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The Green Mosque

More from Our Trip to Bursa
Introduction | Gazi Plaza and the Market | Karagöz Puppets | Muradiye and Around

The neighborhood of Yeşil (Green), separated from the city center by the Gök Dere river, takes its name from Bursa’s most well-known sights: the Green Mosque and Tomb. Visible from across Bursa, the mausoleum sits atop a hill and is covered in monochrome tiles of a unique light-green color.

Bursa Mosque

Green is definitely the color of Bursa. Its most famous mosque complex is decorated in green tiles. An entire neighborhood is named “Green”. Despite the urban sprawl, there’s a generous amount of parks and trees, and the city is surrounded by a green landscape at the foot of Mount Uludağ. The football squad Bursapor’s color? One guess.

(On our second day in the city, there was a massive green procession from the football stadium to the town center. Thousands of people had taken to the streets, wearing green jerseys and carrying green Bursaspor flags, to mourn the passing of the club’s president. He was a popular figure in the city, having brought Bursa its first and only domestic championship in the 2010/11 season.)

Bursaspor Deatch President

The Yeşil Camii was built in 1421 by Sultan Mehmed I, who had reunited the Ottoman Empire after an eleven-year civil war. His mosque is one of the more unique we’ve seen; far removed from the massive complexes of Istanbul, the Yeşil Mosque stands out for the lovely turquoise color of its tiles. The surrounding courtyard and tea houses, too, are beautiful, and boast views overlooking the valley below.

Just behind the mosque and further up the hill, is the Yeşil Türbe. This octagonal tomb holds the remains of Mehmed I, and is perhaps even more striking than the mosque itself. During our visit, just before the call to worship, it was filled with locals counting beads, reading their Korans and praying.

Location on our Bursa Map

-List Of Bursa Hotels

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June 16, 2013 at 3:33 pm Comments (3)

The Gül Camii and Aya Nikola

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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More Photos of the Gül Camii
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May 11, 2013 at 8:27 am Comments (0)

The Aqueduct of Valens

Despite the tumult of centuries, the ravages of war, fire and earthquake, and the construction of a megalopolis around, along and even through it, the Aqueduct of Valens is standing tall. Built by the Roman Emperor Valens in 378 AD, the aqueduct is among Istanbul’s most amazing ancient relics.

Aqueduct-of-Valens

The Greek settlement of Byzantium was never able to truly flourish, despite its strategic position, for one important reason: a lack of drinking water. It’s surrounded on all sides by salt water, but no river flows into the city. After the arrival of the technologically-advanced Romans, a network of canals and aqueducts was built to pipe water in from the outlying hills, and deposit it into hundreds of underground cisterns, such as the Yerebatan Sarnıçı.

The water was still flowing when the Ottomans took possession of Istanbul, and the city’s new Turkish rulers did an excellent job conserving the aqueduct and making necessary repairs. Let this be a lesson to all you other crumbling, ancient wonders — as long as you stay useful, people will take care of you! Today, of course, the aqueduct serves no purpose other than aesthetic, but what a sight it is. For many visitors, ourselves included, it’s the first awe-inspiring scene presented by Istanbul; the shuttle bus from the airport to Taksim Square passes directly underneath.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the aqueduct is how it’s been woven into the fabric of modern Istanbul. In other cities, such a historic wonder would be cordoned off and observable from afar, but Istanbul has neither the time nor the patience for such niceties. Istanbul must get on with things. And so, Atatürk Boulevard, one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, is built right through the middle of the aqueduct.

Location on our Istanbul Map

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April 25, 2013 at 1:30 pm Comment (1)

Laleli: Istanbul’s Little Moscow

Despite being in the center of the city, the neighborhood of Laleli just doesn’t feel like the rest of Istanbul. Maybe it’s the curious absence of döner joints. It could be the shops with names like “XXL Женская одежда” and “красивый мужчина”, or the giant blonde women shouldering past with icy attitudes more befitting the tundra than Turkey. When you’re in Laleli, there’s no mistaking that you’ve arrived in Istanbul’s Russia Town.

XXL-Fashion-Istanbul

Laleli isn’t going to win any awards for its striking historic beauty. It’s almost all shopping here. Large, forgettable buildings crammed with equally forgettable stores that sell clothes, cheap shoes and fake Yves Saint Laurent handbags. Still, Laleli is an interesting place to see if just for the oddity of its Russian atmosphere. And it has a couple mosques that are worth the trouble of seeking out.

