Frosty Fatih Sketch Stroll

Some neighborhoods in Istanbul have the feel of small villages and wandering through them makes you forget that you are in a city of over 14 million people vying for space. Their narrow, twisting streets cradle neighborhood shops and artisans, and are lined by a patchwork of old, dilapidated wooden Ottoman homes alongside newer concrete ones. Roosters crow, chickens walk the streets that children use as their playgrounds, and the air is saturated with the earthy smell of wood fires coming from the sobas heating people's homes. These neighborhoods feel more traditional, communal, and a world away from Istanbul's fast-paced metropolitan center.

I went to one such neighborhood-Fatih- this weekend when I crossed the bridge down the hill from Şişhane with the Aqueduct of Valens, crowning the top of the hill, as my endpoint. I wandered in and out of the neighborhood flanking the large road, hitting several dead ends, and eventually finding the one that ended in Zeyrek Camii. I had seen this salmon pink structure- a conglomeration of two Eastern Orthodox churches and a chapel- from the bus many times on my way back from school, thought it was a church, and was curious about it. Turns out that this site has had quite a string of lives. The building had its beginnings as a monastery with a church that eventually expanded to including another church and chapel, and became the final resting place for several Byzantine rulers. It was used as a monastery and palace, until the fall of Constantinople, when it was converted to a mosque and a medrese. It is the second largest Byzantine-built structure in Istanbul after the Hagia Sophia. You have to admire any site that has managed to shift and adapt to survive so many centuries- an architectural poster child for Darwinian evolution.

When I went, it was under renovation and was closed, but had a patio with a lovely view of the Golden Horn and Sultanhamet. In spite of the skies menacing rain, I sat down to sketch for a bit. An icy wind quickly bore its way down to my bones and a light drizzle made drawing challenging, so I eventually packed up my pencils and sketchbook, and moved on towards Fatih and the aqueduct.

Kalenderhane Camii
Kalenderhane Camii

Kuruyemiş on Kadınlar Pazarı in Fatih

I soon hit a street bustling with cheese vendors and butchers, with their lamb carcasses hanging from the ceiling and smiling sheep heads all in a row atop of their display cases. The street fed into the pedestrian street that face plants right into the aqueduct- a space called Kadınlar Pazarı and is a Kurdish area. Çay houses were hopping and vendors were out with carts full of wares with people clustered around them like bees on a pollen-laden flower, while the freezing wind kept everything fresh. Several honey shops lined the streets, their goods displayed like amber stained-glass windows. I had been to this part of the city a few times to eat büryan kebap- a heavenly dish where lamb is slowly cooked underground, and perde pilaf- a fez-shaped rice dish coated with a crunchy crust that holds the buttery rice with currents and chicken, but hadn't taken the time to wander around. Momentarily ignoring the cold, I continued to stroll, along and through the aqueduct, past the car repair shops that shadowed it, until I stopped at a small shop and ordered a cay to warm my iced hands. I sat down to sketch a lovely little mosque, despite the owner's strong attempts at persuading me to come indoors to heat up.

It was getting late and I wanted to get back to the aqueduct and still felt chilled, so I decided to stop at a çay house before heading back to Galata, where I sketched the slice of the aqueduct that could be seen from under the awning. Although the constant drizzle and persistent cold made it hard to sketch at times, I was happy that I got to explore a bit of Fatih. Before leaving, I stopped inside one of the small honey shops and sampled a few spoonfuls of their sweet elixir. The shop owner led me to the back of the shop, where he showed me a pot filled with thick, natural honey that trickled off his ladle like golden lava when he scooped it. I couldn't resist, and asked him to fill a small jar for me. I tucked the glowing jar into my bag and headed back into the grey evening to make my way home. 


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