What You Need To Know

Istanbul, historically known as Constantinople and Byzantium, is the most populous city in Turkey and the country’s economic, cultural, and historic center. Istanbul is a transcontinental city in Eurasia, straddling the Bosphorus strait (which separates Europe and Asia) between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Its commercial and historical center lies on the European side and about a third of its population lives on the Asian side. The city is the administrative center of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (coterminous with Istanbul Province), both hosting a population of around 14 million residents. Istanbul is one of the world’s most populous cities and ranks as the world’s 7th-largest city proper and the largest European city. Founded under the name of Byzantium on the Sarayburnu promontory around 660 BCE, the city developed to become one of the most significant in history. After its reestablishment as Constantinople in 330 CE, it served as an imperial capital for almost 16 centuries, during the Roman and Byzantine (330–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin (1204–1261), and the Ottoman (1453–1922)empires. It was instrumental in the advancement of Christianity during Roman and Byzantine times, before the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453 and transformed it into an Islamic stronghold and the seat of the Ottoman Caliphate. Istanbul’s strategic position on the historic Silk Road, rail networks to Europe and the Middle East, and the only sea route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean have produced a cosmopolitan populace, although less so since the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Overlooked for the new capital Ankara during the interwar period, the city has since regained much of its prominence. The population of the city has increased tenfold since the 1950’s, as migrants from across Anatolia have moved in and city limits have expanded to accommodate them. Arts, music, film, and cultural festivals were established at the end of the 20th century and continue to be hosted by the city today. Infrastructure improvements have produced a complex transportation network. Approximately 12.56 million foreign visitors arrived in Istanbul in 2015, five years after it was named a European Capital of Culture, making the city the world’s fifth most popular tourist destination. The city’s biggest attraction is its historic center, partially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its cultural and entertainment hub can be found across the city’s natural harbor, the Golden Horn, in the Beyoğlu district. Considered a global city, Istanbul has one of the fastest-growing metropolitan economies in the world. It hosts the headquarters of many Turkish companies and media outlets and accounts for more than a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product. Hoping to capitalize on its revitalization and rapid expansion, Istanbul has bid for the Summer Olympics five times in twenty years.

Area: 5,343 km²
Population: About 14.03 million

 

Currency

  • Turkish Lira.
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Culture

Istanbul was historically known as a cultural hub, but its cultural scene stagnated after the Turkish Republic shifted its focus toward Ankara. The new national government established programs that served to orient Turks toward musical traditions, especially those originating in Europe, but musical institutions and visits by foreign classical artists were primarily centered in the new capital. Much of Turkey’s cultural scene had its roots in Istanbul, and by the 1980s and 1990s Istanbul reemerged globally as a city whose cultural significance is not solely based on its past glory. By the end of the 19th century, Istanbul had established itself as a regional artistic center, with Turkish, European, and Middle Eastern artists flocking to the city. Despite efforts to make Ankara Turkey’s cultural heart, Istanbul had the country’s primary institution of art until the 1970’s. When additional universities and art journals were founded in Istanbul during the 1980’s, artists formerly based in Ankara moved in.  Beyoğlu has been transformed into the artistic center of the city, with young artists and older Turkish artists formerly residing abroad finding footing there. Modern art museums, including İstanbul Modern, the Pera Museum, Sakıp Sabancı Museum and SantralIstanbul, opened in the 2000’s to complement the exhibition spaces and auction houses that have already contributed to the cosmopolitan nature of the city. These museums have yet to attain the popularity of older museums on the historic peninsula, including the Istanbul Archaeology Museums, which ushered in the era of modern museums in Turkey, and the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum. The first film screening in Turkey was at Yıldız Palace in 1896, a year after the technology publicly debuted in Paris. Movie theaters rapidly cropped up in Beyoğlu, with the greatest concentration of theaters being along the street now known as İstiklal Avenue. Istanbul also became the heart of Turkey’s nascent film industry, although Turkish films were not consistently developed until the 1950’s. Since then, Istanbul has been the most popular location to film Turkish dramas and comedies. The Turkish film industry ramped up in the second half of the century, and with Uzak (2002) and My Father and My Son (2005), both filmed in Istanbul, the nation’s movies began to see substantial international success. Istanbul and its picturesque skyline have also served as a backdrop for several foreign films, including Topkapi (1964), The World Is Not Enough (1999), and Mission Istaanbul (2008). Coinciding with this cultural reemergence was the establishment of the Istanbul Festival, which began showcasing a variety of art from Turkey and around the world in 1973. From this flagship festival came the International Istanbul Film Festival and the Istanbul International Jazz Festival in the early 1980s. With its focus now solely on music and dance, the Istanbul Festival has been known as the Istanbul International Music Festival since 1994. The most prominent of the festivals that evolved from the original Istanbul Festival is the Istanbul Biennial, held every two years since 1987. Its early incarnations were aimed at showcasing Turkish visual art, and it has since opened to international artists and risen in prestige to join the elite biennales, alongside the Venice Biennale and the São Paulo Art Biennial.

