The suspected suicide bombing in Sultanahmet struck one of Istanbul's most popular tourist areas, home to many ancient sites which tell the story of the city's vast history and conquests, from Byzantium through the Ottoman era and to the modern Turkish state.

The area is home to the grand Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultan Ahmed mosque after the Ottoman ruler who ordered its construction in the 17th century.

The bomb went off just around the corner, near the towering Obelisk of Theodosius, an Egyptian artefact that was transported to the city in the year 390.

Across the square from the mosque lays Hagia Sophia, which was founded in the 6th century as a Greek Orthodox church on the grounds of two even older eastern Christian churches which were destroyed in fires during public riots.

It served for nearly 1,000 years as a church and was considered the largest such building created by the Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire. The church suffered further damage during the Crusades organized by the rival Catholic Church.

After the Ottoman army conquered Istanbul, then known as Constantinople, in 1453, the building was converted to a mosque and stayed that way until the last sultan was deposed following the formation of the modern Turkish republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Since 1935 it has served as a museum. Behind it, sits the majestic Topkapi Palace, the first Ottoman palace in the historic city and the central governing point of the empire for most of its reign as a major power.

Other famous spots dot the area, including the massive underground labyrinth known as the Basilica Cistern built by Emperor Justinian I.

The "sunken palace," as the cistern is called in Turkish, contain a mystery that has troubled scholars for centuries. At the base of two columns sit reused blocks with the visage of the mythical Medusa. One lies sideways and one is upside down. Why this happened is unclear.

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