Based on a recent article published by Turkey's largest daily, Hürriyet, here's my list of what's worth tripping for -- and what's not:
|Sinan's seaside Şemsipaşha Mosque (late 16th C.)|
One of the oldest sanctuaries in town, this mosque was commissioned by Şemsi Paşa -- one of Süleyman the Magnificent's most powerful governors -- in 1580. But this petite mosque derives its importance not from its founder but from its architect, the great Mimar Sinan. It exemplifies this master craftman's decades of experience, as much as, say, his Süleymaniye mosque does from its perch high atop the Golden Horn. It is said that birds do not land on nor soil its minaret and dome out of respect for Sinan's spectacular design. It's perhaps why this building is nicknamed Kuşkonmaz (or birds do not land).
Why go? Located in Üsküdar on Istanbul's Asian flank, this building's tour (along with its sprawling complex that includes a library) can fill about an hour. Lunch at the traditional Kanaat Lokantası, and a stroll through this center's renown antique bazaar will reward the intrepid traveler.
|Ortaköy Mosque (late 19th C.)|
Gracing the eponymous, popular square, this mosque's finishing touches were performed in 1855 by Ottoman Imperial (or Celebrity, in these parts) Nigoğos (pronounced Neegohos) Balyan. This diminutive sanctuary was commissioned by the reformist and Western-friendly Abdülmecid Sultan. It was named Büyük Mecidiye Camii Grand Imperial Mosque), but its diminutive size trumps its name. But what it lacks in grandeur it makes up in the meticulous attention to detail and unique ornamentation that's synonymous with its drafter's last name; the Balyan's spawned four generations of imperial architects. Inside, a two-story pew built for the sultan himself occupies most of the building's left flank. The mosque's quay, a popular spot to gaze at the rippling currents of the Bosphorus and the old quarters over the sesame seed-encrusted tea ring known as simit, was designed to welcome the Ottoman emperor on his approach from the straits and provide him with a direct access to the royal pew.
Why go? Ortaköy's a lively square on the weekend, particularly on Sunday when the weekly market's in full swing. Popular hangouts to people-watch, the restaurants, bars, and tea houses lining the cobblestone lanes in and around the square's are inanely hip.
|Valide Sultan Mosque (late 19th C.)|
Built by Sarkis Balyan and drawn by his , this mosque also goes by the name of Pertevniyal Sultan, the Wallachian mother of Sultan Abdülaziz. She commissioned it in 1871, and the building has been open for worship ever since. The square it towers over was once impressive, but the demands of the growing city that surrounds it have constricted the property between a web of thoroughfares.
Why go? Aside from its mosque, the district doesn't offer much touristic appeal. It does, however, serve as a destination for the Russian luggage trade.
|Rüstem Paşa Mosque (mid-16th C.)|
Located at the Mercan entrance that leads into Eminönü's Tahtakale vibrant shopping quarter, this smallish mosque is also attributed to Mimar Sinan. The great Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent commissioned this building for his son-in-law (Rüstem Paşa) in 1561. The adjacent buildings house spice traders, whose heady wares lend tantalizing aromas as visitors check the uniquely bold İznik faïence decorating the sanctuary's inner walls.
Why go? Rüstem Paşa's mosque is as intricate as Sultanahmet is grand. For its time, the level of mastery depicted in the tiles is striking; the hard-to-achieve red pigment found in Iznik tile-making was first introduced here. When done, the surrounding area is your oyster: check out Eminönü's Spice Bazaar, fun Tahtakale, or even the Galata Bridge and its restaurants lapped by the Golden Horn.
PRAY = DUA ET (Pron. Dooah Eht)