Encompassing such notable monuments as Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Galata Bridge and Suleymaniye Mosque, The Historic Areas of Istanbul has rightfully claimed its place in the list of UNESCO World Heritage. Conferred in 1985, the designation divides the historic areas into four zones: the Archaeological Park, the Suleymaniye Quarter, the Zeyrek Quarter and the ramparts zone. Viewing of these areas will need several days in spite of their close proximity to each other.
The Archaelogical Park – referred to by most visitors as Sultanahmet – is arguably the most significant among these areas. Because of the vast array of things to see, you must set aside at least two days to explore it. A suggested itinerary would involve going to Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and the ancient Hippodrome of Constantine on the first day. Explore Topkapi Palace – former residence of Ottoman sultans – and the subterranean Basilica Cistern on the second day.
Featured on the Suleymaniye Quarter are two monuments commissioned by Suleyman the Magnificent and designed by the popular imperial Architect Sinan – the 4th century aqueduct of Valensand Suleymaniye and Sehzade Mosques. Combined, these two monuments are the finest examples of Ottoman architecture in Istanbul.
Just beside the Suleymaniye Quarter is the Zyrek Quarter. The most important thing to see here is the former Church of Pantocrator. This used to be a section of a Byzantine sanctuary that is comprised of two churches, a chapel and a monastery. Currently, it is known as Molla Zeyrek Mosque after having been converted into a Islamic structure, it may not be open to the public at present due to its state of disrepair.
Built on the orders of Emperor Theodosius II in the year 413, the land walls located in the zone of the ramparts is its most popular tourist spot. Trace the remnants of the wall by strolling uphill from Ayvansaray along Derviszade Sokak and Sishane Caddesi. You may also visit the exquisitely mosaicked Kariye Museum – formerly the Church of the Holy Saviour – in Chora.
Access to all of these important areas is better if you stay in the Sultanahmet area. This renders many of the monuments in the Archaeological Park and Suleymaniye Quarter as being within walking distance. One has to take the tram if your point of origin if from anywhere else in the city. There are different stops for each of the important sites. For example, get off the Sultanahmet bus stop to access that area, the Laleli-Universitet stop to see the Suleymaniye Quarter and Aksaray stop for the Zeyrek Quarter. Accessing the zone of the ramparts entails taking a Golden Horn ferry from Eminonu to Ayvansaray.