Istanbul’s Skyline is one of the most beautiful in the entire world. With it’s old and historic buildings such as mosques, churches, minarets, belltowers, city fortifications, lighthouses, bridges and with the new buildings like skyscrapers, highrises, malls, it offers a unique and breathtaking sight for those who lift up their heads and look straight to the horizon in order to see the city in its entirety.
Istanbul is not one unique portrait that you might be used to seeing looking at the photos of a city, it is a big city with around 15 million inhabitants, so it has many different ways to look and see this city. There are many silhouettes in this city to enjoy. For example, you can climb the Galata Tower to look over the strait of Istanbul in order to see the most classic view of this magnificent city, or you can go to the Pierre Loti hill in order to look at Istanbul’s skyline from a different perspective.
When you first take a look at Istanbul’s skyline, the first thing that you will notice is how much minarets there are like spears pointing to the skies. They can be called the “belltowers” of the mosques. There are mosques with as little as a single minaret and there’s a mosque with 6 of them. Some of the minarets are quite recently built, but some of them are as ancient as the conquest of the city. Here are some of the mosques that offer the best view with their minarets:
- Beyazit Mosque
- Fatih Mosque
- Sultanahmet Mosque
- Suleymaniye Mosque
- Ortakoy Mosque
- Eyup Sultan Mosque
- Sokullu Mehmet Pasha Mosque
- Rustem Pasha Mosque
- Kalenderhane Mosque
- Shehzade Mehmet Mosque
- New Mosque (construction started in 1597)
- Kilic Ali Pasha Mosque
Some of the mosques are gigantic with very long minarets that differ in architecture regarding the period that they were built in.
Located right next to Beyazit Square in the Historic Peninsula, Beyazit Mosque was built in the time of Sultan Beyazit II in 1505 and is among the important Istanbul mosques. There were mosques, madrasahs, baths, kitchens, caravanserais and accommodation places in the area built as Beyazit Complex during that period. Of these, the kitchen and caravanserai still serve as the Istanbul University Library. The madrasah of the period serves as the Turkish Calligraphy Museum.
The Fatih Mosque was built in the time of Fatih Sultan Mehmet in 1463 and is located in the Fatih district. It includes a madrasa, hospital, library, caravanserai and Turkish bath. It is also among the most important Istanbul mosques.
The Blue Mosque, built by Sultan Ahmed I in the 17th century, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful mosques and architectural structures of Istanbul and the world with its magnificent architecture and six minarets. This name of the mosque is Sultanahmet Mosque, it is known as the Blue Mosque internationally, it comes from the magnificent blue Iznik tiles. Sultanahmet Mosque, which was the only six minaret mosque in Istanbul, now shares this reputation with Camlıca Mosque, which opened to worship on Camlıca Hill in 2019. It is the most visited mosque in the world.
The Suleymaniye Mosque, built by Mimar Sinan between 1550 and 1557 in honor of Kanuni Sultan Süleyman, fascinates visitors with its magnificent architecture and its dominant position in Istanbul. It is considered as one of the most important examples of classical Ottoman architecture. The central dome, 150 ft high and 80 ft large in diameter, carried by four large pillars called elephant legs. The complex is located on the highest hill in the middle that sees the Golden Horn, Marmara, Topkapi Palace, and the Bosphorus. It consists of mosques, madrasahs, darussifa, darulhadis, fountains, darulkurra, daruzziyafe, imaret, hamam, tabhane, library, and shops. Tombs of Sultan Süleyman and Mimar Sinan are also located in this complex.
Ortakoy Mosque is one of the most beautiful mosques in Istanbul. The official name is Buyuk Mecidiye Mosque. Ortakoy Mosque, which was constructed in the 19th century in the period of Sultan Abdulmecit in a position overlooking the Bosphorus in the Ortakoy district, also appears in the most popular Istanbul photographs.
Eyup Sultan Mosque is located in Eyup, at the northern end of the Golden Horn. At the same time, it is located where Eyyubu El-Ensari is buried. During the period, a tomb and a mosque were built here upon the order of Fatih Sultan Mehmet. The first mosque built in 1458 was destroyed and today’s mosque was built with the order of Sultan Selim III. It was built between 1798-1800. Eyup Sultan Mosque and the Pierre Loti hill around it are flooded with many visitors every day.
