The sun had just started its daily climb from the horizon when the commuter train was driving towards the main station at Sirkeci. People were on their way to work; I was out early to take advantage of the softer light. I did not mind the short wait at the boat stop at Eminönü, watching the busy boat traffic on the Bosporus and the Golden Horn go by, and quickly walked to the upper deck of the boat to get a nice view and enjoy the warmth of the sun which was already quite strong at this time of the day. Watching the boats was quite amazing; it must be one of the busiest straits in the world. When we were half way, several mammoth ships were on their way to the Black Sea through the Bosporus straits. I jumped ashore in Asia after a 15 minute ride, and directly walked to the Şemsi Paşa Camii right on the waterfront. Behind it, several men were trying to catch fish in the choppy waters of the Bosporus; I entered the small courtyard of the late 16th century mosque, which I found closed. I walked around it, and found a possibility to peek into the mosque and appreciate its stained glass windows through an open window from the tiny cemetery with its slender white tombstones with gracious Arabic calligraphy.
Continuing to follow the waterfront, I soon stood face to face with the Maiden's Tower, on an islet just off the coast of Üsküdar. When Üsküdar was still called Chrysopolis, the tower was built after a naval battle; from here, an iron chain spanned the Bosporus to the other side, protecting the city and the Bosporus against invaders. After Constantinople was conquered anyway in 1453, the tower was used as a watchtower, destroyed in an earthquake, and burned by a fire. It also served as a lighthouse and quarantine station; now it merely is a tourist spot. And yes, the views of the tower, and especially of the European side of Istanbul with the Aya Sofia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi palace, as well as the Golden Horn and several neighbourhoods, are very enjoyable. The tower is commonly called Leander's tower, but this is a misnomer since the legend of Hero and Leander did not take place here at all. It is also knowns as Maiden's Tower, after the legendary daughter of a sultan who held her here in protection from snakes, only to lose her anyway by the bite of a snake. More recently, the tower starred in several movies, one of which a James Bond film.
From the coastline at the Maiden's Tower, I walked up through narrow streets, passing small squares, crossing a busy street and walking up stairs to reach probably the most beautiful mosque of Üsküdar. There is a sizable courtyard where I saw a few old men sitting in the shade, one old tree and another enormous tree trunk, and when I approached the entrance of the Tiled Mosque, or Çinili Camii, I realized its decorated wooden door was closed. I sat in the sun, one of the old men started to talk to me in Turkish of which I did not understand much more than a few words; after a while, a warden came to open the door to me, and enthusiastically showed me around in its bright interior, opening up the windows so the circulation cooled off the place. The 17th century mosque was renovated quite recently, and it shows; but there are still several original parts, especially a wooden ceiling with coloured carvings, and the famous faience for which this mosque is famous. The dome looks quite new, while the mihrab, surrounded by coloured tiles looks attractively old. The first floor is reserved for women; in one corner of the first floor, a balcony-like structure was once used privately by the sultan. After soaking in the peaceful atmosphere and the beauty of the Tiled Mosque, I thanked the warden, and had a look at the tall white tombstones in the cemetery adjacent to the mosque before walking back to the waterfront where I walked past the oldest hammam which has been converted into a shopping area, and Yeni Valide mosque, before heading back to the boat that would take me back from Üsküdar to Eminönü, Europe.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Üsküdar (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Üsküdar.
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