AN EASY WALK

This walk begins with the Kariye Camii, or Church of the Chora, next door to the hotel. The original building stood outside the early walls of Constantine, begun in 326 AD, hence its name which means "in the forest". The mosaics and frescoes inside the church are the finest in the city and should not be missed.

From the Kariye Camii, follow the street upwards to meet the Theodosian walls, a vast bastion of stone towers, ramparts and ditches with which the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II (408-450) enclosed the seven hills of the new Rome in the fifth century. They were built in two months to protect the city from Atilla the Hun.

Here stood the Palace of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, now called Tekfur Sarayı. All that remains of its imperial glory is a three-story facade decorated in geometric designs of brick and marble. Climbing up to the first storey, one can view the land-walls stretching all the way south to the Sea of Marmara. The walls from this point down to the Golden Horn are twelfth century, built by the Emperor Manuel Comnenus.

Continuing north, following the line of walls from the inside, to Ivaz Efendi Camii, a pretty sixteenth-century mosque attributed to Sinan, the architect of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

Behind the mosque are the ruins of the Palace of the Blachernae where Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus greeted the First Crusade.

Following the road down towards the Golden Horn we come to the Ayazma of the Blachernae, one of many sacred springs in the city. It is reached through a gate in the wall and across a pretty garden. The church is recent, although the original was built in 451. The waters are said to be healing, and this Ayazma is a special place of prayer for the intercession of the Virgin, and her protection of the city.

Turning left at the Golden Horn, we follow Boyacı Feshane Caddesi along the waterfront for less than a kilometre to the Eyup Sultan Mosque and Tomb. On the way we pass the Feshane, a fez factory dating from 1841 which has been renovated in somewhat gaudy style.

Eyup (Ayyub Ansari) who gave his name to the small town on the Golden Horn was the standard bearer in the army of Mohammed and fell in battle in the unsuccessful siege of Constantinople in the late seventh century. The tomb was rediscovered after a prophetic dream during the successful Ottoman siege of 1453. It is an important place of pilgrimage for Moslems. The famous Pierre Loti cafe on top of the hill beyond is a romantic spot to end this walk.

THE WALK DOWN TO FENER

Another church near the hotel is Panaghia Mouchliotissa -"Church of St Mary of the Mongols"- a tiny place in the charming but impoverished district of Fener. It is the only Orthodox church which has been continually in use since before the conquest of Istanbul in 1453. It was built by a Byzantine princess in the thirteenth century who had been married off by the Emperor to the Mongol Khan. Later, after her husband's murder, she returned to found a convent and this church.

Below the church and further down the Golden Horn is the imposing Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. Three doors lead into the Patriarchate. The centre door has a rather tragic story. When the Greek independence movement began in 1821, the Patriarch was seen as not doing enough to quash it and was hung from the main door. It has not been used since.

The left door leads onto the Ayios Yeroyios church, which dates from the 1700s. Compared say, to the Vatican in Rome, this headquarters for Greek Orthodoxy is amazingly modest. Nonetheless, many of the valuable religious items remaining in the possession of the dwindling Greek Orthodox population in Istanbul are stored here.

The Fener area surrounding the Patriarchate was once home to this population and its houses are typically Greek in style. Although many are rundown and dilapidated, this neighbourhood is slowly being revitalised by an artsy crowd who appreciate the architecture, and the cheap real estate prices!

The large, red brick Greek High School dominates Fener from the top of the hill. Although only about a dozen students attend it today, the school was an important centre of education from 1881 onwards.

On the way back, visit the Fethiye Camii, the Thotokos Pammakaristos, which was built in the 12th century. The second chapel, which has been converted into a museum was added onto the original in the 14th century. It was made into a mosque by Murat the Third in 1591 and the interior was altered accordingly. The smaller chapel is famous for its Byzantine mosaics, which may not be as magnificent as those of Kariye but are nonetheless fine examples of late Byzantine art.

THE MOSQUE WALK

This walk takes in two of Istanbul's less frequently visited Ottoman imperial mosques: Fatih Camii, the mosque of Mehmet the Conqueror, and Yavuz Selim Camii, built by Selim I, father of Suleiman the Magnificent and conqueror of Egypt.

The Fatih Camii was built between 1463-70, a decade after Mehmet conquered the city. He chose a site on top of one of the city's seven hills, a tradition that later rulers would follow. The site was formerly occupied by an important Byzantine church, the Ayi Apostoli. It is hard to know exactly what the mosque looked like because the original was destroyed in an earthquake in 1766. It was rapidly restored by Mehmet Tahir Agha, a famous architect of that time, and completed by 1771.

The Yavuz Selim Camii is on a terrace overlooking the Golden Horn, crowning the city's fifth hill. It has a charming courtyard with cypresses and a serene domed interior which seems to reflect Selim the First's love of simplicity. Selim's grave is in the garden behind the mosque.

Visit Fatih on a Wednesday when it transforms into a busy and colourful market, one of the biggest in Istanbul.

Mihrimah Sultan Camii, just inside the Edirne Gate, a five minute walk from the hotel, is a masterpiece of light and femininity built by Sinan for Suleiman's daughter Princess Mihrimah. The leafy courtyard is surrounded by rooms which were occupied by students of the local "medrese", or religious school. The interior decor was restored by Abdulhamit the First, after being damaged in two major earthquakes.

A TAXI RIDE AWAY

Within a short 10 minute taxi ride away are the more familiar landmarks: Topkapı Sarayı, closed Tuesday, the Ottoman sultans palace with amazing collections of jewellery and china. Ayasofya, the basilica of Justinian (closed Mondays), Yerebatan Sarayı- the basilica cistern, Ibrahim Pasa Sarayı, the museum of Turkish-Islamic art in the 16th-century palace of a grand vizier, Sokullu Mehmet Pasa Camii, a fine smaller tiled mosque by Sinan below the Hippdrome, Kapalıçarşı, The Grand Bazaar, and Süleymaniye Camii, the grandest of Istanbul's classical mosques.

Within a short 10 minute taxi ride away are the more familiar landmarks which can definitely make your cheap holidays to Turkey unforgettable: Topkapı Sarayı, closed Tuesday, the Ottoman sultans palace with amazing collections of jewellery and china. Ayasofya, the basilica of Justinian (closed Mondays), Yerebatan Sarayı- the basilica cistern, Ibrahim Pasa Sarayı, the museum of Turkish-Islamic art in the 16th-century palace of a grand vizier, Sokullu Mehmet Pasa Camii, a fine smaller tiled mosque by Sinan below the Hippdrome, Kapalıçarşı, The Grand Bazaar, and Süleymaniye Camii, the grandest of Istanbul's classical mosques.

 

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Kariye Oteli