Strolling Through Istanbul: The Classic Guide to the City is the essential guidebook for any curious visitor to Istanbul. Originally written in 1972 by the late Hillary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely, the book has since been revised by Freely and reprinted in 2010. Sumner-Boyd was a professor of Humanities at Robert College, Bosphorus University. Freely, originally a New Yorker is currently a professor of physics at Bosphorus University in Istanbul and author of over forty books and guides. The authors, who are intimately familiar with Istanbul, have outlined several walking tours in and around the city and bring attention to the major historic sites as well as many others often overlooked by tourists. Sumner-Boyd and Freely go beyond simply mentioning historic locations but animate each stop along the stroll with vivid historical descriptions, biographical sketches, and architectural interests. Through their well crafted prose they guide the eye to the more unique aspects of each location. Their engaging personalities and love for the city comes through in their writing making them the ideal tour guides to Istanbul. The walking tours are divided into geographic sections for a total of 23 chapters that span up the Golden Horn to Eyüp, along the Bosphorus, and down to to the Prince’s Islands. Despite its considerable size, a generous 487 pages, this book is always tucked into a bag and towed around the city. It’s through this guide that we discovered such gems as the Yeraltı Cami (Underground Mosque), Namazgahs (open air prayer spaces), and the serene Küçük Aya Sofia Camii.
Leaving Karaköy we begin walking along the seaside road, which is always bustling with pedestrians rushing to and from the ferry station. About 200 metres along, past the ferry pier, we turn left and then left again at the next street. A short way along on our right we come to the obscure entrance of Yeraltı Cami, the Underground Mosque. This is a strange and sinister place. The mosque is housed in the low, vaulted cellar of keep of a Byzantine tower or castle which is probably to be identified with the Castle of Galata. This was the place where was fastened the one end of the chain which closed the mouth of the Golden Horn in times of siege. Descending into the mosque, we find ourselves in a maze of dark, narrow passages between a forest of squat passages supporting low vaults, six rows of nine or 54 in all. Towards the rear of the mosque we find the tombs of two sainted martyrs, Abu Sufyan and Amiri Wahabi, both of whom are supposed to have died in the first Arab siege of the city in the seventh century. Their graves were revealed to a Nakşibendi dervish in a dream in 1640, whereupon Sultan Murat IV constructed a shrine on the site. Then in 1757 the whole dungeon was converted into a mosque by the Grand Vezir Köş Mustafa Paşa.
The interior of the Underground Mosque.
In the centre of the square, Kadirga Liman Meydanı, there is a very striking and unique monument. This is the namazgah of Esma Sultan, daughter of Ahmet III, which was built in 1779. It is a great rectangular block of masonry, on the two faces of which are fountains with ornamental inscriptions, the corners having ornamental niches, while the third side is occupied by a staircase which leads to the flat roof. This is the only surviving example in Stamboul of a namazgah, or open-air place of prayer, in which the kıble or direction of prayer is indicated but which is otherwise without furniture or decoration. Namazgahs are common enough in Anatolia and the remains of at least two others can be seen in the environs of Istanbul, one in Okmeydanı overlooking the Golden Horn and the other at Anadolu Hisarı on the Bosphorus; but this is the only one left in the old city.
Ironically one is no longer allowed to pray here.
SS. Sergius and Bacchus
At the end of this lane, we come to one of the entrances to the courtyard of the beautiful Küçük Aya Sofya Camii, the former Byzantine church of SS. Sergius and Bacchus. The church was begun by Justinian and his Empress Theodora in 527, five years before the commencement of the present church of Haghia Sophia. It thus belongs to that extraordinary period of prolific and fruitful experiment in architectural forms which produced, in this city, buildings so ambitious and so different as the present church, Haghia Sophia itself and Haghia Eirene…
In SS Sergius and Bacchus, as in almost all of the surviving Byzantine churches of the city, we must simply use our imagination in order to recapture the extraordinary beauty of its original condition. The walls, like those of Haghia Sophia, were revetted with veined by variegated marbles; the vaults and domes glittered with mosaics. “By the sheen of its marbles it was more resplendent than the sun,” says Procopius, “and everywhere it was filled profusely with gold.”
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