Istanbul: 10 Oldest Treasures

Istanbul isn’t just great city in Turkey, but also a city of the world that is home to some of it’s ever changing and intersecting history and heritage. Istanbul- just the name emits history, culture, cuisine, and exoticism. Once known by its Roman name Constantinople, it was originally founded by the Greeks as the city of Byzantium in 667 BC. 
Geographically, Istanbul was an important crossing point and trading center for the old world making Istanbul one of the most prominent cities of its time. Having been fought over by the Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, and finally being won over by Ottoman Empire in the mid 1400s, for centuries Istanbul was at the heart of empires, and it houses a laundry list of beautifully constructed, historical sites adding to their cultural achievements. 
Here is a list of some of Istanbul’s oldest city treasures: 

Hagia Sophia

(Photo: QuimG)

One of the world’s oldest, magnificent Christian churches, the Hagia Sophia reflects  all the historical changes that Istanbul has seen, like changing faiths from Greek Eastern Orthodox, to Roman Catholic, back to Eastern Orthodox, a mosque, and now is a museum. For nearly 1,000 years it was one of the world’s largest churches.

In the upper gallery, you can see the oldest graffiti carved into the marble parapets by Byzantine Army men.

Eyüp Sultan Mosque


Built in 1458, it was the first mosque constructed by the Ottoman Turks following the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Also an Islamic pilgrimage site because the mosque is built near the tomb of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, a companion of the prophet Mohammed, and the building housing the tomb preserves personal belongings of the prophet.  

Ahrida Synagogue of Istanbul


The oldest of Istanbul’s 16 synagogues in use today, located in the Jewish quarter Balat, dating to early 15th century and is known for its boat shaped reading platform.

Serpentine Column

A Greek bronze monument at the Hippodrome to honor Apollo for the victory over the Persians in 479 BC, and was brought to Istanbul when it became the capital of the Roman Empire. If you’re wondering where the head went, it’s not sitting at the Archaeological Museum after suffering damage in 1700.  

Anadoluhisarı Fortress


Among the oldest surviving examples of Ottoman architecture in Istanbul is the Anadoluhisarı Fortress helped the Ottomans during their second siege of the city, built between 1393 and 1394.

The Grand Bazaar

Lanterns at the Grand Bazaar (Photo: Patrick Breen)

The Grand Bazaar, in operation since 1461, is among the world’s oldest and largest covered markets sprawled across 61 streets with over 3,000 shops. Jaw dropping. 

Topkapı Palace


Topkapi is the largest and oldest palace in the world to survive today. Sitting on the site of the first settlement in Istanbul, the acropolis, it also has an impressive view of the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. Once home to generations of Ottoman royal families, it also boasts a secret harem – tiled rooms around a luxurious Turkish bath,

Traditional whirling dervishes in the oldest lodge in Istanbul dating back to 1491. Mevlevi order of Sufi Muslims whirl (sema) as a form of prayer. See a performance in an authentic atmosphere.

The Sea Walls

Although the original city  had sea walls, the construction of these walls are debated attributing them to Costantine I, but the first reference to the walls came in 439, but could have been built as late as 700. 

Istanbul Archaeological Museums 

Turkey’s first and oldest museum, founded in 1891, housing Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Urartian, Hittite, Greek, Roman, and Hellenistic artifacts. Do see the Museum of Islamic Art, Persian-style kiosk, the oldest secular Ottoman building in Istanbul. 

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