Wednesday, January 1, 2014

An Architectural and Ceramic Tour of Istanbul - Part II

There are many ways to see Istanbul--walk, take a tram or taxi, or by tour bus/boat. When we visit a new city, we always go on a paid tour and plan from there. It's always worked for us, who are uncomfortable travelers.

There was one problem with this tour. They wouldn't take our credit cards--no "chip"! It was only a few months ago that we were given a new credit card with a chip embedded in it. (Color photos courtesy of Michael Padwee unless otherwise noted)

The tour took us around the walled-in Istanbul--the old city, through the newer parts of the European side of the city, and a quick trip across the Bosporus to the Asian part of the city.

One of the city wall gates. The wall surrounded and protected the old city since Byzantine times.

We drove across the Galata Bridge with its famous Tower, into the more modern European district.

We passed through Taksim Square where demonstrators were recently killed by the Turkish government, 

Part of Taksim Square.

and we passed the canon factory constructed by the court's chief architect, Sinan.

The royal cannonworks built by Sinan in the 1500s.

"Mimar Sinan, pronounced [miːˈmaːɾ siˈnan]) (c. 1489/1490 – July 17, 1588 was the chief Ottoman architect (Turkish: "Mimar") and civil engineer for sultans 
Suleiman the Magnificent, Selim II, and Murad III. He was responsible for the construction of more than three hundred major structures and other more modest projects, such as his Islamic primary schools (sibyan mektebs). ...During his tenure [of] 50 years [in] the post of imperial architect, Sinan is said to have constructed or supervised 476 buildings (196 of which still survive), according to the official list of his works, the Tazkirat-al-Abniya. He couldn't possibly have designed them all, but he relied on the skills of his office. He took credit and the responsibility for their work."

Turkish Tiles and Ceramics

"The art of Turkish tiles and ceramics occupies a place of prominence in the history of Islamic art. Its roots can be traced at least as far back as the Uighurs of the 8th and 9th centuries. Its subsequent development was influenced by Karakhanid, Ghaznavid, and (especially) Iranian Seljuk art. With the Seljuks' victory over the Byzantines at Malazgirt in 1071, the art followed them into Anatolia and embarked upon a new period of strong development fostered by the Anatolian Seljuk sultanate. A distinctive style of Seljuk architecture was in full bloom by the 13th century. Seljuk mosques, medreses, tombs, and palaces were lavishly decorated with exquisite tiles.  The most popular colors were turquoise, cobalt blue, eggplant violet, and black. 

"The late 15th and early 16th century marks the beginning of a new period in Ottoman tile and ceramic-making. The most important centre active at this time was Iznik. Designs prepared by artists who were employed in the studios of the Ottoman court were sent to Iznik to be executed in wares ordered for use at the palace. The court's patronage stimulated and supported the development of an artistically and technically advanced ceramic industry in Iznik.

"The earliest example of the new styles that emerged in the early Ottoman period are the 'blue-and-white' Iznik ceramics. The styles, designs, decorations, and techniques of these ceramics are quite distinct from Seljuk traditions. These changes in the Iznik potters' production habits are attributed to attempts to imitate the 15th century Chinese Ming porcelains that were reaching the Ottoman court in various ways. The decorations include stylized foliage, arabesques, and Chinese clouds alone or in skillfully-executed compositions.

"By the middle of the 16th century, naturalistic motifs such as tulips, roses, pomegranates and hyacinths begin to enrich the repertoire of stylized plant designs and arabesques, in a variety of colours. At this time there was a strong surge in the demand for tiles as decorations in the extensive building programs undertaken by Suleiman I (1520-1566) and his successors when the Ottoman Empire was politically, economically, and culturally at its peak." (

A view of Suleimanye Mosque from the bus.

One of Sinan's masterpieces was the mosque he built for Suleiman the Magnificent, Suleymanye Cami.

Our taxi was only able to get us to two blocks from the mosque because of construction. 
There's a bazaar and restaurants to the left, across from the entrance to the mosque. 
Their rents help to pay for the upkeep of the mosque.

