Istanbul's architecture is inseparable from its geopolitics and history, which makes it so fascinating. Byzantine churches hidden under the Ottoman Conquest, Italian and German-designed buildings converted into mosques after WW2 and hi-tech skyscrapers – what a fusion. This route is for architecture lovers to get some inspiration.
This one is a place where history and ancient times seem to get under your skin. Kariye or Chora Church in Greek has the best preserved Byzantine mosaics and frescoes of the 14th century. A century later, it was converted into a mosque, as many other buildings were, while the precious art was covered with coats of plaster. Only in 1945, when it was turned into a museum and renovated, people could finally see the monument in all its glory. Be ready for your neck to hurt from looking up at the ceiling.
Fener Rum Erkek Lisesi
This Greek Orthodox College (former Greek private school) was built in the 19th century of the French red brick in the quarter of Balat, off the Golden Horn. Facing its main entrance with stairs rising up, you may loose your breath of its splendor. The classical Greek beauty makes Lisesi the second marvelous building after the Blue Mosque. Try to talk the guard into letting you inside, maybe you will have your luck.
Some call the Tarlabaşı a slum neighborhood and Turkish PM wanted to level this picturesque gypsy area with the ground. But its vibe is so authentic and warm – bright clothes on the ropes between old "khan" houses in the narrow streets, poorly dressed kids madly chasing the ball and shouting, big ladies smoking or drinking their tea on almost falling apart balconies – reminds of a little Cuba. The place is not safe at night and be careful with taking pictures – aliens with cameras are not always welcome.
This curious district is located between Istiklal and Taksim and spreads to Tophane. Its narrow steep streets are packed with hostels, antiques shops along with residential buildings. You will definitely pass many well drawn graffiti and a couple of small galleries when walking around. And architecture lovers will enjoy white-stones and decorative details: cast iron doors, door signs, curvy cast details – the eye of a newcomer will spot lots of interesting stuff.
These former cannon factories now make art. Owned by Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, the building has remarkable swirl-like vaults and stone stairs leading to the entrance and up to the roof. If you are lucky, sneak to a secret terrace and enjoy the view both down and up – the Galata Tower and its surroundings.
This raw brick walls are home to Misket (Turkish for marbles) wine bar, so relaxed and hip. It is owned by Babazula band which rose to fame after Crossing the Bridge movie about Turkish music. Make yourself comfortable in vintage chairs, order a jar of homemade wine, a cheese platter (THE famous Turkish cheese) and some starters.
A rare case of contemporary architecture harmonious with the environment is a prize-winning Vakko HQ building. This original design features oddly shaped glass and curved angles and looks so light as if floating above the ground. You need an arrangement to get inside but the exterior is impressive enough.
This new mosque made lots of fuss – it was opened three years ago in the conservative Uskudar district in the Asian part of the town. The large asymmetrical chandelier, a fountain and glass walls – an architecture like this breaks all Islamic rules but the major controversy is that it was designed by a woman, making it a new symbol of women's rights and a crossroads of East and West – actually what the entire Istanbul is about.