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Istanbul Unveiled

Experts talk Turkey's city of dreams. By Anastasia M. Ashman

Bridging Asia and Europe, Istanbul has been the site of grand dreams for more than 2,000 years: Early Christian emperors sought to establish a New Rome here in Byzantium in the fourth century, Crusaders plundered the city's riches for the Venetian doge in 1204, wily storytellers charmed their way to the top in the sultan's 16th-century harem. In shifting the capital of his new Turkish Republic to Ankara in 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk hoped to break Istanbul's spell. Yet the Sultanahmet district, containing the city's main tourist attractions, continues to mesmerize—like the recent discovery of frescoes from Constantine's Great Palace during construction of the Four Seasons Hotel addition. This is also the district to go to for a wave of new shops that channel the city's heritage with goods like playful Ottoman-themed clothing, avant-garde felt hats, and contemporary kilim patchwork rugs. Read on for tips on how to get to the heart of the town named a European Capital of Culture for 2010.