The interior space is one of the largest in a mosque, and the central dome is the second highest dome built by Sinan.

We were not able to see the tiled mausoleums of Suleiman, his favorite wife and of Sinan, himself, because they were off limits when we visited the mosque.

We next went to the spice market on the old city side of the Galata Bridge where there were two tiled mosques mentioned in Edda Renker Weissenbacher's A Self-Guide to Iznik Tiles in Istanbul: the Yeni Valide Cami and Rüstem Paşa Cami. The entrance to the Spice Market is on a square just to the side of the Yeni Valide Cami.

Construction of this mosque was begun in 1597 for the mother of Sultan Mehmet III. After his death it stayed unfinished for half a century. It was completed in 1663 with tiles from Iznik's Third Period, and was called "The New Mosque of the Sultan's Mother", or Yeni Valide Cami.

The central courtyard with an octagonal marble ablution fountain.

Iznik blue and white tiles from the Third Period.

The two darker columns frame the entrance to the mosque proper.

As you exit the mosque and walk through the covered and uncovered areas of the Spice Market,

you arrive at a building with shops on the ground floor and a mosque over them--the Rüstem Paşa Mosque, named after the Grand Vizier and son-in-law of Süleyman the Magnificent. The shops' rents provide funds to pay for cleaning and restoration of the mosque.

"Dazzling Iznik tiles of the best period cover the interior, including the columns and galleries, almost from wall to wall, and also the outside western facade. ...The floral and geometrical patterns, some of them repeats, are different on each panel, and there is an arabesque design on the southern wall that seems almost modern. It is made of long twisted leaves overlapping and swirling, as if blown by a strong wind." (Edda Renker Weissenbacher, A Self-Guide to Iznik Tiles in Istanbul, self-published, 2004, pp. 83, 85)

The plan of the mosque was an octagon inscribed in a rectangle. It's dome rests on four semidomes located in the diagonals of the building. The North and South galleries are supported by tiled pillars and thinner marble columns. (Weissenbacher, p. 84)

The Mihrap, the niche indicating the direction of Mecca, on the left
and the Mimber, the high pulpit, on the right.

The Mihrap.

Close-up views of tiled walls.

Another market that we visited was the Grand Bazaar.

Map of the Grand Bazaar. We entered the yellow section at the right,
through the Nur-u Osmaniye Cami (Mosque).

"The Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı) in Istanbul is one of the largest covered markets in the world with 60 streets and 5,000 shops... . The bazaar has been an important trading centre since 1461 and its labyrinthine vaults feature two bedestens (domed buildings), the first of which was constructed between 1455 and 1461 by the order of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. The bazaar was vastly enlarged in the 16th century, during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, and in 1894 underwent a major restoration following an earthquake. The complex houses two mosques, four fountains, two hamams, and several cafés and restaurants. In the centre is the high domed hall of the Cevahir Bedesten, where the most valuable items and antiques were to be found... ."  (

Inside the Grand Bazaar.

About two blocks from the entrance to the bazaar at the Nur-u Osmaniye Cami was the Mahmut Paşa mausoleum, an "octagonal Seljuk-looking türbe...[which] is unique in Istanbul, with triangular navy blue and turquoise Iznik tiles of the first period... . It was built in the architect Atik Sinan (alias Christodoulos...)." (Weissenbacher, p. 66)

Photo taken through a fence that surrounded the Mahmut Paşa Mosque, its graveyard and the mausoleum.

I walked to a sidestreet and through an alleyway between two buildings to take closer photos of the tiles. This photo is of the mausoleum's upper section.

The tile mosaics in concrete reminded me of some of the patterned mosaics produced by Henry Mercer at his Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown, Pennsylvania in the early 20th century.

One afternoon we took a tram ride to the end of the blue line from Gülhane to Bağcilar, and got off at different stops when we wanted to explore. One stop was to visit the Aksaray Valide Camii.

Tram map of Istanbul.

"The Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque, also known as the Aksaray Valide Mosque..., is an Ottoman imperial mosque... . It is located at the intersection of Ordu Street and Atatürk Boulevard in the Aksaray neighborhood. 

