Seen the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sophia? Took a boat on the Bosporus and had a ramble on Istiklal Cadessi? Wait, do not leave Istanbul yet!
Instead, try visiting some historic remnants of Istanbul’s golden age, when Rome had fallen and Constantinople became known as the final stop of the Silk Road. For many centuries, the Roman empire lived on here, until the eventual conquests of the Crusaders and the Ottomans.
Many treasures were taken away by the Crusaders, most famously the four horses of Venice who used to adorn Constantinople’s hippodrome.
Great for everyone who likes historical sights but shudders at the sight of a boatload of people (in Istanbul you can take that quite literally), these sights still offer visitors the space to quietly wander around. Well, more or less, anyway.
1. Theodosian wall
In the 5th century, emperor Theodosius II, under whose rule Nestorianism Christianity took off and spread from Syria all the way to China, built the walls of Constantinople. They are a mighty reminder of Istanbul’s past, stretching from the Golden Gate and Yedikule’s fortress to the Emperor’s palace Tekfur Sarayi, and a 5 km stroll rewards the curious visitor.
2. Alexander Sarcophagus
Istanbul’s archaeological museum is located in the gardens of the Topkapi Palace, but sees only a fraction of the tourists. It’s very big, well-run and chock-full of treasures. Possibly the most important one (at least for Silk Road enthusiasts) is that of the Alexander Sarcophagus. It did not actually contain Alexander’s corpse, but its intricate carvings display Alexander’s deeds in life with incredible artistry.
There is really much, much more to see in this museum than this tomb alone, so definitely take your time for the archaeological museum.
3. Chain over the Bosporus and Yoros Castle
Another lesser-known museum is the Maritime Museum. Great displays of naval history, weapons, instruments and also a piece of the chain that was used to stop attackers from entering the Bosporus with their ships.
The giant chain stretched from the Golden Horn all the way to the other side of the strait. Only in the 10th century was the chain circumvented for the first time by the Kievan Rus(sians).
Even less well-known is that another chain was also in use at the time. It started from Yoros Castle near the village of Anadolu Kavagi. No evidence of the chain is left, but none is needed to visit this beautiful spot where visitors can view Istanbul from above and be witness to the different cultures and building styles evident in the ruined walls of the castle.
4. Saint Saviour Church and Chora Museum
Another undervalued jewel is Chora (Kariye) Museum, hidden in the Edirnekapi district of Istanbul. Originally from the 5th century, like pretty much everything in Istanbul it has been remodeled throughout the centuries, eventually turning into a mosque and now a museum. Chora Museum is the most important Byzantine monument in Istanbul after Aya Sophia. Inside, the Byzantine frescoes and mosaic art are spectacular.
The neighborhood has a relaxed atmosphere, with narrow and steep alleys, traditional wooden and colorful Turkish houses and small cafes where you can enjoy a cup of tea.
5. Valens aquaduct
While many find their way from the Aya Sophia to the Basilica Cistern, far fewer make it out to the Valens aquaduct. While it probably predates the arrival of Emperor Constantine, the aquaduct was in use until the 19th century. Stumbling across this engineering masterpiece as you trudge along the busy motorways is an unusual experience.
So there you go. Quiet, less-touristy neighborhoods to stay in Istanbul are Kadıköy, Nişantaşı and Cihangir and the area around Beyezit Square and the Grand Bazaar.
Taksim and Sultanahmet are, although conveniently located, the exact opposite of quiet and untouristy.
Did we miss any historical sites in Istanbul that are not overrun? Let us know!