Discover Uskudar – the City of Gold

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Old wooden house in the backstreets of Uskudar

Uskudar, set on the edge of the Bosphorus opposite the hipper and more popular Beşiktaş neighbourhood, is often dismissed as being too conservative and suburban. Yet once upon a time it was a vibrant and exciting city. It was founded in the 7th century BC by Greek colonists who gave it the name Chrysopolis. Whether the name Golden City referred to the fact the Persians had a gold depository there, or due to its association with Agamemnon and Chryseis’ son Chryses, we’ll never know for sure. What is certain is that the harbour provided the perfect staging point in the wars between the Greeks and the Persians.

Memorial cenotaph Haydarpasha cemetery

In the 12th century the city was rechristened Skoutarion. It was named for a palace of the same name nearby, but is better known to English history buffs as Scutari. The area became associated with the work of Florence Nightingale who developed modern nursing techniques there during the Crimean War. A small museum dedicated to her work still operates in Selimiye military barracks. The cemetery laid out on the slopes below are testimony to the huge losses incurred through battle and contagion.

In the 18th century Uskudar would have been abuzz with travellers from all corners of the known world. Caravans arrived here every month from cities as far afield as Persia and Syria, composed of hundreds of camels carrying carpets, rugs, spices, scents, slaves and gold. At other times great crowds would gather to farewell pilgrims starting off for Mecca. Holy men attended to pray for the success of their journey while jugglers, acrobats and musicians entertained the waiting crowd.

According to European visitors to Uskudar at the time, these spectacles were viewed from the Field of the Falconers, now known as Doğancılar Parkı. At one point the Sultan kept a team of 3,000 royal falconers at this location. Unlike other trades, the falconers were exempt from taxation. The famous writer and traveller Evliya Çelebi also claims this is the place where Hezarfen Ahmed Çelebi came to land after taking off from Galata tower, using wings constructed from eagle feathers.

Despite the change wrought on the suburb over the centuries, important examples of Ottoman and Turkish history remain. Mimar Sinan, the famous Turkish architect, created my favourite Uskudar mosque, the small but perfectly formed Semsi Paşa Camii.

Cloth cut from the covering of the Kaaba in Mecca

The Air Force recreation centre, located across from the mosque was originally built on the orders of Sultan Abdulmecid as a police station. Later on it served as the Uskudar Anadolu Sport Club where many of the older residents of Uskudar used to play football, practice wrestling, boxing, swimming, sailing, weightlifting and rowing.

Mihrimah mosque interior

The recently restored Mihrimah (Sun and Moon) Sultan Mosque sits atop a raised platform, majestically dominating the waterfront. It is one of two mosques built by Mihrimah Sultan, the daughter of Süleyman the Magnificent. She was also the wife of the Grand Vizier Rustem Paşa. Designed by Mimar Sinan it was built between 1546 and 1548.

Yeni (Cedid) Valide Cami, with itsmagnificent wrought iron birdcage tomb, is believed to have been built by Sultan Ahmet III for his mother Gülnuş Emutullah in 1708-10 However, some sources say it was built by Sultan Ahmet IV. Although it was built in the Tulip age, it is actually classical in style.

Away from the waterside, up the hill in Toptaşı, a neighbourhood of Uskudar, is Çinli Camii. Named for the beautiful Iznik tiles that line the interior, it was built in 1640 by the architect Kasım Ağa for Kösem Maypeyker Sultan, the wife of Ahmet I (1603-1617). It is another small gem of a place where I had an interesting experience that became a story in my latest book Longing for Istanbul: The Words I Haven’t Said Yet. If you really want to make a day of it you can visit Kız Kalesi, back towards Harem, or Kuzguncuk, further up the Bosphorus in the opposite direction.

Many people and a lot of history have passed through Uskudar, greatly altering its character over the years. However look beyond the squat structure of the Marmaray entrance and the noise and chaos of the buses, dolmuş vans and taxis, and you’ll find a rich and rewarding history awaits you.


Planning to come to Istanbul or Turkey? Here are my helpful tips for planning your trip.

For FLIGHTS I like to use

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

all six books written by Lisa Morrow

CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: Let me guide you around Kadikoy with my audio walking tour Stepping back through Chalcedon or venture further afield with my bespoke guidebook Istanbul 50 Unsung Places. I know you’ll love visiting the lesser-known sites I’ve included. It’s based on using public transport as much as possible so you won’t be adding too much to your carbon footprint. Then 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.

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