Architectural Walking Tour (Self Guided), Istanbul

Istanbul can offer its visitors quite an unforgettable experience when it comes to architecture. Here you can admire both the architectural achievements of the long vanished Eastern Roman Empire and its influence and the traditional Ottoman-Arabic style. Take this tour to see some of the best examples these architectural styles.
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Architectural Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Architectural Walking Tour
Guide Location: Turkey » Istanbul (See other walking tours in Istanbul)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.4 Km or 3.4 Miles
Author: kane
1
Fatih Mosque

1) Fatih Mosque (must see)

The Fatih Camii (“Conqueror’s Mosque”) is one of the largest examples of Turkish-Islamic architecture in Istanbul and was built over the original site of the Church of the Holy Apostles.

Constructed during 1462- 1470 by Sultan Fatih Mehmet (Mehmet the Conqueror), the Fatih Mosque is distinct in its construction. It consists of a hospital, a caravansary, kitchens, a marketplace and several hammams (Turkish baths). The mosque also houses a madrassah (Islamic school) which can accommodate over 1000 students.

The Sultan wanted to make a spectacular structure and when architect Atik Sinan was unable to create a mosque higher than the Avasofya (Hagia Sophia), the Sultan ordered both his hands cut off. Located atop the highest hill in Istanbul, the Fatih Mosque consists of a tall central dome, and semi-domes on all four sides.

An earthquake devastated the structure in 1771, and the complex went under major restoration by Mustafa III. From the original complex, the inner courtyard, the madrassah (Islamic school) and the mihrab (prayer direction niche) survive today. The mosque’s interior has many depictions of Islamic Art. Outside the mihrab wall, the tombs of Sultan Mehmet II and his wife are found.

Why You Should Visit:
Maybe the best mosque to observe the culture & architecture of conservative Turks (you won't see many non-Muslim tourists).
Surrounded by numerous shops where you can find various spices, sweets etc. (on Wednesdays there's a big open market, too).

Tip:
Make sure you go in to see the very beautiful designs but please take off your shoes and wear long trousers/skirts (ladies should bring a scarf).

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-6pm (closed at prayer times)
2
Şehzade Mosque

2) Şehzade Mosque

The Şehzade Cammi translates to the Prince Mosque from the Turkish language. This is an Ottoman Imperial mosque located in the Fatih district in Istanbul.

Sultan Suleiman I commissioned the mosque in memory of his son, Prince Mehmet, who died at the age of 21 of small pox. Hence the name of the mosque - Sehzade, or Prince. It was completed in 1548, and was the first major commission of the Imperial Architect Mimar Sinan. The mosque is still considered by historians as the first masterpiece of Ottoman architecture created by Mimar Sinan, who went on to complete many mosques and monuments after this.

The mosque complex, also called the Sehzade complex contains two madrassah (Islamic schools), kitchens which served food to the poor and a caravansary. The tomb of the prince is also located in the mosque complex. The mosque and its courtyard are separated from the rest of the complex by a wall. The courtyard is bordered by 5 bays that are domed on each side. White and pink marble arches are also present here. An ablution fountain is present in the center of the courtyard, a later donation by Sultan Murat IV. The mosque’s interior is simple, and does not have any galleries.
3
Bodrum Mosque

3) Bodrum Mosque

Formally known as “The Church of the Monastery of Myrelaion” or “The Place of Myrrah”, the Bodrum Mosque used to be a cross-in-square designed church in Istanbul. Bodrum translates as “basement” from Turkish, and this probably refers to the crypt that is still present beneath the mosque. The church was converted into a mosque by Ottoman Grand Vizier, Mesih Pasa, in 1500.

The mosque was damaged by fire in 1784 and 1911 and it was also abandoned for some time, until the Istanbul Archaeology Museum tried to replace most of its architecture with masonry during the 1960s. The mosque lost some of its historic appearance due to the renovation. A cistern was also restored during the 1990s and has been converted into an underground shopping mall.

The wooden portico that was present inside the mosque has been demolished during the many restorations and renovations that mosque has undergone. None of the original mosaics and marble revetments that decorated the church remain today and the mosque is surrounded on all four sides by apartment buildings. Regardless of the many restorations the mosque has endured, its crypt and interior are still worth visiting as they date as far back as the Byzantine period.
4
Süleymaniye Mosque

4) Süleymaniye Mosque (must see)

Built by Suleiman “The Magnificent” and the famous Imperial Architect Mimar Sinan in 1557, the Süleymaniye Mosque is modeled in part on the Hagia Sofia, and in part on a Byzantine Basilica, in order to reflect the grandeur of the city’s past architectural monuments.

In 1660, the Süleymaniye Mosque was ravaged by fire and was restored by Mehmet IV. Unfortunately, restoration work has changed the mosque into a baroque-style structure and ruined the original architecture. The mosque has undergone many restorations ever since. Today it is one of the most popular tourist sites in Istanbul.

The mosque complex consists of a caravanserai, an imaret (public kitchen), a madrassa (Islamic school), a hospital and a hammam (Turkish bath). The public kitchen was constructed to serve food to the poor. The gardens behind the mosque consist of Turbe (tombs) of the great Sultan Suleiman, his wife Roxelana, his mother Dilasub Saliham, his daughter Mihrimah and his sister Asiye. The tombs are fashioned on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The mosque is distinct from others as it contains the tomb of the great architect Sinan, designed by the occupant himself.

Why You Should Visit:
Great picturesque neighborhood, fewer tourists, sensational views of the city and quite a peaceful and solemn overall experience.

