Most of Istanbul’s Asian side surprises first-time visitors, amodern residential hub containing neither the opulent architecture nor modern style of the European side. But of those areas easily accessible, Üsküdar is a charming district, easily accessed by ferry and chock-full of historical mosques. A visit gives you the chance to explore the streets of a quiet everyday neighborhood.
START: Ferry from Eminönü or Karaköy to Üsküdar.
1- Mihrimah Sultan Camii (mosque).
The first thing you’ll see from the ferry pier—in fact on your approaching ferry—is the mosque built by Sinan in 1548. Also known as Iskele Camii, it was built for Süleyman I in memory of his favorite
daughter, on a raised platform to protect it from the water. Because of lack of space for a central court-
yard, Sinan used a protruding roof to cover the @adirvan(ablutions fountain). The complex had the usual hamam, medreseand hospital—the latter of which is now a state-of-the-art health center. Outside, take a closer look at the stunning rococo Ahmed III fountain, an architectural masterpiece with calligraphy, masonry and art, seemingly in the midst of a traffic island. @20 min.
2- Yeni Valide Camii (mosque).
On the south side of a large plaza, this mosque was built for Gü[email protected] Valide Sultan, mother of Sultans Mustafa II and Ahmet III, who was buried in 1716 in the adjacent tomb. I love this tomb,
about as far removed from the glam-orous tomb of Süleyman’s wife Roxelana as you could imagine: In a simple open stone tomb, the cover is an iron domed roof, rather like a birdcage, and open to the elements. You can peer from the street into the tiny plot, overgrown with roses. The adjacent stone kiosk, part of the original walls, is an official seller of gorgeous local olive oil and honey, sold in huge quantities. @20 min. Uncular Cad. Mihrimah Sultan Camii, named after Süleyman’s daughter.
3- Kanaat Lokantasi.
A fabulous choice for lunch, this has been a locals’ favorite since 1933, with hearty traditional dishes like tandir(tandoori) lamb and döner kebab with tomatoes and butter. Go to the kitchen area to choose
hot dishes as the chef lays them out. 25 Salmanipak Cad. 0216 553 3791. $.
4- Mimar Sinan Çarşisi.
Although the inside of this market doesn’t offer much of a shopping experience, the building is charming, located in a quiet square where locals gather on benches around the central fountain. (It’s my favorite Üsküdar relaxing spot.) Sinan originally built this in 1583 as the hamamof the Mihrimah Sultan complex. With two separate baths, for men and women, this was ruined over time and impossible to reconstruct. In the 1960s it was restored as a covered bazaar by Mehmet Bozkurt. @15 min. Hakimiyet-I Milliye Cad. Open daily 9am–6pm.
5- Antikacilar Çarşisi.
You don’t have to be an antique lover to enjoy browsing here, though it helps. Once you find it (the
corner of Büyük Hamam and Bulgurlu Mescit Sokak; not many locals know about it!) enjoy its two levels of dusty antiques in around 40 stores, including Ottoman carved wooden doors (immense!), tables, brassware, and lighting. Most of the goodies on show are between 70 and140 years old. Walk down to the workshops in the basement to see restoration of some of the older items. A real gem. @30 min. 32 Buyük Hamam Sok. Open daily 10am–7pm.
6- Çinili Camii (Tiled Mosque).
If you ever wondered what is the opposite of praying in huge, ornate mosques like Süleymaniye, then this is it. A 15-minute uphill walk up Cavuşdere Caddesi for about 15 minutes, to a quiet residential area, this tiny ornate mosque is the real neighborhood experience. Few people make it up here so it may not be open, but ask around and the caretaker may appear with the key (tip appreciated). Adorned with Iznik tiles and ornate chandelier, ask him to show you upstairs. Dating back to 1640, it was built under Mahpeyker Kösem, a wily one who did what she could to achieve her political gains, especially after the death of her husband Sultan Ahmed I. @20 min. Cinili Mescit Sok. Open prayer times.
7- Şemsi Ahmet PaŞa Kulliyesi.
Enjoy the waterfront setting of this little mosque, with single dome and minaret (currently under major renovation). Designed by Sinan for !emsi [email protected] in 1580, its medresewas refurbished into a library in 1953. The pier attracts a smattering of local fishermen, admiring the view over to the European side of Istanbul. @15 min. Sahil Yolu.
Try and get a window seat for a waterfront view while you down a coffee and all-day Turkish breakfast, or menemen(egg dish). Popular with courting couples and stylish Üsküdar folk, this is a perfect location away from the traffic. 10 !emsi [email protected] Cad. 0216 334 6676. $.
9- Kiz Kulesi (Maiden’s Tower, also known as Leander’s Tower).
It’s a pleasant waterfront walk to the little ferry shuttling over to the tower. Used as a lighthouse for centuries and given an interior facelift in 1998, legend goes that a sultan built the tower to confine his daughter from a deadly serpent’s bite, as predicted by a soothsayer. Her imprisonment was to no avail as the snake arrived in a basket of fruit and she died in her father’s arms. More recently, the iconic tower featured in the James Bond 1999 movie The World is Not Enough. You might find it hard to get
a viewing point on the gallery during busy weekends, but this makes a fun trip and the seats at the bottom of the tower are a relaxing spot. Bypass its restaurant in favor of local places to eat. @1 hr. Ferries depart Mon–Fri 12.30–7pm; Sat and Sun 9.15am–7pm; return ticket 5 TL.
10- Beylerbeyi Sarayi (Beylerbeyi Palace).
Walk the 4km north to the waterfront palace or take the bus from Üsküdar pier. Almost under the mighty Bosphorus Bridge, this late 19th-century palace was built by Sarkis Balyan for Sultan Abdülaziz at the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Enjoy the lush grounds with strangeshaped Harem Yali Kö@kü pavilion, then take a tour of the interior. My favorite room is the Blue Hall, with one of the world’s largest Harike (luxurious silk) carpets, and Arabic poems inscribed on the ceilings. Look out also for chairs made by Sultan Abdulhamid—imprisoned here for six years to his death—and the meeting
room for the Sultan’s mother adorned in red, her favorite color. @1 hr. Abdullah Aga Cad. 0216 321
Open Tue–Wed and Fri–Sun; Oct–Feb 9.30am–4pm; Mar–Sep 9.30am–5pm.
Adult 8 TL, conc 3 TL inc guided tour. Bus: 15 from Üsküdar.