Discover the Istanbul Women Created

Sharing is caring!

Can you see yourself staying in Aslan Place Apartment?

Famous as Turkey’s cultural capital, Istanbul has long been acknowledged as a great city. It’s packed with exquisite mosques, sumptuous palaces and a rich heritage extensively covered in hundreds of guidebooks, travel websites and blogs, yet few of them mention the fact women played a role in making it great. Like Pierre Loti Cafe, which probably wouldn’t still exist if a woman hadn’t got involved, Istanbul was built by women whose unofficial machinations made them more powerful than the sultans they married or the sons they birthed. Women who fought for their rights while helping to establish the Turkish Republic. Turkish women creating delicious food, gorgeous toys and majestic places of worship and women born in other countries whose hearts now belong to Istanbul. Their contributions are just as important those made by men, if not more so, because they’ve poured their souls into this vibrant city.

Here’s how you can see the city through the eyes of Istanbul women, visits the shops they run, eat the food they make and stay in the places they think of as home.

What to See/Do

Şakirin Camii

Şakirin Camii seen from the outside.
Ceiling as seen from women's section in Şakirin Camii

Seen from the outside, Şakirin Camii looks like a space ship has landed in the middle of a Turkish cemetery. A male architect was originally given the task of designing this mosque on the Asian side of Istanbul, but he resigned and Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu took on the job. She used her considerable talents and vision to create a truly 21st century place of worship, becoming the first woman ever to design a mosque.

It’s located in an active cemetery so there are always a lot of services being conducted but if you get the chance, go inside. The interior is fairly simple but viewed from the women’s section (set above the main prayer hall with an unobstructed view) you can see how Fadıllıoğlu has incorporated her passion for modernity with traditional Ottoman design features.

Nakiye Elgun

Do you know the location of this plaque dedicated to Nakiye Elgün?

I first saw the name Nakiye Elgün when I got off the bus in Kadıköy one day and noticed the plaque shown in this above photo. It made me curious, who was this woman surrounded by children and people holding up placards? I discovered it was Nakiye Elgün, a teacher and school director, one of the first woman to be elected to parliament in Turkey, and a champion of the rights of women and children. She had a career spanning the Ottoman Empire through to the founding of the Turkish Republic, and was a contemporary of the famous activist and author Halide Edip. Elgün was alongside Edip in Taksim Square where both made speeches about the Turkish War of Independence in 1921, yet unlike Edip, Elgün has been largely overlooked. Wanting to rectify this I did more research and discovered her life had been chronicled in a book written in Turkish. My feature on Nakiye Elgün was published in 2019.

Nakiye Elgun also spoke out for the rights of children in the 1930s

A statue was erected to Edip behind the Milyon Taşı in Sultanahmet but I don’t know if it’s still there. As for Elgün, all that remains are a street named for her in Osmanbey and this plaque. I’d love if next time you visit Kadıköy, you take the time to pay your respects to this remarkable women who helped create Istanbul. Even better, take a selfie and post it on social media.

Hünkar Kasrı

I wonder what awaits down the corridor at Hunkar Kasri?

Hünkar Kasrı in Eminönü is tucked away behind Yeni Camii, so it’s easy to miss. Decorated with exquisitely beautiful tiles, this pavilion is part of a mosque complex started for Safiye Sultan. She was Sultan Murat III’s (1574-1595) favourite concubine and obviously he wanted to make her happy. However when he died in 1595 construction was abandoned and didn’t start up again until 1661. This time it was at the instigation of Valide Turhan Sultan (1627-1683), mother of Sultan Mehmet IV. Believed to be the first complex of its type built by a woman, it contained a mosque, school, public fountains, a market and a tomb.


I want to buy all the dolls at Nahil. Do you have a favourite?

Established in 1986, Nahil is a local NGO selling hand sewn soft toys, handmade soaps and other souvenirs made by Turkish women. Nahil partner with local women’s groups to help them identify their particular needs, and enable them to improve on their pre-existing traditional practices to develop entrepreneurial skills and empower themselves. Every purchase directly helps the woman who made the item sold, as well as their families and wider community

Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam

Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam looks so inviting, doesn't it?

Roxelana was a woman some believe was more powerful than her husband Süleyman the Magnificent. Born around 1502 in what is now Ukraine, Roxelana was kidnapped by Crimean Tatars and transported to Istanbul where she entered the Imperial Harem. There she was renamed Hürrem, which means joyful and it’s said she used her sunny nature and pleasing personality to attract the attention of the sultan. Süleyman was so taken with her that he broke with convention and made her his wife, a status previously only granted to free noble women. She gave birth to six children but was better known in her role of Haseki Sultan, Imperial Consort, acting as the sultan’s adviser, liaising with foreign kings and overseeing public works.

Make like a Sultana and indulge yourself with a spa experience in the hamam she had built. The Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam was designed and built by Mimar Sinan, the chief Ottoman architect in 1556-1557 AD and is open for your delectation.

