Tarihi Gedikpasa Hamami was built in 1475 by Hayrettin for Gedik Ahmet Pasa, a statesman and naval commander during the reign of Sultan Mehmet. Hayrettin was considered one of the most important architects of the period and is regarded by many historians to be the teacher of Mimar Sinan.
Tarihi Gedikpasa has the largest dome of any hamami in Istanbul and is one of the most important Ottoman historical buildings in this city. It serves both men and women in segregated parts of the bath. I check in at the front desk and am led to a room with a bed and a chest, where I could disrobe. I wrap myself in the thin striped cotton towel that they handed me on the way to the room, slip on rubber flip flops, and lock the door behind me. I am led into the bath.
The heat nearly takes my breath away. A series of domes peppered with round glass windows at the top, allow beams of sunlight to illuminate the marble lined room. I am led to one of three marble fountains along the wall, where I am doused with water from a plastic bowl, which is then handed to me so l can continue to wash. I am then motioned to lay down on the large marble platform under the center dome. It feels like it is heated. I am wrapped in the now-soaked striped towel but am motioned to take it off and to lay on top of it instead.
In an American spa, you are met with white coated attendants who drape you discreetly in a comfortable but clinical setting. My Turkish attendant is a middle-aged woman in a black bikini. She begins...
I am scrubbed head to toe with a heavy luffa mitt. Sit up for more scrubbing. Lay back down as a cotton sheet filled with suds is laid across my back, giving the sensation of being smothered in a blanket of heavy cream. More washing. More turning. Rinsing. Back again for massage and hair. Rinse again. Sit and steam ...
The final step is being led to a pool of cool water that did not smell of salt but which made me feel more buoyant than I know I am. The pool is blue tiled, and under another dome with shafts of light coming down through the small squarish windows and piercing the water. The photo below is not the ceiling of this hammam but is of a similar one elsewhere in Istanbul. I am floating as much in shafts of light through heavy windows, as in the cool water of the pool...
There are traces of frescoes throughout this hamami, but no paint could survive so many centuries of steam. I wondered what deals had been struck, what intrigues planned, what gossip shared or weddings arranged over the centuries here. I walk out into a common area, where I am dried off with a heavy Turkish towel and shown back to my changing room. If I lived here, I'd do this at least once a week ...
Gedikpasa Hamami, Hamam Cadessi No :61, Gedikpasa www.gedikpasahamami.com
Traveler's tip: Book your visit to a hamami on a Monday when most sites are closed, and use it as the halfway point of your visit. A standard bath is TL35, splurge for the full treatment for TL50 which includes a massage. Remember to bring a bottle of water; this experience, like any spa treatment, will dehydrate you.
Completely refreshed, I walk to the Grand Bazaar for lunch. My waiter is half Turkish, half German, raised in Boston. My meal is a chicken dish cooked in filo, served in tomato sauce, accompanied by yogurt and garnished with french fries, a culinary detail which continues to baffle me. The salad is the traditional mix of tomato, onion and cilantro, almost like a salsa.
I spend my lunch time watching people. Turks refer to East Indians as Blacks. I do not know what Turks call Africans, or if they make a distinction. People who work in the service trades need to be competent in at least 5 languages and the successful ones like Cihan have working knowledge of closer to ten. The hospitality and general attitudes towards others here borders on the unreal. People offer to help you almost before you ask, from trying to give you directions, to helping mothers with strollers as they traverse stairs and trams.
It's time to find the University of Istanbul, and behind it, Suleyman Camii. I discover a street of craftsmen that I nicknamed "Metalsmith Alley".
Traveller's tip: Mimar Sinan Cadessi, the street that runs along the backside of the University campus, is where you want to buy things after you have experienced the Grand Bazaar. I stopped to watch this artist (whose name I believe is Ercan Tekin) as he engraved Turksh coffee sets on the sidewalk outside of his shop and bought a few of his wares. There were a number of working metal shops here, as well other artisan merchants and at least one antique store.
Erzincan Turistik, Bakir el Sanatlari Hediyekik Esya, Mimar Sinan Cad. No:53/C, Suleymaniye, Istanbul, www.erzincanturistik.com
I arrive at the mosque when it was closed for prayer so I try unsuccessfully to locate Barbarossa's statue and tomb. There are several major restoration projects occurring in Istanbul right now, and much of the Suleyman complex is not accessible. I buy a traditional pair of hand knit wool socks from a vendor just outside the wall. The purchase takes nearly all of my remaining cash. Noticing this, the vendor smiles and slips a bottle of water into my bag before sending me on my way.
Sultan Suleyman Camii was built on one of the seven hills of the city by Mimar Sinan, and is the largest square based semi-domed mosque he ever designed. It was finished in 1557. A 90 foot wide dome is supported by four 'elephant's feet' pillars which are masked by an arcaded gallery to give the illusion of an immense open space. Mimar imbedded juniper beams among the stones in the foundation to absorb shocks from earthquakes. To improve the accoustics, 255 empty pots were incorporated into the dome. Soot from the oil lamps was directed by a venting system to a chamber, where it was collected for use in calligraphy ink.
