The most famous and the most visited are big imperial mosques in the central area and rightly so. The Blue Mosque, opposite Hagia Sophia, with its 6 minarets, is truly an impressive site. No other Ottoman imperial mosque has 6 minarets.
The Blue Mosque may be the most famous of all big imperial mosques, but it is the Süleymaniye Mosque that dominates the Istanbul’s skyline. When you cross the Galata Bridge from Beyoğlu to Eminönü, this mosque stands out. Its size and beauty and its carefully chosen location, from where it dominates the city, are all very impressive.
That is just in the very centre of the historical area. However, when you move a bit further away, there are other big imperial mosques and complexes. Perhaps, they are not as famous as the two mosques that I’ve just mentioned.
But, that certainly doesn’t mean that they are less impressive or historically important, such as the Şehzade Mosque. Suleiman the Magnificent dedicated this mosque to his son Şehzade Mehmed, who died in 1543. Despite that fact that I had already been to Istanbul many times in the past, I visited the Şehzade Mosque for the first time now.
I suspect that most tourist only visit the most famous sites in the central area of Istanbul. The city is big, there is so much to see and there is perhaps not enough time to see everything during the usual short weekend stay. The most famous sites such as Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque and Grand Bazaar are all very impressive.
But, I would say that the Fatih Mosque and the surrounding complex, that I also visited for the very first time, are equally impressive. As a matter of fact, I was totally taken aback by this mosque and its history. But, I’ve never seen it before, despite my numerous visits to Istanbul.
I can say the same about the Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque. This and the Fatih Mosque are two mosques that you can see when you cross the Galata Bridge from Beyoğlu to Eminönü, but they are a bit further away from the most popular sites. So, I’ve seen both of them many times in the past, from a distance. However, this time, I finally visited both of them.
The Ottoman heritage is so vast in Istanbul, it’s impossible to present everything in one post. These magnificent imperial mosques all merit a separate post, the same as the Topkapi Palace, another gem of Ottoman Istanbul, right in the heart of the old city.
But, the Ottoman legacy is more than just these impressive sites. The less famous ones are all over the city. They are equally beautiful and historically and culturally important.
SOKULLU MEHMED PASHA MOSQUE
Like almost everything else that I mention in this post, I visited the Sokullu Mehmed Pasha Mosque for the first time now. Frankly speaking, it was only when I started to make some tentative preparations for my travel in Turkey that I found out about it.
Once I read about it and after I saw its location in the old part of Istanbul, a lot became much clearer to me and I understood much more about Sokullu Mehmed Pasha.
Sokullu Mehmed Pasha was in fact Mehmed Paša Sokolović, a Bosnian Serb born as an Orthodox Christian, but taken by the Ottomans at a young age, under the devşirme system.
It was a blood tax imposed only on Christian subjects of the empire, in villages of the Balkans and Anatolia. Boys were converted to Islam. Ottomans selected and trained the brightest ones for the military or civil service of the empire. The blood tax practice started in mid 1300s, under Sultan Murad I. The aim was to counteract the growing power of the Turkish nobility.
We studied about Sokullu Mehmed Pasha in Serbia, but not very much. For sure, the Serbian school system didn’t want to praise his personal success and achievement within the Ottoman empire. After all, Ottomans enslaved Serbia for nearly 500 years. It is understandable that Serbs do not look at that period in their history favourably. But, the history is as it is and it can’t be changed.
Also, the fact remains that, for a small boy taken from a Bosnian village at a delicate young age, to become one of the most powerful officials of the Ottoman empire – the Grand Vizier – was truly impressive.
This mosque, its location, size and interior decoration reaffirm that he was very powerful. He served under three Sultans, between 1565 and 1579, and was married to Sultan Selim’s II daughter.
And that’s also what I understood after visiting the mosque.
The mosque is slightly detached from the most central part of the old historical area.
The famous imperial architect Sinan constructed it in 1571.
What makes this mosque famous is its splendid interior decoration with Iznik tiles.
In fact, it is easily one of the most beautifully decorated mosques that I’ve seen. And I’ve seen a lot of them during my travel across Turkey.
Anyone going to Istanbul should visit this mosque, in addition to other more famous ones. It’s only a short walk away from the Blue Mosque.
I was very lucky because there was no one when I was there, there were no tourists whatsoever.
Otherwise, mosques are usually very busy places, either with tourists or with people praying.
When I go back to Istanbul, I will visit this place again. No photo can convey the architectural and artistic beauty of this mosque. But, I remember that I was very impressed.
CERRAH MEHMED PASHA MOSQUE
Cerrah Mehmed Pasha was the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman empire from 1598 to 1599. He was the palace surgeon before he became Grand Vizier. His epithet cerrah means surgeon in Turkish.
I came across the Cerrah Mehmed Pasha Mosque in the Cerrahpaşa neighbourhood of Istanbul. I was on the way to see something else, when I unexpectedly discovered this beautiful Ottoman mosque. Ottoman Istanbul is full of surprises.
