Rustem Pasha Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

In Search Of Two Mosques (Without A Map)

Derek Turkey 37 Comments

Rustem Pasha Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Luckily, there’s no shortage of places to explore in this city known as Istanbul, so when I arrived at the Grand Bazaar yesterday morning only to discover that it is closed on Sundays, I knew that my day would by no means be a failure. In fact, given that the sun was actually shining for the first time in a while, it suddenly seemed to be the perfect day to visit two different mosques that had been recommended to me.

HIRKA-I SERIF

This mosque is perhaps the most elusive in all of Istanbul. Despite several locals informing me that a visit to Hirka-i Serif was a must (in order to view the Holy Cloak of the Prophet Mohammed), nobody could tell me where it was actually located.

Time and time again, all I kept hearing was that it could be found “somewhere in the Fatih section of the city.” Well, yesterday, that was good enough for me, so upon leaving the Grand Bazaar, I began walking west.

Hirka-i Serif, Istanbul, TurkeyThe journey to Fatih proved to be extraordinarily long in the end, taking almost an hour and a half. However, the reason it took so much time actually had nothing to do with it’s location, which I later discovered was a mere 3 km from where I had started. But since I was not carrying a map with me, the route I chose to follow was based upon my vague memory of glancing at a map the day before. As a result, I walked about 4 kms past Fatih without even knowing it. When I finally stopped to ask someone where I could find Hirka-i Serif, I’d say that it was his non-stop laughter and shaking of his head that made me realize I had lost my way.

Eventually, I did reach Fatih, although, after asking several more people for directions, I was still unable to locate Hirka-i Serif. Of course, this was most likely due to the obvious fact that I don’t speak Turkish and therefore didn’t understand the directions, but it was fun to walk around thinking that even the residents of Fatih had no idea where this mosque is located.

Despite asking the fruit vendor, cigarette smoker, kebab maker, businessman and water delivery boy for help, I came up empty each and every time. However, I did get a chance to explore Fatih quite thoroughly, perhaps more thoroughly than any other foreigner before me! It turned out to be a great area to wander around with its hilly cobblestone roads, well-kept parks, abundance of interesting cafes and bakeries and a peaceful atmosphere that almost felt out of place in the middle of this massive city. I will admit that nothing really stood out as overly memorable nor did I have any life-changing experiences, but it was undeniably a most pleasant section of the city to explore.

And I did end up stumbling upon a handful of interesting sights, such as the Bazi Mosque, Roman column of Marcian, a couple of former Byzantine churches and the Fatih Mosque, all of which I found without even trying (literally). I somehow even managed to discover an excellent vegetarian restaurant, where I proceeded to enjoy a wonderful feast of lentil soup and baked potato stuffed with vegetables. And while the waiter inside this restaurant was as friendly and helpful as could be, even he couldn’t lead me to Hirka-i Serif.

What he did end up leading me to was a dead end and a dumpster, at which point I began to think about abandoning my search altogether. Then, about five minutes later, after walking up a random and very steep street, I suddenly found myself standing in front of a mosque. Amazingly, it turned out to be Hirka-i Serif.

Unfortunately, though, it was closed.

The courtyard was open, but the mosque itself was not. And so after exactly 4 hours and 20 minutes of searching, I just took a seat on a bench and let my exhaustion overcome me. Thirty minutes later I woke up with drool dripping down the side of my chin and a family of nine staring at me from only a few feet away.

Worth it? From the outside, Hirka-i Serif appeared quite basic but of course, I have no idea what it’s like inside. Regardless, I highly recommend trying to find this place, especially by walking, as it’s an opportunity to explore several unique neighborhoods far from the main tourist areas of the city.

Location: Karagümrük neighborhood of the Fatih district of Istanbul

RUSTEM PASHA MOSQUE

A friend of mine sent me an email the other day that mentioned the following:

Someone I know highly recommended the Rustem Pasha Mosque, behind an almost-hidden flight of stairs near the spice bazaar. And he described it in such loving detail and awe that now I’m aching to go.

