Istanbul, once known as Byzantium, blends its cultures and history into an exciting city with so much to offer. Founded during Neolithic times, it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited spots of the world, holding true to its historic heritage through exotic mosques, colorful basilicas and cathedrals, and ancient bazaars. In fact, the Historic Areas of Istanbul on the Bosphorus peninsula were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Standing between the East and the West, Turkey’s largest city offers an aura of intrigue and charm that appeals to the masses.
What Remains of an Ancient Tradition
The Hippodrome (adjacent to the historic Basilica Cistern, iconic Blue Mosque and beautiful Hagia Sophia cathedral-turned-museum) was once the center of Roman and Byzantine Constantinople and is a fascinating place to begin exploring Istanbul. The four bronze horses that used to be on top of the emperor's box at this ancient chariot-racing arena were looted by the Crusaders in 1204, and are now on the façade of Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice. While the building no longer stands, the Egyptian Obelisk of Theodosius and the Serpent Column from the Delphi oracle remain, having been in this same location since the 4th century.
A Stronghold Twice Attacked
A visit to the Old City stirs the senses, conjuring the ancient times of the Roman Empire. The centuries-old city walls stand out with their effective surroundings and construction. Extending for nearly 14 miles (22 kilometers) and stretching from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn, these walls have stood the test of centuries, having only been demolished twice in their history: first, by the Latin Crusaders who intended to head toward the Holy Land in 1204, and again in 1453 by the Ottoman Turks in their attempts to conquer the city.
A Roman Relic
Within the Old City walls is the Valens Aqueduct (Turkish: Valens Su Kemeri or Bozdoğan Kemeri, meaning "Aqueduct of the Grey Falcon”), once part of the Roman aqueduct. It was the single longest ancient aqueduct system ever to be built, reaching nearly 270,000 square feet (250,000 meters). Completed by Roman Emperor Valens in the late 4th century AD, it was maintained and used by the Byzantines and later the Ottomans, and was operational until the end of the 19th century.