Istanbul, Turkey, Europe and Asia

Founded: Ottoman Turks captured present-day Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople and before that as Byzantium) in 1453.
Location: Istanbul, Turkey, is the only city in the world that sits on two continents: Europe and Asia. The city lies on both sides of the Bosporus channel and the Sea of Marmara, which connect the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. On the European side of the Bosporus, old Istanbul developed on the western side of the narrow Golden Horn, a canal about 4 miles in length that empties into the Bosporus.
Flag: White emblem on a red field.
Time Zone: 3 PM = noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
Ethnic Composition: About 99% of Istanbul residents are Muslim Turks, two-thirds of them Sunni. The rest are Alevi, a sect similar to Shiism. Christian and Jewish minorities continue to shrink in numbers.
Elevation: Approximately 600m (2,000 ft) above sea level
Climate: Istanbul has a Mediterranean climate with cool, wet winters and dry, hot summers. The prevailing northeast winds, or poyraz, come from the Black Sea, sometimes bringing extreme cold to the city. At times, the cold winds have frozen the Golden Horn and the Bosporus.
Temperature: Temperatures average about 40.5° F (4.7°C) in January and about 73°F (22.8°C) in July.
Average Annual Precipitation: About 31.5 inches, with most falling in the winter
Government: A mayor appointed by the President of the Republic
Weights and Measures: Standard metric
Monetary Units: The Turkish lira. It comes in notes of 50,000; 100,000; 500,000; 1,000,000 and 5,000,000. Coins come in denominations of 5,000; 10,000; 25,000 and 50,000.
Telephone Area Codes: 90 (Turkey country code); 212, 216 (Istanbul city codes)

2. Getting There

Because of its location, Istanbul functions as the crossroads between Europe and Asia.


A major highway connects Bulgaria to Turkey.

Istanbul Population Profile

City Proper

Population: 5,000,000
Area: 1,991 sq km (769 sq mi)
Ethnic composition: About 99% of Istanbul residents are Muslim Turks, two-thirds of them Sunni. The rest are Alevi, a sect similar to Shiism. Christian and Jewish minorities continue to shrink in numbers.
Nicknames: The ancient name of Byzantium is believed to come from its founder, Byzas. Constantine I named it New Rome before naming it after himself: Constantinople. The name Istanbul is derived from the Greek term stin poli, meaning "to the city" or "in the city." Used for many centuries, it did not officially become the name of the city until 1930.

Metropolitan Area

Population: 9,413,000
Area: 2,204 sq mi (5,712 sq km)
World population rank1: 23
Percentage of national population2: 14.3%
Average yearly growth rate: 3.5%


  1. The Istanbul metropolitan area's rank among the world's urban areas.
  2. The percent of Turkey's total population living in the Istanbul metropolitan area.

Bus and Railroad Service

One of the best means of travel is by inter-city bus. Esenler and Harem are the two main bus stations. The best of the companies offer comfortable, quality transportation, an excellent and cheap alternative to flying. Many buses are double deckered, and all are non-smoking and offer tea and snack service.

The railroad is slower but can be fun, especially in a first class compartment. The Sirkeci train station serves Europe while Haydarpasa Station serves parts of Asia and the Middle East. Trains run between Ankara and Istanbul, Istanbul and Izmir, and reservations are required.


Ataturk International Airport has daily service to just about every part of the world. The Havas bus service has frequently scheduled trips between the airport and the city. The service between terminals is free. Metered taxis are also available to get to the city.


As Byzantium, present-day Istanbul was built along the Golden Horn, which provided the best natural harbor in the region. The Golden Horn inlet provides a safe harbor next to the city, not far from the Bosporus, a major maritime route connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.

City Fact Comparison
Indicator Istanbul Cairo Rome Beijing
(Turkey) (Egypt) (Italy) (China)
Population of urban area1 9,413,000 10,772,000 2,688,000 12,033,000
Date the city was founded 1453 AD 969 753 BC 723 BC
Daily costs to visit the city2
Hotel (single occupancy) $159 $193 $172 $129
Meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) $78 $56 $59 $62
Incidentals (laundry, dry cleaning, etc.) $19 $14 $15 $16
Total daily costs $256 $173 $246 $207
Major Newspapers3
Number of newspapers serving the city 22 13 20 11
Largest newspaper Sabah Akhbar El Yom/Al Akhbar La Repubblica Renmin Ribao
Circulation of largest newspaper 722,950 1,159,339 754,930 3,000,000
Date largest newspaper was established 1985 1944 1976 1948
1United Nations population estimates for the year 2000.
2The maximum amount the U.S. Government reimburses its employees for business travel. The lodging portion of the allowance is based on the cost for a single room at a moderately-priced hotel. The meal portion is based on the costs of an average breakfast, lunch, and dinner including taxes, service charges, and customary tips. Incidental travel expenses include such things as laundry and dry cleaning.
3David Maddux, ed. Editor&Publisher International Year Book. New York: The Editor&Publisher Company, 1999.