After reading that email I immediately put this mosque at the top of my to-do list!

So as soon as I woke up from my nap at Hirka-i Serif, I started walking in what I believed to be the general direction I needed to go. Thirty minutes later I found myself in the thick of an intense market near the main university, a market that had infiltrated a never-ending cluster of narrow, impossible-to-navigate lanes and alleys, all of which were now packed with the Sunday shopping crowd. As you can imagine, it was quite exhausting trying to make my way through the mass of people, so after being pushed around for a while, I decided to take a break in the tiny shop of a random orange juiceRustem Pasha Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey vendor.

While drinking my two glasses of freshly squeezed juice, I asked the young guy if he happened to know where I could find the Rustem Pasha Mosque. He quickly smiled and started pointing to the left. I then spread my hands wide apart, attempting to ask if it was far away from where we were. “No, no, no,” he said and continued pointing towards the left. I turned around, looked where he was pointing and sure enough, the Rustem Pasha Mosque was right in front of us.

Entering through a barely visible cave-like opening set into what appeared to be an incredibly ancient structure, I was utterly shocked to discover such a magnificent, yet tiny, mosque wedged into the middle of this market. I quickly took off my shoes and entered the building and after a mere five minutes of sitting on the floor, it became official. This was my favorite place in all of Istanbul.

Peaceful, beautiful and hypnotic are the first three words that come to mind, but I’m quite sure that there are hundreds of powerfully positive words out there that could easily be used to describe this mosque.

A few minutes after my arrival, the mosque’s security guard entered the main room and out of courtesy, I simply asked if it was okay for me to sit down for a while.

“You stay as long as you want,” was his reply.

And so I did. I remained inside for what proved to be the most enjoyable afternoon I’ve spent in Istanbul thus far.

Worth it? Without a doubt! This mosque isn’t even on many of the maps that I’ve looked at but it’s actually located near, and is quite visible from, the main entrance to the popular Spice Bazaar. And while the Blue Mosque is insanely impressive, Rustem Pasha Mosque allows you to have a much more intimate and personal cultural experience.

Location: Hasırcılar Çarşısı (Strawmat Weavers Market) in the Eminönü section of Istanbul

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Comments 37

  1. ashwinbahulkar

    I loved both these mosques,and yes, it was difficult finding them. When someone pointed to the stairs up the Rustum Pasha mosque, I was like, are you serious? But wow..what a gem!!

  2. szaza

    I’m so happy to hear you visited my most favourite mosque in Istanbul— I love Rüstempasa. The tiles are exquisite and the pocket of serenity in the midst of traffic jams and yelling vendors is priceless.

    By the way, Turkey is not actually part of the Middle East. I would say perhaps “Near East”, but Turks will reject and even sometimes get offended if they are called Middle Eastern! I suppose it would be like calling Mexicans, Americans? 🙂

    It’s wonderful to hear you are enjoying your stay here!

    1. Earl

      Hey Samantha- Rustempasa is such an incredible place. Entering from the market you have no idea what to expect and suddenly you’re in this magical room that can’t really be described, as you know.

      And the Middle East term is a confusing one for me. I have researched it quite a bit and every single definition I’ve found of the Middle East includes Turkey even though people living here apparently don’t agree 🙂

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  4. Maria Staal

    I have never been to Instanbul, but reading your post, I want to go there immediately! It sounds like you are having a great time. I’m looking forward to reading more about your adventures!

  5. Amanda

    Getting lost is one of my favorite things to do (as long as I still feel safe, of course). You can find so many things you might miss otherwise. It sounds like your day was really successful!

    And reading your posts about Istanbul really have me dying to go there. It’s been at the top of my list for some time, and I really need to figure out how to make it happen!

    1. Earl

      Hey Amanda – That’s what I love about getting lost. We are forced to walk around completely aware of our surroundings at all times and end up noticing so much more as a result.

