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Published May 10th 2014
Mention Istanbul and images of a sprawling metropolis with an amazing cultural and architectural heritage comes to mind. Visitors will find a melting pot of Eastern and Western history spanning some 2,000 years in a city that is ancient yet modern. The largest city in Turkey is not only one of the most popular locally but a favorite destination for international tourists. Here are 35 interesting facts to help you get started on your sojourn of Istanbul.
1) Istanbul is the only transcontinental city in the world located on two continents, Europe and Asia.
2) With a population of 13.9 million, Istanbul is one of the largest urban agglomerations in Europe and is the 2nd largest city in the world by population within city limits.
3) Istanbul is home to the most mosque in Turkey. It has 3,113 mosques, including the historical Sultanahmet Mosque and the Süleymaniye Mosque.
4) In its thousands of years of history, it has been the capital of three great empires - Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. However the modern day capital of Turkey is Ankara.
5) Istanbul is the fastest growing tourism destination in the world. According to a study by MasterCard Worldwide Index in world tourist destination, Istanbul will surpass New York and Amsterdam in terms of number of visitors in 2011. 9.5 million people visited in 2012 and the Istanbul Cultural and Tourism Directorate recorded 10,474,867 visitors in 2013.
6) Sultanahmet or the Old City is where most of the famous historical sights of Istanbul are located.
7) The Hagia Sophia, built as an Orthodox Christian cathedral in 537 CE, was a mosque under Ottoman rule after 1453. It became a museum after the founding of modern Turkey in 1935. Prior to the completion of the Seville Cathedral in 1520, Hagia Sophia was the largest church in the world for about 900 years. It attracts over 3 million tourists a year.
8) Some of Turkey's oldest sports clubs reside in Istanbul including Beşiktaş J.K. which was established in 1903 as Turkey's only club.
9) Istanbul was ranked 7th among the fastest-growing metropolitan economies according to a report released by the Brookings Institution.
10) The 3rd oldest subway in the world at 573 meters long is in Istanbul. It was built in 1875 after the ones in London and in New York in 1863 and 1868, respectively.
11) The Grand Bazaar in operation since 1461, is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world with 60 streets and 5,000 shops. It attracts between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily.
12) Istanbul constitutes the country's economic, cultural, and historical heart. Its commercial and historical center lies in Europe, while a third of its population lives in Asia.
13) Galleria Ataköy which opened in Istanbul in 1987 ushered in the age of modern shopping malls in Turkey.
14) While most retailers in Istanbul speak some English, it is best to check and reconfirm prices to avoid misunderstanding. Better yet use a calculator to show the exact amount.
15) Istanbul is famous for its historic seafood restaurants. The Kumkapı neighbourhood along the Sea of Marmara alone houses some 50 fish restaurants, and many of the city's restaurants line the shores of the Bosphorus.
16) To ensure people used the Istanbul name in and after 1930, the Turkish post office didn't deliver the mail addressed to Constantinople.
17) Princes' Islands is an archipelago of nine car-free islands and a popular getaway from the city.
18) Istanbul is the world's top destination in the 2014 Travellers' Choice Destinations awards, voted for by millions of holidaymakers, ahead of Paris, New York, Rome and London.
19) There are 237 hamams in Istanbul but only 60 of them are still in use. While decommissioned, the oldest and largest hamam in Istanbul is the Tahtakale Hamami, dating back to the 2nd half of the 15th century.
20) Istanbul can be characterised by seven hills, each topped by imperial mosques.
21) Agatha Christie's famous novel "Murder on the Orient Express" was written at Pera Palas Hotel in Istanbul. The Orient Express train traveled between Paris and Constantinople (Istanbul) from 1883 to 1977.
22) Istanbul had 1400 public toilets around the city during the times of the Ottoman Empire while the rest of Europe had none.
23) Although most taxi drivers are friendly and honest, they are not conversant in English. It is best to use the written address of your destination when hailing a taxi.
24) The delicately preserved history allows visitors to step back in time and relive Istanbul as the centre and mirror of 2 world empires and 2 world religions over 16 centuries.
25) The Golden Horn is the estuary that separates the European side of Istanbul into distinctive districts.
26) Due to the choking traffic during peak hour in Istanbul, taxi drivers may encourage you to stop near your destination instead of sitting in traffic. It is best to have a map handy to note where you are alighting relative to your destination.
27) Istanbul in best visited in late spring or early fall when the weather is pleasant for walking tours. Fewer crowds also means less waiting time.
28) The nargile or Turkish water pipe, which was the centre of Istanbul's social and political life continues to be popular with locals today and is something interesting to try.
29) Istanbul is surrounded by sea, with the Bosphorus cutting right through it. The European bank of the Bosphorus is dotted by palaces and parks while the Asian bank houses lovely residential neighbourhoods.
30) The Galata Tower, built in 1348 to house prisoners of war, now offers a 360-degree viewing gallery of the city.
31) Most of Istanbul's nightlife venues can be found in the Galata district which includes Beyoğlu, Istiklal Street, and Taksim Square.
32) Istanbul has had several different names in the past, including Byzantium, Constantinople, Stamboul and Tsarigrad.
33) Most visitors to Istanbul are from Germany, Russia, France, UK, Netherlands, Italy and Iran.
34) Mahmutpasha Bazaar has been Istanbul's major spice market since 1660.
35) Istanbul was the European Cultural Capital City in 2010, but has never hosted the Olympics.