 

Economy

With a PPP-adjusted gross domestic product of US$301.1 billion, Istanbul ranked 29th among the world’s urban areas in 2011. Since the mid-1990’s, Istanbul’s economy has been one of the fastest-growing among OECD metro-regions. Istanbul is responsible for 27 percent of Turkey’s GDP, with 20 percent of the country’s industrial labor force residing in the city. Its GDP per capital and productivity are greater than their national averages by 70 percent and 50 percent, respectively, owing in part to the focus on high-value-added activities. With its high population and significant contribution to the Turkish economy, Istanbul is responsible for two-fifths of the nation’s tax revenue. That includes the taxes of 37 US-dollar billionaires based in Istanbul, the fifth-highest number among cities around the world. A view of Levent, one of the main business districts in Istanbul and home to the city’s tallest buildings. As expected for a city of its size, Istanbul has a diverse industrial economy, producing commodities as varied as olive oil, tobacco, vehicles, and electronics. Despite having a focus on high-value-added work, its low-value-added manufacturing sector is substantial, representing just 26 percent of Istanbul’s GDP, but four-fifths of the city’s total exports. In 2005, companies based in Istanbul produced exports worth $41.4 billion and received imports totaling $69.9 billion; these figures were equivalent to 57 percent and 60 percent, respectively, of the national totals. Istanbul is home to Borsa Istanbul, the sole exchange entity of Turkey, which combined the former Istanbul Stock Exchange, the Istanbul Gold Exchange, and the Derivatives Exchange of Turkey. The former Istanbul Stock Exchange was originally established as the Ottoman Stock Exchange in 1866. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Bankalar Caddesi (Banks Street) in Galata was the financial center of the Ottoman Empire, where the Ottoman Stock Exchange was located. Bankalar Caddesi continued to be Istanbul’s main financial district until the 1990s, when most Turkish banks began moving their headquarters to the modern central business districts of Levent and Maslak. In 1995, the Istanbul Stock Exchange (now Borsa Istanbul) moved to its current building in the İstinye quarter of the Sarıyer district. A new central business district is also under construction in Ataşehir and will host the headquarters of various Turkish banks and financial institutions upon completion. As a route to the Black Sea, the Bosphorus is one of the busiest waterways in the world. As the only sea route between the oil-rich Black Sea and the Mediterranean, the Bosphorus is one of the busiest waterways in the world; more than 200 million tonnes of oil pass through the strait each year, and the traffic on the Bosphorus is three times that on the Suez Canal. As a result, there have been proposals to build a canal, known as Canal Istanbul, parallel to the strait, on the European side of the city. Istanbul has three major shipping ports—the Port of Haydarpaşa, the Port of Ambarlı, and the Port of Zeytinburnu—as well as several smaller ports and oil terminals along the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. Haydarpaşa, situated at the southeastern end of the Bosphorus, was Istanbul’s largest port until the early 2000’s. Shifts in operations to Ambarlı since then have left Haydarpaşa running under capacity and with plans to decommission the port. In 2007, Ambarlı, on the western edge of the urban center, had an annual capacity of 1.5 million TEUs (compared to 354,000 TEUs at Haydarpaşa), making it the fourth-largest cargo terminal in the Mediterranean basin. The Port of Zeytinburnu is advantaged by its proximity to motorways and Atatürk International Airport, and long-term plans for the city call for greater connectivity between all terminals and the road and rail networks. Istanbul is an increasingly popular tourist destination; whereas just 2.4 million foreigners visited the city in 2000, it welcomed 12.56 millionforeign tourists in 2015, making it the world’s fifth most-visited city.  Istanbul is Turkey’s second-largest international gateway, after Antalya, receiving a quarter of the nation’s foreign tourists. Istanbul’s tourist industry is concentrated in the European side, with 90 percent of the city’s hotels located there. Low- and mid-range hotels tend to be located on the Sarayburnu; higher-end hotels are primarily located in the entertainment and financial centers north of the Golden Horn. Istanbul’s seventy museums, the most visited of which are the Topkapı Palace Museum and the Hagia Sophia, bring in $30 million in revenue each year. The city’s environmental master plan also notes that there are17 palaces, 64 mosques, and 49 churches of historical significance in Istanbul.[

