As of May 2021, I am migrating most of my travel journals to Daveno Travels where I am reissuing them as Director’s Cuts, with full text and previously unpublished photos. This is an excerpt from my first trip to Istanbul in 2011.
After spending my morning in the historic Tarihi Gedikpasa (Turkish bathhouse), I set out to find the University of Istanbul, and behind it, Suleyman Camii. I discover a street of craftsmen that I nicknamed “Metalsmith Alley”.
Travel tip: Mimar Sinan Cadessi, the street that runs along the backside of the University campus, is where you want to buy things after you have experienced the Grand Bazaar. I stopped to watch this artist (whose name I believe is Ercan Tekin) as he engraved Turkish coffee sets on the sidewalk outside of his shop and bought a few of his wares. There were a number of working metal shops here, as well other artisan merchants and at least one antique store.
I arrive at the mosque when it was closed for prayer so I try unsuccessfully to locate Barbarossa’s statue and tomb. There are several major restoration projects occurring in Istanbul right now, and much of the Suleyman complex is not accessible. I buy a traditional pair of hand knit wool socks from a vendor just outside the wall. The purchase takes nearly all of my remaining cash. Noticing this, the vendor smiles and slips a bottle of water into my bag before sending me on my way.
Prayers conclude, and I remove my shoes, cover my hair, and enter the mosque. The colors are very sedate compared to other mosques and I find the Suleyman Camii to be among the most calming of any I spent time in in Istanbul. The sound of tens of pairs of shoes dropping to the marble step in unison as men and women left after prayers, is a sound that still reverberates in my ears, weeks after having heard it…
Sultan Suleyman, called ‘Lawgiver’ by the Turks, reigned from 1520-1566 and was the longest ruling sultan in the history of the Ottoman Empire. Sciences, art and literature flourished during his reign, in part due to his financial patronage (a thing he had in common with the Medici). He was referred to as The Magnificent in recognition of these works which he did to serve his religion and his nation. His reign marked the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire.
Chief Architect Mimar Sinan, called Sinan the Great by the Turks, was born into a Christian family sometime between 1494-99. He was recruited into the Janissaries when he was 14-18 years old, and went on to become a military engineer. The campaigns he was engaged in allowed him to see the architecture of several different cultures, which may have formed his own style and skills. Over the fifty years that he served as Chief Architect, Sinan was responsible for the design, construction and restoration of 477 buildings and public works. The Suleyman Camii is regarded as one of his greatest achievements.
On my way home I shop a street lined with button shops, fabric shops, and more kitchen shops than I have seen in one place with the possible exception of Chinatown. I finally find the tiny spoons which complete my glass tea sets. I visit Sinan’s tomb, a very modest structure tucked away under a wisteria arbor. I think I walk past a synagogue, mosque-shaped but with a Star of David window above its door. I also find an English book store and allow myself to splurge, having decided days ago to trade my carpet for an Islamic library…