Alternative exploration routes for Sultanahmet.
3 Walking Tour Routes for Sultanahmet!
Art historian Hayri Fehmi Yılmaz has prepared three alternative routes for you to explore Sultanahmet and its surrounding on foot. Enjoy it!
Most people know little about the city in which they live. Particularly when it is a city like Istanbul: you need to make a special effort to know it. This is because a structure or a wall that you pass by every day and do not notice may be one of the important building blocks that makes Istanbul special.
We can hear you ask: “So, how can we explore it?” To do this, you need to first walk around, see, and ‘understand’. Our suggestion is that you divide Istanbul into districts, explore it by defining special routes, and get to know the structures that have importance in Istanbul’s history more closely.
What about starting with Sultanahmet and around? Hayri Fehmi Yilmaz, who is a guide and a coordinator in Cultural Awareness Foundation, has prepared three routes for you to tour this region step by step. You can start walking either on your own or with your friends.
1. Hagia Sophia Museum
2. Sultan Reshad Three-Faced Fountain
3. Caferağa Madrasah – You should definitely spend some time in the Traditional Turkish Arts Education Center and its restaurant.
4. Erdebil Lodge – Being one of the most famous Halveti lodges in Istanbul (The Arabic word ‘halvet’ means desolate, loneliness, to be alone. Entering into it means shutting oneself in a desolate room or a cell called ‘halvethane’ in lodges so as to be busy with only praying, mentioning, meditating and mortification. The Halveti sect is among those sects that affected the society most in Ottoman times.) This lodge was built by Hızıroğlu Sheikh Yusuf Sinan Erdebil between 1527 and 1528. It has been restored several times since. It has been turned into a law office and a shop that sells half-precious stones today by the children of the last sheikh.
5. Sogukcesme Street – The only street that has completely been restored within the rampart. Unfortunately Istanbulites do not live on it, but it is the most beautiful street in Istanbul.
6. Çelik Gülersoy Foundation Istanbul Library – Every Istanbulite has to visit this library, where there are all kinds of books and documents about Istanbul. Apart from the richness of books, the good-humoured librarian Neslihan Yalav is one Istanbulite you should meet.
7. Ikram Garden – If you are looking for a peaceful place far from the noisy crowd, you should definitely visit this place at the end of Soğukceşme Street, set within a greenhouse and a beautiful garden.
8. Sarnıç Restaurant – This place is a good alternative for those who want to have a meal in a Byzantine cistern with medieval decoration. The cistern, which is believed to belong to the Early Byzantine period, had once a building upon it.
9. Sur-u Sultani (Topkapı Palace Ramparts) – One of the most important memoirs of Fatih remaining from the 15th century and a rare work that still perpetuates the medieval atmosphere in the city.
10. Ahmet III Square Fountain – the biggest square fountain built in the Ottoman period. This fountain is composed of four water dispensers and it reflects the joy of the Tulip Age of the Ottoman Empire perfectly.
11. Mahmud I Alms House – One of the most important works in the Ottoman baroque style. It attracts attention particularly with its gorgeous door. Its epigraph was written by the famous calligrapher of the 18th century, Moralı Beşir Ağa.
12. Haseki Hürrem Public Bath – Built by Mimar Sinan for Kanuni’s famous wife, Hürrem. Its plan and design are unique in Ottoman bath architecture. It has been beautifully preserved and is now being used as a gift shop for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
13. Green House – There is a glasshouse and a pool made of pink marble in the garden of Green House, which is a restored 19th century residence. It is one of the presents given by Çelik Gülersoy to the city. The pool in the garden was brought here from the mansion of Serasker Rıza Pasha in Yıldız.
14. Cedid Mehmet Efendi Madrasah (Istanbul Arts Market) – An Ottoman madrasah in which traditional crafts such as calligraphy, illumination, marbling and binding are produced and sold. The building is also called Kabasakal Madrasah.
15. Old Sultanahmet Prison (Four Seasons Hotel) – One of the splendid works of Turkish neoclassical architecture. On the elegant epigraph over the door of this building resembling a palace in a fairy tale, these words are still remaining: “Dersaadet Cinayet Tevkifhanesi”, which means “Istanbul Homicide Detention House”. Nowhere else in the world can you see the words “homicide detention house” on the door of a five-star hotel!