Entrance to the mosque proper.

Tugra (calligraphic signature) over the entrance.

"...One of the last mosques built in Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire, the Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque was built for the Sultana Pertevniyal, wife of Sultan Mahmud II and mother of Sultan Abdülaziz. It was designed by the Italian architect Montani. The construction work began in November 1869, and the mosque was finished in 1871." (

The tram also took us through the Zeytinburnu district, and along the way we saw a number of newer apartment houses with exterior mosaic decoration.

Bosphorus Architecture

We saw many other architectural sites along the Bosphorus Strait, the water boundary between European and Asian Istanbul and Turkey.

Dolmabahçe Palace from the Bosphorus.

Entrance to the palace.

In the nineteenth century the Dolmabahçe Palace was built by Karabet Amira Baylan under the direction of other court architects on the European shore of the Bosphorus. Construction began in 1843, and this palace became the seat of government for the Ottomen Empire from the mid-19th century on, and for Turkey during the time of Ataturk.

One of the seaside doors.

There are five seaside doors or entrances to the palace, and the Saltanat, Treasury, Valide, Harem Bendegan and Kuşluk Doors, all of which are artistically decorated.

The Saltanat Door.

Bezm-î-Âlem Valide Sultan Mosque, located in front of İnönü Stadium, is made of marble and stone and has two minarets. It was opened in 1855. ( This is also called the Dolmabahçe Mosque of Bezmiâlem.

"Bezmiâlem Sultan Kadınefendi (1807 – 2 May 1853) (Bezm-i Alem or Bazim-i Alam, meaning "feast of the world") was the second spouse of Sultan Mahmud II of the Ottoman Empire. ...She was popular and respected as Valide Sultan and she also exerted political influence: it is noted, that her son and his ministers consulted her on the affairs of state. Like other influential Ottoman women, she was a patron of arts and architecture. Among notable structures she commissioned are Kasr-i Dilkusa (Dilkusa Summer Palace) in the Yıldız Palace complex, Bezm-î-Âlem Valide Sultan Fountain, and Dolmabahçe Mosque in Istanbul." (âlem_Sultan) 

Küçüksu Palace.

"Küçüksu Palace or Küçüksu Pavilion, aka Göksu Pavilion, (Turkish: Küçüksu Kasrı) is a summer palace in Istanbul, Turkey, situated in the Küçüksu neighborhood of Beykoz district on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus between Anadoluhisarı and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge. The tiny palace was used by Ottoman sultans for short stays during country excursions and hunting. The palace was commissioned by Sultan Abd-ul-Mejid I (1823–1861), and designed by the architects Garabet Amira Balyan and his son Nigoğayos Balyan in the neo-baroque style. Completed in 1857, the structure took the place of a two storey timber palace... . The building consists of two main stories and a basement on a footprint of 15 x 27 m. ...During the reign of Sultan Abd-ul-Aziz (1830–1876), more elaborate decoration was added to the façade... ." (üçüksu_Palace)

The Zarif Mustafa Pasa Yali.

The Zarif Mustafa Pasa Yali* is one of the most beautiful wooden mansions on the Bosphorus. It was purchased by Kani Bey, the coffee magnate of Sultan Mahmut II in the 1800's.  In 1848, it became the property of Zarif Mustafa Pasa. The mansion was built on the ruins of a Byzantine monastery, and when the yali was originally built, it was composed of three sections: the Harem, the Selamlik and the Boat-house. It was originally three times bigger than its present size. (

*"The origins of the Turkish yali can be traced back to the nomadic Turkic tribes which roamed an area that today forms part of Outer Mongolia... . From the second century BC, following changed climatic and political conditions in the Altai homeland, successive waves of nomads moved south and west towards the Middle East and Europe... . ...While most tribes continued to live in felt tents, it was the Uygurs who are believed to have been among the first to develop a rudimentary plan for the Turkish house. [...A fusion of ancient shamanistic and Buddhist beliefs] led to buildings oriented according to the four cardinal compass points and based on a cross-axial or cruciform plan. ...The importance of intermediate points between the cardinal directions led to octagonal buildings. Some rooms imitated the form of the domed tent... . Other cruciform timber structures with truncated internal corners were raised on a square podium." (Chris Hellier, Splendors of Istanbul: Houses and Palaces along the Bosporus, Abbeville Press, New York, 1993, pp. 84, 89) The Seljuks and the Ottomans successfully carried these ideas westward, but it is not known if the latter knew about the symbolism that was used to develop the original yalis.

