Being one of the greatest cities of all time, there are plenty of enigmatic stories about the Ottoman Empire’s former capital. Even if you know some of them, I’m pretty sure there are loads of facts about Istanbul you haven’t heard before.

Center of the world for – well – pretty much its entire history, Istanbul is a unique blend of cultures, certain to captivate your heart. From the chubby cat statue to the vast amount of toilets, here are the top ten most interesting Istanbul facts!

Shopping paradise

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Istanbul is a shopping paradise. There’s everything there, and it’s priced exceptionally well. The city is such a popular shopping destination that the neighboring countries organize shopping day-trips there.

The cherry on the top is the Grand Bazaar, the world’s biggest covered market. In operation since 1461, The Grand Bazaar covers 61 streets and 3,000 shops attracting between 250,000 and 400,000 customers per day!

If you ever get the chance to visit Istanbul, make sure the market is on your itinerary. The place is not only extraordinarily exotic but also offers tremendous free Turkish sweets samples. Just make sure to practice your haggling skills because no price is set in stone in the Grand Bazaar.

City of toilets

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In the middle ages, when there were little to none toilets, even in Europe’s royal palaces, the most prominent city of the Ottoman Empire was famous for having 1,400 of them! Truly ahead of its time.

This may not sound like something to pride yourself on, but when it’s about toilets, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s better to be famous for having too many than too little!

Used to be overcrowded…and still is

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Istanbul was declared the most crowded city in the world in….1502. It held the title till 1840 when London overtook it. I guess official rankings didn’t cover cities in Eastern Asia back then.

Today the city is home to a staggering amount of 15.1 million people, making it one of the most populated cities on the planet (13th). 

Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, and if it were a country of its own, it would rank 10th in Europe and 74th (out of 235) in the world.

Even though Istanbul is home to the third oldest metro on the globe (1875), 15.1 million people living in the same place are certain to make hellish traffic jams, so it’s not surprising that the city ranks among the world’s top 10 worst traffic cities.

It’s the capital of. . .oh wait

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One of the most confusing facts about Istanbul is that it’s not the capital of Turkey. It used to be the capital of three great empires – The Roman, Byzantian, and the Ottoman, but for some reason, the capital of modern Turkey is Ankara. 

I’m sure there’s some reasoning behind that, but I simply can’t fathom having one of the greatest cities on Earth and not making it your capital.

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City of tulips

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Next, we have one of the most curious facts about Istanbul that I’m pretty sure you don’t know. While the Netherlands is famous as the tulip nation, the tulip actually originates in Istanbul. 

The first tulip bulb was sent from the Ottoman empire to Vienna in 1554 and later redistributed to the Netherlands. Dutch loved them so much that they started growing tulips everywhere.

You can find some of the best tulips in Istanbul around the fountain between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque).

City of two continents

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Talking about Istanbul facts, we can’t fail to mention that the Ottoman Empire’s former capital is the only pan-continental city, meaning it spreads over two continents.

The Bosphorus strait divides the city between Europe and Asia. The European part is home to the historical center, many parks, and attractions, while the Asian one is mostly residential neighborhoods.

If you’re planning to visit Istanbul, I recommend the European part and most specifically the Sultanahmet district. Staying in the historical heart of Istanbul would give you fast access to most of the highlights and save you tons of time.

One More Fun Fact
Even though it’s not entirely on the continent, Istanbul is the biggest city in Europe.

The curious case of Hagia Sophiа

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Hagia Sophia is the most popular attraction in Istanbul and one of the most emblematic religious buildings on the planet. Finished in 360 AD, Hagia Sophia was a Byzantine Christian cathedral until 1204 when it became a Roman Catholic cathedral.

In 1453, Constantinople fell to the attacking Ottoman forces, and naturally, the glorious cathedral was repurposed as a Mosque.

For nearly 500 years, Hagia Sophia served as a grand Mosque for the Ottoman Empire and Turkey until the first Turkish President, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, transformed it into a museum.

You may think that once the glorious old beauty was turned into a UNESCO World Heritage Site museum, its adventures would stop, and it will remain like that for good, but no. In 2020 the government decided it’s time to turn Hagia Sophia back to an acting Mosque. 

Don’t be discouraged if you’re not Muslim though, the former cathedral still acts as a museum, and you should definitely visit it when you’re in Istanbul.

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City of inspiration

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Our fun facts about Istanbul continue with an inspirational one. In the 19th century, Alphonse de Lamartine said, ‘If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul‘. And he wasn’t the last one inspired by this magnificent city.

 During the years, Istanbul was the source of inspiration to authors like Orhan Pamuk, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Dan Brown.

Agatha Christie even wrote one of her most famous novels, Murder on the Orient Express, in Pera Palace Hotel in 1933.

City of cats

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There are plenty of cities that can claim the title City of Cats, but Istanbul beats them all. No, cats don’t have special rights there like they do in Rome, but they are still everywhere. Not only that, but the locals adore them.

One of the most famous Istanbul stray cats was named Tombili. Chubby Tombili became world-famous due to a photo of her chilling human-like on the pavement. She was so popular with the neighborhood residents that when she passed away, a petition to honor her memory received 17,000 signatures, resulting in a sculpture commemorating the cat’s life.

New Rome

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We cap the most interesting facts about Istanbul with a historical one. Have you wondered why Istanbul is called New Rome? The name derived from the Roman Emperor Constantine, who rebuilt the city from 326 to 330, modeling it after – well – Rome.

Just like Rome, Constantinople (the old name of Istanbul) was built on seven hills and was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium). Byzantium citizens called themselves Romans, and, just like Old Rome, New Rome was the most significant and sought-after city in the world.

That’s all from me, I hope you enjoyed these fun facts about Istanbul!
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