3. Getting Around

Bus and Commuter Rail Service

Public buses are the main mode of transportation in Istanbul, carrying about 1.5 million passengers per day. The city's dolmus (public shared taxis) carry thousands of passengers each day. There are many taxis and thousands of private automobiles. There is also sea bus service between the Asian and European sides, as well as regional train service. The city is in the midst of expanding a limited underground metro service.


Istanbul is a city with great architectural heritage. Visitors travel from around the world to see Turkish palaces, mosques, museums, monuments, and water fountains. Some of the most popular ones include the Ayasofya Museum, the Kariye Museum, the Cinili Kosk, the Ibrahim Palace Museum, the Museum of Turkish Carpets, and the Mosaic Museum. Many of the mosques and other historic landmarks were even added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1985. Many people also come to Istanbul to purchase the country's famous carpets, tiles, and ceramics.

8. Public Safety

The city has the typical problems of a large metropolis, but it is generally considered safe. Tourists are most likely to be affected only by petty crime.

10. Environment

Air and water pollution are serious problems in Istanbul. Many beach resorts do not allow swimming because of pollution. Many of the shantytowns lack adequate sanitation facilities and clean water. Water and sewage treatment facilities have not kept up pace with the growing population. During the summer, Istanbul has experienced severe water shortages.

13. Health Care

The city has 90 public and private hospitals serving the Istanbul metropolitan area. The government subsidizes health care. The are only two doctors per 1,000 persons, and many hospitals and clinics lack adequate personnel and equipment. Istanbul is home to the country's two medical schools.

14. Media

Istanbul has 17 daily and 13 weekly newspapers, as well as dozens of periodicals. The city is also served by television and radio. It is home of Turkish cinema and a major book publishing center. The press has been largely uncensored.

15. Sports

Sports are important in Istanbul, and soccer is the most important of all. The city has three major soccer stadiums and several professional teams in the area. Wrestling and sailing are also popular. The city has golf, tennis, and many other sports facilities.

17. Performing Arts

Ballet, opera, and theater presentations are held at the 1,300-seat AKM Grand Hall. The Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra, Istanbul Modern Folk Music Ensemble, Istanbul State Classical Turkish Music Choir, and the Istanbul Historical Turkish Music Ensemble perform in the city. The International Arts and Cultural Festival is held each year in June and July.

19. Tourism

Istanbul is one of the great architectural and cultural cities of the world. Turkish palaces, mosques, museums, monuments, and hundreds of water fountains help tell the story of this old city. Many of the mosques and other historic landmarks were added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1985. Many people come to Istanbul to purchase the country's famous carpets, tiles, and ceramics.

22. For Further Study


Istanbul City Guide. [Online] Available (accessed February 7, 2000).

Ministry of Culture. [Online] Available (accessed February 7, 2000).

Structural analysis of the Hagia Sophia Museum [Online] Available (accessed February 7, 2000).

Government Offices

Embassy of Turkey
1714 Massachusetts
Washington D.C. 20036

Government of Turkey [Online] Available (accessed February 7, 2000).

Tourist and Convention Bureaus

Ismet Inonu Bul
5 Bah Celievler
Ankara, Turkey


Aksam Gazetesi newspaper [Online] Available (accessed February 7, 2000).

Fanatik (sports Internet site from Istanbul). [Online] Available (accessed February 7, 2000).

Milliyet Gazetesi newspaper [Online] Available (accessed February 7, 2000).

Turkish Daily Ne ws. [Online] Available (accessed February 7, 2000).


Clari, Robert de. The Conquest of Constantinople. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997.

Kagitcibasi, Cigdem, ed . Sex Roles, Family, and Community in Turkey. Bloomington: Indiana University Press Turkish Studies, 1982.

Lewis, Bernard. Istanbul: And the Civilization of the Ottoman Empire. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994.

Mansel, Philip. Constantinople: City of the World's Desire: 1453–1924. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Queller, Donald E. with Thomas F. Madden. The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.

Tapper, Richard, ed. Islam in Modern Turkey: Religion, Politics, and Literature in a Secular State. London: Tauris, 1991.

Treadgold, Warren. Byzantium and its Army: 284– 1081. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1997.

Whittow, Mark. The Making of Byzantium: 600– 1025. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.