A more modern building on the Asian side of the Bosphorus.

The Kuleli Officers' Training College on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus.

"The large and imposing building on the shore south of Vaniköy is the Kuleli Officers Training College. The original building here was a barracks erected in 1828 by Mahmut II; Sultan Abdül Aziz replaced this in 1863 with the present Empire-style building, whose flanking conical-capped towers are landmarks on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus. It was more or less on this site, probably, that the Empress Theodora, Justinian’s wife, established her famous hospice for fallen women, called Metanoia, or Repentance... ." (

A waterfront neighborhood on the European shore.

An older--possibly Ottoman--building on the European side.

Also on the European shore, this building probably won't be there much longer.

Rumeli Hisari, the Fortress of Europe (1472).

"At the narrowest part of the Bosphorus, Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror ordered the great fortress of Rumeli Hisarı to be built on the European shore in order to control commercial and military traffic in preparation for the siege of Constantinople. He pitted his pashas (generals) against one another, daring them all to be the first to complete his particular tower and crenellated walls. The competition was fierce, and the huge fortress was completed in only four months. Once completed, Rumeli Hisarı, along with Anadolu Hisarı on the Asian shore just opposite, controlled all traffic on the Bosphorus, and cut the city of Constantinople off from resupply by sea from the north. The mighty fortress's useful military life was less than one year. Mehmet's armies conquered the Byzantine capital several months later, and then there was no need for Rumeli Hisarı. The fortress was used as a rather large and impressive Bosphorus toll booth for awhile, then as a barracks, later as a prison, and finally as an open-air theater, but never again as a fortress. (

Ortakoy Mosque near the Bosphorus or First Bridge that links European and Asian Istanbul.

"Ortaköy Mosque (Turkish: Ortaköy Camii), officially the Büyük Mecidiye Camii (Grand Imperial Mosque of Sultan Abdülmecid) in Beşiktaş, Istanbul, Turkey, is situated at the waterside of the Ortaköy pier square, one of the most popular locations on the Bosphorus. The original Ortaköy Mosque was built in the 18th century. The current mosque, which was erected in its place, was ordered by the Ottoman sultan Abdülmecid and built between 1854 and 1856. Its architects were father and son Garabet Amira Balyan and Nigoğayos Balyan (who also designed the nearby Dolmabahçe Palace and the Dolmabahçe Mosque), who designed it in the Neo-Baroque style." (öy_Mosque)

The Beylerbei Palace.

Almost opposite the Ortaköy Mosque, on the Asian shore, is the Beylerbei Palace. "The Beylerbeyi Palace (Turkish: Beylerbeyi Sarayı, Beylerbeyi meaning 'Lord of Lords') is located in the Beylerbeyi neighbourhood of Istanbul... . An Imperial Ottoman summer residence built in the 1860s, it is now situated immediately north of the 1973 Bosphorus Bridge. Beylerbeyi Palace was commissioned by Sultan Abdülaziz (1830–1876) and built between 1861 and 1865 as a summer residence and a place to entertain visiting heads of state. ...Designed in the Second Empire style by Sarkis Balyan, Beylerbeyi Palace seems fairly restrained compared to the excesses of the earlier Dolmabahçe or Küçüksu palaces." (

A waterfront neighborhood on the Asian shore.

Our trip to Istanbul ended shortly after this boat tour. If you visit Istanbul and are interested in Turkish ceramics and tiles, I highly recommend Edda Renker Weissenbacher's self-published book, A Self-Guide to Iznik Tiles in Istanbul (2004). 

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