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The Çarşamba Market and the Fatih Camii

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Çarşamba is a neighborhood in Istanbul, and also the Turkish word for “Wednesday”. Now, what do you suspect might be the best day to visit Çarşamba? You get one guess!

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Held since Byzantine times, the Wednesday Market (Çarşamba Pazarı) was already woven so immutably into the neighborhood’s fabric, that the conquering Turks just named the entire area after it. Today, Çarşamba is a highly devout section of Istanbul. The market occupies the narrow streets surrounding the Fatih Mosque, and brings the locals out in droves, the great majority of them covered women going about their weekly shopping.

The market concentrates on cheap clothing, household wares and food; nothing of touristic interest, besides the sheer spectacle of so many people. Jostling through the jam-packed streets, and getting mercilessly shoulder-checked by the no-nonsense, and surprisingly solid, local ladies, Jürgen and I were equally exhilarated and exhausted by the market. It was with a sigh of relief that we finally emerged into the courtyard of the Fatih Mosque.

Fatih-Courtyard

This massive complex is one of the great mosques of Istanbul, built on the destroyed remains of the Church of the Holy Apostles. It was raised 30 years after the conquest of Istanbul on the orders of Mehmet the Conqueror, who was less than satisfied with the result. Angry that the mosque’s dome was smaller than that of the Hagia Sophia, he had the architect put to death. You don’t want to disappoint the Conqueror!

We think Mehmet over-reacted. His mosque is a marvel, with gorgeous interior calligraphy and design, and a pleasant courtyard. We sat down inside to listen to a little preaching, and take in the atmosphere. The mosque was surprisingly crowded. A few kids were laughing and chasing each other around the carpeted room, while their fathers looked on in annoyance. There was a lighter, more frivolous atmosphere in this mosque than others we’ve visited, probably thanks to the shopping-festival just outside.

Walking around the grounds of the mosque, we found the mausoleum of Mehmet the Conqueror himself, his turban atop an absurdly large coffin. Many people were seated inside, reading from the Koran, and praying for the former Sultan. We were tempted to sit down, ourselves, if just for the excuse to spend some extra time in this beautifully-tiled mausoleum.

Location of the Fatih Mosque on our Istanbul Map

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The Çarşamba Market
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May 14, 2013 at 7:59 am Comments (9)

The Gül Camii and Aya Nikola

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Istanbul has no shortage of old churches and mosques, and it can often feel like too much of a good thing. As our time in the city progressed, we would increasingly find ourselves saying something like, “Honestly, I think we’ve visited enough mosques”. But what are we going to do? Simply ignore something as amazing as the Gül Camii?

Gul-Mosque-Art

When entering an ancient mosque, we’ve learned to look for the placement of the mihrab: the semicircular niche which indicates the direction of Mecca. Orthodox churches face east, but a mosque should be oriented toward Mecca. If you’re in a mosque that was originally built as a mosque, the mihrab is integrated soundly into the architecture. But if you’re in a former church which has undergone conversion, the mihrab will be off to the side, inelegantly askew.

The mihrab in the Gül Camii (Rose Mosque) was askew, because this was originally the Byzantine Church of St. Theodosia. Dating from the 12th century, it’s a small square-shaped structure, built of red brick, which used to guard the corpse of St. Theodosia. Theodosia was a nun martyred during the 8th century struggle against iconoclasm. While protesting the removal of a particularly revered icon at Constantinople’s Great Palace, she shook a ladder and killed the soldier who was atop it. For this crime, she was executed by having a ram’s horn hammered through her neck. Our ancestors were so creative!

May 29th, the day on which the Ottomans overran Istanbul in 1453, just happened to be Theodosia’s Saint Day, and the church was full of worshipers. According to at least one account, the marauding Turks stormed inside, chased out the Byzantines, and threw the saint’s bones to the dogs. And then they converted her church into a mosque. Poor Theodosia had it as tough in death as in life.

Aya-Nikola-Church-Istanbul

After finding the Gül Camii, we tracked down the nearby Aya Nikola: a Greek Orthodox church. This rundown old building on the shore of the Golden Horn looks nothing like a church, but after ringing the doorbell, we were welcomed in by a friendly Greek woman. The Aya Nikola is small, dark, and lavishly decorated, with a fantastic wall of icons around the altar. But I got the distinct impression it’s no longer in service.

Part of the reason we enjoy hunting down these old churches, is the excuse it gives us to explore new neighborhoods. From the Aya Nikola, we walked along the coast of the Golden Horn up into the hills of Fener and Balat, the old Jewish quarter. It’s rarely visited, but we found this area west of the Atatürk Bridge to be one of the most picturesque in Istanbul.

Locations on our Map: Gül Camii | Aya Nikola

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May 11, 2013 at 8:27 am Comments (0)
The ar?amba Market and the Fatih Camii Çarşamba is a neighborhood in Istanbul, and also the Turkish word for "Wednesday". Now, what do you suspect might be the best day to visit Çarşamba? You get one guess!
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