The colors are very sedate compared to other mosques and I found the Suleyman Camii to be among the most calming of any I spent time in in Istanbul. The sound of tens of pairs of shoes dropping to the marble step in unison as men and women left after prayers, is a sound that still reverberates in my ears, weeks after having heard it...
Here are additional photos of the Sultan Suleyman Camii.
Sultan Suleyman, called 'Lawgiver' by the Turks, reigned from 1520-1566 and was the longest ruling sultan in the history of the Ottoman Empire. He reformed Ottoman law in keeping with Islamic principals and commissioned the building of mosques, schools, hans (hotels), baths, bridges, hospitals, and a large library. Sciences, art and literature flourished during his reign, in part due to his financial patronage. He was referred to as The Magnificent in recognition of these works which he did to serve his religion and his nation. His reign marked the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire.
Sultan Suleyman's philosophy is best described in his own words, excerpted from a letter he sent to one of his governors: “...This world is transitory, so do not be enticed and deceived by it. Spend all your belongings and riches to the muslim people of the Empire. Be good to people... Help the poor and needy. Protect the scholars. Do not permit any person to starve...Help also the foreigners so that they will see the Justice of the muslims and get to love us...”
Chief Architect Mimar Sinan, called Sinan the Great by the Turks, was born into a Christian family sometime between 1494-99. He was recruited into the Janissaries when he was 14-18 years old, and went on to become a military engineer. The campaigns and wars he was engaged in allowed him to see the architecture of several different cultures, which may have formed his own style and skills. Over the fifty years that he served as Chief Architect, Sinan was responsible for the design, construction and restoration of 477 buildings and public works, about 20 of them of which still stand in Istanbul. The Suleyman Camii is regarded as one of his greatest achievements.
On my way home I shop a street lined with button shops, fabric shops, and more kitchen shops than I have seen in one place with the possible exception of Chinatown. I finally find the tiny spoons which complete my glass tea sets. I visit Sinan's tomb, a very modest structure tucked away under a wisteria arbor. I think I walk past a synagogue, mosque-shaped but with a Star of David window above its door. I also find an English book store and allow myself to splurge, having decided days ago to trade my carpet for an Islamic library.
With daylight still left, I head to the Galata Bridge. The top deck was studded with an array of food vendors hawking roasted corn, roasted chestnuts, and savory breads. The rail is lined with fishermen, pulling small silver smelt-like fish out of the sea on their multi-hook lines. I sit down on the curb and watch the boats traffic in and out, pushing the surf up over the retaining wall. I return home via the bottom deck of the bridge which is lined with restaurants.
I now want to figure out if I can stay here an extra day. Plans for tomorrow include the Ayasofya and perhaps the art museum.
Back at Hotel Han, I am seated at Captain's Table for dinner. Cihan confers with Baha and suggests a shrimp/tomato/cheese casserole which is served sizzling on a brazier. It's a nice presentation. I order Raki. Cihan brings two glasses to the table, one filled with water, the other with a single shot of Raki, and pauses over the shot with a bottle of water, but I wave him away. Both he and Baha watch me drink it, straight up. It tastes like ouzo.
Baha asks what my plan is for tomorrow. "The Ayasofya and the museum," I say. “You must go to Princes Islands. Very Important.” And he instructs me to take the second train station past the art museum to the end of the line which is the Kabatas ferry terminal. One island has a castle, another has a famous church, another has very nice houses. And he makes notations on my map. He gets a phone call and says he needs to leave to meet up with his family. He grabs his jacket, and invites me to come along.
I experience Turkish traffic from the car's point of view as he weaves through streets that don't even look passable. We arrive at Lasos Fish Restaurant, where a small group have already gathered. Baha introduces me to Mustafa, one of his friends. Raki is ordered, and a little later a plate of tuna sashimi and onion arrives, followed by a plate of melon wedges and sheep cheese. Mustafa is quite animated and has an opinion on a lot of topics. I seem to be an anomaly, 'that American woman who drinks her Raki straight.' Mustafa asks me if I am Irish. At the end of the evening Baha walks me to the cab stop, gives instructions to the driver, and sends me on my way. And a new adventure begins...
The cabbie get off the freeway, and stops at a cab stop to ask for directions to the hotel. And again a few blocks later. And again. Between stops and turns he mutters “Hotel Han” and “Allah Allah” and throws his hands up in the air. A dry cleaner is shutting down for the night, the cabbie stops to ask him directions. Some random guy is standing on a street corner and cabbie stops for directions but I don't think Random Guy speaks Turkish.
We get to the walled city and I start pointing at signs for Yerebatan and the Cistern. I also point straight ahead at the Ayasofya because I can walk home from there. There's more muttering of "Hotel Han Hotel Han" and "Allah Allah," and the raising of hands to sky. By now I'm the one praying to Allah... I really want out of this cab but I cannot get him to stop. I point once more to the sign for Ayasofya which he takes literally, and starts driving across the pedestrian plaza to the mosque. NO!
Finally, after eight stops for directions and a countless litanies of “Hotel Han Hotel Han Allah Allah,” we arrive at the Hotel Han. His meter says more than TL35 but he only charges me what he had quoted. I tell him “Good Job” and we both laugh, though who was the greater relieved between the two of us, would be a pretty hard call...