In America, we think of something that’s 100 years old as being “very old.” Here in Istanbul, 100 years is barely considered “dusty.”
The Yeni Cami (Yen ee Jam ee) is one of the important items on the skyline, and shoreline, of Istanbul. The name means New Mosque, though “new” is clearly relative. It was completed in 1663. It was originally named the Valide Sultan Mosque. Begun in 1597, there were starts and stops, plus some partial reconstructions along the way, gaining it the name New Valide Sultan Mosque. Eventually, the population just called it the New Mosque. It’s an Ottoman imperial mosque located in the Eminönü quarter of Istanbul, Turkey. Located on the Golden Horn, the mosque is right at the at the Eminönü Metro tram stop and within view of the Galata Bridge.
The exterior of the mosque boasts 66 domes and semi domes, as well as two minarets. You can, BTW, know the importance of a mosque by the number of minarets (towers). Only a sultan (or his family, who also carry the title of sultan, even the mother and daughters) could have a mosque with two minarets. Imagine how important that makes the Hagia Sophia (with four minarets) and The Blue Mosque (with 6).
An elegant şadırvan (ablution fountain) stands in the center courtyard, but is only ornamental. The actual ritual purifications are performed with water taps on the south wall of the mosque. Stone blocks supplied from the island of Rhodes were used in the construction of the mosque. The complete complex consists of a hospital (no longer in use), primary school, public baths, a türbe (cemetery), two public fountains and a market (The Spice Bazaar). The public square has undergone a recent renovation and the two fountains are now modern and new. Much of the rest was blocked from the public during renovations.
The world knows this ancient market place at The Spice Bazaar, located behind Yeni Camii (Yen ee Jam ee, New Mosque) near the Galata Bridge. But to those who live in Istanbul, this is Mısır Çarşısı (Musur Char shuh suh) , meaning Egyptian Bazaar. Located in the Eminönü quarter of the Fatih district, it is the second most famous covered shopping complex, after the Grand Bazaar.
According to Wikipedia: The building was endowed to the foundation of the New Mosque, and got its name “Egyptian Bazaar” (Turkish: Mısır Çarşısı) because it was built with the revenues from the Ottoman eyalet of Egypt in 1660. The word mısır has a double meaning in Turkish: “Egypt” and “maize”. This is why sometimes the name is wrongly translated as “Corn Bazaar”. The bazaar was (and still is) the center for spice trade in Istanbul, but in the last years more and more shops of other type are replacing the spice shops.
Unfortunately, it’s mostly a tourist trap these days—mandatory to see, of course, but prices are high and it’s not where the locals shop.
Today was Saturday, my only full day off, so I decided to spend a few hours walking in the bright sunshine of spring in Istanbul. My path? To follow the remains of the old city walls—known as the Theodosian Walls. They are one of the most impressive remains of the Byzantine past, and they held off invaders for more than 1,000 years! I walked from Topkapı Metro (Pronounced: Top Kap Uh. That final letter isn’t an “I” it’s the vowel pronounced uh) south to the Marmara Sea. I walked around the sea park, investigated a few old city gates and cemeteries, and walked back. Probably 4 miles in all. I’ll sleep well tonight! I do a lot of walking here in Istanbul, so I’m glad I’m in fair shape.
It was cool and breezy, but the sun shone all day—perfect walking weather. The tulips are in bloom and (my favorite) daffodils. It is spring in the city of cities!
With 11 fortified gates and 192 towers, this double walled enclosure sealed in the landward side of the old city of Constantinople. The length of the wall is about 4 miles (6km), so I saw approximately half of it today. It extends from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn, enclosing an area of about 2.5 square miles. As with many important old Roman cities, the “walls” are actually three layers, each taller and thicker than the one before. A thick inner wall had 60 foot towers that gave a view of any approaching enemy, by land or sea. The outer wall was lower, 26 feet high, with additional towers, offset and between the inner wall towers, creating unblocked line of sight. Both walls were made of alternating limestone blocks and red tile brick. This arrangement is attractive and helped them to withstand earthquakes. Between the walls was a 50 foot terrace, used to move military troops easily. (in many cities, this area is where the bazaar is) A second terrace ended in a short crenelated defense wall. In front of it all was a moat (which may or may not have had water) which was 60 feet across and 20 feet deep. Even dry, the moat would have kept large artillery from coming too close.
