We're wrapping up a week of people's favorite things about Turkey with a guest post from long-time Turkish Muse reader Dion Good.
Past the Blue Mosque, down the hill beyond the end of the old Hippodrome toward the Marmara shore, away from the tourist crowds, is a sleepy neighborhood clustered around one of the oldest structures in İstanbul, Kuçuk Aya Sofya (Little St. Sophia).
The mosque itself is nestled right up against the old city wall. Enter the compound and make an immediate right and you will find yourself in one of the loveliest çay bahçeler (tea gardens) in all of Turkey. It occupies one side of a courtyard complex that was once part of a church cloister (the mosque was originally a Byzantine church, and you can still see Latin inscriptions on the walls inside). It now houses a cultural center and a couple of book shops in addition to the çay bahçe. In the center of the courtyard is a garden with a fountain, and shade trees.
Surrounded by cool stone walls in the shadow of the mosque, the past is present here, more so than in more famous places thronged with tourists. It is a dreamy place, where, for a few hours, you can read a book and forget which century you are from. Ottoman tombstones dot the mosque’s yard and a rear gate opens onto an ancient cobbled street which leads away along the original sea wall.
The mosque has been renovated recently and some of the decrepit buildings around it have been torn down. It is almost a pity; some of its character has been lost. Yet I will continue to come here each time I am in İstanbul, because it is a place where the past still feels accessible, where one can feel connected to the river of life which is history.
About the Author: Dion Good is a cartographer living in San Francisco. He has worked for Lonely Planet, Affordable Travel Press, Art-Sites Press, and The Intrepid Traveler.