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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Capital of Great Ottoman Empire and European Capital of Culture for 2010

Istanbul (Turkish: İstanbul, historically also known as Byzantium and Constantinople; see names of Istanbul) is the largest city in Turkey and fifth largest city proper in the world with a population of 12.6 million. Istanbul is also a megacity, as well as the cultural and financial centre of Turkey. The city covers 39 districts of the Istanbul province. It is located on the Bosphorus Strait and encompasses the natural harbour known as the Golden Horn, in the northwest of the country. It extends both on the European (Thrace) and on the Asian (Anatolia) sides of the Bosphorus, and is thereby the only metropolis in the world that is situated on two continents.

In its long history, Istanbul has served as the capital city of the Roman Empire (330–395), the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin Empire (1204–1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922). The city was chosen as joint European Capital of Culture for 2010. The historic areas of Istanbul were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985.

Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)

Famous for its impressive size, remarkable architecture and beautiful mosaics and frescoes, the massive ochre-coloured domed structure known as Hagia Sophia is one of Istanbul’s most popular attractions. It was commissioned as a cathedral in the 6th century and remained the most important church in Christianity for over 900 years. In the 15th century Mehmet II conquered the city and converted it into a mosque, adding the minarets and fountains. It functioned as such for the next 481 years until the founding of the secular Turkish Republic in 1934 when it was declared a museum. Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest Byzantine buildings in the world, and the vast interior, with its huge soaring dome, is extraordinary. The interior contains different features from its time as a cathedral and then as a mosque, including incredible Byzantine mosaics, icons and marble columns, a mihrab (niche indicating the direction of Mecca), and Islamic calligraphy inscriptions on the dome from the Ottoman period.

Suleiman Mosque

Below the University in Istanbul to the north, situated on a terrace surrounded by schools, baths, etc., is the Süleiman Mosque (1549-75), built for Süleiman the Magnificent by the great architect Sinan, who, under the influence of Hagia Sophia, carried mosque architecture to its greatest development; after the Selim Mosque in Edirne, the Süleimaniye is his finest achievement. The interior, dominated by its great dome (53m/175ft high, 26.5m/85ft in diameter), is notable for its harmonious proportions and unity of design (on the mihrab wall, beautiful tiles and stained glass). Behind the mosque is the burial ground, with fine türbes (tomb chapels), in particular those of Süleiman and his favorite wife Roxolana.

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)

The Sultan Ahmet Camii, commonly known as the Blue Mosque, with its tiers of magnificent domes and six graceful minarets is one of the most striking and immediately distinguishable structures on the Istanbul’s skyline. Constructed as an Islamic rival to the Hagia Sophia in 1609, it is one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture and is still used by hundreds of worshippers. The interior is splendidly decorated with thousands of blue and white Iznik tiles embellished with traditional Ottoman flower patterns, and it is this special feature that gives the mosque its name. Its design of successively descending smaller domes, soaring columns and 260 stained glass windows leaves a lasting impression of graceful accord and open space. At the back of the mosque is a Carpet and Kilim Museum exhibiting antiques from all over Turkey.

Princes' Islands

A boat trip to the beautiful Princes' Islands is very rewarding. The nine islands (total area, known in Turkish as the Kizil Adalar (Red Islands) from the reddish tinge of their quarzite and ferruginous rocks, lie 19-28km/12-17mi southeast of Istanbul in the northeastern corner of the Sea of Marmara. There are several boats a day to and from Istanbul and Yalova. In antiquity the islands were called Demonnesoi (People's Islands); in medieval times their numerous monasteries earned them the name of Papadonisia (Priests' Islands). Under the Byzantine Empire they frequently served as a place of exile for deposed or disgraced members of the Imperial family

With their carefully tended gardens and parks, their first-rate facilities for water-sports, and their excellent roads, they offer a welcome change from the hectic pace of life in Istanbul. Their healthy climate, southern vegetation and variety of scenery make them a favorite resort of the more prosperous citizens of Istanbul. There is no motor traffic on the Princes' Islands, the chief means of transport being horse-drawn carriages, which can be hired for drives around the islands.

