On the heels of the previous day, our itinerary was arguably less packed yet was going to be equally interesting. Given that we’d walked by the places, our interest was piqued. So, in what would set the trend for the rest of the trip, we had a few major sites to see.
First on the schedule was to visit the Süleymaniye Mosque. While this isn’t the main mosque you probably associate with Istanbul, it still was fantastic. As I explained in my previous post, being based in the heart of the old part of the city came in handy, and as such, my mom and I only had to walk about 15 minutes from our hotel. To digress a bit, what was interesting was how our route took us through the quiet back streets of the district, which honestly made us feel like we were in a twilight world of sorts. Having been to several European cities, I wasn’t surprised to see the small businesses and shops, but this path felt rather disconnected from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul; it truly was remarkable to see the contrast in the hustle and bustle of the main roads to the more residential areas. Mind you, things did pick up after we headed back from visiting the mosque, but it still was nice to have a respite of sorts.
Now, the mosque itself. While not as ornate as the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, it was still phenomenal. Situated at the top of the Third Hill, it wasn’t hard to feel the prestige from the location. We entered the property via the gardens, which enabled us to get a better look at the Golden Horn.
There was a marble courtyard that greeted us before we could go inside the mosque proper, but it was a nice thing. Even just standing there, it was obvious how much power radiated from it. We spent a few moments taking it in before finally going inside. As with all the mosques, there was signage indicating that a) you had to take off your shoes and b) all women had to have their heads covered (but there were free scarves provided). I don’t know what I was expecting to see inside, but as you can see in the pictures below, there was a dignified simplicity to it; the reverential quiet also contributed to the awe, and I personally felt that speaking would’ve somehow been improper. There’s not much else to say other than from time to time, some locals came in and prayed. My mom took the time, in a little alcove, to read up on the mosque’s history while I strolled around, taking in the opulent decorations, and it’s a testament to the skill of the artisans for how masterful things looked. I mean, the mosque was inaugurated in 1557 and while there’s obviously been some renovations throughout the years, it still looks as magnificent as I imagined it first looked.
Once outside, we lingered a bit more in the complex, taking a look at the various mausoleums. The main focus here was on the tomb of Roxelana, one of the sultan’s wives chosen from his harem. What was interesting to note was that she apparently was Christian, from Ruthenia, who was taken by Crimean Tatars in a slave raid. Signs let us know that she actually became the favored wife, even becoming known as Hurrem, which means “the cheeful one”. That’s why her mausoleum featured a bit more prominently, but some other family members were also buried nearby. About twenty minutes or so later, it was time for us to move on, but the morning had been a fantastic one.
After a quick stop for lunch at a recommended restaurant, we took the time to visit a cistern recommended the day before by our Pinar our guide. If you’re unitiated, a cistern is a place to hold water, which, given Istanbul, came in handy. Obviously these were built way back when, so nowadays the main purpose is to wow tourists and locals alike with light shows. This particular one was less touristy than the main location that guidebooks had recommended, but I did want to avoid a crowd. We walked over, but there was a bit of a communication issue about the time it was open for the performance. Fortunately though, we were able to buy our tickets, but we did have to kill forty-five minutes just hanging around the neighborhood. Inside, it was pretty basic, but that wasn’t out of the ordinary. We had to mill around a bit before the show started, but once the lights dimmed to signal it was starting, we saw the (wordless) history of the area/city, which took about an hour. Was it worth it? Kind of, but I don’t think it’s something you’d feel like you need to experience again, in all honesty. Having said that, it’s nice to go to places like this, as the atmosphere provided is interesting. On that note, it was time to visit another destination on our itinerary.
Now that we’d had a breather of sorts, it was time to visit the Hagia Sophia. We were warned in advance that waiting in the queue could take ages, as unlike the one this morning, it was an active mosque. At first glance, the line to get in was very large (as it wrapped around the square), but it took us less than ten minutes to get inside; I was later told that this was a phenomenally lucky thing to have occur. Clearing security was straightforward, and, same as the morning’s visit, we had to take off our shoes/my mom had to cover her head. This was a little bit more chaotic given how many people were visiting, but it was something expected. I experienced a sense of deja vu from the morning, as I was blown away the minute I saw the interior. Reading about the opulence and history behind it is one thing, but to see it with your own eyes? It’s a whole different thing! For me, seeing the old remnants of the Orthodox mosaics juxtaposed with the Islamic characters was incredible, and the feeling of how surreal it all was never left. One fun fact mentioned the day before was how the pictures of the angels escaped having their eyes scratched out–this was due to them being considered generic enough, but the portrayal of Jesus and other Christian figures were naturally blasphemous to see. No hard feelings, right? Still, no matter your background, you can’t deny feeling some sort of reverence for what the building signifies.
Due to people wanting to pray, the floor was quite crowded so we had to find a good spot to sit down and take it all in. While this feels like a heathen thing to say, we didn’t stick around for too long as it was getting increasingly busier when we were there. This was reinforced by seeing an even bigger line as we exited, so fortune favored us at that point in time. My mom might have some different thoughts about it, but I personally had to catch my wits outside, because I was still in awe that I saw the Hagia Sophia!
Afterwards, we decided to cap off the day by going to a recommended Turkish hamam, aka a bathhouse. Again, it wasn’t too far away given how everything seemed to be contained within the district, and it took us maybe ten minutes to walk there. We were excited to try it, since Pinar had also recommended this place, but it was kind of interesting to see how much it blended into the surroundings. The lady inside told us it would be sixty euros for an hour’s worth, per person, and we readily agreed to it. Payment complete, we were led to our respective sides of the bathhouse to the small changing room at the top. I, clad in my towel, was then directed to the room where the magic took place. My masseuse was busy since I didn’t see him, so I ended up lying down and getting adjusted to the heat. Now, I’d been to a Russian banya, which feature wooden decor, so while things weren’t super unusual for me, lying down on a large stone was a bit…unique. Having my naked skin being exposed to the warmth of it also did throw me off a bit, but I was eventually able to get adjusted to it. By this point the guy in charge of washing me came, and he started out by having me sit up straight on the edge while he thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly, started to massage my limbs: the right arm, left arm, and shoulders came first. I’ll need to digress a bit here, but there are washbasins all around the room, and being the sweet summer child I am, I thought it was to wash your face if you were a bit too hot. Much to my immediate surprise, the guy soaped me up before going over to the basin to wash me completely. This wasn’t a big deal given that it was therapeutic in the end, but the intensity of it took me off guard. After that happened, I was then told to turn over as he massaged my back, legs, and feet, before he got the knots out of my back. Honestly, as nervous as I was to go through it, it was relaxing. All in all it took thirty minutes, which was enough for me. My masseuse told me I had plenty of time left, but all the steam there was making me a bit loopy so I opted to call it early. After getting dressed I tipped my guy a few lira before waiting in the lobby for my mom. Once she came down, that was it for the day and we headed back to the hotel. So, was it worth the price? Kind of. Sixty euros is a hefty price, so I’m sure you could find another hammam that’s a bit cheaper. Though, I’m never one for sticking around longer than needed for saunas so it could just be personal preference. I will say that if you want a unique experience in Turkey, a bathhouse like this will definitely fulfill that!
Hocapasa Mah. Hocapasa Camii Sok. No:2/B Sirkeci-Fatih, Istanbul Turkiye
Mollafenari, Vezirhan Cd. No:8, 34440 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye
Just amazing that so long ago they had the engineering knowledge to build such humongous domed rooms. Even with modern technology, using reinforced concrete construction, I’d be surprised if we today could greatly enlarge those rooms. Amazing!!!
PS. wonderful photos. THANKS!