The Land Walls – Day Two

At just six kilometers in length, the Walls of Theodosius can be traversed in a few hours, but there are so many sights along the way that we needed two days. Exploring the southern half of the fortifications had been a lot of fun, and our day spent on the northern half would prove to be just as rewarding.

Eager to get started on a big day of walking, we arrived at the Topkapı tram station, and were soon… seated in a lovely tea garden? The Fatih Belediyesi Çay Bahçesi was simply too inviting to pass up. Pressed up against the walls, this tea garden is run by the government and has prices which can’t be beat. Just one lira per cup.

Pumped on caffeine, we could now begin our walk in earnest. On our first day along the walls, we had wandered through some gorgeous cemeteries, and our second day started at a cemetery of a different sort: the new constructions of Sulukule.

For over a thousand years, Sulukule had been home to Istanbul’s Roma community. But in 2005, the neighborhood was targeted for an urban redevelopment project, and thousands of Roma were compelled to sell their property to the state. Those who refused were forcibly evicted. Suspicions immediately arose that the government was attempting to push out “undesirables”, but protests fell upon deaf ears. Modern townhouses sprang up where the dilapidated housing had been, and the old families of Sulukule, unable to afford property prices 10 times the amount they had received from the government, were effectively barred from returning.

Past Sulukule, we came upon the Mihrimah Camii, which enjoys a prime location upon the highest of Istanbul’s seven hills. Mihrimah was the daughter of Süleyman the Magnificent, and the mosque built in her honor is one of Mimar Sinan’s finest works. The square-shaped interior is bathed in light, thanks to a large number of windows, and the Mihrimah is one of the most beautiful, and beautifully situated, mosques in the city.

Near the mosque, we found the Theodosian Walls’ highest tower, which requires a fair amount of bravery to tackle. The staircase to the top is really more of a crumbling stone ladder, with narrow little steps that can barely accommodate a foot. As we steeled our nerves and began the ascent, a group of Turkish kids gathered at the base of the stairs, and encouraged us on with jeering and laughter. “So cute!” I said to Jürgen. “So cute, I could just kill them!”

The view from the top of the tower was worth the ridicule. We could see from the Sea of Marmara, all away up the Bosphorus and into the Golden Horn, the entirety of the old town laid out spectacularly before us.

After entering the neighborhood of Blachernae, we abandoned the walls and descended to the Golden Horn through twisting alleys and scenes of local life which were almost suspiciously quaint. “Yeah, sure, there just happens to be an elderly man drinking tea in the sun while a group of mischievous rascals play with a pea shooter”, I kept thinking. “Where’s the film team?”

We can’t recommend a walk along the Theodosian Walls enough. The fortifications themselves, the neighborhoods they cut through, and the abundance of nearby sights provided some of the most memorable moments we had in Istanbul.

Location of the Mihrimah Camii

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. deryik

    I’m currently having a feast going through your blog (and leaving multiple comments) and feeling homesick, but thank you for that! In return, here is a love story about Mihrimah Camii. The architect was Mimar (architect) Sinan, the great master of Ottoman architecture. As you know, there is not one but two Mihrimah Sultan Camiis in Istanbul,  the other one located in Uskudar. Here is why…Some facts to begin with: 1) Sinan is the Turkish Michaelangelo, he is an eccentric, talented master of his art. He was able to solve the mystery of Haghia Sophia and build a larger mosque with the same technique. He’s a scientist as well as an artist. 2) Mihrimah literally means “sun & moon” and she was famous for her extraordinary beauty. 3) When it was time for Mihrimah to get married, one of the potential grooms was Sinan, but he was 35 years older than him and already married to another woman, so she ended up marrying Rustem Pasa, the evil, scheming grand vizier. 4) One day, Mihrimah asked Sinan to build a “külliye” (a complex of buildings centered around a mosque) to honour her name and she let
    him pick the location. Sinan built the one in Üsküdar. 14
    years later, she made the very same request once again, and this time he
    built the one in Edirnekapı.So the story is that Sinan was madly  in love with Mihrimah and  with this perfect opportunity, he wanted to prove his (platonic) love through his art.  Here is what he did:When you stand on the top of Beyazıt Tower (today in Istanbul University campus) or somewhere nearby in April / May and look towards the Mihrimah Mosque in Uskudar during sunrise time, you could watch the sun rising between the two minarets and during sunset on full moon (around 15th), the moon rises between the same minarets. As if this is not crazy enough, if you stand on the same tower, this time facing west, towards Mihrimah Sultan Camii in Edirnekapı, you could watch the moon setting during sunrise between the two minarets and the sun setting during the sunset. To make it less complicated: as you stand on the Beyazıt tower in the morning, sun rises over Usküdar Mihrimah Camii as the moon sets over Edirnekapı Mihrimah Camii. In the evening, the moon rises over the former and the sun sets over the latter. I know – crazy!It is also said that the heavy decoration on the exterior of the two mosques and the plenty of sun light in  the interior are the reflections of Sinan’s perception of Mihrimah: Beautiful and Bright. Sinan also built mosques to honour Rustem Pasa (the evil husband), but despite the heavy decoration on the exterior, they are very dark inside, actually the darkest of all his buildings. Historians acknowledge the great calculation involved but deny the love story, calling it a pure fantasy of a writer called Stratton who wrote about it in his biography on Sinan, without any evidence. Well, I think not. For me, these two mosques ARE the evidence.I hope you enjoyed the story.

  2. Meissoun

    I am a big fan of Istanbul and have made several attempts at walking the entire wall – haven’t quite made it yet because, as you said, there are so many things to see left and right of it. I will definitely try again on one of my next trips 🙂

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