16. Ishak Pasha Mosque and Bath
17. Dede Effendi House Museum – Home of Hamamizade Ismail Dede Effendi.
18. Akbıyık Mosque – The mosque that is considered to be the closest to the direction of Mecca (Kiblah) in Istanbul. This mosque, which was built in the 15th century, is also known as the “Kiblah of all mosques”.
19. Ahırkapı – One of the most beautiful gates on the ramparts of Marmara coast. This gate is still used and it opens to the coast’s one way road.
20. Erol Tas Café
21. Otluk Kapı – One of the outer gates of Topkapi Palace.
22. Merdiven Kulesi remnants (Magnaura Palace remnants) – One of the remains of the great palace which was called “Magnum Palatium” by the Byzantine emperors is here. It has been claimed recently that this place is Magnaura Palace, but this has not yet been proven. The structure is composed of substructures around a staircase tower with a platform that connects the two terraces of the palace.
23. Mosaic Museum – The history of the mosaics that are the remains of the magnificent palaces of Byzantine emperors goes back to the 6th century. There are rich scenes on the mosaics, which are rare in the Mediterranean world. They are kept in the yard where they were discovered.
24. Sultanahmet Arasta – This is a gun bazaar composed of two floors of side-by-side shops built in the 17th century. Today foreign visitors come here to see and buy traditional Turkish arts and carpets.
25. Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Palace remnants – The remains viewed as a high wall opposite of the Arasta are the last memories from a 16th century vizier’s palace. Two wooden mansions were built here in the 19th century, and then turned into a lodge. The area of the lodge is used as a car park today.
26. Sultanahmet Foundation Carpet and Rug Museum – In the museum within the Sultanahmet Mosque Hunkar Summer Palace, you can see the best examples of carpets and rugs.
27. Sultanahmet Mosque – A gorgeous building built by Sedefkar Mehmed Agha in the 17th century.
28. Sultanahmet Tomb – One of the rare remaining tombs with all its components and decoration elements.
We suggest you spend one full day for this route.
1. Remnant of the Milion Monument– A remnant of the famous Milion Monument which marked the beginning of the road that led from Istanbul to Rome can be seen. Some amateur visitors mistake the water scale dating to the 18th century behind the marble ruins for the monument. The fountain that stands before it was built by Beşhir Agha, who was one of the “Black Aghas” of the Harem, from Africa. (Why not visit an African country after your trip to Istanbul?!)
2. Yerebatan Palace – One of the biggest cisterns dating back to the 6th century, Yerebatan Cistern is operated by Istanbul Metropolis Municipality (IBB). The cistern was built only to store water, and two large medusa heads found inside were randomly incorporated into the building materials. It is thought that these two statues were also used in the keystones of the victory arches in ceremonies arranged in what has today become Çemberlitaş.
3. Halide Edip Adivar Monument – The bust of Halide Edip Adıvar, who was the fervent speaker of the great demonstration meeting held in Istanbul to protest the invasion of Izmir, and one of the most important female authors of Turkish literature, adorns a corner of the square.
4. Cevri Kalfa Primary School – The building, today hosting Turkish Literature Foundation, is one of the earliest modern school buildings in Istanbul. It was built by Sultan Mahmud II in the imperial style, in honour of the concubine Cevri Kalfa, who had rescued and carried him to safety during the events known as Alemdar Incident.
5. Sultanahmet Köftecisi (Meatball Eatery) – One of the oldest restaurants in Istanbul. It is a must to try its meatballs, bean salad and the traditional Turkish dessert of irmik helva.
6. Firuz Agha Mosque – It is one of the most beautiful works of early classical age in Istanbul.
7. Ruins of Saint Euphemia Martyrionu – These ruins, which have been converted into a martyrdom church in honor of the famous Euphemia of Kadıköy, are one of the most important Byzantine ruins in Istanbul.
8. Ruins of the Lausos Palace – Situated within the Sultanahmet Park, this palace, the ruins of whose walls can still be seen, is 1600 years old.
9. Binbirdirek Cistern and the Models and Plans of Istanbul Byzantine Monuments Exhibition
We suggest you spare approximately 6 hours for this route.
1. The German Fountain – The fountain was prepared in Germany as a present from the German Emperor Wilhelm II to Abdulhamid II, and brought to Istanbul. Its architecture is rather similar to the domed fountains in mosques.
