With our new walking guide in hand Loris and I were out early, starting at the old city walls, now known as the Theodosian Walls after the Emperor builder. They kept the hordes out for centuries until Mehmet the Conqueror eventually made his way through them with his army and brought to an end the Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire in the 14th Century and established the Ottoman Empire.
We walked half way along the wall to the beautiful 16 century Mihrimah Mosque, built in honour of the daughter of Suleyman and one of the many buildings still standing designed by Sinan, Suleyman’s architect. In its day it contained a mosque, medrese (school), sibyan (pre-school) and bath house. They are all still in use and on our visit the place was over run by kids on school holidays.
From there it was down to the centre of the old city and Valen’s Viaduct that transported water into town. Also nearby and more interesting that this were a couple of Byzantine churches built in the 11th and 12th centuries. Still in use today, they were converted to mosques after the city was conquered.
As we walked through the area near the wall and around the old churches I was struck by the contrast with the other areas we had been frequenting in the city. There was no gentrification, the housing was generally pretty mean, there were some beautiful old wooden Ottoman places in need of much repair. And all the inhabitants were very conservatively dressed. While you get the feeling that Istanbul is much more liberal than the rest of Turkey, it very much depends on where you walk.
By now the temperature was well into the mid 30’s and the walk to the giant 16th century Suleyman mosque, was slow. Inside the outer wall we seemed to be transformed by the shade and peace. Also designed by Sinan (and the site of his mausoleum), the site is both a magnificent mosque and the mausoleum of Suleyman, his wife Roxanna (the Russian) and his daughter Mihrimah.
Suleyman’s reign was the peak of the Ottoman Empire. He conquered and controlled from Vienna to Afghanistan. Those who followed, slowly lost the lot until they were ousted in the early 20th century by the Republican movement (about the same time as the last Emperor of China lost control as well).
A final walk through the Bazaar to get some material for Ali to us to a textile shop. What at first appeared as a small shop facing one of the halls opened out into 5 different rooms leading back from the hall. The owner, who spoke with a slight American accent explained that her father had established the business 65 years ago. The textiles they sold were from across the whole of the Silk Route, each with their own fascinating story. In the final room she pointed out a shelf vividly coloured Syrian silks. No longer made, they were the last of that line.
Dinner with Ali and Marcelo ended our second visit to Istanbul and let us with the feeling we had hardly scratched they surface of this complex and vibrant city.