The largest island, Büyük Ada (Great Island), was known from the time of the Emperor Justinian II (sixth century) as Prinkipo: hence the name of Princes' Islands given to the whole group. The other islands, in order of size (with Greek names in parenthesis), are Heybeli Ada (Chalki; with copper deposits), Burgaz Ada (Pyrgos or Antigoni), Kinali Ada (Proti), Sedef Ada (Terebinthos), Yassi Ada (Plati), Sivri Ada (Oxia), Kasik Ada (Pitta) and Tavsan Ada (Neandros).

Horse Square

Adjoining the southwest side of Ayasofya Meydani in Istanbul extends Atmeydani (Horse Square), an open space more than 300m/330yds long which occupies part of the site of the ancient Hippodrome, begun by Septimius Severus in 203 and completed by Constantine the Great in 330. This was the center of Byzantine Court and public life, the scene of splendid games but also of factional conflicts (Nika Insurrection). Between here and the sea-walls on the Sea of Marmara (still largely preserved) were the Roman and Byzantine Imperial palaces with their churches and associated buildings.


Beyond the Treasury in the Hagia Eirene in Istanbul is the Harem (an Arabic word meaning "That which is forbidden"), the women's apartments to which only the Sultan, his blood relatives and the eunuchs had access. Part of the Harem is now open to the public (admission charge; half-hourly tours, 50 people max.). Apart from a few larger rooms, richly appointed, the Harem is a maze of narrow corridors and small - sometimes tiny - rooms, which have preserved little in the way of Oriental splendor. In imperial Turkey men might have up to four legitimate wives at a time; the Sultan was allowed seven. There was no limit on the number of concubines. Since 1926 monogamy has been enforced by law.

Topkapi Palace Museum

The Topkapi Sarayi, built by Mehmet the Conqueror as a Sultan's Palace, consists of a sprawling collection of buildings arranged around several interconnecting courtyards. Magnificently situated on one of the seven hills of Istanbul with uninterrupted views over the Bosphorus River and the Golden Horn, it was the seat of the Ottoman Empire for almost four centuries. Home to nearly 3,000 people, it served as royal residence, harem, state administration and military barracks. One of the most popular sections is the harem, once the quarters of about 300 women who were the sultans' wives and concubines, and their children. Visitors can view the apartments, halls and terraces of the harem, and see the lavish royal bedchamber and Imperial Hall. No expense was spared in decorating the palace and exquisitely designed rooms, intricately detailed fountains and gateways, and the splendid Treasury, housing one of the greatest collections of treasure in the world, afford insight into the opulent lifestyle of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkish and Islamic Art Museum

The grand 16th century palace of the sultan’s Grand Vizier, Ibrahim Pasa, today houses the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum, containing what many consider to be the finest collection of Islamic artefacts in the world. The palace itself was the finest private residence ever built in the Ottoman Empire. From its supreme position overlooking the Hippodrome, the sultan could enjoy excellent views of the celebrations in the square below. The museum is well laid out and contains more than 40,000 examples of Selçuk, Mamluk and Ottoman Turkish art, including ceramics, Koran cases, calligraphy, textiles, metalwork and illuminated manuscripts. Its antique carpet exhibit is renowned; the carpets, kilims and prayer rugs forming one of the richest and oldest collections in the world.

Covered Bazaar (Kapali Çarsi)

The oldest and biggest enclosed bazaar in the world, also known as the Grand Bazaar, is one of the most enticing and mesmerizing attractions in Istanbul. Consisting of a vast labyrinth of 65 twisting streets crammed with more than 4,000 shops, teahouses, hamams (Turkish baths), mosques, storehouses and fountains. It is a fascinating experience to wander around the alleyways, looking and enjoying, or bargaining and purchasing. Here you can find almost anything, from meerschaum pipes, carpets and jewellery, to Turkish Delight, textiles, spices, clothing and hand-painted ceramics. Protracted bargaining over a cup of tea is an important institution. Built during the rule of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1461, the bazaar grew by covering an increasingly large area of shops and streets with roofs, arches and domes, and it became the centre of trading during the Ottoman period. Caravans of silk traders traditionally stayed here and rested their camels while selling their merchandise, and many of these ‘hans’ or caravanserais still exist as storehouses today.


Outside the land walls of Istanbul, at the north end of the Golden Horn, lies the suburb of Eyüp, with Istanbul's holiest shrine, the Eyüp Mosque, built in 1459 and subsequently much altered. Here a new Sultan was girded with his sword. Facing the entrance to the mosque is the Türbe of Eyüp, the Prophet's Standard-bearer, who was killed during
the first Arab siege of Constantinople (678).