It took some effort to find the Bodrum Mesipaşa Camii, hidden like a jewel behind ugly modern buildings. Built as a burial church in 922 by the Byzantine emperor Romanos Lekapenos, this small brick structure was converted into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest. Given its diminutive size, we planned to spend about ten minutes inside, but hadn’t counted on meeting Mustafa Alpoy, the mosque’s amicable Imam. We were in Mustafa Bey’s office for a long time, looking at pictures of the mosque’s restoration, helping decipher some German scribbled in his guestbook, and listening to the stories of previous illustrious visitors.

Bodrum-Mesipasa-Camii-ImamUs and Imam Mustafa Alpoy

Not far away is the much larger Laleli Mosque, or the Mosque of the Lily, built in 1780 when the Baroque style was fashionable in the Ottoman Empire. Colorful marble, instead of tiling, is the dominant element in this mosque, which features a huge central dome and stained-glass windows.

Laleli-Camii-Istanbul.
Laleli Camii

Outside the mosque are burial halls of two important Ottoman rulers, Mustafa III and his son Selim III. Selim III is a particularly interesting figure. Well-educated, multi-lingual and accomplished in poetry, calligraphy and music, he was an exceptionally modern ruler. During his regency, Selim hoped to modernize the languishing Ottoman Empire, starting with its army. Of course, reform will always find an enemy, and in this case, it was the powerful Janissary Corps — the bloated and powerful elite branch of the army. Rather than see itself obsoleted, the Janissaries revolted. They deposed the Sultan and had him executed, stabbed to death in the harem by the Chief Black Eunuch.

(I’m considering pitching “Clue: Ottoman Edition” to Parker Brothers. Chief Black Eunuch in the Harem with the Knife is incalculably more thrilling than Mrs. Peacock in the Kitchen with the Candlestick.)

We ventured into the vault beneath the mosque, and were returned immediately to the shopping spirit which truly defines Laleli. This beautiful basement centers around an old fountain and the heavy pillars which support the structure above, and is occupied by clothes sellers. The dark vault beneath a huge mosque complex might seem an odd place to shop for, say, a denim jacket with fur frills. But somehow, here in Laleli, it makes sense.

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More Pics of Laleli
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April 20, 2013 at 7:51 am Comments (2)

The Rüstem Paşa Camii

Built on a steep hill in the middle of a busy market area, the Rüstem Paşa mosque is yet another masterpiece from the ubiquitous master architect Mimar Sinan. If you weren’t carefully looking for the entrance, you would almost certainly miss it: just a narrow set of nondescript stairs leading up from the street. So ascending these steps and emerging into the mosque’s spacious courtyard is quite a surprise.

Istanbul-Mosques

The surprises continue as you enter the mosque. The Rüstem Paşa is famed for its magnificent use of Iznik tiles, which cover every conceivable inch of the interior. Considering their age (the mosque was completed in 1563), the tiles are unbelievably colorful and the generous number of windows shows them in the best possible light. We loved this mosque — not only was it the most beautiful we had yet seen, but it’s also among the most welcoming to visitors. They even pass out free copies of the Koran… in English! I’ll probably never get around to reading it, but you never know when a Koran is going to come in handy.

On an unfortunate side note, we saw some abhorrent tourist behavior here. I can’t fathom what gets into people’s heads, but mosques are active places of worship which graciously welcome visitors. But an outrageous number of tourists in the Rüstem Paşa were gleefully breaking every rule: stepping over the ropes signed with “Please Stay Behind”, shouting to each other, wearing horribly inappropriate clothing, and groping everything they could get their hands on. And when I saw a couple sneak past the protective curtain up onto the pulpit, I came perilously close to scolding complete strangers. Tourists behaving badly damage the reputation of us all.

Location of the Rüstem Paşa Camii

-Tons Of Istanbul Cats

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April 6, 2013 at 5:58 pm Comments (15)

Southwest of the Hippodrome

The winding streets and cobblestone alleys immediately southwest of the Hippodrome have a radically different atmosphere from the rest of tourist-oriented Sultanahmet. Sloping down swiftly to the Sea of Marmara, this little subsection of the city has a couple beautiful mosques, as well as a pleasing working-class vibe.

