ISTANBUL — Outside City Centre

There are many interesting places to see just outside the city centre of Istanbul. Along the impressive Theodosian Walls are several palaces and churches that you might like to visit. There is the more modern palace of Dolmabahç inhabited by the rulers of Istanbul. There are also mosques, parks and museums to visit. A very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours on a hot day is to take a ferry trip along the Bosphorous.

The sights found here are:
Haydar Paşa Station
Selimiye Barracks
Atik Valide Mosque
Leander’s Tower
Şemsi Paşa Mosque
Iskele Mosque
Beylerbeyi Palace
Bosphorus Bridge
Fortress of Asia
Sakip Sabanci Museum
Fortress of Europe
Ortaköy
Yildiz Park
Military Museum
Dolmabahçe Palace
Pierre Loti Cafe
Eyüp Sultan Mosque
Complex of Valide Sultan Mihrişah
Kara Ahmet Paşa Mosque
Church of St Saviour in Chora
Palace of the Porphyrogenitus
Ahrida Synagogue
Church of St Stephen of the Bulgars
Church of the Pammakaristos
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
Mosque of Selim 1
Fatih Mosque
Church of the Pantocrator
Church of St John of Studius
Fortress of Seven Towers
Bosphorus Trip

Haydar Paşa Station

Haydar Paşa Station
This is Turkey’s largest and most magnificent railway station and work on it was completed in 1908. It is set in a waterfront location and is surrounded by water on three sides which is quite a striking feature. The interior is quite magnificent with its marble staircases, circular turrets, vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows.

Selimiye Barracks
These barracks date from 1789 to 1807 and were built to house the army that was going to replace the Janissaries but this never happened. The building still houses Istanbul’s First Army Division and is not open to the public. The main attraction to visiting here is the Florence Nightingale Museum which is found in the North Tower. It still contains some of the original furniture and the famous lamp which gave her the name of ‘The Lady With The Lamp’. Requests for a visit have to be made in advance (at least by 48 hours) by faxing Army Headquarters on (0216) 333 1009. Nearby is the British War Cemetery which contains the graves of soldiers who died in the Crimean War, WW1 battles at Gallipoli and WW2 in the Middle East. It is found south on Burhan Felek Caddesi.

Atik Valide Mosque

Atik Valide Mosque
This is one of the largest of the mosques built by Sinan and it is considered one of the most important in Turkey. It was built in 1583 as a monument for Valide Sultan Nurbanu who was the wife of Selim II and the mother of Murat III. It has an impressive courtyard with magnificent cloisters with domed porticos supported on marble columns as well as some lovely trees. The interior has some lovely features including the tile-adorned mihrab and the window frames of deep red marble with shutters richly inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The complex consists of a medrese (theological college) found down a staircase in the west wall of the courtyard and a hospital which is worth visiting and is found just to the east of the mosque. The mosque is located in the neighbourhood of Tabaklar.

Leander’s Tower

Leander’s Tower
The Leander’s or Maiden’s Tower is built on a small rocky island where the Marmara Sea meets the Bosphorus Sea, near ÜskÜdar. It was built in the 18th century and has been used as a quarantine station, a lighthouse, a custom’s control point and a maritime toll gate. There is now a restaurant on the first floor and a cafe at the top and you can reach the island via a shuttle boat which runs every 15 minutes or so. The ticket booth is next to the shuttle boat.
For information about Leander’s Tower visit the website at: http://www.kizkulesi.com.tr

Traveller's Tip

The tower has appeared in several movies and TV shows including the James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough and the TV show, The Amazing Race 7.
Şemsi Paşa Mosque

Şemsi Paşa Mosque
This small but attractive mosque is found on the waterfront overlooking the Bosphorus Sea. It was built in 1580 for grand vizier, Şemsi Paşa who had held the position under Süleyman the Magnificent for only a few months therefore not requiring a huge mosque to be built in his honour. You will find his tomb next to the mosque and there is an opening from here into the mosque which makes it rather unusual.

Iskele Mosque

Iskele Mosque
This mosque takes its name from the ferry landing where it stands. It was built for Mihrimah Sultan who was the daughter of Süleyman the Magnificent between 1547 and 1548. The exterior of the mosque is quite imposing with its large jutting roof built over the ablutions fountain as there was no room for a courtyard. The interior is rather gloomy and not as impressive as some of the other mosques in the city.