On the hill above the mosque, to the northeast, is a picturesque cemetery. Each grave has two gravestones, and until 1926 the headstone of a man's grave bore a fez or turban. From higher up, above the old Convent of the Whirling Dervishes, there is a magnificent view of both sides of the Golden Horn.

2km/1.25mi east of Eyüp, the Sweet Waters of Europe flow into the Golden Horn. This is still a favorite resort of the people of Istanbul.

Sunken Palace

Also known as the Underground Cistern or Yerebatan Saray, this eerie cavern was built by Constantinople the Great around 532 AD and is held up below ground by 336 columns. Once a set for the James Bond film, From Russia with Love, the cavern today sees tourists crossing over 2 acres of 12 inch thick water, on wooden walkways, to take in the occasional art exhibit or marvel at the intricate design on the columns themselves. There is a pleasant little café topside where the eyes can adjust over some tea.

Egytian Bazaar

Immediately west of the Yeni Cami in Istanbul is the Egyptian Bazaar (Misir Çarsisi), originally intended only for goods from Egypt but now the most important market in the Old Town after the Great Bazaar.
Porcelain Collection

The palace kitchens of Hagia Eirene in Istanbul now house the Porcelain Collection, predominantly consisting of Chinese porcelain and faience (mostly 10th-18th century), which includes many items of outstanding quality. On the left-hand side of the courtyard is the Kubbe Alti, built by Mehmet II, with a tall tower (41.5m/135ft; 16th century, upper part 1819). This housed the Divan, the council chamber in which the Grand Vizier received foreign envoys. Adjoining the Kubbe Alti is a collection of Turkish faience.

The Bab-üs-Saadet, the Gate of Felicity (to the left, a collection of textiles), leads into the second of the inner courts. Immediately in front of the gate is the Audience Chamber (Arz Odasi), a pavilion dating from the
time of Süleiman the Magnificent, with a baldachin-like throne in a colonnaded hall. Beyond this is the Library of Ahmet III.

Cannon Gate Palace / Old Palace

From the Soguk Çesme Gate in Istanbul we bear half right to the Topkapi Sarayi (Cannon Gate Palace) or Eski Saray (Old Palace), the old palace-city of the Sultans, built on the Seraglio Point hill, one of the seven hills of New Rome, on the site of the acropolis and the earliest settlement of Byzantion. This great complex of buildings set in gardens (now open to the public) bounded by battlemented walls and towers, consists of a number of buildings outside the main precincts (the Archeological Museum, the Mint, the church of Hagia Eirene, etc.) and, beyond these, the Inner Seraglio. Mehmet II built a summer palace here in 1468, and this was enlarged by Süleiman
the Magnificent into the Sultan's principal residence, occupied by successive Sultan's until Abdul Mecid moved to the Dolmabahçe Palace in 1855.

The Topkapi Sarayi is surrounded by 5km of walls. The series of open courtyards are covered with 50,00 white roses in 1593. The second court enclosed flowerbeds and roses with plane trees and cypresses give shade. In the third court is a collection of fine trees such as magnolias, box, Atlas cedar and Lagerstroemia indica, during summer there are scented flowers. The fourth courtyard contains pavilions that are surrounded with flowers, trees and shrubs.

Archeological Museum

On the west side of the Seraglio hill in Istanbul stands the Archeological Museum (Arkeoloji Müzesi), which contains an important collection of prehistoric Greek, Roman and Byzantine antiquities.

Opposite the southwest wing of the Archeological Museum is the Museum of Ancient Oriental Art (Eski Sark Eserleri Müzesi).

In the courtyard of the Archeological Museum is the graceful Cinili Kösk (Tiled Pavilion), one of the oldest surviving Turkish buildings in Istanbul (1472), in a style which shows Persian influences. It has Turkish ceramic, tile (mainly from Iznik, 16th century) and faience (12th-19th century) decoration.

Above the Archeological Museum is the Outer Court of the Seraglio, with the Janissaries'
Plane Tree.

The museum consists of two buildings, the main building which dates to the 1880s, and a new six story building.

Aqueduct of Valens

A little way north of the Sehzade Mosque in Istanbul, between the University and the Sultan Mehmet Mosque, can be seen the imposing bulk of the Aqueduct of Valens, built in the reign of Valens (A.D. 368), frequently restored and still in use. The two-story aqueduct spans the lower ground between the third and the fourth of the city's hills, and at its highest point, half-way along its course, crosses the Atatürk Boulevard, a modern street driven through the center of the Old Town, including an area devastated by fire.

