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Up the Coast to Kanlıca

After visiting the neo-baroque Küçüksu Pavilion, we walked north along the Asian shore of the Bosphorus to the pleasant town of Kanlıca, where we treated ourselves to yogurt by the seaside, and then lunch at an amazing hilltop restaurant overlooking the strait.

Anadolu Hisarı

It took almost no time to walk from the Küçüksu Pavilion to the Anadolu Hisarı: a fortress built by the invading Ottoman forces in 1397. By connecting a chain from this fortress to the Rumeli Hisarı across the Bosphorus, the Ottomans were able to blockade Constantinople from the north. Today, Anadolu Hisarı is almost entirely in ruins; it looks cool, but there’s nothing to visit, unless you count the comfortable waterfront cafes which have sprung up in the fortress’s shadow.

We continued walking north, passing underneath the Fatih Bridge which, at nearly a mile in length, is one of the world’s longest suspension bridges. We would have loved to walk across it, but the bridge is unfortunately closed to pedestrians in order to discourage suicides. But no preventative measure can thwart the determined self-killer! The day after our visit, there was another attempt. Luckily, the guy survived the fall and was fished out by policemen waiting in a boat.

Our walk along the Bosphorus wasn’t the most pleasant stroll we’ve ever embarked on. The traffic was heavy, and the sidewalks difficult to negotiate. Even worse, the views of the Bosphorus were consistently obstructed by fences protecting new townhouses and upscale restaurants. So we were relieved to arrive in Kanlıca: a cute neighborhood centered around a small port. Kanlıca is famous around Istanbul for its yogurt, which we sampled at the restaurant Asırlık; mine came topped with ice cream, and Jürgen’s with honey. It was the best yogurt we had in Istanbul, and provided exactly the energy boost we’d need for the final stage of our journey: a hike up to the Hıdıv Kasrı.

Set atop a hill just behind Kanlıca, the Hıdıv Kasrı (or Khedive Palace) was built in 1907 for Abbas II: the final Ottoman governor of Egypt and the Sudan. Today, the palace is owned by the state and used solely as a restaurant. Its location is magnificent, in the middle of a garden decorated by tulips of every conceivable color. We assumed that a restaurant set in a former palace might be out of our usual price range, but needn’t have worried. This was an affordable place to eat, perhaps because it’s run by the state. The food wasn’t memorable but worth the price, and the views over the Bosphorus were unbeatable.

Locations on our Map: Analodu Hisarı | Kanlıca | Hıdıv Kasrı

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April 28, 2013 at 8:32 am Comments (3)

The Küçüksu Pavilion

Built in 1857 as a lodge for Sultan Abdülmecid I, the elaborate facade of the Küçüksu Pavilion looks out over the Bosphorus Strait from the Asian side of Istanbul. Though its days as a summer retreat for Ottoman rulers may be a thing of the past, the pavilion has been meticulously preserved and now serves as a museum.

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As is evident from the first glance, the pavilion was built during the Ottoman craze for all things European. The architect, Nigoğayos Baylan, had studied in Paris and the pavilion’s highly-stylized facade belongs to the Rococo style which was, at the time, très à la mode. Baylan was of Istanbul’s Armenian minority, reflecting the trend among the Ottoman court to eschew Muslim architects for Christian, and western-oriented, points of view.

After the establishment of the Turkish Republic, all palaces and royal lodges were possessed by the state. The Küçüksu Pavilion underwent a long period of restoration and was re-opened in 1983. Happily, the government proved to be a top-notch caretaker. The building is in splendid condition, with original furniture, and looks brand new both inside and out. It’s hard to say whether the pavilion is more impressive for its exterior, with its ostentatious and finely-wrought detailing, or for the baroque elegance found within.

The pavilion consists of four equal-sized rooms on each floor, decorated with colored glass which casts a strange light across the floors and furniture. Heat was provided by fireplaces, each of which is individually designed and built from a different-colored Italian marble. The Küçüksu Pavilion is often referred to as a “palace”, which is certainly in fitting with its opulence, but not quite correct: it was never intended for sleeping and was designed without a single bedroom. (I’d have been fine on the couch.)

Before we visited, I had glanced only briefly at a brochure describing the pavilion as an “Ottoman hunting lodge”, and hadn’t seen any pictures at all. So arriving at the gate, I was blown away. The fact that this incredible building appears only very rarely in “must-see” lists of the city just underlines the ridiculous abundance of sights in Istanbul.

Location on our Istanbul Map

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April 27, 2013 at 7:17 am Comments (2)

Three Mosques of Üsküdar

Much of our first day on the Asian side of Istanbul was spent visiting Üsküdar’s mosques. There are over 180 in just this section of the city, so we had a lot to choose from, but stuck to three of the most well-known: the Yeni Valide, &#350emsi Paşa and Atik Valide.