Those are some of the bigger and most popular mosques with the most spectacular and longest minarets, other mosques in this list and also others that are not on this list have also beautiful minarets with different architectural specifics regarding the period that they were built in.
All the towers of Istanbul have been elements of the city’s identity with their functional features and symbolic values that they once had. For example, Beyazit Fire Tower, which was built in order to keep ruin away from the old Istanbul which was famous for its fires, was in a very important position in order to prevent this danger as soon as possible. Galata Tower had served for the same purpose for many years. The Maiden Tower(Kizkulesi), which was the subject of legends, was used for military purposes due to its strategic location before the Ottoman era. The entrance of the Bosphorus, which became a safe place in the Ottoman period, the tower was used in roles suitable for its glory (the Pearl of the Bosphorus): It was a lighthouse that guided the ships and saved them from hitting the rocks and drifting in difficult situations. Canons were also fired from here during the ceremonies. Dolmabahce Clock Tower, which is on the same parallel line as the Maiden’s Tower, but on the European side, is next to the Yıldız Clock Tower along with its architectural value. It was one of the important visual symbols of Abdulhamid the 2nd’s government.
It was built for the purpose of defense of the city in 1438 by the Genoese who were in conflict with the Byzantines. It was rising at the top of the city with the walls surrounding the upper part of the city and equipped with small towers. Although there is not much left from these walls destroyed with the order of Sultan Mehmed II (Conqueror), Galata Tower was a tempting structure to be subject to the poems of Fatih. For him, the tower was the symbol of Galata, or Christian beauty, where the non-Muslim population lived densely. Because of being close to the shipyard, prisoners used as forsa(galley slave) or other works were also imprisoned here for a while. The tower was later used as a fire tower due to its dominant position. This function disappeared with the spread of masonry buildings in the Pera region, the center of Westernization, and became a ruined building abandoned in the 20th century. With the restoration work carried out in the 60s, a cone was also clothed on the tower, which was opened to tourist visitations. It can be said that this cone added later added to the beauty of the tower. Galata Tower is also known as the place where Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi, a famous Turkish scholar of the 17th century, flew from the tower to Uskudar with wings of his own making attached to his back.
Maiden’s Tower (Kizkulesi)
Among the towers of Istanbul, this is the one that is subject to legends the most. Because of this feature, it has become one of the most important symbols of Istanbul. The tower has been rebuilt and modified many times since its construction. Sources firstly reference a structure in this region in 411 BC but the mention doesn’t describe a tower-like building. The tower also served as a place where some government officials were punished from time to time. In the 1600s, the Maiden Tower looks like a small castle with a crenel in the engraving-panorama made by G. J. Grelot and considered the most reliable painting of Istanbul. The tower, which was devastated in 1719, was overhauled by Grand Vizier İbrahim Pasha between 1725-1726, a glass pavilion was placed on the ground and its dome was covered with lead. It also took today’s appearance to a large extent in this repair. The tower, which was used as a quarantine hospital against the cholera epidemic in the 1830s. It was repaired again during the reign of Mahmud II. It lost its function in the Republican period and was used as a lighthouse. The building, which was empty after 1992, was recently restored and re-opened for the visitation of the tourists.
Beyazit Fire Tower
Before the tower’s most recent re-make, which is built in masonry, other fire towers made of wood were rising in the same area, but they were destroyed by various fires. In their place in 1828, this tower, probably built by Senerkim Balyan, rose but was partially damaged and repaired in the fire of 1894. This tower, which was built to prevent fires, has been destroyed by fire, which is a strange twist on history. Until recently, the tower was still used by firefighters, but nowadays it is used for meteorological observations. Located in one of the highest places in Istanbul, the tower is in a unique position to take panoramic Istanbul photos.
Yildiz and Dolmabahce Clock Towers
Sultan II. Abdulhamid was not a sultan that was among his people very much so he wanted to overcome this “invisibility” through public works, so he ordered clock towers in the important centers of the empire such as Istanbul, Damascus, and Izmir to be built. The Dolmabahce Clock Tower, which created a unique view along the Bosphorus along with the Maiden’s Tower, was built by the Balyan family between 1890 and 1894. The tower, which is 80 ft high and sits on a marble platform, was created by the use of neoclassical and empirical style elements in a selective style. The Yildiz Clock Tower, in 1890, was built with an eclectic style like Dolmabahce. However, the reputation on the state floor was higher because it was near the new palace of the dynasty, Yildiz Palace, hence its name.