Galata Tower

Erected as a bastion for the walls of the 14th century colony of Galata, the tower offers a 360º panoramic view of the old town. Today it is a sought-after conference venue, offering fine dining at the resident restaurant and belly dancing displays in its own night club.

Dolmache Palace
Dolmache Palace
This second palace of the Ottoman Sultans was once the Sultan's harem and is an ostentatious interior of crystal chandeliers, the one adorning the grand hall weighing in at four tons (4,000 kg). On the exterior, the palace has an extensive and beautiful garden, yours for the strolling.

Istanbul Dolphinarium

Kids on holiday in Istanbul will jump at a chance to visit the dolphinarium, its six pools home to a few dolphins and seals, as well as white whales and walruses. Children can swim with the dolphins, visit the toy store and learn many great sea-life facts while they're there. The restaurant or café are great for a snack or lunch break.

Sisli Science Centre

The fascinating world of science can be explored by children at the Sisli science centre in Istanbul. Interactive programs and animations cover a range of subjects from maths and physics to earthquakes and fire-fighting. Take a ride on the Bouncing Electrons or see the destructive force of a 7.4 magnitude earthquake.

Discovery Sphere Planetarium

In a true space odyssey, kids can marvel at the wonders of the universe projected onto the walls of the Discovery Sphere Planetarium. They will be amazed at the night sky as it reveals infinite stars and the fascinating Milky Way. All children's space questions will be answered by the planetarium's friendly on-site specialists or the latest digital animation systems.

Contemporary Istanbul

Every October artists from all across Turkey converge on the capital to showcase their latest creations in contemporary art. A variety of paintings, sculpture and crafts are displayed for exhibition purposes and also for sale. Admirers from all across Turkey show up for the week to assess, purchase and critique the latest offerings of a fascinating culture.

International Istanbul Music Festival

One of the most prominent events on the city's cultural calendar and one of the foremost musical events in Europe, the International Istanbul Music Festival is a summer extravaganza of opera and ballet, as well as classical and traditional music. Over the years the festival has hosted world-renown classical performers and groups from around the globe, as well as local artists and traditional music groups, from international philharmonic orchestras, distinguished chamber ensembles and soloists to dance and ballet performances and Whirling Dervishes. Concerts are held in various locations, including some of the historical buildings in Istanbul.

The Bosphorus Swim

This annual event sees over a thousand swimmers navigate the 4.3 miles (7km) of the Bosphorus Straight between Kanlica and Cemil Topuzlu Park, essentially swimming from Asia to Europe. Concurrently, rowers and sailors participate in longer races along the same route. Complementing the event are live brass band performances, water-ski exhibitions and dance performances.

Turkish F1 Grand Prix

One of the newer tracks added to the Formula One Season, Istanbul Park has been described as 'The greatest track ever built', by Bernie Ecclestone, CEO of the Formula One Administration. It is one of only three races that runs anticlockwise (the Brazillian and San Marino Grand Prix being the other two) and commands the respect of all the drivers. The track is located 56 miles (90km) from the city centre.


Shopping in Istanbul is a mixture of old, new, antique, exotic and unadulterated kitsch. Souvenirs, spices, leather goods, carpets, kilims and earthenware are all popular buys with tourists, but the experience is more about wandering through the winding streets and markets, taking everything in and hunting for bargains.

The most notable market is the Grand Bazaar, which boasts over 4,000 shops and, just in case that's not enough, the entire market is surrounded by a maze of streets lined with even more shops! Just about everything and anything can be found at the Grand Bazaar and haggling is an essential skill. The Egyptian market and the flea market in Beyazit Square are also worth a visit.

Outside the Grand Bazaar, to the east, Nuruosmaniye Caddesi is the place to buy jewellery, and fine art boutiques can be found nestled down the side streets. A shopping trip in Istanbul is not complete without buying a box of Turkish delight, which can be found all over the city and in souks and specialist shops.

Most shops in Istanbul are open from 8am until roughly 9pm, and religious shopkeepers will close for an hour on Friday at lunchtime for prayers at the Mosque. In many areas shops are closed on Sundays. Non-European tourists can apply for a tax refund depending on the nature of the goods that have been purchased. In Turkey, the minimum purchase to qualify for a refund is TRY100 and visitors will need to request a VAT refund request form when making a purchase.

