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Eyüp: At the End of the Golden Horn

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Found outside the old city walls at the end of the Golden Horn, the neighborhood of Eyüp is one of the most sacred spots in the Islamic world.

Eyüp Mosque

The best way to get to Eyüp is aboard the Haliç (Golden Horn) ferry which leaves from Eminönu. But as luck would have it, water traffic was closed on the Saturday morning that we had chosen on our visit, after heavy fog had caused a ferry collision. So we were forced to reach Eyüp by bus… providing a lesson that we’ll now impart to you: if you have to take a bus to Eyüp, you might as well walk! The traffic along the southern Golden Horn is ridiculous, especially on weekends, and it took 90 minutes to complete the five kilometer journey.

By the time we finally arrived, we were in miserable spirits. But Eyüp made a valiant effort to cheer us up, with its cute, pedestrianized streets and festival-like atmosphere. This has been an important pilgrimage site for Muslims for centuries. Ayyub al-Ansari, the friend and standard bearer of the Prophet Mohammed, died here during the first attempted Muslim conquest of Constantinople, and was buried in the location that would later bear his name (Ayyub → Eyüp).

Apart from its lovely location on the Golden Horn, Eyüp’s prominent feature is its enormous mosque. We ducked inside during prayer time, but left quickly; the place was so packed we could hardly find an open patch of carpet on which to stand. Right across from the mosque is Ayyub al-Ansari’s türbe, or tomb. Although closed during our visit, it’s supposed to be amazing; completely covered in Iznik tiles.

For centuries, Eyüp has been the most fashionable place in Istanbul to be laid to rest, and it’s surrounded by cemeteries. The largest of these stretches up a steep hill that eventually ends at the Pierre Loti Café, named for the French novelist. This lovely garden cafe boasts a view that takes in the entirety of the Golden Horn, all the way to the Bosphorus Strait. Breathtaking, and it was the perfect way to end a long day.

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June 11, 2013 at 6:11 pm Comments (3)

The Galata Bridge

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No visit to Istanbul is complete without walking along, ferrying under, taking the tram across, or enjoying a drink on the Galata Bridge. The bridge spans the Golden Horn to connect the city’s two European sides, and is one of Istanbul’s most iconic landmarks.

Galata Bridge

Walking across the Galata Bridge, it’s very likely you’ll find yourself hooked. And I don’t mean “addicted”, but very literally hooked. In the face, with a hook. The bridge’s most enduring image is its shoulder-to-shoulder fisherman casting off into the water below. The almost unbroken line of bobbing rods is a romantic sight, but not all the fishermen pay careful attention to where they’re swinging.

The Galata Bridge is on its fifth iteration, with the current version dating from 1994. The first design for a bridge at this location was drawn by none other than Leonardo da Vinci in 1502. Sadly, his plans never came to fruition, and Istanbul had to wait until 1845 before Galata was connected to the old town.

The bridge is quite low to sea level, meaning that only small ships can pass under. And those, just barely. Its height also makes it an unlikely spot for suicides: in fact, it’s not uncommon to see local kids jumping off for fun.

One of the nicest ways to end a day in Istanbul is to grab a drink at one of the many restaurants found underneath the bridge. Even if you’re not thirsty, just walking past these places is a memorable event. Competition is fierce, and the doormen will try every conceivable trick to make you choose their establishment over the others. It can be comical; after we said “no” to three in rapid succession, another guy approached us rubbing his hands, and said “Now is my turn! You can not resist me!” Having been brought to laughter, and (more importantly) offered half-off beer, we succumbed to his charms.

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May 27, 2013 at 2:35 pm Comments (4)

The Rahmi M. Koç Museum

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There were experiences I expected to have during our time in Istanbul: eating delicious döner and baklava, visiting mosques, and ferrying across the Bosphorus. But exploring the innards of a decommissioned WWII-era submarine? Nope, I wasn’t expecting that one.

Tech Museum Istanbul

Found on the northern banks of the Golden Horn, the Rahmi M. Koç Museum is definitely not on the list of typical Istanbul tourist experiences. This is Turkey’s first museum “dedicated to the history of transport, industry and communications”, and it offers a comprehensive tour through the world of machinery. Although the museum is geared toward kids, Jürgen and I had an excellent time. We explored old trams, climbed up into the cockpit of small military planes, saw early bicycle designs, guessed at the makes of antique cars, and even had the opportunity to enter a submarine.

The US sells its decommissioned military equipment to its allies, so sometime after WWII, Turkey ended up with some of our old submarines. One of these, the USS Thornback, sits in the water just off the shore from the museum. Built in 1944, the Thornback battled the Japanese during WWII, and would go on to serve 28 years in the Turkish Navy. We paid a little extra for a tour of the boat, led by Mr. Ahmet Malalan, a former sailor.