Beylerbeyi Palace

Beylerbeyi Palace
This palace was built between 1861 and 1865 and was designed in the Baroque style of the late Ottoman period. It was built for Sultan Abdülaziz as a summer residence and guest quarters for visiting dignitaries. Some of the highlights of a visit here include the magnificent terraced gardens beneath the Bosphorus Bridge and the sumptuous pavilions and kiosks in the grounds. The reception room with its pool and fountain is also worthy of note. This palace isn’t as grand as the Dolmabahçe Palace but if you happen to be in the area then it is worth a visit.

Bosphorus Bridge

Bosphorus Bridge
This bridge dates from the 1970s and was the first bridge to be built across the straits dividing Asia and Europe. It spans the water between Ortaköy and Beylerbeyi and is 1,074 metres long which makes it the world’s 9th longest suspension bridge.You pass under the bridge if you take one of the ferry trips along the Bosphorus.

Fortress of Asia

Fortress of Asia
This fortress was built in 1398 by Sultan Yildirim Beyazit 1 who was the grandfather of Mehmet 11. It is located at the narrowest point of the Bosphorus Strait on the Asian side. You can only visit the outer walls of the fortress.

Sakip Sabanci Museum
This private museum is found in the wealthy suburb of Ermirgan and from the museum you will have a superb view of the Bosphorus. The collection housed in the museum comprises treasures from the Ottoman Empire up to present times including items of Arabic and Ottoman calligraphy and important historical documents of religion and politics. The museum also plays host to a number of travelling exhibits.
For information about the museum visit the website at: http://muze.sabanciuniv.edu/homepage

Fortress of Europe

Fortress of Europe
This fortress also known as Rumelihisar was built in 1452 by Mehmet the Conqueror. It is found at the narrowest point of the Bosphorus across the strait from the Fortress of Asia. In Byzantium times it controlled a major supply route. The building of the fortress took only four months and the building materials were obtained by tearing down other structures. It was manned by a garrison of Jaissaries and cannons were trained on the straits to prevent the passage of foreign ships. After the conquest of Constantinople this fortress lost its importance and was used as a prison for out-of-favour foreign envoys and prisoners of war. It was restored in 1953 and today you can visit it and maybe take in one of the outdoor concerts that are held here during the Istanbul Festival of Arts and Culture which is held from mid-June to mid-July each year. The fortress is open every day except Wednesdays from 9am until 4.30pm and it costs around 3TL to enter.

Ortaköy

Ortaköy
This is a suburb of Istanbul found at the foot of the Bosphorus Bridge. It has a quaint village-like atmosphere with a thriving cafe scene and a good Sunday market. The most famous landmark of this neighbourhood is the Büyük Mecidiye Camii or the Grand Imperial Mosque of Sultan Abdülmecid which is found right on the shores of the Bosphorus. It was built in 1853 by the same architect as the Dolmabahçe Palace. The interior of the mosque contains some wonderful examples of Arabic calligraphy which were the work of Sultan Abdülmecid who was an accomplished calligrapher.

Yildiz Park

Yildiz Park
This park was once part of the great forest that covered the European shore of the Bosphorus from the Golden Horn to the Black Sea. At the end of the Ottoman Empire it was the private garden of the Çiragan Sarayi Palace and later it became the grounds of the Yildiz Palace. Today in the park you will find three restaurants and a palace-museum as well as some wonderful trees and exotic plants. This park is very popular with locals as a green oasis to escape to from the hustle and bustle of the city. Few tourists visit here because of its distance from the city centre but if you happen to be around here and are visiting the Dolmabahçe Palace it is very close to here and it is worth visiting. The palace contained in the park is the Yildiz Şale Köşkü which was built at the top of of the hillside by Sultan Abdul Hamid 11 in the 1880s as a residence for visiting royalty and distinguished guests. Visitors over time have included Kaiser Wilhelm 11 (who was the first guest); General Charles de Gaulle and US President, Bill Clinton. It is now a museum and open to the public every day except Monday and Thursday. It has 60 rooms and is magnificently ‘over the top’.
For information about the Yildiz Palace visit the following website at: http://www.millisaraylar.gov.tr/portalmain-en/VisitingInfo.aspx

Traveller's Tip

The entrance to the park can be a little hard to find and the Yildiz Şale Köşkü is at the top of a hill so taking a taxi into the park to the museum is a good idea.

Military Museum
This impressive museum located about one kilometre north of Taksim along Cumhuriyet Cadessi traces the history of Turkey’s conflicts from the conquest in 1453 through to modern warfare. There are two floors. The ground floor displays weapons, military uniforms and standards captured during conflicts. A highlight in the weapon section are the curved daggers carried by foot soldiers in the 15th century. They are decorated with plants, flowers and geometric designs. The upper floor has a diorama of Gallipoli and a room devoted to Atatürk, the founder and commander-in-chief of the republican army and the first president of the Turkish Republic. The museum is open every day except Mondays and Tuesdays and it costs around 1.50TL.

