Interesting Facts about Istanbul 

As much for its tourist haunts and delightful way of life, did you know that Istanbul has some quirky facts to its own history?


From tulips to the population to Agatha Christie, there are quite a few facts that will surprise anyone who is not knowledgeable about the large city. The name Istanbul evokes immediately a rich imagery of opulent Oriental culture, and architecture straight from the fairytales, exotic customs, and the scent of spices. This melting point of the Western and Eastern culture has been for two thousand years one of the mightiest and wealthiest cities on Earth. Everything about it is fascinating, so let us share with you some fun facts about Istanbul – a truly unique city.


  • Istanbul is famous for being home to the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya), one of the world’s most well-known pieces of architecture, and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque). 



  • The tulip was widely cultivated by the Ottomans. It was later sent from there to the Netherlands, other parts of Europe, and Canada. It remains a symbol of Istanbul and Turkey.

  • There are about 85 approachable beaches, many of which are within 30 to 40 minutes of the city center. Remarkably, the visitors have three choices of swimming spots - in the south, there is the Sea of Marmara; in the north, the Black Sea; and the Bosphorus Strait is in the middle of these two.
  • The Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is the world’s oldest and largest covered market, boasting about 4,000 shops across 61 streets and alleys. It’s a storied destination for anyone interested in traditional textiles, authentic jewelry, antiques, or unique finds. 


  • Topkapi Palace. The Topkapi Palace (“Cannon Gate Palace”) complex was the royal residence of the Ottoman Empire for almost 400 years. Built-in the 1460s, it consists of 4 main courtyards, the Harem (private living space of over 400 rooms), and a church dating back to the Byzantine era.


  • One of the 81 provinces of Turkey, Istanbul is the most populous province. It has an urban population of around 15.5 million. Notably, Istanbul is the 13th largest city in the world in terms of population and the most densely populated city in Europe.

  • About 99% of the population of Istanbul is Muslim, as per the Turkish government. From this, around 78% of the population is Hanafi Sunni. There are beyond 3,000 mosques in the city. Apart from these stats, only 28% of the residents originally belonged to this city. Most people have migrated from other cities in Turkey.

  • Istanbul is the only city in the world that lies on two continents. The division between Europe and Asia is a natural one: the Bosphorus Strait passes between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. The historic nucleus of the city is located on the European side.

  • Cats are definitely the preferred pets in Turkish culture. You will see them all around you, not only on the streets and squares but also roaming the mosques and even in the cemeteries – sleeping between the tombs. They are clean, well-fed, and cared for and they always receive a lot of attention. Street cats usually sleep in wooden houses built for them at the expense of the State, and people in Istanbul feed and pamper the cats living in the streets, they even take them to the vet if needed. However, among very interesting facts about Istanbul we must note that with all that love for cats, Istanbulites don’t let cats into their homes. All the cats in Istanbul are stray.


    There is a curious historical explanation for that – it all started in the Middle Ages with the Black Plague. Cats were dying of the plague the same as humans. However, they were very useful to kill rats – the main vectors of the plague. In the areas with numerous cats, the chances of survival for inhabitants were higher, however, only if the sick cats were kept at a distance. As long as they stayed out of their homes, they were useful. If they entered the home, they would have caused death. That was a long time ago, but as often happens, the tradition survived even though the causes for forming it are long gone. Interesting, right?

  • Tea clearly has a strong tradition in Turkey, however, it has become such a popular drink only in relatively recent times. In the past few centuries, the real national drink has been Turkish coffee, brewed unfiltered in a particular way. However, coffee became expensive and due to the fact that tea bushes can be grown in the Black Sea region, while coffee plants can’t, tea won the competition. Nowadays both are popular, but you will notice that usually you are offered a glass of tea as a welcoming gesture.

  • Here is an unexpected fact about Turkish coffee: Coffee first appeared in Turkey in the 17th century during the times of the Ottoman Empire. According to a severe interpretation of the Quran, strong coffee was a stimulating drug, therefore drinking it was illegal and was punished with… a death sentence! The Sultan who imposed that rule was so obsessed with its observance that he used to disguise himself as a common Istanbulite, walk around the streets of the city armed with a sword, and if he caught anyone drinking the forbidden substance, he would chop his head off! Fortunately, this macabre law was lifted and by the end of the 17th century, coffee became a national drink. Still, in the same century, it was exported to the courts of Britain and France, where it gained great popularity.


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