The belltowers of Istanbul are an integral part of the city’s skyline, which is full of them if you know where to look. Istanbul was and is too significant Christian communities that built their churches around the city, so among the minarets of the mosques, there are also the belltowers of these churches. Here are some of the most significant of these churches in regard to their belltowers:
- The Greek Patriarchate in Fener and The Aya Yorgi Patriarchate Church
- Hagia Triada Church (Church of the Holy Trinity)
- Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic Church
- Saint Pierre Church
- Hagia Istefanios Church (Bulgarian Church is also known as the “Iron Church”)
Fener Greek Patriarchate and Aya Yorgi Patriarchate Church (St. George) are located in the Fener district on the shore of the Golden Horn and share the same courtyard. There are valuable objects in Aya Yorgi Church and the throne from the 5th century is the most striking one.
Hagia Triada Church (Church of the Holy Trinity)
The Greek Orthodox Hagia Triada Church is located on the left of Siraselviler street just before turning to Istiklal Street in Taksim and dates back to the 1880s. It is one of the most beautiful churches in Istanbul. It catches the eyes of those who come to Taksim with its magnificent dome and two bell towers.
St. Antony of Padua Catholic Church
Located on Istiklal Street in Taksim. St. Antony of Padua Church ranks among the most beautiful and magnificent churches of Istanbul. The church, built in 1912 in Italian neo-gothic style, is also the largest church in Istanbul and in a position of the church that has the most populated Catholic congregation in Istanbul.
Church St. Pierre, which is located on the same street as Galata Tower in Karakoy, was built in 1841. The church was moved here after Galata’s Dominican priests seized the churches, which are now the Arab Mosque. The back walls of the church, with its Basilica style and the four-sided altar, were built inside a section of the old Genoese walls of Galata. Every morning a mess in Italian is held out in the church.
The Bulgarian Church Aya Istefanos, which is also known as the Iron Church is located on the coast of the Golden Horn, close to the Fener district. It attracts a lot of attention with its golden yellow ornaments and architectural appearance. The iron molds used in its structure were brought from Vienna in 1871 by ships.
There are three gigantic structures, all modern, that mark the skyline of the cross-continental city; the crossing bridges. They are;
- The July 15th Martyrs Bridge (Previously the Bosphorus Bridge)
- Sultan (Conqueror) Mehmed II Bridge
- Sultan Selim Bridge
The Bosphorus Bridge is one of the two suspension bridges located on the Bosphorus Strait connecting the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea. One leg of the bridge is Ortaköy on the European Side, and the other leg is in the Beylerbeyi districts on the Anatolian Side.
Sultan Mehmet II Bridge is the suspension bridge between Kavacik and Rumeli Hisarustu in Istanbul, connecting Asia and Europe for the second time after the Bosphorus Bridge. The construction of the bridge started on January 4, 1986, was completed on July 3, 1988.
Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge, which connects the Bosphorus for the third time, was named after the 9th Ottoman sultan, its first caliph and the “conqueror of the Middle East”, Yavuz Sultan Selim. The bridge legs are located in the Garipçe neighborhood of Sarıyer on the European Side and the Poyrazköy district of Beykoz on the Anatolian Side.
The Hagia Sophia Museum
This museum is one of the most significant buildings that are part of the mosaic that is Istanbul’s skyline. It was first a Church then a Mosque, lastly it was made a museum in the Republican period. It has 3 minarets that were built in order to support the building after an earthquake. It has a tower that is original to the structure.
Istanbul’s skyline is dotted and pierced by many high structures both ancient and modern. In this post, we talked about the most iconic ones that come to mind when a picture or a painting of the city is mentioned. These structures are equally the city’s most beautiful aspects and places to see the beauty of the city from, so when you visit Istanbul don’t just consider them as part of the scenery but also look for the ones that you can climb in order to see breathtaking views.