23 Spots You Shouldn’t Miss in Istanbul If You Love Architecture

Last week I visited Turkey as part of a month of birthday celebrations.

I took the chance to visit new buildings as well as to revisit some of my favourite locations of Istanbul. And eat lots of baklavas in the meantime. Oh God, I am obsessed with baklava.

Istanbul is one of the most interesting cities in terms of architecture: with old and new, religious and secular, Muslim and Christian structures. Obviously, it is shortlisted as a future Architectour Guide. Can’t wait to move here and research for the upcoming book some time.

If you are looking for inspiration for your architectural adventures in Istanbul, look no further, the following is a list of some of my favourite places, curated from the biased side of an architect. My favorite is #15, yours?

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1. Hagia Sofia
Architect: Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles
Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi (Google)
Year: 537
Description: Justinian I, the emperor of the Byzantine Empire from 527 to 565, commissioned the construction of this colossal church to Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles. It remained the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. Its history is rich and varied, it has served as a cathedral (537 until 1453), mosque (1453 until 1931) and now a museum (since 1935). Read more here.

2. Blue Mosque
Architect: Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa
Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Atmeydanı Cd. No:7 (Google)
Year: 1616
Description: Named after the blue tiles surrounding the walls of interior design, the Blue Mosque is one of the most impressive mosques that non-Muslims can visit. It comprises a tomb of the founder (Ahmed I), a madrasa and a hospice. In addition, it is one of the four mosques in Turkey that has six minarets. It’s currently under renovation so it will soon look even more amazing. Read more here.

3. Topkapı Palace
Architect: Mehmed II, Alaüddin, Davud Ağa, Mimar Sinan
Cankurtaran Mh. (Google)
Year: 1616
Description: Topkapı – meaning Cannon Gate – began its construction in 1459, six years after the conquest of Constantinople. It was used by Mehmed the Conqueror and his following successors until the 17th century, when Topkapı gradually lost its importance. New lavish palaces were erected along the Bosphorus and finally in 1856 Sultan Abdulmejid I ended up moving the court to Dolmabahçe Palace. However, Topkapı retained some of its functions including the imperial treasury, library and mint. Read more here.

4. Basilica Cistern
Architect: Unknown
Alemdar Mh., Yerebatan Cd. 1/3 (Google)
Year: 532
Description: Located underneath the former Roman Stoa Basilica (hence the name), this ancient cistern is believed to have involved 7,000 slaves in its construction. Justinian I, also in charge of Hagia Sofia, commissioned this underground chamber of  336 marble columns – each 9 metres (30 ft) high. Read more here.

5. Grand Bazaar
Architect: Unknown
Beyazıt Mh., Kalpakçılar Cd. No:22 (Google)
Year: 1461
Description: Following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, Istanbul experienced a period of growth and wealth. Textiles, jewels and other goods were sold in this bazaar since 1461. The Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market can be visited one after the other. Read more here.

Photo credit @İrfan KARA

6. Valens Aqueduct
Architect: Unknown
Kalenderhane Mah., Haşim İşcan Gç. (Google)
Year: 368
Description: This Roman aqueduct was once the major water-providing system of Constantinople and was erected by Roman Emperor Valens – hence the name – in the late 4th century AD. The surviving section is 921 m long, about 50 m less than the original length. Read more here.

7. Chora Church
Architect: Unknown
Dervişali Mahallesi, Kariye Cami Sk. No:8 (Google)
Year: 1081
Description: The main reason to visit this delightful mosque which was once a church is because of its mosaics and frescoes, they are the most beautiful examples dating from the last period of the Byzantine painting (14th century). Read more here.

8. Balat
Architect: Unknown
Balat Mahallesi, 34087 Fatih (Google)
Year: Unknown
Description: The Greeks and Jews of Istanbul lived in Balat for many centuries but nowadays, traces of both cultures are hard to find. Around this now poor area of Istanbul one can find beautifully colourful houses and hidden Hebrew lettering and the Star of David over closed doors of old residences and other religious buildings. Read more here.

Photo credit © Feride Yalav

9. Phanar Greek Orthodox College
Architect: Konstantinos Dimadis
Balat Mahallesi, Sancaktar Ykş. No:36 (Google)
Year: 1883
Description: Located within the historical district of Balat, this area has been the seat of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and therefore one of the most important Greek neighborhoods in Istanbul since 1600. This school, established in 1454 and still open for the same purpose, is the the oldest surviving and most prestigious Greek Orthodox school in Istanbul. Read more here.

10. Süleymaniye Mosque
Architect: Mimar Sinan
Süleymaniye Mah, Prof. Sıddık Sami Onar Cd. No:1 (Google)
Year: 1557
Description: This was one of the greatest mosques designed by Mimar Sinan, the most famous and reputed of the imperial architects. In the garden behind the mosque is a terrace offering lovely views of the Golden Horn and Bosphorus. Many of the integrating structures are still in existence, including the former imaret which is now a noted restaurant. Read more here.

11. Galata Tower
Architect: Unknown
Bereketzade Mahallesi, Galata Kulesi Sk. (Google)
Year: 1348
Description: The Genoese built this cylindric tower in 1348 to have a vast panorama of what their Muslim neighbours were doing along the northern end of the massive sea chain of the Golden Horn. However, from 1717, the Ottomans began to use the tower for a practical purpose: spotting fires in the city. Having lunch in the restaurant is completely worth it. Read more here.