The Yeni Valide Camii
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Üsküdar’s “Mosque of the New Queen Mother” was the very first mosque we visited in Turkey. Completed in 1703 by Emetullah Rabia Gülnûş, the mother of Sultan Ahmed III, the mosque is situated near the Bosphorus and its twin minarets have become part of Istanbul’s Asian profile. As a girl, the Greek Emetullah had led a peaceful existence on Crete before being kidnapped by the Ottomans and sent to the harem of Sultan Mehmet IV. Lovely and intelligent, she soon attracted the sultan’s favor and bore him two sons, both of whom would become sultans as well.

Since this was our first mosque, its huge dome, colorful tiles, intricate patterns, and stunning courtyard were especially astounding to us. The Queen Mother is buried here, in a tomb protected by a nicely-wrought cage of green iron. [More Pics | Location]

The &#350emsi Paşa Camii
Semsi-Pasa-Camii

This tiny mosque on the Bosphorus coast was unfortunately encircled by the massive construction of the Marmara project, which will link Asia to Europe by subway. It was built in 1581 by Mimar Sinan for the Grand Vizier (prime minister) of the time, &#350emsi Paşa.

The noise and mess of construction really detracted from our experience here, which is a shame since the &#350emsi Paşa is considered one of Istanbul’s architectural gems. There’s a pleasing simplicity to the humble mosque, with its lone dome and single minaret, and when there’s no construction, the courtyard with its view over the Bosphorus must be wonderful. [More Pics | Location]

The Atik Valide Külliyesi
Atik-Valide-Kuelliyesi

Completed in 1583, the mosque of the Atik Valide Külliyesi was our favorite of the day. It took a while to reach, as it’s found at the top of a hill further inland, but was worth the effort. The mosque was built at the behest of the Sultan Valide Nurbanu, wife of Selim the Sot (one of the Ottoman Empire’s most disastrous rulers) and mother of Sultan Murad III. During her time as valide sultan (mother of the sultan), she exercised enormous influence, and was recognized as the true power behind the throne. She died in 1583, possibly poisoned by Genoese agents, and was buried in the Hagia Sofia.

The complex (Külliyesi) which Nurbanu commissioned in Üsküdar was the final masterpiece of Istanbul’s ubiquitous architect Mimar Sinan, and includes a dervish lodge, insane asylum, and soup kitchen. The mosque is glorious, sporting a wide central dome surrounded by five smaller domes, but is very nearly eclipsed in beauty by the attached courtyard, where there are old burnt trees, a fountain and a popular tea house. We love this aspect of mosques; they double as community centers, providing a place hang out even when there’s no service. [More Pics | Location]

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March 20, 2013 at 7:11 am Comments (2)

A Day in Üsküdar

It was a sunny Sunday morning, perfect for our first foray into Asian Istanbul, so we hopped on a ferry and headed over to Üsküdar. Originally settled by the Greeks as Chrysopolis in the 7th century BC, Üsküdar’s founding actually predates that of Byzantium.

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To get a sense of how insanely populous Istanbul is, consider this. Üsküdar comprises just a small section of the city, but half a million people are packed into its eighteen square miles. If just this section of Istanbul were a city in Idaho, it would be by far that state’s most populous. More than twice as many people live in Üsküdar as in Boise.

Throughout the day, we were struck by the neighborhood’s radically different atmosphere; apart from the Bosphorus and the hills, it’s nothing like the Istanbul we’ve been slowly growing accustomed to. Quieter and more conservative, Üsküdar has historically been home to poorer families transplanted from the Anatolian countryside. English is rarely heard here, and there are few tourists underway. Amazing, considering how easy it is to reach. We saw only one other foreign couple the whole day.

Perhaps for that reason, we found the locals here a bit warmer than in Beyoğlu or Sultanahmet. We sat down at a tiny side-street stand serving tea (and only tea), and the kid working there nearly wet himself when I tried to order in Turkish. Later, we asked an older man for directions, and he walked with us for ten minutes to show us the way. He was so friendly, it hardly mattered that he was leading us in the totally wrong direction. And after playing with her pug, we got into a long chat with a woman in Doğancilar Park. She had spent fifteen years living in Bremen, and was obviously eager to give her German a workout.

We ended our day with a walk down at the seaside, enjoying the views of Istanbul’s European profile across the Bosphorus. A long stretch of the coastline is dedicated to sea-facing benches outfitted with pillows, and waiters who serve tea and coffee. Stoked by a day of walking, our appetites were raging, so we sat down at Filizler Köftecısı, a large and popular restaurant which serves up köfte: ground beef packed into meatballs or patties. With our bellies full, we lingered for awhile to enjoy the view of the Bosphorus from the terrace before returning to the ferry.

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March 18, 2013 at 4:52 pm Comments (3)