This mosque is far away from the usual touristic areas of Istanbul. There was no one there, apart from several worshippers who were busy preparing for the prayer.
And that’s exactly what I like about Istanbul. In a seemingly ordinary part of the city, you can discover a magnificent historical structure like this mosque.
What I also like is that, at the same time, I learn something new. For example, I’ve never really heard of Cerrah Mehmed Pasha before.
The mosque has a beautifully decorated dome.
There is also the Cerrah Mehmed Pasha Türbe in the courtyard.
GAZI ATIK ALI PASHA MOSQUE
What’s interesting about the Gazi Atik Ali Pasha Mosque is that I saw it every time when I was in Istanbul in the past.
It is right in the heart of the old Istanbul area, close to the Grand Bazaar and next to the Column of Constantine and the imperial Nuruosmaniye Mosque. If you walk between the Grand Bazaar and Hagia Sophia, you have to pass by this mosque.
But, I’ve never really paid attention to it, until now.
It’s a very beautiful historical mosque, constructed in 1496.
Hadim Ali Pasha, of Bosnian origin, was the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman empire, during the reign of Sultan Bayezid II.
This mosque is one more example of the vast Ottoman heritage that you can find in Istanbul.
RÜSTEM PASHA MADRASA
One more important historical site that I visited for the first time is the Rüstem Pasha Madrasa. I may have passed by this building in the past, without noticing it. It’s also in the central area of old Istanbul, close to the Grand Bazaar and the Bazaar Quarter.
The Rüstem Pasha Madrasa is a splendid example of the great Ottoman heritage in Istanbul. Commissioned by the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman empire Rüstem Pasha, the great imperial architect Sinan built it in 1551.
It was an institution for religious education until 1869. From 1923, the building initially served as an orphanage and then as a dormitory for university students. From 1987, it has been used by the local Social Assistance and Solidarity Foundation.
Damat Rüstem Pasha was the Grand Vizier under Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. He was married to the sultan’s only daughter, Mihrimah Sultan. He was one of the most influential and successful Grand Viziers of the empire and also one of the wealthiest in its history.
This magnificent structure, right in the middle of the old historical area of Ottoman Istanbul, is beautiful. It is also an overlooked site, as there was absolutely no one when I was there.
RÜSTEM PASHA MOSQUE
Another site in the old area of Istanbul, connected to this same historical figure, is the Rüstem Pasha Mosque. It was also designed and built by the Ottoman imperial architect Sinan, between 1561 and 1563. Rüstem Pasha died in 1561. The mosque complex now hosts a religious school.
This mosque is also very famous for its interior decoration with Iznik tiles. I’ve already mentioned that a lot of sites were closed for restoration and this mosque was one of them. It was not possible to get in, although the mosque was open for prayers.
I will visit it when I am in Istanbul next time, especially because I’ve never seen it before. In fact, I never paid attention in the past despite the fact that the mosque is in Eminönü, the area to which you arrive when you cross the Galata Bridge from Beyoğlu. The Rüstem Pasha Mosque is right in front of you. But, you have to know about it, to properly understand its historical and cultural importance.
GAZANFER AĞA MADRASA
Gazanfer Ağa was the Chief Eunuch and Chief Chamberlain of Sultan Mehmed III. He commissioned this madrasa and the chief architect Davut Ağa designed and constructed in 1596.
I came across this historical site when I was on the way to the Fatih Mosque.
This place is also far from the usual touristic areas and there was no one there, apart from a group of students attending a class.
Another fascinating observation is that the Chief Eunuch, at the imperial court, had sufficient power and money to fund the construction of what clearly is an impressive complex. In my opinion, it is an amazing piece of history.
THE REST OF OTTOMAN ISTANBUL
Ottoman Istanbul is much more than what I’ve mentioned in this post. The Ottoman heritage is vast and rich and it is impossible to present all its aspects in one article. There is, for example, the magnificent Grand Bazaar.
The Bazaar Quarter is a big area around the Grand Bazaar, where you can see many Ottoman era buildings. As a matter of fact, you can see typical Ottoman wooden houses in many parts of old Ottoman Istanbul.
Then, there are the imperial and other fountains all over the city. But, there are so many of them and some of them are so beautiful and historically important, that they also merit a separate post.
Apart from the Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque, everything else that I’ve mentioned in this article is what I’ve seen for the first time. That’s despite the fact that I’ve already been to Istanbul many times in the past.
But, it’s also true that there are many different aspects of being in a new city. We don’t dedicate all our time to just visiting the historical sites. We need to relax and enjoy too.
I am very glad that I’ve seen all these, for me, new historical sites. I have learnt a lot about Ottoman Istanbul, although I am aware that there is much more to see.
But, I will do that another time, as I am sure that I will go back very soon.