Hidden Gems of Istanbul

We’ve been enjoying the sunshine and getting around to some of Istanbul’s lesser known (to us) sights. Our latest trip took us to Rustem Pasa Mosque and to the Eyup shrine, both breathtaking and intriguing in their own way. You can find pictures from our trip by clicking the photo below.


The Rustem Pasa mosque was a jewel in the crown of Mimar Sinan (Sinan the Architect) whose work includes some of Istanbul’s finest historic sights. This tiny mosque is nestled on top of a higgledy piggledy assortment of bazaar-like shops, and, slipping a veil over my head as we entered through a shadowy archway and up some spiralled stairs, it seemed that we could be going back to Sinan’s time. The meydan (courtyard) is small but prettily arranged with plants and some tiled walls that, although stunning in themselves, are actually an aperitif to the stunning mosque interior. Slipping off shoes and entering into the mosque, it feels as though one is entering an Aladdin’s cave; a true diamond in the rough exterior of Istanbul’s bazar district. Every inch of wall was covered in exquisite tiles, and the height of the domed ceiling added a grandeur wholly unexpected in a place so small. Although we couldn’t stay long, I felt as though we should have stayed for hours just soaking in the beauty and paying tribute to the workmanship that had so lovingly crafted this jem-like place. Here are photos of the china tiles from Rustem Pasa Mosque, Eyup and Pierre Loti; click on the photo below to view the album.


From there we took the halic (Golden Horn) boat to Eyup. The boat journey itself presented a chance to admire Istanbul from a new vantage point, and although the Golden Horn is notoriously more industrial than the Bosphorus, it still has some sights along the way to redeem itself and give interest to the eye.

Eyup is a pretty, leafy little town that gives the illusion of spaciousness despite hugging the base of a clifflike cemetery. The place has a great importance for more religious Turks as it has a shrine to Eyup, considered to be the standard bearer of their Prophet. It is therefore considered a holy place, and going there is deemed to bring blessing to the pilgrim. In fact, there is even a special area dedicated to circumcision, and families often take their young sons there as they believe that such rites of passage are entrance points for either blessings or curses into family life. Above the cemetary there is also a famous cafe, Pierre Loti, named after a French Turkophile writer who, it is supposed, frequented the cafe. Although the cafe only serves beverages, there are also a couple of eateries that also profit from the commanding view back down the Golden Horn. We sat there and enjoyed our Menemen and Manti, traditional Turkish dishes, before taking the steep cable car back down to the town.

It was then time to visit the shrine ourselves, and, entering alongside many pilgrims, it was amazing to see the homage paid to the relics (including a stone said to bear Eyup’s footprint), hear the fervent prayers, and observe the respect as people walked backwards out of the place so as not to turn their backs on the shrine itself. The walls were again lavishly adorned with tiles that showed countless hours of painting and design.

Leaving the shrine, we then meandered through the town and along to another fine mosque the Zalmahmut Pasa Mosque. Although we didn’t enter it, the courtyard provided a welcome rest amidst leafy pergolas, tea drinking locals and one friendly, ‘lazing in the sun’ cat. What a treat to live in such a richly cultured, and intricately woven tapestry of a city.

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