Living history in İstanbul

Kılıç Ali Paşa Külliyesi

Kılıç Ali Paşa Külliyesi

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.

Kılıç Ali Paşa Camiii dome

Kılıç Ali Paşa Camiii dome

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.

The Museum of Innocence, 83 cabinets, one for each chapter

The Museum of Innocence, 83 cabinets, one for each chapter

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.

Tarihi Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi

Tarihi Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi

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.

2 thoughts on “Living history in İstanbul

  1. Dear Chip — Beautiful pictures of what looks like a perfectly beautiful city! And, in your first picture today, a gorgeous, sunny sky! Glad you are taking it all in! Love to you both! Rhoda

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  2. Thank you, Chip, for another entertaining and informative post. Please keep them coming. This one made me think about why I have had no interest in visiting the country despite enjoying “Snow”. I did not, however, enjoy the book “The Museum of Innocence” although I was compelled to finish the book by the rhythm of theft; how the actual Museum of Innocence was compiled, how items clung to him or were stolen by him was so disturbing. The tiny, obsessive claims accumulated – some perverse, some pathetic, all sickly obsessive and solipsistic – and so destructive of her, yet unable to see her end. His behavior killed her, but even after, it seemed it was all about him. From the two of his books that I have read, I am not sure that Pamuk even enjoys living there. The current political drift surely would worry him.
    But the video tour was interesting and the museum does beckon.

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