Thursday, September 27

Turkey-Iran, Day Three: Mopping Up

Since yesterday was so successful, we (since I had company today) decided to have a bit of a lazy start as we headed to Eyup for the alleged tomb of a Companion of the Prophet. We took the scenic route, that is by taking the bus and boat - I'm still surprised by just how cheap public transport is here in Istanbul.

Mosque #8: Eyup Sultan

Although some (if not all) of the mosques yesterday had accompanying tombs and shrines, that of Eyup was by far the most significant so far, and more of a taste of the gnostic flavour of Islam enjoyed in these parts. It was actually the start of yet another theme of the trip.

Taking the cable car up to Pierre Loti was worth it, if only for the stroll back down through the graveyard. Since we were on such a roll with public transport, we then took a bus in the direction of our next stop, the Chora Museum.

Mosque #9: Mihrimah Sultan

On the way we stumbled across the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque. By this point I was familiar enough with Turkish mosques to begin noticing the subtle differences between them all, otherwise lost in the deceptive ubiquity of the typical "block and dome" design they all seem to have. The Mihrimah for instance seems very square and butch - neat and concise even - with the inside being fresh and sterile. Apparently built for a princess, I dare say that it did have a feminine vibe.

If you're a fan of mosaics, the Chora Museum is the one place to go. I'm pretty sure someone who actively researched the pictographs and murals would have been able to spend a few hours in there, but for me it was a matter of seeing the pretty pictures and moving on.

After lunch we walked along the Theodosian Walls, sucking up the significance of what used to be the impenetrable border of Constantinople. We then headed East to explore Fatih.

Mosque #10: Yavuz Sultan

Although usually left out on most Mosque Crawls, the Yavuz Sultan is well worth a quick visit. It's one of the larger places of worship in the city, and in fact features quite heavily in the Istanbul skyline. Its higher than average station allows for some great northerly views too, but the main draw for me was the serenity of the place. It had a peace that the more prominent mosques seem to have lost in their popularity.

We passed through the Jewish Quarter on the way to the riverbank as we headed to the Church of St Stephen of the Bulgars. Again, this was more a place of curiosity than popular interest but I'm glad I got to see the gothic Iron made church. The inside was also well worth the quick visit.

Mosque #11: Fatih Mosque

Fatih was easily one of my most favourite mosques I had seen so far. Perhaps it was its relative isolation from the tourist trail, or maybe its "medium large" size gave it more stature than it had. A friend commented that the locality was relatively practising which meant that Fatih was well frequented and served (more so than even the Blue Mosque). Whatever it was, I was glad we got to offer the afternoon prayer there in congregation to get a real feel of what the place was about - particularly as we were also honored to offer two funeral prayers afterwards.

Mosque #12: Prince Mosque

We ducked into the Prince Mosque on the way to the Grand Bazaar. Another medium mosque this seemed a little less frequented than its central location suggested, and it felt well kept and even neat as a result.

Passing through Beyazit Square, we tried (unsuccessfully) to sneak into Istanbul University. Apparently long gone are the days where places of education had open doors, and our lack of ID meant resulted in denied entry. So instead we visited the Grand Bazaar, which was a bit of a disappointment in comparison to the Spice Bazaar from yesterday.

Mosque #13: Suleymaniye Mosque

Sunset brought us to The Suleymaniye, the second, if not the most, recognisable mosque in Istanbul. In fact it felt like more of a complex than a mosque and I can imagine much more than congregational prayer happening there. It was a great way to end my final day of touring.

And that was it - I has seen all the points of interest that I wanted to visit as a tourist. My feelings of being underwhelmed after my first day weren't totally shaken off, but I did come to realise that Istanbul really is more than a bunch of sights. The company I had today as well as a more "domestic" list of sights and longer city walks made today a lot more enjoyable. That said, I do feel a little liberated now that I can enjoy Istanbul socially rather than just as a tourist.

My dinner for instance was a fabulous steak and burger with a mixture of old and new, local and global friends. In many ways the trip had actually just begun.

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