This was my first time in a submarine, and I felt strangely elated. Like a kid, I wanted to touch everything: the torpedo chutes, the radio dials, the big red buttons. But I kept myself in check and behaved like a self-respecting adult… until I saw the periscope. There was no resisting that.

The Rahmi M. Koç Museum provided an unexpectedly fun day. Anybody interested in industrial artifacts, or perhaps those who’ve had their fill of mosques and ancient art, should make the trip.

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Rahmi M. Koç Museum – Website (English)

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May 23, 2013 at 12:35 pm Comments (0)

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?

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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.

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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 Rezan Has Museum

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Set in the basement of an old tobacco factory on the southern shore of the Golden Horn, the Rezan Has Museum presents an interesting walk through Turkey’s archaeological history, from the copper age to the arrival of the Selçuks.

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The former Cibali Tobacco and Cigarette Factory is today home to the Kadir Has University. The factory dates from 1888, but was abandoned for decades before being purchased by a foundation which, following the examples of the Istanbul Modern and Santralİstanbul, discovered a contemporary use for the historical building. The conversion from factory to university was beautifully realized and won the 2003 Europa Nostra award, which honors the “safeguarding of Europe’s cultural and natural heritage”.

During the restoration, the site was realized to have an even older history than believed, when both an Ottoman hamam and a Byzantine-era cistern were discovered in the basement. The remains were preserved as well as possible, and became the setting of the subterranean Rezan Has Museum.

For an archaeology museum, an ancient underground cistern is about as atmospheric a setting as one could hope for. The permanent collection is small, but nicely presented, and takes the visitor on a chronological journey through the ages, from Copper Age tools and jars to the oil lamps and weapons carried by the Selçuk Turks on their march through Anatolia. There’s ancient medical equipment and a fascinating collection of decorative belts worn by the mysterious and short-lived Kingdom of Urartu.

It’s great to see Istanbul making such constructive use of its cultural heritage, instead of razing these historic buildings to the ground. The Rezan Has Museum is just as fascinating for its archaeology exhibits, as for the wonderful restoration of its ancient cistern.

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Rezan Has Museum – Website

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May 7, 2013 at 3:55 pm Comments (0)

Lunchtime in Eminönü

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Hungry for lunch? Then join the throngs heading for the semicircular Eminönü Plaza, on the western side of the Galata Bridge. “Why? What’s there to eat?” you might be asking. Well, try not worry about that quite yet!

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This plaza between the Galata Bridge and the Bosphorus Ferry Terminal is one of the most popular places in the city to grab a quick and cheap lunch. Three restaurants floating on the riverside offer the exact same thing — fish sandwiches. Just step right up, hand over 5 TL and grab a seat at the first available stool. Lather your sandwich with diluted lemon juice and salt, and dig in!

Don’t walk over to the edge and peer into the murky river from which the fish are caught… stop that! Instead, look around you. Look at the funny little waiters dressed in Ottoman-era costumes! Isn’t this fun? Look at the other customers, mostly locals, happily enjoying their fish sandwiches. Hey, I said to stop looking at the water! Just close your eyes and concentrate on the fish. It’s good, right?

Chowing on a grilled fish sandwich really works up a thirst, doesn’t it? You know what sounds really delicious right now? You got it: neon-red vinegary pickle juice. You’re reading my mind! Yes sir, put a cup of that sweet stuff right here. So vinegary, so full of pickles and radishes… so bright! Mmmm, that’s the taste of a new, slightly disturbed, generation.

So, a meal in Eminönü is kind of an adventure, but in truth the pickle juice is not totally undrinkable and does complement the fish sandwich — which is just as delicious as a grilled fish sandwich should be. The experience is fun, and the price is great. You can also find non-fishy foods in the plaza, such as chestnuts, simits, corn ears and döner, and with the boisterous, almost carnival-like atmosphere and the view of the Galata Bridge, it’s an excellent place to grab a quick bite.

Just make sure to save room for dessert. There are stands offering Halka Lokma Tarifi, which are freshly-fried donut balls topped with ground pistachio. Or those with an even sweeter tooth can try out the Tarihi Osmanlı Macunu (Traditional Ottoman Candy): five different flavors of thick taffy spiraled deftly around a stick, creating a delicious lollipop.

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April 15, 2013 at 10:01 am Comments (4)
Eyp: At the End of the Golden Horn Found outside the old city walls at the end of the Golden Horn, the neighborhood of Eyp is one of the most sacred spots in the Islamic world.
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