Istanbul has a history of 2700 years. The history of the city consists of multiple layers and has the heritage of Ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman civilizations. Hence we recommend you to hire a local tour guide in Istanbul to have a deeper knowledge about the history of Istanbul.
Short History of Istanbul
The city of Istanbul has been known by three different names throughout the course of history. It was named Byzantium when it served as a Greek colony, Constantinople when it was controlled by the Romans as a city, and during the final years of the Ottoman Empire, the city was known as Istanbul.
Ottomans continued to use the name “Konstantiniyye”, the Turkish version of Constantinople, for many years when referring to Istanbul. Let’s start by giving you a brief rundown of the ancient history of Istanbul leading up to the modern day. In the following lines, I will try to explain the short history of Istanbul in 5 titles.
1. Ancient Greece
To start our journey, we need to take you back to 660 BC. It all begins when a king named Byzas wanted to emigrate from the city of Megara in Ancient Greece. The king sought advice from the oracles at the Temple Apollo.
It was common for people to seek advice from these great oracles during these ancient times. The oracle advised King Byzas to venture east and build his own city opposite of the City of the Blind. At the time, Byzas and his advisors didn’t understand what the oracle meant.
Regardless, Byzas ventured east as he was told and came to a stop when he reached the European/Asian border. On the Asian shore, opposite to where he stood, he saw a colony named Chalcedon.
Byzas theorized that this was the “City of the Blind” that the oracle meant, as the Chalcedon people had yet to take advantage of the beautiful European shores. As a result, Byzas founded a new city opposite the colony and named it Byzantium in honour of his own name.
2. Roman Empire
During Emperor Constantine’s rule, he decided to shift Roman Empire‘s center to east to find more resourceful and productive states to further his power. He led an expedition to find a new home for his empire and settled on Byzantium.
He ordered his architects to reimagine the city, restructuring it to fit the tastes of the majestic Roman Empire. In just six years, Constantine widened the walls, claimed more land and constructed many new Roman buildings.
Iconic structures such as the Great Palace, the Forum of Constantine and The Hippodrome were constructed during this period. The city was designated as Nova Roma (New Rome) in 330, making it the co-capital of the Roman Empire alongside Rome and he named it after himself; Constantinople.
3. Byzantine Empire
When Emperor Theodosius divided the Roman Empire in two (395) the city of Constantinople remained as the capital of the Byzantine Empire (aka Eastern Roman Empire). After 81 years, the Western Roman Empire fell and the city of Rome was seized by the Goths. (476)
The city of Constantinople, however, flourished under its deep Greek roots and Roman administrative rule. It remained alive and well for many years, and the city grew immensely under the rule of Emperor Justinian. In fact, it was under his rule that the Hagia Sophia was built, a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture.
He led many conquests into the west to reclaim Roman borders. He even came close to restoring Rome to its former glory, but his successors ultimately failed and could not hold the land that he had worked so hard to claim back from the invaders.
Between 1204 and 1261, the capital of Byzantine Empire invaded by Crusaders. They could not recover after 57 years occupation and started to decline. Once mighty empire reduced to a city-state. The city (Constantinople) was eventually seized by the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
In order to discover the heritage of the Byzantine Empire in Istanbul, it is recommended that you tour with a local tour guide who knows the Historic Peninsula (Constantinople) well.
4. Ottoman Empire
When the city was seized by the Ottoman Empire, they made it the centre of their young empire. Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror (Mehmed II) knew much about the Byzantine Empire.
In fact, his first request when entering the city was to see the majestic Hagia Sophia. The city’s buildings were in poor condition as the Byzantines neglected to repair them during the last few years of their downfall. Sultan Mehmet II is rumoured to have been upset that he could not see ancient Constantinople in all of its glory.
As a result, the Sultan ordered for the Hagia Sophia to immediately be restored and converted into a mosque. He continued constructing new buildings, even raising a palace for himself known as Topkapi Palace. The palace was built over the ancient ruins of the city of Byzantium and some of the remnants can be seen from inside of the palace.
During Ottoman rule, the city was still known as Constantinople for a long time. The name eventually evolved from Stanpoli, the name given to the city’s centre in Greek times, to Istanbul, when it became the capital of yet another great empire.
5. Modern Turkey
After the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, the Ottoman Empire continued to decline for several hundred years. A few Sultans attempted to rebuild the empire by making reforms to ultimately catch up to Europe. However, their efforts were in vain and the Ottoman Empire continued to decline in their technological prowess.
They fell behind as they desperately struggled to preserve their lands. In the 19th century, the economy began to fail and the World War I ultimately consumed them.
As Istanbul was under heavy assault from enemy invasion, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (a former Ottoman general) pushed for independence at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM) that was founded in Ankara.
The capital was then moved to Ankara and Istanbul lost its title as a capital. However, it’s still one of the most important cities in Modern Turkey and has been transformed into an attraction due to its deep history.
Top Historical Places in Istanbul
Istanbul is a city steeped in a rich and diverse history. As a result, there are countless iconic and historical places to visit, but we’ve narrowed it down so that you know the top places to visit when you’re in Istanbul. It is recommended that you visit these places in Istanbul accompanied by a local tour guide.
1. Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia once served as a church for the Romans but was eventually converted into an imperial mosque during Ottoman rule. Today, the Hagia Sophia is often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world and has a reputation as one of the finest history museums in the world.
2. Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern is a large cistern below the city of Istanbul. Its construction was ordered by Emperor Justinian in 530s and is one of the largest surviving Byzantine cisterns in Istanbul.