Night Life

Those in the know reckon Istanbul only comes to life once the sun sets. There is certainly an astounding range of nightlife in the city, from cutting edge techno to belly-dancing. The nadir of all this activity is Beyoðlu with plenty of wine bars, jazz joints and hip rooftop bars. In contrast, the tourist area of Sultanahmet has few venues worth mentioning.

Start your evening off at one of the many meyhanes - a type of Turkish tavern famous for raki and mezze platters. Some of the best nightclubs are in Ortaköy, overlooking the Bosphorous. The two most popular are Reina and Sortie, both famous for supermodels, millionaires and the effortlessly hip. For jazz music, head to enduring classics Nardis Jazz Club and Istanbul Jazz Centre.

Clubs and bars stay open very late and drinks prices are good compared to European cities. Be careful of visiting strip joints or belly-dancing clubs - these are notorious for ripping off tourists. Always establish prices before ordering anything. For local listings check out Time Out Istanbul or the Turkish Daily News.


Istanbul has two international airports: The larger one is the Atatürk International Airport located in the Yeşilköy district on the European side, about 24 kilometres (15 mi) west from the city center. When it was first built, the airport was situated at the western edge of the metropolitan area but now lies within the city bounds. The smaller one is the Sabiha Gökçen International Airport located in the Kurtköy district on the Asian side, close to the Istanbul Park GP Racing Circuit. It is situated approximately 20 kilometres (12 mi) east of the Asian side and 45 kilometres (28 mi) east of the European city center.


Sea transport is vital for Istanbul, as the city is practically surrounded by sea on all sides: the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Black Sea. Many Istanbulites live on the Asian side of the city but work on the European side (or vice-versa) and the city's famous commuter ferries form the backbone of the daily transition between the two parts of the city – even more so than the two suspension bridges which span the Bosphorus. The commuter ferries, along with the high speed catamaran Seabus (Deniz Otobüsü), also form the main connection between the city and the Princes' Islands.

The first steam ferries appeared on the Bosphorus in 1837 and were operated by private sector companies. On January 1, 1851, the Şirket-i Hayriye (literally the Goodwill Company, as the Istanbul Ferry Company was originally called) was established by the Ottoman state. The Şirket-i Hayriye continued to operate the city's landmark commuter ferries until the early years of the Republican period, when they went under the direction of Türkiye Denizcilik İşletmeleri (Turkish State Maritime Lines). Since March 2006, Istanbul's traditional commuter ferries are being operated by İstanbul Deniz Otobüsleri (Istanbul Sea Buses) which also operates the high speed catamaran Seabus.

İDO (İstanbul Deniz Otobüsleri – Istanbul Sea Buses) was established in 1987 and operates the high speed catamaran Seabus which run between the European and Asian parts of Istanbul, also connecting the city with the Princes' Islands and other destinations in the Sea of Marmara. The Yenikapı High Speed Car Ferry Port on the European side, and the Pendik High Speed Car Ferry Port on the Asian side, are where the high speed catamaran "car ferries" are based. The car ferries which operate between Yenikapı (on the European side of Istanbul) and Bandırma reduce the driving time between Istanbul and İzmir and other major destinations on Turkey's Aegean coast by several hours; while those which operate between Yenikapı or Pendik (on the Asian side of Istanbul) and Yalova significantly reduce the driving time between Istanbul and Bursa or Antalya.

The port of Istanbul is the most important one in the country. The old port on the Golden Horn serves primarily for personal navigation, while Karaköy port in Galata is used by the large cruise liners. Regular services as well as cruises from both Karaköy and Eminönü exist to several port cities in the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea. Istanbul's main cargo port is located in the Harem district on the Asian side of the city. Istanbul also has several marinas of varying size for personal navigation, the largest of which are the Ataköy Marina on the European side and Kalamış Marina on the Asian side.


The State Road D.100 and the European route E80, the Trans European Motorway (TEM) O-3 are the two main motorway connections between Europe and Turkey. The motorway network around Istanbul is well developed and is constantly being extended. Motorways lead east to Ankara and west to Edirne. There are also two express highways circling the city. The older one, the O-1, is mostly used for inner city traffic; while the more recent one, the O-2, is mostly used by intercity or intercontinental traffic.