2. The Obelisk – Belonging to the ancient Egyptian civilization and brought from Egypt, the obelisk is one of the oldest historical artifacts in Istanbul.
3. The Serpentine Column – Brought from the Apollon Temple in Delphi, this column is one of the most important bronze works of the classical times surviving into the present. To commemorate the victory the Greek city-states won against the Persian in the Greco-Persian Wars, this column was cast by collecting and melting the arms in the Persian garrison, and it consists of three snakes intertwined around each other.
4. The Chainmail Column – Being of the same age with the obelisk, this column had been covered with bronze plates.
5. Ibrahim Pasha Palace (now Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts) – It is the only vizier palace from the 16th century in Istanbul that has survived. In this palace, that belonged to Makbul / Maktul Ibrahim Pasha, one of the richest carpet collections of the Islamic world is preserved. The collection contains the most important carpets in the world, the Seljuk carpets dating to the 13th century are known to be the oldest modern carpets that have survived into the present day.
6. Ottoman Cadastral Ministry (now Cadastral Registry) – This building, which is one of the most beautiful specimens of the Turkish neoclassical, connects to one of the courtyards of the Ibrahim Pasha Palace.
7. Server Dede Shrine – Situated within the courtyard of the Ottoman Cadastral Ministry building, the tombstones of the shrine are made up of the inlaid columns taken from the Saint Euphemia building.
8. The Tombs of the Three Martyrs – On the spot where the famous Melami sheikh Ismail Mashuki and his followers were martyred, the shrines built in their honor still stand, although the tombstones are broken.
9. The Hollow Fountain – Behind the artifact which is one of the three hollow fountains in Istanbul, is a cistern that bears the seats of the Byzantine Hippodrome.
10. Ottoman Ministry of Agriculture (now Marmara University Rectorship)
11. The Janissary Museum – It is situated in the front section of the right wing of the Marmara University Rectorship. It is the second museum building in Istanbul to have coats of arms on its walls.
12. Hippodrome Sphendone – These walls, which are among the oldest one can see in the city, were built by Roman Emperor Septimus Severus in the late 2nd century, and repaired by Emperor Constantinus in the 4th. On these walls, which hide a huge substructure beneath, it is possible to see the traces of buildings that were once adjacent to them. This structure forms a terrace for the curved end of the Hippodrome’s track.
13. Cistern of Nakilbend Street– It is thought that this building, hosting Nakkal Carpets and Jewellers as well as an exhibition hall downstairs, belongs to the early Byzantine period.
14. Eresin Otel Floor Mosaic with Fishes – The walls and stone works of this artifact, which belongs to the early Byzantine period, were preserved during the construction of the hotel, and is exhibited today.
15. Little Hagia Sophia Mosque – The Church of Saint Sergios and Bakhos was built to indicate his gratitude by Emperor Justinianus, who also had the Hagia Sophia built.
16. Tunnel of Little Hagia Sophia Mosque – It is thought that this little door beside the Little Hagia Sophia Mosque, in the shore ramparts, was opened during the Ottoman Period. It is known that the decorated pieces with inscriptions were brought here from the pedestal of the statue of Emperor Justinianus in Ayasofya Square.
17. Bukoleon Palace and the Imperial Dock – This is the only beach palace that has survived from the Byzantine world. It is one of the most important parts of the Magnum Palatium.
18. Marmara Shore Ramparts
19. The Pharos Beacon – The news of an enemy threatening Byzantium from the east was conveyed by smoke in daytime and fire at night, finally reaching this tower situated on the ramparts on the shore. Moreover, this beacon was placed so as to light up the harbor in front of it.
20. Çardaklı Bath
21. Kadırga Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque and Complex – The mosque that Sokollu Mehmet had Sinan the Architect build is renowned for its Nicene tiles of extraordinary beauty. Moreover, inside the mosque are four pieces of the Hacer-ul Esved stone brought from Kaaba.
22. Revani Chelebi (Helvai) Masjid – It stands, partly ruined, by the Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque.
23. Kadırga Dervish Lodge of the Uzbek– This dervish lodge was prepared as a kind of club or guesthouse for the itinerary dervishes and Islamic clergy from Central Asia, Samarkand, Bukhara and the surrounding region. Although its original building had been quite old, the wings that stand today belong to the early 20th century.
For this route, we suggest spare approximately one full day.