 

Health and security

Health care in Turkey and Istanbul consists of a mix of public and private health services. Turkey has universal health care under its Universal Health Insurance system. Under this system, all residents registered with the Social Security Institution (SGK) can receive medical treatment free of charge in hospitals contracted to the SGK.

 

Language

Turkish also referred to as Istanbul Turkish, is the most widely spoken of the Turkic languages, with around 10–15 million native speakers in Southeast Europe (mostly in East and West Thrace) and 60–65 million native speakers in Western Asia (mostly in Anatolia). Outside of Turkey, significant smaller groups of speakers exist in Germany, Bulgaria, Macedonia,Northern Cyprus (only recognized by Turkey), Greece, the Caucasus, and other parts of Europe and Central Asia.

 

Politics

Istanbul has voted for the winning party in general elections since 1995. Since 2002, the right-wing Justice and Development Party(AKP) has won pluralities in every general and local election. The city’s electorate has also voted for the AKP government’s constitutional reforms proposed during the 2007 and 2010 constitutional referenda. Turkish President and former AKP Prime MinisterRecep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected Mayor of İstanbul in the 1994 local elections as the Islamist Welfare Party candidate with 25.1% of the vote, winning due to a vote split between the mainstream centrist parties. Conservative parties traditionally find support in older districts with high population densities such as Bağcılar, Fatih, Sultanbeyli and Esenler. The opposition Kemalist center-leftRepublican People’s Party (CHP), currently the second major political force in both İstanbul and the country, gets most of its support from more rural districts such as Silivri, Çatalca and Sarıyer. Urban districts such as Beşiktaş, Bakırköy, Şişli and Kadıköy have returned strong support for the CHP in past elections. The CHP are generally strongest in the west, where newer residential developments are taking place. İstanbul has 39 districts, more than any other province in Turkey. Since İstanbul is Turkey’s largest city and has usually voted in the same way as the country as a whole, it is largely perceived in Turkish politics that the winning party of an election is essentially decided by İstanbul’s electorate. Political parties thus allocate substantial amounts of electoral campaign funds and to winning control of the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality. Due to its electoral importance, İstanbul has reported the largest and most serious cases of electoral fraud in recent elections, including the 2014 local electionsIstanbul Metropolitan Municipality building in the Fatih district. The incumbent mayor of the city is Kadir Topbaş of the AKP, who was first elected in the 2004 local elections and succeeded Ali Müfit Gürtuna of the closed down Welfare Party. He was re-elected in 2009 and 2014. The leader of the CHP and parliamentary opposition, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, ran against Topbaş in the 2009 local elections. He is currently a Member of Parliament for İstanbul. Between 2007 and 2014, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was also an MP for İstanbul. For general elections, the city is divided into 3 electoral districts and returns 85 MPs to the Turkish parliament. In the 2014 presidential election, 49.83% of the city’s electorate voted for AKP candidate Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Although Erdoğan won the most votes in İstanbul, his failure to win above 50% was seen as significant. Opposition candidate Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu came second with 41.08% and the HDP pro-Kurdish and left-wing candidate Selahattin Demirtaş won a substantial 9.09%. In 2013 and 2014, large-scale anti-AKP government protests began in İstanbul and spread throughout the nation.