The Bosphorus Bridge on the O-1 and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge on theO-2 establish the motorway connection between the European and the Asian sides of the Bosphorus. The southern and northern shores of the Golden Horn, an inlet of the Bosphorus on the European side of the city, are connected through the Galata Bridge, the Atatürk Bridge and the Haliç Bridge; the latter also being a part of the O-1 motorway network.

Büyükdere Avenue is the main artery that runs through the central business districts of Levent and Maslak on the European side, and is also accessible through a number of subway stations. At the point where the O-1 motorway junctions and tunnels between the quarters of Gayrettepe and Zincirlikuyu come together, Büyükdere Avenue connects with Barbaros Boulevard, which descends towards the ferry port of Beşiktaş. There it connects with the coastal highway that runs along the European shore of the Bosphorus, from Eminönü in the south to Sarıyer in the north.


In 1883, a Belgian entrepreneur, Georges Nagelmackers, began a rail service between Paris and Constantinople, using a steamship to ferry passengers from Varna to Constantinople. In 1889, a rail line was completed going through Bucharest to Constantinople, making the whole journey via land possible. The route was known as the Orient Express, made even more famous by the works of Agatha Christie and Graham Greene.

Today, the Sirkeci Terminal of the Turkish State Railways (TCDD), which was originally opened in 1890 as the terminus of the Orient Express, is the terminus of all the lines on the European side and the main connection node of the Turkish railway network with the rest of Europe. Currently, international connections are provided by the line running between Istanbul and Thessaloniki, Greece, and the Bosphorus Express serving daily between Sirkeci and Bucharest, Romania. Lines to Sofia, Belgrade, Budapest, and Chişinău are established over the Bosphorus Express connection to Bucharest.

Beyond the Bosphorus, the Haydarpaşa Terminal on the Asian side serves lines running several times daily to Ankara, and less frequently to other destinations in Anatolia. The railway networks on the European and Asian sides are currently connected by the train ferry across the Bosphorus, which will be replaced by an underwater tunnel connection with the completion of the Marmaray project, scheduled for 2012. Marmaray (Bosphorus Rail Tunnel) will also connect the metro lines on the European and Asian parts of the city. Inaugurated in 1908, the Haydarpaşa Terminal was originally opened as the terminus of the Istanbul-Konya-Baghdad and Istanbul-Damascus-Medina railways.

A railway line runs between the main train station of the European part, the Sirkeci Terminal, and the Halkalı district towards the west of the city center, with 18 stations along its 30 km length. A single trip takes 48 minutes. Another suburban line runs on the Anatolian part from the main train station, the Haydarpaşa Terminal, to Gebze at the eastern end of the city. The 44 km long line has 28 stations and the trip takes 65 minutes. 720,000 passengers use the urban rail lines on the European side of the city every day.


Trams first entered service in Istanbul on September 3, 1869, at the Tophane – Ortaköy line. In 1871 the Azapkapı – Galata; Aksaray – Yedikule; Aksaray – Topkapı; and Eminönü – Aksaray lines entered service. Other lines which entered service in the late 19th century included the Voyvoda Caddesi – Kabristan Sokağı – Tepebaşı – Taksim – Pangaltı – Şişli line; the Bayezid – Şehzadebaşı line; the Fatih – Edirnekapı – Galatasaray – Tünel line; and the Eminönü – Bahçekapı line. Since 1939 the trams of the city are operated by the İETT. On August 12, 1961, the historic red trams of Istanbul were removed from the city's European side; and on November 14, 1966, they were removed from the city's Asian side. Towards the end of 1990, replicas of these historic red trams were put in service along the İstiklal Avenue between Taksim and Tünel, which is a single 1.6 km-long (1640 m) line. On November 1, 2003, another nostalgic tram line (T3) was reopened on the Anatolian part of Istanbul between Kadıköy and Moda. It has 10 stations on a 2.6 km long route. The trip takes 21 minutes.

