"The God and human, the nature and the art are together in there, they have created such a perfect place that is valuable to see." Alphonse de Lamartine's famous poetic line reveals his love for Istanbul, describing the embracing of two continents, with one arm reaching out to Asia and the other to Europe.
Istanbul - historically also known as Byzantium and Constantinople - is the largest city in Turkey and the fifth-largest city in the world with a population of 13.8 million people. It is also a mega city as well as being the cultural and financial centre of Turkey. In its long history, Istanbul has served as the capital city of the Roman Empire (330-395 AD), the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire (395-1204 and 1261-1453), the Latin Empire (1204-1261) and the Ottoman Empire (1453-1922).
The historic areas of Istanbul were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985 and chosen as joint European Capital of Culture for 2010. It is the only city in the world to straddle two continents and the only one to have been a capital during two consecutive empires - Christian and Islamic.
Istanbul's variety is one of its greatest attractions. The ancient mosques, palaces, museums and bazaars reflect its diverse history. The thriving shopping area of Taksim buzzes with life and entertainment. The 19th century Cicek Pasaji (which translates literally as 'Flower Passage') on Istiklal Avenue, consisting of many historic meyhanes, pubs and restaurants, was built back in 1876. The famous Nevizade Street, with rows of historic meyhanes next to each other, is also in this area. Other historic pubs are to be found in the areas around Tunel Pasaji and the nearby Asmalimescit Sokagi. Some historic neighborhoods around Istiklal Avenue have recently been recreated, with varying degrees of success. For example, Cezayir Sokagi, situated near Galatasaray High School, became unofficially known as La Rue Françoise and has rows of francophone pubs, cafés and restaurants playing live music.
Istanbul is also famous for its historic seafood restaurants. The most popular seafood restaurants are generally found along the shores of the Bosphorus and by the Marmara Sea shore towards the south of the city. The largest of the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara (namely Buyukada, Heybeliada, Burgazada and Kinaliada) and Anadolu Kavagi near the northern entrance of the Bosporus towards the Black Sea also have many historic seafood restaurants. On top of all these meyhanes, pubs and restaurants, Istanbul has one of the most famous cuisines in the world with its traditional Ottoman features. The food served at hotels and restaurants is exceptionally unique and memorable for almost everyone who visits the city. Raki, Sish Kebap and Turkish Delight are the biggest trademarks of Turkish foods with their worldwide reputations and are strongly recommended for visitors.