Once named Byzantium and Constantinople, Istanbul is Europe's most populous city with 12 million inhabitants. Being the center of Turkeys cultural, economical, business and social life, Istanbul is one of the most diverse and rich metropols in the world. It is located on the Bosphorus Strait and encompasses the natural harbor known as the Golden Horn. It is the only city in the world which is situated on two continents, extending on both Europe and Asia.Istanbul served as the capital city of the Roman Empire (330-395), the Byzantine Empire (395-1204 and 1261-1453), the Latin Empire (1204-1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453-1922).
Istanbul is uniquely surrounded by thousands years of historical and cultural heritage, mosques, churches and synagogues proving to be a junction point of civilizations.
The first human settlements in Istanbul date back to 5500-3500 BC. Today Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar stand out as the most important monuments among hundreds scattered throughout the city. The Topkapi Palace used to be the official and primary residence in the city of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years. Hagia Sophia is a former patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, now a museum. Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral of the era, famous in having the widest massive dome, considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture. The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world with more than 58 streets and 4,000 shops hosting between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. It is well known for its jewelry, pottery, spice, and carpet shops.
Today Istanbul hosts internationally renowned art festivals and thanks to its diverse cultural heritage and lively art scene, it has experienced European Capital of Culture in 2010. The historic areas of Istanbul were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985. Istanbul welcomed over 6,5 million tourists in 2007.