12. Soho House Hotel
Architect: Giacomo Leoni
Evliya Çelebi Mahallesi, Meşrutiyet Cd. No:56 (Google)
Year: 1882
Description: The former Palazzo Corpi was was built for the wealthy Genoese merchant Ignazio Corpi. Soon later in 1907 it was bought by the United States government to serve as the American embassy in Turkey and in 2014 the US government leased the building to Soho House. Read more here.

13. Istiklal Avenue
Architect: Unknown
İstiklal Cd. (Google)
Year: 19th century
Description: This shopping street in the historic Beyoğlu (Pera) district, it is 1.4 Km long. The cosmopolitan avenue known for the famous red tram is surrounded by an array of historical and politically significant buildings, such as the Çiçek Pasajı (check photo) where small, intimate restaurants and taverns are found. Read more here.

14. Dolmabahçe Mosque
Architect: Garabet Balyan
Ömer Avni Mh. (Google)
Year: 1855
Description: The mosque was commissioned by Bezmialem Valide Sultan in 1852, who was the mother of Ottoman sultan Abdülmecid I. Bezmialem Valide Sultan passed away in 1853 and the mosque was finished in 1855 with Abdülmecid I’s financial aid. Between 1948 and 1961 the Dolmabahçe Mosque served as Naval Museum. Read more here.

15. Dolmabahçe Palace
Architect: Garabet Balyan
Vişnezade Mahallesi, Dolmabahçe Cd. (Google)
Year: 1856
Description: One of the most beautiful buildings in Istanbul, this lavish palace served as the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1887 and 1909 to 1922. Dolmabahçe Palace was ordered by the Empire’s 31st Sultan, Abdülmecid I, who moved from Topkapı Palace to here once the building was completed. Read more here.

16. Besiktas Fishmarket
Architect: GAD
Sinanpaşa Mahallesi, Mumcu Bakka Sk. (Google)
Year: 2009
Description: Not far away from Dolmabahçe Palace one can find this hidden concrete beauty. Built in 2009 as an iconic venue where many locals and visitors buy fresh fish daily, it replaced an even older market located in this site. The triangular building has become an icon of the area. Read more here.

17. Apple Store
Architect: Foster + Partners
Levazım Mahallesi, Zorlu Center, Koru Sokağı No:2 (Google)
Year: 2014
Description: The first Foster-designed Apple store opened in Istanbul in 2014 and as they say…the rest is history. This delightful store pays attention even the smallest of details. The store is crowned by a spectacular illuminated glass lantern set in a reflecting pool of water which provides the jewel-like centrepiece of the shopping centre. Read more here.

18. Ortaköy Mosque
Architect: Garabet Balyan
Mecidiye Mahallesi, Mecidiye Köprüsü Sk. 1/1 (Google)
Year: 1855
Description: Located just before the Bosphorus Bridge, Ortaköy Mosque has one of the most picturesque settings of all of the Istanbul mosques. It was designed by Armenian architect, Garabet Balyan, and his son Nigoğayos Balyanl, who were also responsible for the nearby Dolmabahçe Palace. Read more here.

19. Beylerbeyi Palace
Architect: Hagop Balyan, Sarkis Balyan
Beylerbeyi Mahallesi, Abdullahağa Cd. (Google)
Year: 1861
Description: Sultan Abdülaziz (1830–1876) commissioned this palace as a summer residence and a place to entertain visiting heads of state. In fact, Empress Eugénie of France visited Beylerbeyi on her way to the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and had her face slapped by the sultan’s mother, Pertevniyal Sultan, for daring to enter the palace on the arm of Abdülaziz. Read more here.

20. Maiden’s Tower
Architect: Unknown
Üsküdar Salacak Mevkii (Google)
Year: 1734
Description: The local tale says that the tower was built by a wealthy man who was trying to protect his daughter from a prophecy spoken by an oracle – a prophecy foretelling the death of the man’s daughter by a snake bite. Now the tower works as a restaurant and there’s a free boat service every 15 min departing from the Üsküdar pier. Read more here.

21. Istanbul Sapphire
Architect: Tabanlioglu Architects
Emniyetevleri Mah. Eski Büyükdere Cd No:1 D:1 (Google)
Year: 2011
Description: Built in 2011 as a residential, leisure and shopping center project. Besides its interesting architecture concept, this building has the highest views of the city (261 m to be precise). The building façade consists of two independent shells. Read more here.

22. Yedikule Zindanlari Castle
Architect: Unknown
Yedikule Mahallesi, Yedikule Meydanı Sk. No:9 (Google)
Year: 532
Description: Before the construction of this massive fortress, Theodosius the Great had built a triumphal arch here, which was later incorporated on the design. Under the Byzantines, the great arch became known as the Porta Aurea (Golden Gate) and was used for triumphal state processions into and out of the city. Read more here.

23. Yeşilvadi Camii
Architect: Adnan Kazmaoğlu
Fatih Sultan Mehmet Mahallesi, Fatih Sultan Mehmet Cd. (Google)
Year: 2004
Description: If you have some extra time in Istanbul, it’s worth exploring the new mosques being built in the city. This one is a beautiful reinterpretation of the traditional and geometric patters of Islamic religious architecture. If you like this mosque, you may also like Sancaklar Mosque. Read more here.

Check these and other amazing buildings of Istanbul on the map below:

25 thoughts on “23 Spots You Shouldn’t Miss in Istanbul If You Love Architecture

  1. Pingback: 10 Sites To Take The Best Skyline Pictures in Istanbul | Virginia Duran

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    • Hello Zulu Delta, thanks for stopping by. How long ago did you visit Turkey? Tea is a personal favourite. Do you also have a favourite Turkish food?


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