Istanbul, Fatih Bridge panorama

10 Amazing Istanbul Facts

Istanbul is one of the world’s most historic cities as well as a modern, crowded metropolis. It is the largest city in Turkey and also one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Here are 10 interesting Istanbul facts.

  1. Istanbul is the only city in the world sit across two continents. It straddles both Europe and Asia, while the Bosphorus separates the two continents. The Bosphorus or Bosporus, also referred to sometimes as the Istanbul Strait (Turkish: İstanbul Boğazı), is a strait that forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia. It is 31 kilometer (19 miles) long waterway that connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara.

    Istanbul Facts - Fatih Bridge panorama
    Istanbul Fatih Bridge (also known as the second bridge) panorama. Istanbul is the only city in the world sit across two continents.
  2. Hagia Sophia, the Roman Empire’s first Christian Cathedral (now a museum), has collapsed and rebuilt three times. The first church on the site, which was built in 360 AD, was known as the “Megálē Ekklēsíā”, (English: “Great Church”, or in Latin “Magna Ecclesia”). It was burned down during the riots in the city in 404 AD. Nothing remains of that first church today. The second one, which was ordered by the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II, who inaugurated it on October 10, 415. It was, too, burned down in the night of 13–14 January 532, during the tumult of the Nika Riots, the most violent riots in the history of Constantinople. On February 23, 532, only a few weeks after the destruction of the second basilica, Emperor Justinian I decided to build a third and entirely different basilica, larger and more majestic than its predecessors. More than ten thousand people worked in the construction. This third one, which was completed December 25, December 537 (5 years and 10 months after construction start), still stands today. It remained as the largest church in the world for almost a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520.

    Istanbul facts - Hagia Sophia
    Hagia Sophia is an important place in the art world with its architecture, grandness, size and functionality.
  3. The ancient Constantinople was known as the City on the Seven Hills. The founder of the city, Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (272 AD – 337 AD), has ordered that the city should be built on seven hills to match the seven hills of Rome. The seven hills, all located in the area within the walls (in historic peninsula), are:
    1. The hill which contains Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) and Topkapı Palace.

      Topkapi Palace, Istanbul
      The first hill contains most popular tourist directions in Istanbul. View of Topkapı Palace from the Golden Horn (Haliç). Photo: wikipedia
    2. The second hill is divided from the first by a fairly deep valley running from Babiali on the east Eminönü. Popular tourist destinations, the Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Grand Bazaar and Column of Constantine are on that second hill.
    3. The third hill is now occupied by the main buildings of Istanbul University, the Bayezid II Mosque to the south and the Süleymaniye Mosque to the north.
    4. The fourth hill on which stood the Church of the Holy Apostles and, subsequently, the Fatih Mosque, slopes down rather steeply to the Golden Horn on the north and, rather more gently, to Aksaray on the south.
    5. Sultan Selim Mosque is on the fifth hill.
    6. The districts of Edirnekapı and Ayvansaray are on the sixth hill, which gentle slopes run out beyond the line of the defense walls. The fifth and the sixth hills are separated by the valley running down on the west to Balat on the shore of the Golden Horn.
    7. The seventh hill, known in Byzantine times as the Xērolophos or “dry hill,” it extends from Aksaray to the Theodosian Walls and the Marmara. It is a broad hill with three summits producing a triangle with apices at Topkapı, Aksaray, and Yedikule.

    Map of Byzantine Constantinople with the hills names in brown
    Map of Byzantine Constantinople with the hills names in brown. Image: wikipedia
  4. The symbol of Holland, tulips, were actually originated in Istanbul. The first tulips bulbs were sent from the Ottoman Empire to Vienna in 1554. Then they were distributed further to Augsburg, Antwerp and Amsterdam. Tulips gave its name to an era (1718-1730) of the Ottoman Empire.

    Emirgan Park, tulips
    Tulips in Emirgan Park
  5. During the winter, snow is common. And Istanbul is also a rainy city, in overall, the city has an annual average of 130 days with significant precipitation, which amounts to 810 millimeters (31.9 in) per year. This is much higher than London’s 601.7 millimeters (23.689 in) per year.

    Istanbul facts - Istiklal Avenue under snow
    Istiklal Avenue, Beyoğlu, under snow.
  6. Around 500 AD, Constantinople was the most populous city in the world with about 450,000 people. It remained so for a hundred years (then Chang’an took the lead with 600,000 people by 600). Today, with 14,160,467 inhabitants, Istanbul is the seventh most crowded city in the world (as of 2017).
  7. The four bronze horses decorating the San Marco Cathedral in Venice (the Horses of Saint Mark) were long displayed at the Hippodrome of Constantinople. In in 1204 Doge Enrico Dandolo sent them back to Venice as part of the loot sacked from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade.
  8. It was the capital city of three great empires – Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. The capital of modern Turkey is Ankara.
  9. Istanbul is way older than one might think. Recent evidence suggests that people lived in the area for at least 8,500 years. Neolithic artifacts, uncovered by archeologists at the beginning of the 21st century, indicate that Istanbul’s historic peninsula was settled as far back as the 6th millennium BCE.
  10. Istanbul has had many names in history, including Byzantium, Constantinople, Konstantiniyye and Stamboul. The founder of the city, Constantine the Great, has attempted to promote the name “Nova Roma” (English: “New Rome”) but this did not enter widespread usage.


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