The beauties of the Bosphorus strait which winds through Istanbul and on to the Black Sea have been praised in lyric terms by countless writers over the centuries.
Its picturesque shores became the favorite place to spend the hot summer months for sultans and subjects alike, and waterfront palaces and mansions sprang up along the strait. This was why the 20th-century poet Yahya Kemal described the Bosphorus as the ‘summer capital.’
Mosque minarets stand sentry duty in all the villages along the strait, but attention is rarely paid to these usually small and modest mosques. As novelist Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar commented, ‘theirs is not an imposing sultanate like Beyazid, Suleymaniye or Sultanahmet. These are tiny mosques that seem to melt into the privacy of the city.’ Indeed, if it were not for their minarets, they would hardly be distinguishable from the houses around them.
Most of the scores of mosques built for the Muslim communities which settled in the Bosphorus villages are like old but wise men with bent backs waiting patiently for our attention. Let us begin our tour at Uskudar on the Asian shore at the southern mouth of the Bosphorus, and travel north as far as Beykoz. Our first stop is Silahtar Abdurrahman Aga Mosque, also known as Pasalimani Mosque, on Pasalimani Caddesi, which links Uskudar to Kuzguncuk. This mosque was built by the armorer to Mustafa III in 1766. It is a fevkani or two-storey mosque, with the mosque proper on the upper floor. The ceilings and floors are of wood. On the southwest face of the minaret, the plinth is a sundial bearing the date 1766. Next, we come to the charming Uryanizade Mescit next to Cemil Molla Kosk. This small mescit (a mosque not used for Friday prayers) resembles a miniature ‘yali’ or waterfront house and was built by Uryanizade Ahmet Esat Efendi, seyhulislam (chief of the doctors of canonical law) to Abdulhamid II (1876-1909).
On the ground floor of this timber mosque is a boathouse. Another exciting feature is the stubby minaret with a balcony in the form of a pavilion. From Cengelkoy, which is one of the few places on the Bosphorus to have preserved its former character in parts, we go to Kuleli. Here Kuleli Military College looks just the same as it did when Thomas Allom illustrated it in his engravings in the early 19th century. Next to it is one of the loveliest Bosphorus mosques, Kaymak Mustafa Pasa Mosque, built in 1720 by Kaymak Mustafa Pasa, son-in-law to Nevsehirli Ibrahim Pasa. This rectangular stone mosque with a wooden roof was extensively restored in recent years. The portico and royal gallery were added in 1837. On the seafront next to the quay is the unassuming Vanikoy Mosque, built in 1665 by Vani Mehmet Efendi. Mahmut I (1730-1754) added a royal gallery to the rectangular mosque, which has masonry walls and a pitched roof. Now we come to Goksu, a favorite picnic and excursion place in the 19th century.
Here we find Anadolu Hisari Mosque, also called Fatih Mosque, again of the two-storey type with a royal gallery built by Sultan Mehmet II (1451-1481) according to Huseyin Ayvansarayî in his book entitled ‘Hadikatul Cevami.’ This mosque was initially on the seafront but rebuilt in its present position when the new road between Hisar and Kanlica was constructed.
Next to Kanlica quay, where rowing boats of all colors are moored, is Iskender Pasa Mosque, one of the smaller but beautiful works of the most celebrated 16th-century Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. It has a wooden portico and stone-walled courtyard, and on the grounds are the tomb of the founder and a horologe room. Leaving behind this district famous for its beauty on moonlit nights, we come to Beykoz, the last stop on the Asian shore. In the square here, the Fountain of Ishak Aga is more striking than the mosque.
This is one of the so-called Ten Fountains, and the sound of running water makes a pleasant sound like the older men waiting for prayer time sit in conversation under the plane tree. Beykoz Mosque was initially built by Bostancibasi Mustafa Aga but rebuilt entirely in 1809, like so many other old mosques. It is another two-storey mosque, with a wooden roof and portico, and has a horologe room.
Now we crossed the Bosphorus to the European shore and passing the seething crowds of Ortakoy came to Kurucesme, a name which means ‘dry fountain.’ Although the sister of Kopruluzade Fazil Ahmet Pasa had the fountain repaired so that its water flowed again, the name remained. The mosque on the landward side of the road here in the 15th-century Tezkirecibasi Osman Mosque. Built of travertine stone, it has shops on the ground storey. The pulpit, ceiling, and floor are of wood, and outside is a fountain adorned with Seljuk stars and cypress motifs.