Sokollu-Mehmet-Pa%c5%9fa-Camii-Inside

Just a few hundred meters from the chaotic crowds at the Blue Mosque, we found the quiet Sokollu Mehmet Paşa Camii. Yet another creation of the Ottoman master architect Mimar Sinan, this lovely mosque was built in 1571 for the Grand Vizier of Suleyman the Magnificent. We were frustrated to find the doors locked, but a student in the attached Koran School suggested we just wait until prayer time.

We relaxed at a nearby rooftop cafe until the call to prayer was issued from the mosque’s solitary minaret. Then, hoping that a solemn demeanor would help us blend in, we filed into the Mehmet Paşa along with the worshipers. This was the first Muslim ceremony I’d witnessed, and I found it quite moving. While we silently observed from the rear of the mosque, an Imam led the prayers. In unison, the men would bow, kneel or join in the chanting. [More Pics of the Sokullu Mehmet Paşa | Location]

Right down the street is the Küçük Ayasofya Camii, or the Small Hagia Sofia, so named because of an architectural and chromatic resemblance to Istanbul’s most famous mosque. It was originally built in 527 as a Byzantine church and, from the exterior, looks its age. So the magnificence of the recently-restored interior comes as a surprise. It’s not as colorful as other mosques, but has a wonderful two-story colonnade, and visitors are allowed to explore the upper floors. [More Pics of the Küçük Ayasofya Camii | Location]

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The Greek writing betrays the Küçük Ayasofya’s original use as a Byzantine Church

After finishing up in the Little Hagia Sofia, we poked around the neighborhood. For being so close to Istanbul’s most popular sights, there were few tourists underway on these narrow, uneven streets. Instead, we saw Turks going on about their daily lives — visiting the market, repairing rotted old buildings, and sitting on tiny stools on the sidewalk, drinking tea. [More Pics from the Neighborhood]

To get home, we walked along the Sea of Marmara until reaching the Galata Bridge. This was a longer trek than we had anticipated, but an entertaining one. Views of Asian Istanbul accompanied us the whole way, along with stray cats, fishermen grilling their day’s catch on the wave breakers, and tankers sounding their horns on their way into the Bosphorus. [More Pics from our Walk along the Sea]

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More Pictures from the Neighborhood
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March 27, 2013 at 9:27 am Comment (1)

The Blue Mosque

Popularly known as the Blue Mosque thanks to the color of the Iznik tiles lining its walls, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque dominates Istanbul’s skyline with six minarets. Completed in 1616, the mosque is still used for worship, but due to its grandeur and location, has become a popular tourist attraction.

Blue-Mosque-Court-Yard

From the moment it was proposed by Sultan Ahmed I, the Blue Mosque was contentious; not only did it require demolishing the palaces of powerful Ottoman ministers, but the unusual number of minarets was considered an effrontery. Four had long been the accepted maximum, with only the Grand Mosque in Mecca claiming six. But Sultan Ahmed was a man used to getting his way, and refused to budge. Luckily a compromise was found before any blood was shed: another minaret was simply added to Mecca’s mosque.

The Blue Mosque is stunning, especially when viewed from its courtyard. Perfectly symmetrical and of jaw-dropping size, the curved domes, rounded and hexagonal turrets and towering minarets work with the courtyard’s arches to create a profile of sublime beauty. It’s hard to imagine the impact such a sight must have made on visiting 17th-century dignitaries… or, perhaps it’s not at all hard to imagine. Their reaction must have been the same as mine: speechless awe.

We removed our shoes and stepped inside. Indoors, the mosque is not as cavernous as it would appear from the exterior, but it is exquisite. Over 20,000 blue Iznik tiles decorate the walls, making the room glow, and the central dome is spacious enough to house a large family of pigeons. Four gargantuan pillars called the Elephant’s Feet support half-domes, and the plentiful light filtering in through stained-glass gives the mosque a bright and spacious air.

We loved our visit to the Blue Mosque, and were surprised to be in and out within twenty minutes. There was no wait in line and no admission charge, though a small donation is appreciated, making this surely one of the most magnificent “quick and easy” sights we’ve ever visited.

Location on our Istanbul Map
The Blue Mosque – Website

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March 22, 2013 at 6:18 pm Comments (6)

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, Şemsi Paşa and Atik Valide.

The Yeni Valide Camii
Yeni-Valide-Camii-Istanbul

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 Şemsi 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, Şemsi Paşa.

The noise and mess of construction really detracted from our experience here, which is a shame since the Şemsi 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]

More Pictures from the Yeni Valide Camii
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March 20, 2013 at 7:11 am Comments (2)