It doesn’t seem as if many tourists make the trip across the Bosporus to the Asian side of Istanbul: our fellow passengers on the Saturday morning trip to Üsküdar had shopping bags rather than cameras. But it was worth a visit, not just to escape the crowds on the European side, but also to get a glimpse of a very different part of the city.
Tiled Mosque of Üsküdar
There are apparently more than 180 mosques in Üsküdar, but our target was the Tiled Mosque (Çinili Camii), a 20 minute uphill walk away from the town. It seemed to be shut when we arrived, but an elderly man standing by the door spotted us and beckoned us in. We stopped to take our shoes off and I realised I didn’t have a headscarf with me, so I hastily put on my jacket and pulled the hood up! We were the only visitors so we had the place to ourselves.
The mosque was small but impressive. It was built in 1640 for the wife of Sultan Ahmet 1 and the walls are covered with traditional blue Iznik tiles. The custodian opened a side door for us and we climbed a treacherously steep and narrow spiral staircase to reach the upper floor, giving us a better view of the tiles. A slight moment of panic when we realised we had no change for the offertory plate on the way out, but a handful of small euro notes proved perfectly acceptable.
Close to the Mosque are the recently restored Çinili Hamami, traditional Turkish baths dating back to the 17th century, although we didn’t have time to try them out.
Spices, fruit and lunch
The aroma of the small covered market greeted us before we went inside, a rich mixture of fresh fruit and vegetables. We saw piles of gleaming vine leaves, vegetables we couldn’t put a name to and, of course, stalls selling sticky Turkish cakes and pastries. Just outside the market were a couple of spice shops with long strings of herbs and chillies hanging outside. For anyone wanting to buy spices to take home this would have been a much better location than the overcrowded Spice Market in central Istanbul.
We stopped for lunch in a traditional lokanta, a basic café where I was pleased to note that we were the only tourists (although the dual language menu suggested this might not be the case in the high season). Although the staff spoke little or no English they were friendly and efficient. When I tentatively ordered something that was not available, the waiter gestured that I should follow him to the cooking counter so that I could see what was on offer and choose for myself. A very nice meal of lentil soup, chicken and vegetables, followed by tel kedayif (a sort of soft fat baklava) and thick strong Turkish coffee.
Back at the waterfront we resisted the offer of a guided tour from an enthusiastic shoe-shine man and stood for a while watching the lines of fishermen who seem to crowd into every available space on both sides of the Bosporus.