İstanbul is a city of contradictions––part Europe and part Asia, part ancient empire and part modern democracy, part bustling metropolis and part quiet byways. It’s hurtling toward the future with modern buildings, massive construction projects, and crushing traffic, but it’s also a city filled with its history, which is to a large extent the history of much of the world.
Today we saw some of the latter. We visited the Kılıç Ali Paşa complex, including a camii (mosque), a medrese (seminary), a hamam (bath), a türbe (tomb), and a çeşme (fountain). It’s in Tophane, which is part of the Beyoğlu district, on the shore of the Bosporus. It was built by Kılıç Ali Paşa, following the design of the great architect Mimar Sinan. Sinan was 90 when he began the project and 98 when he finished.
It’s beautiful inside and out. It shows one of Sinan’s specialities, a massive structure, which is surprisingly delicate and full of light. There are 247 windows including 24 for the central dome. Try the virtual tour.
One legend about the site is that when Kılıç Ali Paşa decided to endow a mosque, he applied for a grant of land. The Grand Vezier said: “Since he is the admiral, let him build his mosque on the sea.” Kılıç Ali Paşa brought in rocks and built the mosque on an artificial island connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway. The complex is now well inland, since the sea was filled during the construction of a modern port.
Another legend is that Miguel de Cervantes was a forced worker at the construction of the complex during his enslavement, like the character in Don Quixote.
We also saw The Museum of Innocence. Orhan Pamuk created it, based on the museum in his novel of the same name. He calls it “a declaration of love to the city of İstanbul.”
Visiting the museum is like experiencing an alternate reality version of the book. You read or listen from the book as you view the exhibits, which are described in the book. The cabinets are numbered to correspond to the chapters, so it’s a museum about a book, a book about a museum, and a multimedia creation about life in İstanbul. The cleverness of it all is fun and doesn’t get in the way (though almost) of Pamuk’s thoughtful, melancholic writing.
Tonight we had dinner at Tarihi Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi, where Atatürk used to eat. It feels like eating in a restaurant from the 1920’s. The walls are covered with photos and news articles from its 150 year existence.