The walls were built between AD 412-422 (dates vary), mostly during the reign of Emperor Theodosius II (408-50). At the time, they were half a mile outside the city’s original Walls of Constantine, extending the city’s protected area. Though the older Constantine Walls were still standing when the Theodosian Walls were built, nothing remains of them today. In 447 an earthquake destroyed 54 (some reports say 57) of the towers and much of the sea wall. The timing could not have been worse as Attila the Hun was already in the Balkans and on his way to take over the city. For 60 straight days and nights, the population labored to repair the walls.
Ultimately the city finally fell from sheer weight of numbers of the Ottoman forces in May 1453 after a six-week siege. According to Wikipedia, “The walls were largely maintained intact during most of the Ottoman period, until sections began to be dismantled in the 19th century, as the city outgrew its medieval boundaries. Despite the subsequent lack of maintenance, many parts of the walls survived and are still standing today. A large-scale restoration program has been under way since the 1980s.”
Since I was giving a test in class that night, I had most of the day free—no lesson plans to do! With a lovely spring day I set off to explore Historic Istanbul. I’m simply getting off at each tram stop in the Fatih (Fah Tee uh, the final letter is barely pronounced) area, the heart of Old Constantinople. Today’s stop was Eminönü, near the foot of the Galata Bridge, where the mouth of the Bosphorus opens to the Sea of Marmara. You can see the Galata tower across the sea and high on a hill. It’s a busy tram stop, right on the water and a perfect place to pick up a ferry or cruise. But today I was traveling by foot.
I made several stops: The Spice Market (called the Egyptian Bazaar, locally), a flower market, and a retail areas where the locals shopped. I’ll post more about them later. But the real focus today was the Sirkeci Gar (SIR KAH JEE, gar means train station). Never heard of it, you say? This magnificent railway station was built to receive the long anticipated Orient Express, the train of book and movie legend than ran from Paris to Istanbul. This station, like so much else, is undergoing renovation, so much of the front is covered. It was opened in 1890, though the train had been running for about a year by then. In recent years, the new, modern train station has been built right alongside.
The 1,800 miles journey from France to Turkey took three days and both the Sirkeci Train Station and the Pera Palas Hotel were built just to receive its passengers. Only the wealthy and elite could afford to ride “The train of kings, the king of trains.” Its name is synonymous with intrigue and luxury travel. This long distance, international ride inspired no fewer than 19 books, and Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is the best known. During the Cold War, standards of luxury declined. Despite lowered service, the train continued to run twice weekly until 1977. A bygone era! The train did technically continue to run, in ever shortening lengths, finally stopping completely in 2009, a “victim of high-speed trains and cut-rate airlines”
Another random bit of history, found while wandering in the Suntanahamed area (Fatih District) of Istanbul. I ran across this small ruin, that once housed the remains of St. Euphemia. They are within site of the Blue Mosque/Sultan Ahmed Mosque. According to Wikipedia, “Euphemia was arrested for refusing to offer sacrifices to Ares. After suffering various tortures, she died in the arena at Chalcedon from wounds sustained from a bear. Her tomb became a site of pilgrimages. She is commemorated on September 16.” According to legend, she died in 303AD, but there isn’t much in the way of verifiable evidence that she ever lived, much less was martyred.
The part I found most interesting: “Around the year 620, in the wake of the conquest of Chalcedon by the Persians under Khosrau I in the year 617, the relics of Saint Euphemia were transferred to a new church in Constantinople. There, during the persecutions of the Iconoclasts, her reliquary was said to have been thrown into the sea, from which it was recovered by the ship-owning brothers Sergius and Sergonos, who belonged to the Orthodox party, and who gave it over to the local bishop who hid them in a secret crypt. The relics were afterwards taken to the Island of Lemnos, and in 796 they were returned to Constantinople. The majority of her relics are still in the Patriarchal Church of St. George, in Istanbul.”