 

Transport

Istanbul’s primary motorways are the O-1, O-2, O-3 and O-4. The O-1 forms the city’s inner ring road, traversing the Bosphorus Bridge, and the O-2 is the city’s outer ring road, crossing the Fatih Sultan Mehmet (Second Bosphorus) Bridge. The O-2 continues west to Edirne and the O-4 continues east to Ankara; the O-2, O-3, and O-4 are part of European route E80 (the Trans-European Motorway) between Portugal and the Turkish–Iranian border. The two Bosphorus Bridges are currently the only road crossings between the Asian and European sides of Turkey, together carrying 400,000 vehicles each day. The dual-deck, 14.6-kilometer (9.1 mi) Eurasia Tunnel is currently under construction beneath the Bosphorus, between Fatih and Üsküdar. A third Bosphorus bridge, first considered in the 1990s, may also finally be coming to fruition, as construction of the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge was officially launched in 2013. Both projects may be completed as early as 2015, although environmentalist groups worry that the third bridge will endanger the remaining green areas to the north of Istanbul.

Istanbul’s nostalgic and modern tram systems

Istanbul’s local public transportation system is a complex network of trams, funiculars, metro lines, buses, bus rapid transit, and ferries. Fares across modes are integrated, using the contactlessIstanbulkart, introduced in 2009, or the older Akbil electronic ticket device. Trams in Istanbul date back to 1872, when they were horse-drawn, but even the first electrified trams were decommissioned in the 1960s. Operated by Istanbul Electricity, Tramway, and Tunnel General Management (İETT), trams slowly returned to the city in the 1990s with the introduction of a nostalgic route and a faster modern tram line, which now carries 265,000 passengers each day. The Tünel opened in 1875 as the world’s second-oldest subterranean rail line (after London’s Metropolitan Railway). It still carries passengers between Karaköy and İstiklal Avenue along a steep 573-meter (1,880 ft) track; a more modern funicular between Taksim Square and Kabataş began running in 2006.

Levent station of the Istanbul Metro

The Istanbul Metro comprises three lines (the M1 and M2 on the European side, and the M4 on the Asian side) with several other lines (such as the M3, M5, M7, and M6 Mini-Metro) and extensions under construction. The two sides of Istanbul’s metro are connected under the Bosphorus by the Marmaray tunnel, inaugurated in 2013 as the first rail connection between Thrace and Anatolia. With the Marmaray’s completion, rail use in the city is expected to increase to28 percent (from 4 percent), behind only Tokyo and New York City. Until then, buses provide transportation within and between the two halves of the city, accommodating 2.2 million passenger trips each day. The Metrobus, a form of bus rapid transit, crosses the Bosphorus Bridge, with dedicated lanes leading to its termini. İDO (Istanbul Seabuses) runs a combination of all-passenger ferries and car-and-passenger ferries to ports on both sides of the Bosphorus, as far north as the Black Sea. With additional destinations around the Sea of Marmara, İDO runs the largest municipal ferry operation in the world. The city’s main cruise ship terminal is the Port of Istanbul in Karaköy, with a capacity of 10,000 passengers per hour. Most visitors enter Istanbul by air, but about half a million foreign tourists enter the city by sea each year. Originally opened in 1873 with a smaller terminal building as the main terminus of the Rumelia (Balkan) Railway of the Ottoman Empire, which connected Istanbul with Vienna; the current Sirkeci Terminal building was constructed between 1888 and 1890, and became the eastern terminus of theOrient Express from ParisInternational rail service from Istanbul launched in 1889, with a line between Bucharest and Istanbul’s Sirkeci Terminal, which ultimately became famous as the eastern terminus of the Orient Express from Paris. Regular service to Bucharest and Thessaloniki continued until the early 2010s, when the former was interrupted for Marmaray construction and the latter was halted due to economic problems in Greece. After Istanbul’s Haydarpaşa Terminal opened in 1908, it served as the western terminus of the Baghdad Railway and an extension of the Hejaz Railway; today, neither service is offered directly from Istanbul. Service to Ankara and other points across Turkey is normally offered by Turkish State Railways, but the construction of Marmaray and the Ankara-Istanbul high-speed line forced the station to close in 2012.  New stations to replace both the Haydarpaşa and Sirkeci terminals, and connect the city’s disjointed railway networks, are expected to open upon completion of the Marmaray project; until then, Istanbul is without intercity rail service. Private bus companies operate instead. Istanbul’s main bus station is the largest in Europe, with a daily capacity of 15,000 buses and 600,000 passengers, serving destinations as distant as FrankfurtIstanbul Atatürk Airport, which handled 61.8 million passengers in 2015, is the city’s primary airport. Istanbul has two international airports. The larger is Istanbul Atatürk, 24 kilometers (15 mi) west of the city center. It handled 61.3 million passengers in 2015, making it the third-busiest airport in Europe and the eighteenth-busiest in the world. Sabiha Gökçen International, 45 kilometers (28 mi) southeast of the city center, opened in 2001 to relieve Atatürk. Dominated by low-cost carriers, Istanbul’s second airport has rapidly become popular, especially since the opening of a new international terminal in 2009. The airport handled 14.7 million passengers in 2012, a year after Airports Council International named it the world’s fastest-growing airport. Atatürk has also experienced rapid growth, as its 20.6 percent rise in passenger traffic between 2011 and 2012 was the highest among the world’s top 30 airports. Because of the traffic at Istanbul’s current airports, a third international airport is planned for the Black Sea coast. Building a new runway at Atatürk Airport was rejected due to the cost involved; environmental concerns have also been raised with respect to the new airport. Currently under construction, the new international airport will become the largest airport in the world upon the completion of all four stages of the project, with a capacity to serve 150 million passengers per year.

