuide or Viator tours, made by the best reputed and registered tour agents in Istanbul and offer comfortable, safe and the cheapest tours with 2-ways transportation from your hotel or meeting point, professional guides, insurance and easy cancellation. You may find the top selling guided Historical Peninsula tours below.
How to Get There
- The Bagcilar-Kabatas tram (T1 line) covers the many neighborhoods in the Historical Peninsula. Public buses operates in between many regions of Istanbul to the last stop Beyazit.
- You may take the tram to get around the most popular tourist zones from Eminonu to Sultanahmet, Beyazit and Aksaray. Metro line operates between Bagcilar and Aksaray. You may take the public ferries from the Asian side of Istanbul and get to Eminonu and from there you may take take trams.
- From Taksim, you may take the Bagcilar-Kabatas tram (T1 line) from the Kabatas stop or the other stops along the Galata Bridge via the Taksim-Kabatas funicular (F1 line) or Tunel-Karakoy funicular (F2 line) from the end of the Istiklal Street.
- Check the Istanbul Railway Network Map for the Tram stops and Istanbul Ferry Lines Map for ferries and make a route/station search from the Istanbul Municipality Public Buses website.
from Istanbul Airports
- from New Istanbul Airport (45 km. to Sultanahmet and takes about 100 mins.) – you may take Havaist Airport Shuttle for 18 TL per person, or take a taxi for minimum 130 TL or take a KiwiTaxi Private Shuttle which is the best of all and we recommend.
- from Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport (45 km. to Sultanahmet and takes about 100 mins.) – you may take Havabus Airport Shuttle for 18 TL per person, or take a taxi for minimum 130 TL or take a KiwiTaxi Private Shuttle again which is the best of all and we recommend.