3. Hippodrome of Constantinople
The Hippodrome of Constantinople was a circus that hosted sporting and social events for the people of the Byzantine Empire. Today, it’s known as Sultanahmet Square and you can still see some of the surviving fragments of the original structure.
4. Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultanahmet Mosque, is a historic mosque found in the city of Istanbul. It’s a popular tourist attraction that still operates as a mosque, and its name comes from the beautiful hand-painted blue tiles that cover its interior walls.
5. Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace once served as the majestic headquarters and residence of the Ottoman sultans. Following the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, the palace was transformed into a museum. It contains hundreds of rooms that are mostly closed off, but tourists can still explore some of the most important and iconic rooms in the palace.
6. Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest covered markets in the world. It consists of over 57 covered streets and around 3,000 different shops, bringing in around 300,000 different visitors each day.
It’s also regarded as one of the first shopping malls in the world and an excellent place to browse when you’re visiting. You can buy tiles, jewelry, leather, colorful lamps and rugs in Grand Bazaar.
7. Suleymaniye Mosque
The Suleymaniye Mosque is an imperial Ottoman mosque that was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent and designed by the imperial architect Mimar Sinan. It’s currently one of the most well-known tourist attractions in the world and also the second largest mosque in the whole of Turkey.
8. Spice Bazaar
The Spice Bazaar is one of the most legendary covered shopping complexes in the world and is the must-see place for exotic spices from all around the country. Spice Bazaar is a fantastic place to visit if you want to bring a unique culinary gift to your friends and family members.
9. Dolmabahce Palace
The Dolmabahce Palace is located on the European shores of the Bosphorus and once served as the main administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire. It’s one of the most popular places to visit and definitely a must-see destination.
10. Chora Church
The Chora Church, also known as the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, is a medieval church that has now been preserved as a museum. In Kariye Museum, you’ll get to see beautiful mosaic creations that depict various biblical scenes.
11. Bosphorus Cruise
Bosphorus Cruise is a must-do activity in Istanbul. You may see beautiful palaces, mosques and mansions along the Bosphorus shores. This activity provides amazing photo opportunities.
Private Guided Tours of Istanbul
The private guided Istanbul tours listed below will help you understand the history of the city. If you travel with a local tour guide in Istanbul, you will have insight into history and culture.
1. Private Half Day Istanbul Tour
Our private half day Istanbul tour includes a visit to the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Hippodrome, Basilica Cistern and the Spice Bazaar. This is a fantastic option to see some of the iconic landmarks in the whole of Istanbul and you’ll receive plenty of background information on each location to enlighten you.
- Hagia Sophia
- Blue Mosque
- Basilica Cistern
- Spice Bazaar
Duration 3 to 4 hours.
2. Private Full Day Istanbul Tour
Our private full day Istanbul tour is recommended for anyone that is passionate about the history of Istanbul. The tour includes a visit to the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Hippodrome, Basilica Cistern and also the Grand Bazaar.
- Hagia Sophia
- Blue Mosque
- Topkapi Palace
- Basilica Cistern
- Grand Bazaar
Duration 6 to 8 hours.
3. Byzantine History Tour
Byzantine history tour will give you the opportunity to see more of the wonderful city of Constantinople and marvel at the beautiful architecture that the Byzantines imbued the city with.
- Hippodrome of Constantinople
- Hagia Sophia
- Basilica Cistern
- Great Palace Mosaics Museum
- Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
- Valens Aqueduct
- Chora Church
- Palace of the Porphyrogenitus
Duration 6 to 8 hours.
Private Walking Tours in Istanbul
Lastly, we have private walking tours in Istanbul. These are only between 3-4 hours long and involve relaxing walks throughout some of the most interesting neighbourhoods of Istanbul.
1. Walking Tour of Fener and Balat
Walking tour of Fener and Balat covers two historical and lively neighborhoods of Old City. Greek, Jewish and Armenian communities in Istanbul had lived in these areas during the Ottoman era. This tour is recommended to discover off the beaten track Istanbul. Especially recommended for those who are insterested in architecture and photography.
2. Walking Tour of Beyoglu
Walking tour of Beyoglu includes Tophane, Karakoy, Istiklal Avenue and Taksim Square. These areas where the heart of the city beats. Most of the top restaurants and cafés located within these neighborhoods. You may see European features of Istanbul with 19th Century artchitecture. This area is very popular stop for street food tours as well.
Istanbul Local Tour Guide Serhat Engul
Hello, I’m Serhat Engul, I am a local tour guide in Istanbul. You can contact me through the contact link on the lines below. I provide private guidance services to small groups.
I have been working as a private tour guide in Istanbul for about 17 years. All the tours I recommend on this page are routes that have been experienced hundreds of times. You can discover the history of Istanbul with me.
Please kindly find the Contact Form to get in touch with us
Istanbul Private Tour Guide Cost
Cost of a private tour guide in Istanbul is pretty much depending on the season. Istanbul’s high season starts at 1st of April and ends by 1st of November. During the Spring, Summer and Fall the tourism services (accommodation and private tours) are more expensive than in winter.
In general terms, guidance fee for a full day tour is 180 EURO up to 4 people. Half day private tour cost is 120 EURO. Entrance fees for the museums are not included in these rates. Duration of the full day tour is usually from 6 hours to 8 hours.
Istanbul Private Tour Guide Review
Majority of the active private tour guides in Istanbul are registered on TripAdvisor and their reviews are visible there. You are advised to check the guide’s background from internet, to make sure that he/she is the right person for you.
I suggest you read the comments carefully. Long and detailed reviews will help you better find the right local tour guide for you in Istanbul.
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