      Glad to know that Istanbul is so high on your list!

    1. Earl

      Hey Moon – As soon as I have some time I will put together some more photos to show. I’ve taken so many that I think it’s going to take a while to sort through them all 🙂

  6. Natalie

    Hey Earl!!

    I am so jealous. I never knew about these mosques so never visited them before. I want to get inside the first one to see the cloak.

    Also can not believe you have not had an Efes!. First one is on me if our travels cross paths!

    1. Earl

      Hey Natalie – Well, I just learned today that the cloak at Hirka-i Serif is only available for viewing during Ramadan, so I guess you have some time before you can have a look.

      And as for the Efes…Ive actually recently developed an allergy to beer! So I guess I’ll stick with the Raki while you enjoy your Efes 🙂

  7. Cam

    The mosques in Instanbul are incredible, I could stare at them for hours (but that might get kinda weird). Your post is well written, I’m feeling like I’m there right now! I’ll be in Ankara on Nov 7, perhaps our paths will cross at a market bazaar… 😉

    1. Earl

      Hey Cam – Are you coming only to Ankara??? It would be great to meet up in this part of the world. I shall let you know where I am as the time gets closer. Then we can both be weird and stare at some mosques for hours 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Andi – Every day has been an incredible workout. I just got back from about 4 hours of walking along the Bosphorus and am ready for a good nights sleep 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Caz – I’m not sure I’ve been to a better city than Istanbul for aimless wandering. I’ve been doing it every day and it never gets old!

  8. Shannon OD

    It sounds like such a wonderful day of simply wandering and discovering – those are the best. You’re making me hunger for the simplicity a day where your only goal is to interact, experience and drink fresh OJ. 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hopefully that day will come soon Shannon 🙂 After your intense work schedule right now, you’ll deserve a trip to a far away land to drink fresh juice all day! Even better than the OJ is the pomegranate juice…better get here before the season ends!

  9. Ozzy

    Earl, you just described exactly why I love traveling without a map. With no map you are forced to interact with random people to find your way and that in and of itself can be a lot of fun and you always meet interesting people. But the other half is the part that I love the exploration of a new place and discovering things you never intended to but end up being utterly amazing.

    Ozzy

    1. Earl

      Hey Ozzy – I was actually talking to someone today about how even though I don’t have a map or a guidebook, I somehow still manage to find the same places as everyone else. And without a map, we end up visiting a handful of other interesting sights/neighborhoods along the way as well. As a result, instead of just the destinations being special, the entire process of finding them without having a clue is often equally or even more rewarding.

  10. Bessie

    Sometimes wandering aimlessly can be wonderful days. Glad you found both of the mosques you were looking for – sounds pretty successful. Oh, and your mention of lentils & baked potatoes made me drool, and I’m rearranging my dinner plans in search of lentils. 🙂

  11. David

    Glad that you’re having a great time in Istanbul.
    You should try drinking Raki with some locals. Probably the worst drink I’ve ever tried (tastes worse than Tequila or Vodka), but lots of fun.

    1. Earl

      Hey David – Well, I can agree with you about the Raki. I tried some the other night and it literally took me three hours to finish one small glass (and I kept mixing it with water). Not really one of my favorite drinks of all time, although apparently in Eastern Turkey you can get fig flavored Raki which is supposedly much, much nicer to drink.

    1. Earl

      Hey Jenny – That’s always my problem as well. Here I am in the Middle East and suddenly I start reading posts about Africa and I start wondering if I should head down there! Piece by piece we’ll get there…

    1. Earl

      Hey Alan – Funny you should ask. I just found out about an Indian restaurant close to where I’m staying so I’ll be eating there within the next couple of days. It better be good as it will perhaps be the priciest Indian meal I’ve ever eaten.

      And I have yet to try Efes…but the reason deserves an entire blog post of its own. Coming soon….

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