Istanbul: Where History and James Bond Collide

Istanbul – Walk in the Footsteps James Bond in Istanbul

Welcome to Istanbul, a mesmerizing city where the pulse of history beats in harmony with the vibrant rhythm of modern life, and a place where James Bond just keeps revisiting.

A city that straddles two continents, seamlessly blending East and West, old and new, Christianity and Islam, and the enchanting melodies of Turkish pop with the evocative call to prayer. As you wander through its ancient streets, the past is always just a step away, whispering tales of Byzantine and Ottoman empires.

Even today, ambitious engineering projects like the underwater tunnel connecting Asia and Europe are frequently put on hold as remnants of a bygone era emerge, demanding the attention of archaeologists.


It comes as no surprise, then, that the James Bond film franchise, known for its intoxicating mix of old-world charm and cutting-edge technology, has chosen this captivating city as the backdrop for some of its most thrilling adventures.

Istanbul has played host to not one, but three Bond films: From Russia with Love (1963), The World Is Not Enough (1999), and Skyfall (2012). In these films, iconic landmarks such as the Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, and the Basilica Cistern serve as more than mere scenery—they become integral parts of the cinematic experience.

Join us as we embark on a journey through the iconic James Bond film sites of Istanbul, retracing the steps of the world’s most famous spy and delving into the heart of a city that effortlessly embodies the spirit of 007.

The Grand Bazaar

Istanbul Grand Bazaar a setting for From Russia with Love and Skyfall

The Grand Bazaar, an iconic landmark in Istanbul, has been immortalized in not one, but two James Bond films, and is a must see for anyone spending time in Istanbul.

In From Russia with Love (1963), Bond, portrayed by Sean Connery, is taken to the office of Ali Kerim, the head of the British Secret Service’s “Station T” in Turkey. Located within the bustling Grand Bazaar, Bond arrives at the main entrance gate, with the stunning Nuruosmaniye Mosque as a backdrop.

The Grand Bazaar takes center stage once again in Skyfall (2012), where Daniel Craig‘s 007 pursues the assassin Patrice (played by Ola Rapace) through its lively and character-filled streets.

The thrilling pre-credits sequence sees Bond and Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) hot on the heels of Patrice, who possesses a valuable list of NATO agents infiltrating terrorist organizations. The chase, initially in cars, transitions to an adrenaline-pumping motorcycle pursuit across the bazaar’s rooftops.

It is up there with the very best chase scenes, and in order to film it, the production team had to replace the building’s tiles with rubber tiles to prevent damage and ensure the safety of the stunt performers.

Watch the classic chase on the Istanbul rooftops

Established in 1461, the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is a sprawling market that attracts countless tourists and locals alike. With over 60 alleys, 4,000 shops spread across nearly 30 hectares, it’s easy to lose yourself in this vibrant and historic hub.

Originally a simple wooden covered market, the Grand Bazaar has expanded over the centuries and now encompasses five major districts, including leather, textiles, souvenirs, jewelers, and antiques and carpets.

With 18 entrances to choose from, it’s a testament to the city’s rich and diverse culture, and a must visit for anyone going to Istanbul, whether you’re following in James Bond’s footsteps or not. There’s a Grand Bazaar Rooftops Walking Tour for anyone wanting to get up and see it all from above.

The Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sofia in Istanbul in From Russia with love

The Hagia Sophia is a breathtaking architectural marvel in Istanbul. It takes center stage in From Russia with Love (1963), as the meeting point for Bond and Tatiana Romanova.

Inside this magnificent structure, Bond, played by Sean Connery, discreetly observes Tatiana delivering a plan of the Russian consulate by leaving a powder compact by a pillar. Unbeknownst to her, she’s being followed by one of the Bulgars.

As Bond and a group of tourists pass the alabaster urn in the northwest corner, Tatiana weaves her way between the pillars of the south gallery. Bond quickly spots the Bulgar tailing Tatiana and takes cover behind a wall.

The Hagia Sophia, or Aya Sofya in Turkish, is more than just a fascinating Bond location – it is a historical treasure that has stood for over 1,500 years. As the largest cathedral for almost a millennium, it’s a must-see landmark when spending time in Istanbul. Its rich history is evident in the well-preserved Christian mosaic art, some of which is over a thousand years old.

Originally constructed as a cathedral in 537 AD, the Hagia Sophia has undergone numerous transformations, serving as a Roman Catholic church, a mosque, and finally, a museum. Its immense central dome, adorned with intricate mosaics and flanked by smaller semi-domes, is a testament to the ingenuity and artistry of its builders.

The Hagia Sophia is a prime example of Byzantine architecture and a symbol of Istanbul’s rich and diverse past, making it an ideal setting for a James Bond rendezvous.

The Basilica Cistern

In From Russia with Love (1963), the enigmatic Basilica Cistern plays a pivotal role as part of an underground network used by Bond (Sean Connery) and Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz) to navigate beneath Istanbul.

SPECTRE’s master plan involves capturing Bond and a Soviet cryptographic device, using Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) as an unwitting pawn. To keep tabs on the Soviets, Bond and Bey traverse the Basilica Cistern in a rowboat, ultimately reaching the Soviet consulate and spying on it with a periscope.

Constructed in the 6th century during the reign of Justinian I, the Basilica Cistern was once the primary water reservoir for Istanbul, known at the time as Constantinople.

The cavernous underground hall is supported by an array of majestic columns, with the dim lighting casting an eerie glow that seems to stretch into the darkness. The tranquil atmosphere is occasionally punctuated by the echoing sound of water droplets or the gentle splashing of carps surfacing.