Where to Eat


This small restaurant in the Kadıköy suburb of Moda is run by two Istanbul women making and serving handmade pasta Italians would envy. The carefully structured menu offers first and second courses, accompanied by a good selection of Turkish wines.

Didem Şenol

One of the most well-known female chefs in Turkey, Didem Şenol returned to Istanbul after studying at the French Culinary Institute in New York. In 2010 she revolutionized Turkish fine dining with Lokanta Maya and went on to open Gram in 2012. A firm believer that team work is the key to her success, she now runs Kanyon Lokanta and Kanyon Corner in Levent and Orjin Lokanta in Maslak.


The tasting and ala carte menus at Cordon Bleu-trained chef and owner Aylin Yazıcıoğlu’s rooftop restaurant Nicole offer seasonal delights that showcase her creativity and passion. Along with intelligent wine-parings, the pristine year-round smoke-free environment of Nicole provides the ideal setting to sample, contemplate and extract the flavours.

Where to Stay

Istanbul Place Apartments

Have you seen Julia Bayne on the job in Pasha Place Apartment?

Stay in chic apartments that introduce travellers to the vibrant, multicultural history of Galata. They’ve been revitalized and styled with Boho grandeur to reflect the histories of the families who once lived there, by an English woman who thinks of Istanbul as home.

When Julia Bayne, co-owner of Istanbul Place Apartments, fell in love with husband Tarkan they lived in Istanbul for their first few years of married life and then in the UK, Julia’s home country. Seeking a middle ground they moved to Singapore and became expats. When Julia became pregnant with their son they both wanted a way to keep him connected to his Turkish roots, and so the idea for the business was born.

Check out the ceiling in Pera Palace Apartment!

In the apartments, Julia and Tarkan meld the best of their two cultures and backgrounds. Together they pick an apartment to work on. Julia uses her ability to see beyond the neglect and create contemporary designs sympathetic to the original character while Tarkan communicates with property owners, the authorities and tradesmen. The results speak for themselves. They’re a great place to base yourself during your stay in Istanbul, especially if you visit Istanbul in winter.

Imagine reading Inside Out In Istanbul in the hamam at Petraki Place II Apartment

When you book your stay with Istanbul Place Apartments don’t forget to book direct and use the code Insideout22 so they know I sent you.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post about Istanbul women and it gives you some new ideas for when you visit the city I call home. Discover more lesser known places with my travel guide Istanbul 50 Unsung Places and really feel the city’s vibe.


In the process of planning your trip to Istanbul or Turkey? Here are my helpful tips.

For FLIGHTS I like to use Kiwi.com.

Don’t pay extra for an E-VISA. Here’s my post on everything to know before you take off.

However E-SIM are the way to go to stay connected with a local phone number and mobile data on the go. Airalo is easy to use and affordable.

Even if I never claim on it, I always take out TRAVEL INSURANCE. I recommend Visitors Coverage.

I’m a big advocate of public transport, but know it’s not suitable for everyone all the time. When I need to be picked up from or get to Istanbul Airport or Sabiha Gokcen Airport, I use one of these GetYourGuide website AIRPORT TRANSFERS.

ACCOMMODATION: When I want to find a place to stay I use Booking.com.

CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: Let me guide you around Kadikoy with my audio walking tour Stepping back through Chalcedon then, once you’re done sightseeing, read about what you’ve seen and experienced in my three essay collections and memoir about moving to Istanbul permanently.

Browse the GetYourGuide website or Viator to find even more ways to experience Istanbul and Turkey with food tours, visits to the old city, evening Bosphorus cruises and more!

However you travel, stay safe and have fun! Iyi yolculuklar.

Similar Posts


    1. Thank you Leyla, that is great to hear! I think you’ll find lots of other posts to enjoy and also recommend you read my books. I had a quick look at your design page (nice aesthetic) and see you live on the other side of the city from me. I think you’d probably like my latest title, Longing for Istanbul, very much. It’s available at Mephisto Bookstore on Istiklal.

  1. I love to read about strong, intelligent, caring women. I will be back in Turkiye in 6 weeks snd hopefully will find some of these places. Thank you Lisa I enjoy all your articles.

    1. Hi Gail, Thanks so much for sharing your appreciation of my articles. I have a genuine passion for Istanbul and Turkey, and love to let people in on the discoveries I make. Good luck on your upcoming trip. I know you’ll enjoy it.

  2. What an honour to be included in such an esteemed line-up! Thanks Lisa :))

    It’s a great angle on life in Istanbul across time. I believe many of the beautiful marble neighbourhood drinking fountains were petitioned for and then built by women too, which has always been an inspiration to me – such a lovely touch across the city.

    But of course there’s always more to be done…

    1. You and Tarkan deserve the honour. You both work so hard!

      Now you’ve piqued my curiosity and I’ll have to add ‘discover fountains petitioned for and built by women’ to my never ending list of things to see and do in Istanbul. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.