This is what? my 6th visit to İstanbul? Ferda and I started by staying a few nights in Kadıköy, the first time I’ve stayed on the Asian (Anadolu) side of the Bosporus. With the exception of the beautiful Rüstem Paşa Camii, we spent the week visiting sights that we hadn’t seen before. It’d be easy to go back to İstanbul and spend another week seeing all new (for us) attractions again. We’re already talking about it!
We started our first full day with a walk from Kadıköy to Üsküdar. The courtyard of the 18th century Ottoman Ahmediye Medresesi:
looks a lot like the courtyard of the nearby, also 18th century, Yeni Valide Camii:
I was reminded of the cloisters at the cathedrals in Portugal.
If you spend too much time frittering about on the internet, you’ve probably heard of the Ottoman bird palaces. The first one I saw was here at Yeni Valide Camii:
A bit farther downhill is the 16th century Mimar Sinan mosque, Şemsi Paşa, on the edge of the Bosporus.
A short bus ride north and three centuries later (time travel?! — I’ve been watching Outlander) is Beylerbeyi Palace. French chandeliers, vases from China and Japan, European furniture, and the incredible blue room with painted plaster pillars that were so well done I had to ask the guard if they were blue marble! Dang, the Ottomans had some money. It’s definitely worth it to get the audio guide. Photos aren’t allowed inside. Here it is from the outside:
You probably get an even better view from one of the Bosporus cruises, something I still haven’t done and definitely on our list for next time.
The only other sight we visited on the Asian side is Turkey’s largest mosque, the new Büyük Çamlıca Camii. Located on the top of a hill above Üsküdar it’s visible from much of the city. Indeed, in the tradition of autocratic Ottoman sultans, Erdoğan has built himself a giant mosque. I took a bus up there on our last morning in Kadıköy to see how our taxes are being spent.
A little ways north on either side of the Bosporus are Rumeli Hisarı and Anadolu Hisarı, two fortresses that the Ottomans built to gain control of the strait before they took the city from the Byzantines in 1453. We visited Rumeli Hisarı.
There wasn’t a lot to see. That’s the middle of the three bridges that span the Bosporus. We made our way south to the first bridge where many tourists takes photos of waterside Büyük Mecediye Camii (aka Ortaköy Mosque).
I was impressed with the bright interior.
We thought our next stop would be Çırağan Palace, but it’s now used as a hotel. Rooms start at 750 euro/night (breakfast included!). We kept walking.
The most moving experience of our whole week in İstanbul was visiting the Armenian Church in Beşiktaş, Surp Asdvadzadzin Kilisesi. They still have services every Sunday morning for a small congregation and welcome guests. I actually started crying as the woman showed us around the church. Oh, the history. BTW, Surp Asdvadzadzin Kilisesi seems to be a very common name for Armenian churches. Keep that in mind if you’re trying to find a specific one.
A short walk down the hill and we found ourselves in the hip fish market bar neighborhood of Beşiktaş on a Friday afternoon.
Rüstem Paşa Camii is my favorite mosque in İstanbul, and Ferda had never been before. It’s a small mosque with stunning tilework.
Around the corner we also poked our heads in Yeni Camii.
From the Byzantines sadly the best things to see are the cisterns. Seems like all the churches have been turned into mosques including, since my last visit, Fethiye Müzesi, Kariye (Chora) Müzesi, and most egregiously Aya Sofya. Previously I would have put all three of those among my top five favorite museums in İstanbul. Now, well, the latter two aren’t even worth visiting, and having been at least three times to Aya Sofya, I’m afraid to see its current condition. We stayed in Sultanahmet so of course we walked by Aya Sofya a few times.
Near our hotel was another 6th century Byzantine church turned mosque, Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus,
looking like a standard mosque on the inside.
Pantokrator Monastery was built about 500 years later, but it’s still Byzantine!
It also has nothing special inside. So let’s try the Byzantine cisterns. The Nakkaş Halıcısı Sarnıcı is underneath the eponymous carpet shop. It now houses a decent exhibit on Constantinople’s Byzantine Hippodrome, a bit of which is still visible across the street from the carpet shop.
What used to be the Hippodrome is now Sultanahmet Square, still hosting a couple obelisks that adorned the Hippodrome.
The cistern on Soğukçeşme Sokağı is now used as a restaurant.
In the Cistern of Theodosius, now known as Şerefiye Sarnıcı, you can watch a sound and light show if you pay enough.
Mostly, however, we concentrated on the Ottoman monuments. Sokullu Mehmet Paşa Camii is supposed to be a good example of early Ottoman (16th century Mimar Sinan) architecture.
The Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum is housed in the Ottoman İbrahim Paşa Palace, but I didn’t find the palace or the collection all that exciting. It was a good place to hang out while it was raining.
More exciting (to me) was Şehzade Camii complex (again 16th century Mimar Sinan),
where we can find İbrahim Paşa’s tomb (Bosnalı (aka Damat), the same İbrahim Paşa from the aforementioned palace?)
and another nice cloister-like courtyard, this time around the rooms of a madrasa.
Behind that mosque, just to shake things up a bit, is a 4th century Roman aqueduct.
Walking toward Balat I kept seeing more and more women in full black abaya, perhaps more than I even saw in Iran.
Turns out it was Monday morning women only sermon time at the Yavuz Sultan Selim Camii (16th century).
I knew about the colorful houses in Balat,
but I was quite surprised to come across this Greek school built in the 19th century and still in use.
Also in the Balat neighborhood is the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the highest see of the Orthodox Church which has retained its center in İstanbul (Constantinople) for 17 centuries. I guess that’s like the Vatican for Orthodox Christians. There’s not much to see. A screaming baby was getting baptized (in Latin? or Greek?) when I went in the church.
In the Laleli neighborhood I was excited to visit the late Ottoman (19th century) Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque (aka Aksaray Valide Mosque) with its unusual architecture (wikipedia calls it “Turkish Rococo“) and elaborate decorations.
But, coming full circle now, the real reason to visit Laleli is for more bird palaces, this time on a tomb in the Laleli Mosque complex.
How exciting is that?!
And cheers with a little soju from Korecan our last evening in the city.