From Kurucesme, where once royal permission was needed to live, we go north to Arnavutkoy, famous for its strawberries. Next to the historic police station is Tevfikiye Mosque, built by Mahmut II in 1832. Since the Bosphorus current is at its strongest here, the mosque is also known as Akinti Burnu (Cape of the Current) Mosque. It is built over a basement floor, with masonry walls and a wooden roof. There is a portico, royal gallery, and horologe room.
Next, we come to Bebek, one of the most popular places to live on the Bosphorus. Bebek Mosque was initially built in 1725 by Damat Ibrahim Pasa and dedicated to Ahmet III. When it fell into disrepair, it was demolished and rebuilt in the early 20th century by Mustafa Hayri Efendi, director of pious foundations. The new mosque was designed by chief state architect Kemalettin Bey in the neo-classical Turkish style. It is a little mosque with a single dome and three-bay portico.
Our next stop is Kulle-i Cedide, better known as Rumelihisari. Here are two mosques of interest, the first Haci Kemalettin Mosque, otherwise known as the Carsi Mosque. This was originally a mescit (a small mosque not used for the Friday prayers and without a minaret) but converted into a mosque in 1743 by Mahmut I. It is a two-storey building with restaurants on the ground floor, masonry walls, and a wooden roof. In front of it is a fountain dated 1777. The second mosque here is Ali Pertek Mosque at the bottom of the hill opposite the old landing stage. Also known as Hamam Mosque, its founder was a Turkish sea captain, Pertek Ali Bey. Built of rubble stone, hewn stone, and brick, there is a fountain at the corner of the south wall known as Rakim Pasa Fountain.
Passing Baltalimani Mosque, whose original character was lost in 20th-century repairs, we come to Emirgan, famous for its park with pretty pavilions. This district is named after Emirguneoglu, who surrendered the Fortress of Revan to Murat IV in 1635 without a fight.
He was rewarded by the rank of pasa, and in Istanbul took the name Yusuf Pasa. Emirgan Mosque faces the famous spreading plane tree of Emirgan, under which writers and intellectuals used to gather for conversation in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was founded in 1781 by Abdulhamid I in memory of his son Mehmet who died at an early age and his mother, Humasah Kadin. It was built on the site of the magnificent waterfront palace of Emirguneoglu Yusuf Pasa and rebuilt during the reign of Mahmut II. It is a square mosque with a wooden roof, and adjoining the eastern façade is a two-storey wooden hunkar kasri (royal pavilion used by the sultan when he visited the mosque). The horologe room next to the fountain is now occupied by a snack bar.
A little further on, we come to the deep bay of Istinye, once known as the Little Golden Horn, where there were shipyards in Ottoman times. Today there are modern motorboats and yachts moored all around the bay, overlooking, which is Mahmut Cavus Mosque.
Beyond Istinye is Yenikoy, a pretty and prosperous village since the eighteenth century. The name ‘new village’ was given by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent in the 16th century. One of the loveliest mosques here is Osman Reis Mosque near the quay, founded by sea captain Osman Aga. After being repaired on numerous occasions, it was rebuilt entirely by Ahmet Arif Pasa in 1903 and is regarded as one of the most charming examples of neo-classical Turkish architecture. The interior walls are covered with stenciled decoration.
In Buyukdere, where long centuries ago, the crusader army is said to have camped in the shade of no more extended extant great plane trees, there are two buildings we should see. The first is the 16th-century Cerrah Mahmut Efendi Mosque on Cayirbasi Caddesi. This masonry walled, wooden roofed mosque has a fountain in its graveyard wall built in 1783 by High Admiral Cezayirli Hasan Pasa. The second mosque of interest here is Kara Kethuda Mosque. From the shore, only the minaret and part of the roof are visible through the trees.
This two-storey mosque has masonry walls and a wooden roof. The mihrab niche is decorated with Kutahya tiles. Extensive alterations have been carried out over the years. Sariyer, famous for its pastries, puddings, and ice-cream, is the last stop on our tour. This district has always been a popular summer retreat, with its green woods and meadows, clean air, and therapeutic spring water. Ali Kethuda Mosque was repaired in 1720 by Maktul Mehmet Aga. When the new coastal road was built on piles along this part of the Bosphorus a few years ago, the mosque lost its position on the seafront. It is a rectangular building with masonry walls and a wooden roof. As we look at the lovely view from Sariyer landing stage for the last time and prepare to wend our way back, we can remember what Huseyin Cahit said of the Bosphorus: ‘We should experience this place as a land of poetry and dreams, in the scenery and customs of its past and life.’
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