Traveller's Tip

If you are at the museum between 3pm and 4pm make sure you see the Mehter Concert that plays here every day. Just follow the arrows. This concert lasts for around 20 minutes and is very stirring.
Dolmabahçe Palace

Dolmabahçe Palace
This large palace is found on the European side of the Bosphorus and is a fitting symbol to the magnificence and decadence of the 19th century Ottoman Empire. It is built in the western style by Sultan Abdülmecid II for millions to give the illusion of prosperity and progressiveness and as a rival to the most opulent palaces of France. This is while many of his subjects were living without the basics.There are 285 rooms, four grand salons, six galleries, five main staircases, six hamams (one completely made in pure alabaster), and 43 toilets. Fourteen tons of gold and 6 tons of silver were used to build the palace and there is extensive use of the finest glass and crystal manufacturers of the day. A highlight is the chandelier in the Throne Room which is the largest one in Europe at 4.5 tons, and was an engineering challenge during installation but it has withstood repeated earthquake tests. There is a huge collection of objets d’art but what you see on display is only a small percentage of what there is as much of the collection is stored in the basement awaiting restoration. The palace can only be visited by guided tour but 1,500 visitors per day per section can be accommodated. You are required to wear blue plastic hospital booties which are distributed at the entry to the palace to ensure that the carpets stay clean. Tours leave every 20 minutes and last 1 hour for the Selâmlik and around 45 minutes for the Harem. The easiest way to get to the Palace is by the Bağcilar-Kabataş tram where you get out of the tram and walk for around 10 minutes.
For information about the Palace visit the website at: http://www.dolmabahce.gov.tr/source.cms.docs/dolmabahce.gov.tr.ce/dolmabahce.html

Traveller's Tip

Be aware that the lines can be very long to get into the palace so you need to be prepared to wait for an hour or more depending on the season. It is not a place to visit if you are in a hurry as you need to allow for waiting time plus the tour time. Around 3 to 4 hours. You can reserve a ticket online which is recommonded for the busier months.

Pierre Loti Cafe
This famous cafe stands at the top of a hill in Eyüp Cemetery and is a 20 minute walk uphill from the Eyüp Sultan Mosque along Karyağdi Sokaği. You can take a funicular up and down the hill. It is named after the French novelist known as Pierre Loti who used to visit the cafe when he stayed here in 1876. The cafe is decorated with period furniture and the waiters wear period costume.

Eyüp Sultan Mosque

Eyüp Sultan Mosque
The original mosque on this site was built by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1458 in honour of Ayoub al-Ansari (Eyüp Ensari) who was a friend of the Prophet Mohammed and his standard bearer. This mosque became the site where Ottoman princes came to be given the title of sultan. This mosque was destroyed by an earthquake in 1766 and a new mosque was built in 1800 by Selim 111. This mosque is considered an extremely sacred place to Muslims and ranks fourth in most holiest places after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. Opposite the mosque is the tomb of Eyüp Ensari with its silver sarcophagus.

Traveller's Tip

Try to avoid visiting here on a Friday or religious holiday as it gets very busy on these days. If you don’t mind the crowds then come at noon on a Friday when you will be treated to an outdoor performance of the Mehter Band in the large square outside the mosque.
  • On your visit you may see boys dressed up in white satin suits with spangled caps and red sashes. These boys are on their way to their circumcision and have made a stop beforehand to this holy place.
  • Many people visit the tomb and you will probably have to wait in line. Make sure you dress appropriately which means no shorts and head coverings for women.
    Complex of Valide Sultan Mihrişah

    Complex of Valide Sultan Mihrişah
    This complex was built for Mihrişah who was the mother of Selim 111. It is found just past the north gate of Eyüp Sultan Mosque. The complex includes her ornate marble tomb and a soup kitchen which is still used today. There is also a lovely grilled fountain where refreshing drinks and water were served to passersby.

    Kara Ahmet Paşa Mosque

    Kara Ahmet Paşa Mosque
    This Ottoman mosque is found along the Theodosian Walls. It is a pretty building which has a lovely leafy courtyard and was built in 1554 for Kara Ahmet Paşa who was a grand vizier of Süleyman the Magnificent. The tiles inside the mosque are very attractive.

