By Nourah Khan
Travel Writer, The Times Kuwait
Istanbul, a city where East meets West, offers a captivating blend of history, art, and diverse traditions, making it a prime destination for cultural tourism. From ancient landmarks to vibrant markets, let us embark on a journey through the cultural tapestry that defines Istanbul.
Let us begin by talking about the newest cultural landmark in Istanbul, which was opened several months ago, which is the Hagia Sophia Digital Museum, which presents the historical story of this great landmark in the form of an exciting film with music and sound effects, making listening to history an enjoyable experience even for children.
Hagia Sophia,a historical marvel that adorns the Istanbul skyline, is a former cathedral turned mosque that stands as a testament to the city’s Byzantine and Ottoman influences. This new museum will make you live the events of its construction as if you were in the ancient era.
But if you prefer the traditional museum experience, you can still see the artifacts previously stored in the warehouses of Hagia Sophia. The museum also displays manuscript documents about Hagia Sophia written by historians from the Ottoman era. In addition, visitors can benefit from a digital guide that provides information about the history of this famous structure. From the experiential halls to the detailed exhibits of this priceless sanctuary, a 1,700-year journey through fascinating layers of history awaits visitors.
During my previous visits to Istanbul, I had never thought about visiting something different from that on the usual itinerary that most visitors follow while visiting this city. But this time I decided to go a little outside the ordinary places , so I visited a historic underground water storehouse dating back to the third and fourth centuries of the Roman era, and since there was a basilica there.
In place of the cistern, it is also called the basilica cistern. This vast underground water tank is also called “Yerebatan Cistern” among locals because of its underground marble columns (Yerebatan means underground in Turkish).
The Basilica Cistern was a great center for water purification systems for the empires. The structure includes 336 columns carved from various types of marble. The place has been wonderfully developed and restored and reopened to the public. You can now enjoy viewing a historical artistic painting through the distribution of different lights and music in wonderful harmony. It is no longer an abandoned place, but has become a place that attracts people to enjoy history and photography.
What is amazing is that I know from our guide that there were many Hollywood films that were filmed in this place, including James Bond films, I found a number of tourists, specifically from China, who are looking for photography locations specifically in James Bond movies in order to take a selfie behind them.
Another important cultural landmark in the city is the Ataturk Cultural Center. Initially built in 1969 as one of the world’s most important arts centers (fourth in scale), the Ataturk Cultural Center (AKM) reopened in 2021 after two years of reconstruction work.
The center is more lively than ever thanks to its contemporary structure newly designed by architect Murat Tabanlıoğlu. As the largest arts center in Turkey and one of the best attractions for visitors to Istanbul, the center contains various activities such as the Ataturk Library, an opera house, restaurants, and the many cultural events held there.
We had a visit to the Ataturk Library in the center, which is considered the largest public library in Turkey, as it includes a huge archive containing rare cultural heritage. The library also includes thousands of rare Ottoman and international books in more than 30 languages, ancient manuscripts, pictures, postage stamps, and maps, as well as other rare and priceless cultural treasures. It serves as a forum for researchers from all over the world.
I attended an exciting musical performance at the center’s opera house, in addition to the 2,040-seat opera house designed with advanced technological equipment. It was a rich and amazing experience.In addition to the opera house, the center also boasts a ballet house, the Istanbul State Theater, the Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra, and the Istanbul State Turkish Music Ensemble affiliated with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. It is a very huge cultural edifice.
Noura Khan, a travel influencer and content creator, is a Kuwaiti national, holds a degree in law from Kuwait University and has worked as a journalist prior to taking up a position in the government. In 2018 she started blogging on travel and visited more than 57 countries since. She has more than 97k followers on her blog post @nourajtraveller is well appreciated for content and travel information. Noura writes exclusively for The Times Kuwait on her travel visits.