This past Thursday a couple of us decided to explore the Old City and check out some of the sights we missed during our guided tour. We started at Yeni Camii or the New Mosque. Jake’s guidebook cleverly noted that only in Turkey can a four hundred year old mosque be referred to as new. The mosque sits right next to the water and has a beautiful interior of colorful stained glass windows and large columns with gold capitals.
We then made our way to the Süleymaniye Camiipassing through the spice market just for the incredible variety of aromas. We decided it would be best to delay our purchases until we had a Turkish friend come with us to handle the traditional bartering aspect of a purchase (locals get better prices too). We did make a brief pit-stop at a local stand to try the dondurmalı irmik tatlılar which is a Turkish dessert introduced to us the night before. Its deliciousness was enough to make us stop and have some more. It’s basically warm semolina dough stuffed with ice cream and usually topped with raisins. Apparently, nobody knows what is actually in it but it is very good. Afterwards we trekked past the walls of Istanbul University and arrived at the Süleymaniye Mosque, considered one of the most magnificent in the city.
The mosque was designed by the famous architect Mimar Sinan and constructed in seven years starting in 1557. Quick story about Sinan. As I tweeted, we learned about the social structure of the Ottoman Empire in class on Friday. The Ottoman’s are famous for the millet system which granted equal rights to all religious affiliations and allowed for the religious communities to have almost complete autonomy. Yet, to be a member of the Ottoman elite one had to be Muslim. But anyone could convert to Islam. Sinan was born an Armenian Christian but was conscripted for government service. After converting to Islam, he became the sultan’s architect and is the most revered of his time. The Süleymaniye is considered to be Sinan’s second best work, but the famous architect was buried here. The walls of the mosque disguise the rectangular columns that support the massive dome creating one huge, open space instead of divided sections. The dome itself is 27.25 meters in diameter.
I really enjoy visiting mosques because of the atmosphere. I have been very impressed by the artwork (especially mosaics) in the churches we have seen, but I feel overwhelmed/distracted by the scenes and stories from the bible. Islam prohibits the depiction of any person or animal created by God so the mosques are elaborately designed with patterns and calligraphy. This art and the huge spaces created by the domes make them feel like more intimate places to worship. Also, the silence and reverence of the mosques contrast strongly with the bustling streets of Istanbul and the constant haggling of shopkeepers. The area around the Süleymaniye is almost as cool as what is inside. We walked around behind the mosque and found a great view looking down on Eminönü and the Golden Horn. We enjoyed the sights before wandering off towards the Fatih district. We made a quick visit to a smaller mosque called Şehzade Camii then walked to the Aqueduct over Atatürk Boulevard.
At this point, we were all starving and my roommate Mustafa had given us the name of a restaurant we had to try. Our navigation skills have gotten significantly better and we managed to find the place without having to wait for Mustafa to reach Fatih. We stumbled out of the cold into the restaurant called Fatih Karadeniz Pidecisi which translates into Fatih (the district) Black Sea Pide-seller. We learned that it was founded in 1957 and we were sitting in the original location. The restaurant has even kept the same supplier for its fresh ingredients from the Black Sea region since opening. We had all had pide before, but nothing of this quality. Pide is essentially Turkish pizza. Its crust or bread is shaped like a long canoe then topped with cheese and ground beef (kımaylı pide). At this place, the bread is like two canoes fused together to make an enclosed cylindrical shape.
The chef layers the cheese and meat on the dough before sealing it and throwing it in the hot oven.
When cooked, the inside is so hot that you can make a small opening and crack a raw egg into it and the egg will cook. The pide is served with a small stick of butter and you spread the egg and the butter along the pide. Sprinkle a little red pepper flakes and you have a damn good meal.
After eating, we attempted to check out the Fatih Camii only to find it under renovation. We strolled back through Beyazit Square before hopping on the tram back to Eminönü. We could have taken a bus back to campus but would have gotten stuck in rush hour traffic (which is absolute gridlock). We opted for the ferry instead which was a great call. Even though it was cloudy, the city at dusk was beautiful.
We disembarked at Bebek and killed ourselves going up the steepest hill in Istanbul back to the Superdorm. Somehow we convinced ourselves that we weren’t that tired and decided to attend this university party. It’s not every day you can party at an old Ottoman palace on the Bosphorus (http://www.saithalimpasa.com/).