Tip:
To really enjoy the views, go down and find some restaurants on the rooftops of the buildings close to the mosque.
If you have trouble walking up and down, consider renting a (reliable) taxi cab or plan your ascent/descent accordingly.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm
5
Beyazıt Tower

5) Beyazıt Tower

The Beyazıt Tower is an old fire tower made of stone that was built in the year 1828. It stands at the site of the old wooden fire towers, made during the ancient times, which were actually swallowed up by flames. The 85 meter high tower stands in the old quarter of Istanbul, and it is still used today as a fire tower.

Before Aga Huseyin Pasa built a stone fire tower in 1828, two wooden fire towers had already been destroyed by flames. The tower can be visited by tourists, but a special permission needs to be taken in order to visit it. Ever since it was built, the tower has been manned 24 hours a day. In the olden days, fires all across the Bosphorus Strait could be spotted from the tower, from the Golden Horn all the way to Yesilkoy.

Today visibility has been greatly been reduced due to air pollution, and the tower is also used to predict the weather forecast for the following day. Colored lights have been fitted on the tower that depict different kinds of weather conditions, and they also guide ships sailing into the Golden Horn when the Ataturk and Galata bridges are closed off.
6
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

6) Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) (must see)

This monumental structure was once an Orthodox patriarchal Basilica, then a mosque, and now, finally, is a Museum in the city of Istanbul. It was built in the fourth century by Constantine the Great as a Church, and it has seen much of the changing ruling powers of Istanbul ever since.

Many people mistake it as being dedicated to Saint Sofia, but the church was, in fact, originally dedicated to the second person of the Holy Trinity, and its full Greek name is “Church of the Holy Wisdom of God”, with Sophia meaning “Wisdom”.

Before its takeover by the Ottoman Turks in 1435, the church housed many holy relics. It was converted into a Mosque by Sultan Mehmed II, and it remained a mosque for the next 500 years.

Located in the Sultanahmet neighborhood, Hagia Sophia is, without doubt, one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture and was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1985. It houses many decorations that make it distinctive and it is famous for its beautiful mosaics that decorate the entire structure.

Why You Should Visit:
Unique in it being both a church and a mosque, with respective symbols omnipresent.
Even if you are not familiar with Byzantine history, you will surely be impressed.
The multi-domed enclosure is so mesmerizing you can't take your eyes away from it!

Tip:
Should you want to visit multiple museums, buy a Museum Pass at the Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts as there are few people in the line (the queues at the Hagia Sophia are usually enormous and it can take an hour or more to get a ticket). The Museum Pass (valid for 5 days) allows you to queue-jump and gets you into other museums/attractions as well.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-7pm, last entrance: 6pm (Apr 15-Oct 31); 9am-5pm, last entrance: 4pm (Nov 1-Apr 14)
7
Fountain of Ahmed III

7) Fountain of Ahmed III

The Fountain of Ahmed III is also known as the Ahmet Çeşmesi in Turkish. The fountain is located in front of the Imperial Gate of the great Topkapı Palace in Istanbul at the site of an older Byzantine fountain called Perayton. The fountain is a Turkish rococo structure. The fountain of Sultan Ahmed III was built in 1728 under Ottoman sultan Ahmed III. During the Ottoman period, it was a very popular gathering place and social center.

The fountains architecture is a combination of contemporary western and traditional Ottoman styles. It consists of a large square block along with smaller domes. Foliate and floral designs decorate the Mirhab (a niche present in mosques) shaped niches present in the four facades. Each façade contains a çeşme (drinking fountain). An octagonal pool inside the kiosk supplies the water and there is space for an attendant to stand inside the fountain as well. Sherbet or water is distributed from behind a grille to people, free of charge.

Large calligraphic plates are present above the drinking fountains, which are bordered with red and blue tiles. These plates bear calligraphy of a fourteen line poem about water, donated by Seyyid Hüseyin Vehbi bin Ahmed.
8
Topkapi Palace

8) Topkapi Palace (must see)

For most tourists, the Topkapi Palace is usually number one on the list of places to visit in Istanbul. This grand palace was the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans for almost 400 years and is also a UNESCO world heritage site since 1985.

The Topkapi Palace is built on a huge scale with four courtyards and a Harem, and each location therein houses incredible displays of Islamic art, holy relics and history. The most prized collection is that of the Islamic relics which include the Prophet Mohamed’s (PBUH) sword along with the swords of his closest companions, the cloak of his daughter Fatima and other holy relics.

The spacious grounds, the many gardens and rest stops are ideal for strolling at one's leisure, but most of the exhibits have very long waiting lines especially the Harem and the Islamic Relics displays. There is a museum shop, a cafe and also a coffee shop for tourists. To visit all the exciting places and displays in the Topkapi Palace, you need a full day or, ideally, a tour should be booked.

Why You Should Visit:
Probably the world's finest museum of applied arts; as someone who loves beauty, you will cry from the visual experience of some of the objects displayed.
And, obviously, at the end of your tour, you're welcome to take a walk around the cafe area that overlooks the Bosphorus Strait... Breathtaking!

Tip:
Do come early in the morning to avoid crowds and rent the audio guide (available in several languages) to maximize your experience.
If you do want to rent the audio guide, make sure you have your ID document ready.
Note that you can not take photos or videos in most of the exhibit halls.

Opening Hours (Museum, Harem and Hagia Irene):
Wed-Mon: 9am-6:45pm, last entrance 6pm (Apr 15-Oct 30); 9am-4:45pm, last entrance 4pm (Nov 1-Apr 14)

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