02 September 2016

Photo Walk: Gülhane to Karaköy

On Sunday I joined another photo walk run by Yas at the Istanbul Language Exchange Club. On the last walk I joined I discovered an area of the city I'd never even been to; this time I discovered hidden gems in areas I thought I new pretty well. I guess I was wrong!


We started our walk at the Gülhane tram stop, circling around the back of the Istanbul Governate to find the Hacı Beşirağa Camii. Built in 1745 this "new" mosque (new is a relative term in Turkey!) was quite different from any other mosque I've visited. For one thing, the women-only section is not only in the balcony but it has it's own entrance from outside the mosque. As our guide Yas pointed out I was lucky here as the balcony gave me better photo opportunities. The mosque is also decorated solely in shades of black and grey. My pictures look like they're black and white but I didn't use any filters-that's just what it looks like!

Privately-owned Byzantine cistern

Private prayer room for office workers

A twisty-turny walk that I likely couldn't replicate brought us to the Rustem Pasa Madrasa. Madrasas were outlawed in the 20s and while I think now some are reopening, many-like the Rustem Pasa Madrasa-are used as cultural centers where people can take classes in ebru (paper marbling), cooking, music, language, etc.

Syrian-style mosque & minaret

From there we continued our journey through the streets above Eminonu and down one of the many small side streets to peek into a barred window onto a privately owned Byzantine-era cistern. This would-be fantastic historic find is being used, for all things, as a private storage/junk container. Sigh.

Empty Eminonu streets
Europe's two sides viewed from Halic

Our wanderings took us to Eminonu where we pushed our way through the throngs along the Bosphorus and the balik emkmek boats to see the remains of a Roman tower. Once part of the city wall it was used as a dungeon and now houses the tombs of famous Muslim martyrs-including the originator of the name Ali Baba.

A view of Galata

In order to cross over to Karaköy we continued on foot towards Halic and crossed the Halic Metro Bridge on foot, taking advantage of the fantastic views of the European side of Istanbul. Once on the other side we came immediately upon a short section of wall. During the Ottoman Empire, the Genoese had control of much of the area that is now Karaköy, Galata, Beyoglu and surrounded it with their own wall.

Part of the old Genoese wall

Larger section of the Genoese wall

We crossed the main road that runs along the water Turkish-style playing chicken with traffic on both sides of the boulevard in order to follow the metro bridge up a blind alley. There we discovered a larger section of the Genoese wall complete with tower and the last remaining gate-the Burning Gate.

The Burning Gate in the Genoese wall

Passing through the gate we next made our way to the Arap Camii, or Arab Mosque. I've heard of this one but I've never been. I'm not even sure I could find it again, tucked away as it is in the depths of Karaköy. There are several stories attached to this mosque and I leave it to you to decide which you believe. The story on the mosque's information board says that it was built in 715, making it old even by Istanbul's standards and was converted to a Roman Catholic Church in the 14th Century when the bell tower (now minaret) was added and converted back to a mosque some hundred years later. If that is true then I think it is probably the only edifice in Turkey ever to have started as a mosque and then become a Christian church!

However, if you choose to believe Wikipedia, then the story is somewhat different. According to that website, "tradition has it" that there was once a mosque built on the site, as well as an earlier chapel dedicated to Saint Irene, followed by a replacement chapel dedicated to Saint Paul, and finally the current structure consecrated in 1325 which fell to the Ottomans and was converted to a mosque around 1475. Whatever its history, it's a beautiful building and the calm of the courtyard is a balm in the midst of the craziness of Karaköy.

Our wanderings then took us through the area of Karaköy around the old fish market that was unceremoniously, and once could argue cruelly, knocked down last year. Being so close to the fish market and warf it's no surprise that shops in this area are full of boat and fishing gear. In front of several shops reposed piles of anchors or all shapes and sizes.

We ended our walk at the new fish market (far less preferable to the old) after discovering hidden gems tucked away in what we thought was an already familiar part of the city with nothing left to discover. I'm hoping now that the weather seems to be getting cooler I'll be up for joining more of Yas's walks to learn about other sections of beautiful Istanbul!

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