 

 

Weather

  • In the Köppen–Geiger classification system, Istanbul has a borderline Mediterranean climate(Csa), humid subtropical climate (Cfa) and oceanic climate (Cfb), due to its location in a transitional climatic zone. Since precipitation in summer months, ranges from 20 to 65 mm (1 to 3 in), depending on location, the city cannot be classified as solely Mediterranean or humid subtropical. Due to its size, diverse topography, maritime location and most importantly having a coastline to two different bodies of water to the north and south, Istanbul exhibits microclimates. The northern half of the city, as well as the Bosporus coastline, express characteristics of oceanic and humid subtropical climates, because of humidity from the Black Sea and the relatively high concentration of vegetation. The climate in the populated areas of the city to the south, located on the Sea of Marmara, is warmer, drier and less affected by humidity. The annual precipitation in the northern half can be twice as much (Bahçeköy, 1166.6 mm), than it is in the southern, Marmara coast (Florya 635.0 mm). There is a significant difference between annual mean temperatures on the north and south coasts as well, Bahçeköy 12.8 °C (55.0 °F), Kartal 15.03 °C (59.05 °F). Parts of the province, that are away from both seas exhibit considerable continental influences, with much more pronounced night-day and summer-winter temperature differences. In winter some parts of the province average freezing or below at night. Istanbul’s persistently high humidity reaches 80 percent most mornings. Because of this, fog is very common, although more so in northern parts of the city and away from the city center. Dense fog disrupts transportation in the region, including on the Bosphorus, and is common during the autumn and winter months when the humidity remains high into the afternoon. The humid conditions and the fog tend to dissipate by midday during the summer months, but the lingering humidity exacerbates the moderately high summer temperatures. During these summer months, high temperatures average around 29 °C (84 °F) and rainfall is uncommon; there are only about fifteen days with measurable precipitation between June and August. The summer months also have the highest concentration of thunderstorms. Winter is colder in Istanbul than in most other cities around the Mediterranean Basin, with low temperatures averaging 1–4 °C (34–39 °F). Lake-effect snow from the Black Sea is common, although difficult to forecast, with the potential to be heavy and—as with the fog—disruptive to the city’s infrastructure. Spring and autumn are mild, but often wet and unpredictable; chilly winds from the northwest and warm gusts from the south—sometimes in the same day—tend to cause fluctuations in temperature. Overall, Istanbul has an annual average of 130 days with significant precipitation, which amounts to 810 millimeters (31.9 in) per year. The highest and lowest temperatures ever recorded in the city center on the Marmara coast are 40.5 °C (105 °F) and −16.1 °C (3 °F). The greatest rainfall recorded in a day is 227 millimeters (8.9 in), and the highest recorded snow cover is 80 centimeters (31 in).
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