Crossroads Tour – The Horn, Astrolabes, and a Holy Place –

I’m ready to go by 7:30 AM, with three days remaining and a long list of things to see. I step out onto my balcony and see the sidewalk has sprouted a rainbow of tables, and a grey haired man with a black cap has set up his shoe shine kit on the corner.

A brass shoe shine kit. I would see several of these during my stay.

Baha asks me what my plan today is. “The Science Museum,” I say, “and the Galata Tower.” “Where is your map” he asks, which is now our daily routine. “You must go here,” as he circles a mosque at the north end of the Golden Horn. “It is very important mosque.” It wasn’t on my agenda, but I’ve learned not to question Baha’s suggestions.

I hurry on to the Islamic Science Museum, eager to see how it compares to the Galileo Museum in Florence. There are globes in the entryway, but unlike the ones in Florence, these are not enclosed in glass.

The first room is filled with astrolabes — case after case, and a third of them are originals. I start snapping pictures of the originals and their accompanying signage, but take few notes as I expect that information will be in the museum catalog.

17th century astrolabe, a navigational device

The next room is filled with sundials and clocks. The next one, model siege weapons. SIEGE WEAPONS! No cases! No ropes! No barriers! I am furiously fighting the urge to sit down on the floor and play with ALL THE THINGS…

I wander through rooms of medical instruments, weather instruments, steam engines, distilleries, kilns, books and maps, and a model of the Mezquita Mosque in Cordoba, which would ultimately inspire my next trip.

Model of the Mezquita Mosque in Cordoba.

I reach the end. Where’s the museum store? No gift shop? No catalog? ARGH!!! Had I known, I would have taken better notes…

Here are more of my annotated photographs from this museum.

After a brief respite near one of the fountains in Gulhane Park, I set out to find the ferry. There’s construction at the Galata Bridge and I cannot follow the waterfront to the ferry dock. After awhile, I notice a parade of people, and then I see the sign marking the ferry dock. I follow the parade and scramble behind them over piles of broken concrete which is doing its very best to disrupt our pathway.

I arrive at the ferry ticket office and ask for a round trip fare, via pen and ink pictographs with the ticket officer. He gives me two brass tokens, one for each way. I pop one into the turnstile and wait inside the building.

  • The Golden Horn is a four mile long natural harbor which served as the main commercial port for Constantinople during the Byzantine era. The Byzantines protected the port by blocking it with a huge chain. In 1453 Sultan Mehmet bypassed this chain by dragging his ships overland on greased logs from the Bosphorus to the Golden Horn, in the space of a single night. It made him the stuff of legend.

A short ferry ride crisscrosses this waterway to the large bay at the end, where you catch the funicular.

  • Travel tip – save yourself the wait for the tram and just walk up the hill. At the top, head south to get to the Eyup Camii.

There is an entire city up here! There’s a bus. And shops. And more restaurants, all perched on top of this vertical graveyard. I see a red sign and turn onto the path. There’s a group of people waiting at the top, near a gate. Thinking I have arrived at the mosque, I pull my shawl over my hair, and find a place to stand. The tension hangs in the air like a thick fog, and after several minutes, the group of women start to hug each other. I realize it’s not in greeting, but in comfort. I have arrived at a funeral…

I exit as discreetly as I can, and after several other such scenes, I finally see the minarets of a mosque. I pass a young boy in his circumcision clothes, and a pair of bridal couples who have just exited the mosque.

Eyup Sultan Camii

I find a place to stand near the wall where I hope to be out of the way. I see women enter a stairwell and taking off their shoes. The staircase leads to a walkway enclosed with stained glass panels that stretches over the courtyard. I follow the women, take off my shoes, cover my head, and walk upstairs.

There are women praying in the walkway. One is on her cell phone, another pair of women are chatting. Children are running everywhere. To my left, there’s an alcove where women are sitting with heads covered. The imam’s calls to prayer has begun…

Finally, my curiosity takes over and I quietly move into the alcove. And then I look up.

I am standing inside the women’s gallery of Eyup Sultan Camii.

  • The Euyp Sultan Camii is the first mosque built in Istanbul and is considered the city’s holiest religious site. It was built on the place where Eyup Sultan, standard bearer of the Prophet Mohammed, died during the siege of Constantinople in 674-78. The story relates that he was buried where he fell and this mosque marks that spot.

An iron screen to my left separates the women’s gallery from the main mosque below. An imam is preaching, breaking his pace frequently with sips from his water bottle. Through the screen, I see men sitting on the floor all helter-skelter. There are water bottles, cell phones, and papers and books strewn about. Some of the men are trying to control small boys.

I put my camera away and listen to the imam. After a while, the men join him in chorus. I stay a few minutes longer before departing, moved by the experience of having witnessed a prayer service from behind the screen of the women’s gallery, at sunset, at the most holy place in the city.

I walk back to the brick road and am surprised to find that within a few minutes I arrive at street level. When the ferry arrives, we shove through the double doors like so many cattle, across the rough wooden planks and onto the boat.

We are halfway down the Bosphorus when the sun sets the sky on fire, reflecting on the waters and turning the Horn Golden. The sight of it takes my breath away until darkness chases the gold away.

I find Cihan at his usual post. He ushers me inside to the Captain’s table, where Baha joins me for a dinner of lamb on a bed of pistachios and cooked greens, rice, fries and yogurt, accompanied by a glass of Yakut wine. I relate the day’s events, and thank him for sending me on this quest. “Only Allah knows when weddings and funerals will occur,” he responds.

I update my journal with the day’s events, and try to imagine what will come next. I arrived here, wanting to leave immediately. Now I don’t want to leave at all …

  • This is an excerpt from my original travel journal. The full text, which includes historical notes and traveler tips, is now available at

Comment please …


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