    Church of St Saviour in Chora

    Church of St Saviour in Chora
    Even though this church is a little bit further out and not on the usual tourist track it is worth making the effort to visit because of the magnificent mosaics and frescoes found here. Little is known of the early history of the church but the name suggests it may have originally had a rural setting. The present church dates from the 11th century but the mosaics and frescoes were added in the 14th century. The highlights of the church include the three mosaic panels in the nave and the best preserved one is the one above the main door which illustrates the Dormition of the Virgin. There are other mosaics found in the hall just inside the west entrance and the hall which runs parallel to it which depict scenes from the life of the Virgin and the early life of Christ and date from around 1310. Running along the south side of the central church is a Paracclesion which is a burial chamber or mortuary chapel used by the patron and his family. It is decorated with frescoes depicting scenes from the afterlife, which were painted shortly after the mosaics and probably by the same artist. Probably the highlight of these frescoes is the Anastasis which is found in the semidome above the apse and depicts Christ leading Adam out of hell followed by John the Baptist, King David, King Solomon amongst others. If you look up you will see a vault in the ceiling with a fresco depicting the Last Judgement which shows the souls of the saved on the right and those of the damned on the left. The mosaics and the frescoes are in such good condition because they were covered over when the church was converted into a mosque and were discovered by archeologists during WWII. The church became a religious museum in 1947.
    For information about the Chora Museum visit the following website at: http://www.choramuseum.com

    Palace of the Porphyrogenitus

    Palace of the Porphyrogenitus
    This former 13th century Byzantium palace was a large three-storey building found between the inner and outer fortifications of the northern corner of the Theodosian Walls. It was originally part of the palace complex of Blachernae. The palace was part of the main imperial residence during the end of the Byzantium Empire. After the Ottoman conquest it served a variety of uses including a place to house the sultan’s animals during the 16th and 17th centuries. During the reign of Ahmet 111 between 1703 and 1730 it became the centre of tile production and it was used as such for around a century. After this it was a poorhouse for Jews and a bottle factory before it was left to fall down. Today only the outer brick and stone facade has survived although in more recent times there has been extensive renovation.

    Ahrida Synagogue

    Ahrida Synagogue
    This is the oldest synagogue in Istanbul. It was founded in 1453 and has been in constant use ever since. This beautiful synagogue is found at number 9 Vodina Caddesi in the Balat district on the Golden Horn. The highlight of the synagogue is the pulpit which is shaped like the prow of a ship which some say is the symbol of Noah’s Ark.

    Traveller's Tip

    You can visit the synagogue by making an appointment with the office of the Chief Rabbi but you will have to do this in advance of your visit. It is best to contact them by email at info@musevicemaati.com
    Church of St Stephen of the Bulgars

    Church of St Stephen of the Bulgars
    This church was built in 1871 for the Bulgarian community who had broken away from the Greek Orthodox religion and is still used by them today. The interesting feature of this church is that it is made of cast iron which was made in Vienna and floated down the Danube and across the Black Sea on 100 barges. The interior features screens, a balcony and columns all made from cast iron but it isn’t open very often so the easiest way to see the interior of the church is to visit just before Sunday services or during the International Istanbul Music Festival where concerts are sometimes held.

    Church of the Pammakaristos

    Church of the Pammakaristos
    This church was built between 1292 and 1294 and it played an important role in the history of the city. For over 100 years after the Ottoman conquest it housed the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate but it was converted into a mosque in the late 16th century by Sultan Murat 111. The exterior is made of stone and brick with finely carved marble details. The interior of the church has several magnificent mosaics which are worth seeing.

    Greek Orthodox Patriarchate

    Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
    Istanbul has been the centre of the Eastern Christian Church since the 4th century and is home to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople who is seen as the ‘First Amongst Equals’ in the Eastern Orthodox communion which followers believe is the ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apolistic Church.’ The Orthodox Patriarchate has had several homes over time but since 1586 its home has been the St George Church. The church is found at Fener Rum Patrikhanesi, Fener 34220, between Sadrazam Ali Paşa Road and Incebel Street in Istanbul. This church, apart from being the home of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople contains artefacts and relics including the patriarchal throne dating from the 5th century; three rare mosaic icons; the Column of Flagellation to which Jesus was tied and whipped; relics of St Gregory the Theologian and St John Chrystom as well as the tombs of three female saints.
    For information about the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate visit the website at: http://patriarchate.org/index

    Mosque of Selim 1

    Mosque of Selim 1
    This mosque built in 1522 is dedicated to Selim 1 who was the father of Süleyman the Magnificent. It is found on a hill overlooking the Golden Horn and is one of the most popular mosques in Istanbul because of the view from here which is superb. The mosque itself is quite magnificent especially the courtyard with its columns of various marbles and granites, the fountain surrounded by trees and the beautiful Iznik tiles found above the windows.The interior of the mosque is a square room covered by a shallow dome which is similar to that of the Haghia Sophia and gives a very spacious and grand effect to the interior. The interior is simple in style and quite empty but there are some beautiful touches such as the exquisite colour of the Iznik tiles above the windows as well as the border of the ceiling under the loge with its painted and gilded woodwork of floral and leaf motifs.