A fast tram (T1) was put in service in 1992 on standard gauge track with modern cars, connecting Sirkeci with Topkapı. The line was extended on one end from Topkapı to Zeytinburnu in March 1994, and on the other end from Sirkeci to Eminönü in April 1996. On 30 January 2005 it was extended from Eminönü to Fındıklı, crossing the Golden Horn through the Galata Bridge for the first time after 44 years. A final extension to Kabataş was opened in June 2006. The line has 24 stations on a length of 14 km. Service was initially operated with 22 LRT vehicles built by ABB, now reassigned to other lines; while stations were provided with temporary high platforms. These vehicles were replaced by 55 low-floor Bombardier Flexity Swift trams in 2003. An entire trip takes 42 minutes. The daily transport capacity is 155,000 passengers. The amount of investment totaled US$110 million. In September 2006, a second tram line (T2) was added, running west from Zeytinburnu to Bağcılar. Service on this line is operated with 14 ABB LRT cars. Stations have high platforms at the level of the car floor.


Istanbul is served by two underground funicular railways, of very different ages and styles. The older of these lines is the Tünel (1875). Inaugurated on January 17, 1875, the Tünel is the second-oldest subterranean urban rail line in the world after the London Underground (1863) (arguably third in the world, if one counts Brooklyn, New York's abandoned Atlantic Avenue Tunnel) and the first subterranean urban rail line in continental Europe; though the first full subway line with multiple underground stations in continental Europe was the Line 1 of the Budapest Metro (1896). The Tünel is 573 m long with an altitude difference of 60 m and no intermediate stations between Karaköy and Tünel Square. It has been continuously in service since 1875. Two trains run on a single rail every 3.5 minutes, and a trip takes 1.5 minutes. Making 64,800 trips, totaling 37,066 kilometres a year, the Tünel carries 15,000 passengers per day.

A second funicular line, the Kabataş-Taksim Funicular, entered service on June 29, 2006, connecting Kabataş and Taksim. This system connects the Seabus station and the tram stop in Kabataş to the metro station at Taksim Square. It is about 600 meters long and climbs approximately 60 meters in 110 seconds, carrying 9,000 passengers per day.

Light rail

The Istanbul LRT is a light rail transit system consisting of 2 lines. The first line (M1) began service on 3 September 1989 between Aksaray and Kartaltepe. The line was further developed step-by-step and reached Atatürk Airport on December 20, 2002. The other line (T4) was opened in 2007 between Edirnekapı and Mescid-i Selam. There are 36 stations, including 12 underground and 3 viaduct stations, on the line's 32 km length. The lines are totally segregated from other traffic, without level crossings, and run underground for 10.4 km. Service is operated with LRT vehicles built by ABB in 1988.


Construction works of the Istanbul Metro (M2) began in 1992 and the first completed section between Taksim and 4. Levent entered service on September 16, 2000. This section of the line is 8.5 km (5.3 mi) long and has 6 stations. In 2000, there were 8 Alstom-built 4-car train sets in service, which ran every 5 minutes on average and transported 130,000 passengers daily. On January 30, 2009, the first train sets built by Eurotem entered service. Eurotem will build a total of 92 new wagons for the M2 line. As of January 30, 2009, a total of 34 train sets, each with 4 cars, were being used on the M2 line.

A northern extension from 4. Levent to Maslak was opened on January 30, 2009. The southern extension of the M2 line from Taksim to Yenikapı, across the Golden Horn on a bridge and underground through the historic peninsula, has thus far been completed up to the Şişhane station in Beyoğlu, which also entered service on January 30, 2009. At Yenikapı the M2 network will intersect with the extended light metro and suburban train lines, and with the Marmaray tunnel.

At present, the M2 line has 10 stations in service on the European side of the city; while 6 new stations on the European side and 16 new stations on the Asian side are currently under construction. The trip between the Şişhane station in Beyoğlu and the Atatürk Oto Sanayi station in Maslak is 15.65 km (9.7 mi) long and takes 21 minutes. The total length of the European side of the M2 line will reach 18.36 km (11.4 mi) when all 16 stations from Hacıosman to Yenikapı will be completed; it including the 936 metres long Golden Horn metro bridge, the 0.6 km long Taksim-Kabataş tunnel connection with the Seabus port, the 0.6 km long Yenikapı-Aksaray tunnel connection with the LRT network, and the 13.6 km long Marmaray tunnel.

On the Asian side, construction of the 21.66 km (13.5 mi) long M2 line from Kadıköy to Kartal continues, which will have a total of 16 stations. The Marmaray tunnel (Bosporus undersea railway tunnel) will connect the metro lines of the Asian and European parts of the city. According to the scheduled construction timeline, the tunnel will enter service in 2012.

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