The ancient Hippodrome, the scene of chariot races and the center of Byzantine civic life, stood in the area that is now in front of the Blue Mosque. The area is now named for the mosque, Sultanahmet. Of the monuments which once decorated it only three remain: the Obelisk of Theodosius, the bronze Serpentine Column and the Column of Constantine. Remains from the curved end of the Hippodrome wall can be seen on the southwest side of these three monuments. Today the square forms the center of Istanbul’s historical, cultural and touristic pursuits.
Take particular note of the surrounding wooden houses, especially the 18th century homes on Sogukcesme Street. Delightfully restored, they have a new lease on life as small hotels; one houses a fascinating library of books on Istanbul.
The Ahmet III Fountain, built in 1729, stands at the entrance to Topkapi Palace. A generous roof shades the waterspouts where the thirsty can stop for a cup of refreshing water. This highly ornate, freestanding fountain is a superb example of the late Ottoman style.
Mahmut II built the Beyazit Tower (85 meters high) in 1828 as a fire tower. Today it is included in the grounds of Istanbul University.
The Bozdogan-Valens Aqueduct, built in A.D. 368, supplied the Byzantine and later the Ottoman palaces with water. Today part of the remaining 900 meters of double-tiered arches straddle the major highway that runs through the old part of town.
The Istanbul city walls, once an impenetrable fortification, stretch seven kilometers from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn.
Recently restored, as also many times before, these walls date from the fifth century and the reign of Emperor Theodosius II. UNESCO has declared the walls and the area, which they enclose to be one of the cultural heritages of the world.
The Galata Tower, a Genoese construction of 1348, rises 62 meters above the Golden Horn. From the top there is a marvelous panorama of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. In the evening you can enjoy its popular restaurant, nightclub and bar.
Rumeli Hisari, or European Fortress, was built by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1452 prior to his capture of Istanbul. Completed in only four months, it is one of the most beautiful works of military architecture in the world. In the castle is the Open-Air Museum amphitheater that is the site for some events of the Istanbul Music Festival. (Open every day except Wednesdays).
Kiz Kulesi, also known as Leander’s Tower, is one of the most romantic symbols of Istanbul. On a tiny island at the entrance to Istanbul’s harbor, the first tower was constructed in the 12th century. The present building dates from the 18th century.