My Stray Cat Expedition in Istanbul, Turkey – Part 5

Today I thought we’d try something a little different.  Today we’re gonna pop on over to the Asian side of Istanbul. Our destination is Uskudar, a charming district easily accessed  by ferry and teeming with historical mosques. Exploring Uskudar gives us a chance to experience the streets  of a quiet, everyday neighborhood, without the opulent  architecture, modern style and throngs  of people that we see on the European side.  

We got up early, had a quick  breakfast, then took the tram to the Eminonu stop. Grabbed the ferry to Uskudar, for only $1.75 round trip!  13 minutes after boarding we pulled up to the ferry dock at Uskudar.

The first thing we saw from the pier is the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, built by Sinan in 1548.  The mosque  was built for Sulayman I in memory of his favorite  daughter.   The mosque was beautiful, but I was more impressed with the stunning rococo Ahmed III fountain out front.  It’s an architectural masterpiece, with calligraphy, masonry and art, seemingly in the midst of a  traffic island.  

After this mosque, we headed across the street to another mosque, the  Yeni Valide mosque. This mosque was built for the mother of Sultans Mustafa II and Ahmet III, who was buried in the adjacent tomb.  Again, the inside of the mosque is nice, but nothing spectacular.  The grounds around the mosque were pretty nice, though, and there were lots of cats  milling about, as you can see:  

These kitties were in the courtyard in the front of the mosque.  Back behind the mosque, it was kitty city.

A few men were sitting around, relaxing,  while cats everywhere were either sunning, playing, or trying to charm some bait from a fisherman.  

Notice the very bold black cat on the bench next to the fisherman in the blue shirt.  The others wait patiently, hoping he’ll toss ‘em something.  The black kitty has no qualms asking directly.  

Meanwhile, another group of cats meandered about near a man who was sitting quietly on a bench in the courtyard, lost in his own thoughts.   Compared to the busy mosques we saw on the European side, it was nice to see a quiet peaceful mosque in this low-key town.

In the courtyard  of the mosque, I took a seat on a bench, and ended up meeting one of the sweetest and most adorable cats on the trip.

Look at this one’s face!  

Is she the cutest thing ever?  And  look how sweet and docile she was:  

I really hated leaving this mosque.  This cat would have stayed on my lap for hours if I hadn’t gotten up to leave.    On the way out, I saw an interesting scene.  There was a dead pigeon on the ground.

A few cats were milling around the murder scene. If I were a lawyer, I’d have a little trouble defending this particular suspect:

We left this mosque and headed over to the Mimar Sinan market.  This market was nothing exciting, but the building was charming, and was located in a quiet square where locals gather on benches around a central fountain.   

I stopped at the fountain to relax and do some people watching. While sitting on the bench, I (of course) noticed a very cute kitten on the grass behind me, and she soon became a fixture on my lap.

After our little rest at this square, we prepared ourselves for the long uphill trudge that awaited us.

Our goal was the Cinili Mosque, also known as the Tiled Mosque, named for the amazing tilework inside.  We started our climb, through the  streets of this very working class neighborhood.  The  incline was very steep, and we were getting pretty tired.  Off to our right, high up on the hilltop, I spotted what I thought was the Tiled Mosque.  It actually turned out to be the Atik Valide Mosque, Sinan’s last great work and the most important Ottoman monument in Uskudar.  Built in 1571 and dedicated to Sultana Nur Banu, the mother  of Murad III and wife of Selim II, the  mosque was impressive, and had a great courtyard that opened onto a prayer hall adorned with delicate black, red and gold frescoes.

After leaving this mosque, we headed  back to the main road, and then continued our climb until we reached  our destination: the Cinili or Tiled Mosque.  This tiny mosque is adorned with Iznik tiles and an ornate chandelier.  The mosque dates back to 1640.  The tiles inside were really something.  

This is a relatively quiet neighborhood mosque.  I think Mark and I were the only tourists present.  A caretaker noticed me taking pictures with my camera, and he called me aside and showed me this tiny spiral staircase that lead to an upstairs balcony.  Up here, I had an even better view of the mosque and the stunning tiles.    

I didn’t see many cats around the grounds  of the Tiled Mosque, although I did see this cute little kitten as we were leaving:  

We headed back downhill after the Tiled Mosque.  We considered stopping at the Karaca Ahmet Cemetery, one of the largest Muslim cemeteries in the Orient, but decided to head back, take the ferry back to the European side, and check out Istanbul Modern, a contemporary art museum that opened  in 2004.  I love modern  art, and this was a really great museum.  It’s the only museum in Istanbul dedicated to the works of contemporary Turkish artists.  The museum is located in a warehouse by the water.

I love taking photos when I travel, as you can see.  It really bugs me when a tourist site has a “no photos” policy.  I can understand not allowing photos during a religious service, or no flash photography because they think the flash somehow damages the artwork.  But when a museum has an across-the-board no photo policy for no apparent reason, well, it brings out the rebel in me.  Istanbul Modern has a strict no-photo policy.  So, my dear readers, enjoy an illicit photo taken inside the museum.   

Am I a badass or what?   The day’s agenda was coming to an end.  As for our evening plans, I had something special on tap.  About a month before our flight, after a little online research, I went online and reserved two tickets to see a whirling dervish ceremony.    For those of you who have heard the term “whirling dervish”, but never knew exactly what it means, here’s the scoop.  In the 13th century, a Muslim mystic named Rumi began to incorporate “whirling” meditation into his teaching.  He believed that a dervish (a member of any of a number of Muslim ascetic orders), spinning in a circle, becomes part of the universal harmony.  By whirling, the dervish becomes one with the creator and the created.  I wanted to see this, but I was insistent on avoiding the touristy, fake “performances” that about in  many of Istanbul’s theaters and restaurants.  I wanted to see an authentic religious ceremony, if possible.   I ended up not seeing an actual ceremony, but I did see real dervishes, and I watched them spin to beautiful Sufi music performed live at the hall where the ceremony took place.    The music hall was located downhill from Topkapi Palace along the edge of the Bosphorus.

Walking there was enjoyable, as we trekked through streets that alternated between touristy and authentic.  On  all of these streets, cats were plentiful.  

We got to the dervish hall a half hour early, but that was good, because the place was filling up fast, and it was open seating.  Fortunately, we secured  ourselves seats in the second row.  The show started with a seven piece orchestra playing traditional Sufi music.  Then the dervishes entered the hall, and about a minute  into the next song, they started whirling.  

After the dervish ceremony, we trudged  back up the hill, back to Topkapi Palace, and then back to the Sultanahmet tram station.  Before we got to the station, we had to walk through Sultanahmet Park, and at this time of the evening, we were treated to an awesome sight: the Blue Mosque, lit at night, beyond the colorful fountain in the park.  Not  too shabby.  

With this view still in our minds, we headed back to the New District, found our favorite buffet restaurant on Istiklal Street, loaded up our trays, stuffed our faces, and then headed back to the hotel to call it a night.  

CONTINUE TO The Istanbul, Turkey Stray Cat Adventure Part 6

1 Comment

  • Anonymous
    Posted October 27, 2011 2:09 pm 0Likes

    I'm loving all your posts about your trip. Thank you for posting them! Can't wait to read more 🙂

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