    Fatih Mosque

    Fatih Mosque
    The Fatih Mosque is found on the Golden Horn side of Fevzi Paşa Street in Fatih. It was built between 1463 and 1470 on the site of the ruins of the Church of the Apostle which was the burial place of Constantine and other Byzantium emperors. The original mosque complex built by Sultan Mehmet was enormous and included religious schools, a hospice for travellers and a caravanserai or roadside inn. The mosque you see today is not the original which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1766. The present mosque dates from the reign of Mustafa 111 and is built using a completely different plan. Some parts of the original mosque can still be found including the three porticos in the courtyard ; the ablutions fountain, the main gate into the prayer hall and the mihrab in its interior. Note the beautiful tiles over the windows in the porticos as well as those found in some of the walls inside the mosque. The rest of the interior of the Fatih is relatively unimpressive. Directly behind the mosque are the tombs of Mehmet the Conqueror and his wife Gülbahar but Mehmet was actually buried under the mimber in the mosque. Muslims consider Mehmet’s tomb to be a very holy site and this area is often filled with worshippers. The grassed outer courtyard of the mosque is a favourite place for locals to meet and for families to picnic, especially on Sundays.

    Traveller's Tip

    On Wednesday the streets behind and to the sides of the mosque host the Fatih Pazari which is a weekly market selling all sorts of household goods and clothing.
    Church of the Pantocrator

    Church of the Pantocrator
    The Church of the Pantocrator which was built between 1118 and 1124 was a former monastery church and one of the most important historic landmarks of the Byzantine period. The original complex included an asylum, a hospice and a hospital. It is now the mosque, Zeyrek Camii and has a magnificent marble floor and has three interlinked chapels. It is presently being restored and may not be open to the public.

    Church of St John of Studius

    Church of St John of Studius
    This church is the oldest surviving church in Istanbul but only a shell of the original church remains. It was built in AD 463 by Studius who was a Roman nobleman and a consul during the reign of Emperor Marcian. During the late 8th century it was a very powerful monastery and a centre of religion and spirituality. The most sacred relic housed here in the past was the head of St John the Baptist but it was removed by the soldiers of the Fourth Crusade. During the 15th century it was converted into a mosque but it was abandoned in 1894 after it was damaged by an earthquake. Parts of the original church are still standing and one of these is the entrance portal with its carved Corinthian capitals and a sculptured architrave and cornice.

    Fortress of Seven Towers

    Fortress of Seven Towers
    The Fortress of Seven Towers (Yedikule Hisari) was built in 1455 against the southern section of the Theodosian Walls. The Theodosian Walls had 11 fortified gates and 192 towers and the double walls protected the city against invasion for more than a thousand years. You will find the walls from Yedikule to Ayvansaray and they extend for 6.5 kilometres from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn. To see them to their full extent you will need to drive along the main road that runs outside them. The Fortress of Seven Towers was once used as a place of torture, confinement and execution for foreign envoys and others who fell out of favour with the sultan. There is a walkway around the battlements where you can get fantastic views of the city walls and the harbour and even the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in the distance. This fortress is rarely visited by western tourists but it is an excellent starting point for exploring the city walls. You can reach it by taking a train to Yedikule station. The fortress is a short walk from here.

    Bosphorus Trip

    Bosphorus Trip
    The Bosphorus is the 32 kilometre strait that joins the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea in Istanbul and separates the continents of Asia and Europe. One of the highlights of a trip to Istanbul is to take a cruise along this waterway which is relaxing and gives you an excellent view of the city’s landmarks. You can take a pre-arranged tour or you can take the TurYol ferry for a self-guided tour. These ferries leave from the Eminönü ferry docks on the west side of the Galata Bridge at the mouth of the Golden Horn. The round trip takes around 1.5 hours and costs around 12TL and the boats run every hour on the hour. The ticket office is at the dock.
    For information about the pre-arranged guided tours visit the following website at: http://www.bosphoruscruise.com
    For information about the TurYol ferry visit the website at: http://turyol.com (in Turkish only)