At the northern end of the hall, two enigmatic Medusa heads can be found supporting a pair of columns. Although the majority of the columns are relatively simple in design, these two stone pillars showcase extraordinary craftsmanship.

The origin and purpose of the Medusa heads remain a mystery, but their presence adds an air of intrigue to the cistern. In Greek mythology, Medusa was a Gorgon who could turn people to stone with her gaze alone. To neutralize this power, the heads are positioned either sideways or upside down.

The Basilica Cistern is not only a fascinating location in the world of James Bond but also a testament to Istanbul’s rich history and architectural prowess, making it a must-see landmark for anyone spending time in Istanbul.

Orient Express from Istanbul’s Sirkeci Train Station

Orient Express from Istanbul's Sirkeci Train Station

In From Russia with Love (1963), the luxurious Orient Express plays a crucial role in Bond and Tania’s escape from the Russian consulate. After securing the Lector decoder, they follow Kerim through secret tunnels beneath the consulate and emerge through a hatch in the floor of a small shop, supposedly located just opposite the Istanbul train station. With the clock ticking, the trio arrives at the platform just as the Orient Express is about to depart for its next destination.

Istanbul’s Sirkeci train station is not only an intriguing Bond location but also a place steeped in history. For almost a century, the famed Orient Express departed from this very station for Paris. It’s no longer used as a train station, but there’s a train museum there and it’s certainly worth going for any James Bond fan spending time in Istanbul.

Launched in 1883 by the ‘Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits’, the Orient Express began operating between Paris and Istanbul in 1889, cementing the enduring association between these two cities and the legendary train service.

Although the original Orient Express ceased operations in 1977, the luxury train experience lives on through Belmond, a private company that offers the original route from Paris to Istanbul using meticulously restored 1920s Orient Express carriages.

The New Mosque

James Bond and Istanbul New Mosque

In Skyfall (2012), the stunning New Mosque in Istanbul is the setting for the pre title sequence chase that ends up in the Grand Bazaar. The action kicks off when Moneypenny picks up Bond outside the colonial building of the Deutsche Orientbank.

Following Vakıf Hanı Alley westward, one finds the entrance to Istanbul’s vibrant Spice Market. The thrilling action sequences involving Bond and Patrice take place primarily in the market and on the open square between the market and the majestic New Mosque to the north.

Despite its name, the New Mosque is a historical gem dating back to the 16th century, with its construction finally completed in 1665. Located on the banks of the Golden Horn near the Galata Bridge, this architectural masterpiece is undoubtedly one of Istanbul’s crown jewels.

The mosque’s grand courtyard, two minarets, and 66 Ottoman domes cascade downward like a pyramid, resembling an extravagant stack of profiteroles. The interior is adorned with blue tiles, gold, white marble, and light-catching domes reminiscent of cavernous Jerusalem candles.

This iconic location provides a dramatic and visually captivating backdrop for the intense action in Skyfall, highlighting the fusion of Istanbul’s rich history and chaotic modern streets. A must visit for any James Bond fan spending time in Istanbul.

Maiden’s Tower

James Bond and Istanbul Maiden's Tower

The iconic Maiden’s Tower, or Kız Kulesi in Turkish, stands proudly on an islet in the southern entrance of the Bosphorus in Istanbul and has appeared in two James Bond films.

It makes a brief appearance in From Russia With Love (1963) when Bond meets Tatiana on a ferry, with the tower visible in the background. In The World Is Not Enough (1999), the Maiden’s Tower plays a pivotal role as the base for Elektra King‘s nefarious plan to destroy Istanbul and eliminate her competition in the global oil market.

Within the tower, Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) imprisons M (Judi Dench) after kidnapping her in Kazakhstan, and unbeknownst to local authorities, the tower also houses an underground submarine bay for Captain Nikolai’s Victor III-class nuclear submarine.

Renard (Robert Carlyle) and his men intend to launch the submarine from the tower to trigger a nuclear meltdown, thereby devastating Istanbul and contaminating the Bosphorus.

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and Doctor Christmas Jones (played by Denise Richards), having discovered M’s location through a locator card, are captured by Elektra and held at the tower. While Elektra tortures Bond in an antique chair, Dr. Jones is left in Renard’s custody.

Valentin Zukovsky (played by Robbie Coltrane) comes to their aid, launching an assault on the tower and ultimately freeing Bond. Bond then rescues M and he kills Elektra and Renard, and ultimately saving the city of Istanbul.

With a history dating back to 408 BC, the Maiden’s Tower has served various purposes throughout the ages, including a lighthouse and a control point for access to the Bosphorus by Persian ships.

Known as Leander’s Tower during the Ancient Greek and Byzantine periods, it was enlarged in the twelfth century and has undergone several modifications since then.

Today, the Maiden’s Tower is a popular café and restaurant, offering visitors spectacular views of Istanbul and is a great place to spend some time.

The James Bond Istanbul Experience

Istanbul has been a captivating backdrop for the James Bond franchise, thanks to its blend of ancient history, striking architecture, and bustling energy.

From the mysterious depths of the Basilica Cistern to the majestic Hagia Sophia and the vibrant Grand Bazaar, Istanbul’s film sites offer a fascinating journey through the world of 007. The iconic Maiden’s Tower and the historic Sirkeci Station add to the allure of this unforgettable city.

Whether you’re a die-hard Bond fan or just looking for an exciting way to explore and spend time in Istanbul, visiting these film locations provides a unique and memorable experience. As you navigate the city streets, you’ll not only witness the beauty and history of Istanbul but also feel a connection to the thrilling escapades of the world’s most famous spy.

So, embark on your own James Bond Istanbul adventure and step into the shoes of 007, exploring the very sites that have played a key role in some of the most memorable moments in the series.