Üsküdar Istanbul

Üsküdar is a large and densely populated suburb of Istanbul, on the Anatolian shore of the Bosphorus right opposite the heart of the great city, next to Kadıköy. It is home to about half a million people.


Üsküdar (ancient Chrysopolis, mediaeval Scutari) was a city in Bithynia founded in the 7th century BC, in a valley leading down to the Bosphorus shore, by the inhabitants of the Greek colony of Khalkedon and was first known as Chrysopolis (city of Gold) (perhaps because it was a wealthy little port, or because of the way it shone when viewed from Byzantion at sunset). The city was used as a harbour and shipyard and was an important staging post in the wars between the Greeks and Persians. In 410 BC Chrysopolis was walled by the Athenian general Alcibiades. As its larger and more important neighbor across the Bosphorus grew, the town became a toll-booth for the Bosphorus and later became the first point of defence of Byzantion against the Ottoman armies. Byzantine armies were stationed here, but to no avail; by the time Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans (in 1453) Üsküdar had already been in Turkish hands for 100 years.

In the Ottoman period Üsküdar was one of the three communities outside the city walls (along with Eyüp and Galata. The area was a major burial ground, and today many large cemeteries remain including; Karacaahmet, one of Istanbul's largest cemeteries; a number of Jewish and Christian cemeteries; Bülbülderesi Mezarlýðý, said to be the favoured burial place of the Sabetay community, including the educator Þemsi Efendi, this cemetery is next to Fevziye Hatun mosque, also said to be a centre of Sabetay culture (see the book 'Efendi' by Soner Yalçýn).

Üsküdar today

The waterfront of Üsküdar as seen from Maiden Tower.Üsküdar is Istanbul's oldest-established residential suburb and still fills that role today. It has a more relaxed atmosphere and therefore better quality of life than the overcrowded European side of the city yet is directly opposite the old city of Eminönü and transport across the Bosphorus is easy by boat or bridge. So there are well-established communities here, many retired people, and many residents commute to the European side for work or school (being cheap and central Üsküdar has a large student population). During rush-hour the waterfront is bustling with people running from ferryboats and motorboats onto buses and minibuses. And the smell of the sea, the sound of foghorns, motorboats and seagulls. And the best view of the city.

Central Üsküdar on a snowy day, with Mihrimah Sultan Mosque in the backgroundNow, in 2006, the central square is being dug up for a tunnel under the Bosphorus which will carry an underground railway. However this is predictably continuously running into artefacts of great archaeological value.

The area behind the ferry dock is a busy shopping district, with many restaurants (including the well-known Kanaat Lokantasi serving Ottoman cuisine and olive oil-based dishes, and great ice cream) and a number of important Ottoman mosques (see section below). There is however a need for more in the way of cafes, cinemas, billiard halls and places for young people to hang out.

The private Istanbul Commerce University, owned by the chamber of commerce, has a site here.

Prominent neighbourhoods

Uskudar, oil on canvas by Haydar Hatemi
Ahmet III Fountain in the squareSalacak
Üsküdar's long promenade from the centre down towards the bus station at Harem is popular in summer as it commands excellent views of the European shore of Topkapý Palace, Aya Sofia, Sultan Ahmed Mosque (The Blue Mosque), Taksim and Beþiktaþ. This promenade is lined with cafes and restaurants, the most famous and prominent of which is not on the coast but out in the water: Kýz Kulesi (Maiden's Tower), is a small tower just off the coast that has existed since Byzantine times and from time to time has been used as a toll booth (now it is used as an expensive restaurant and a venue for wedding parties). The name comes from a legend about a princess shut in the tower. On a nice day people gather on the shore to fish, sit and drink tea or to enjoy being out on the water in little rowing boats. There is a more recent mosque (1760) on the shore opposite the tower. The streets of Salacak behind the coast (in the area called Imrahor are very attractive indeed and still hold a number of classic Ottoman wooden houses. The legendary 17th century Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi is said to have landed here on his primitive hang-glider flight across the Bosphorus.

The area was excellently portrayed in the cartoons of comic artist Tekin Aral in his book 'Salacak Öyküleri' [1]

Behind the coast Üsküdar climbs steeply into the residential areas uphill, Baðlarbaþý and Doðancýlar.

A pleasant district on the hill above Salacak, with plenty of trees between the buildings and a small park. There is a wide avenue winding uphill from Üsküdar which has plenty of shops and cafes, and also a theatre (the Musahipzade Celal Sahnesi), the fire station, the women's prison (Paþakapýsý), Burhan Felek High School and Doðancýlar mosque (opposite the park).

Formerly orchards and fruit-gardens (the meaning of 'bað' in Turkish). In the 19th century it became a residential neighbourhood home to the typical Istanbul urban mix of Greeks, Jews, Turks and Armenians. The neighbourhood still has an Armenian schools and the Armenian church of Surp Garabed, built in 1844. This community suffered in the anti-Christian violence of September 6th 1955 Istanbul Pogrom and many Greeks and Armenians left. Until the 1990s the area remained a middle-class residential neighbourhood and today is still an attractive district with a mixture of housing and office/commercial property. A number of properties have been converted to office and business use. Baðlarbaþý is still an attractive residential neighbourhood, home to the large and busy Capitol shopping and entertainment centre. Check out the samsa baklava in Bað Pastanesý and the sausage and chips sandwiches known as 'patso' (patates/sosis) the neighbourhood's fast-food stroke of genius.

There are a number of well-known schools here including; Üsküdar American Academy, one of the oldest established schools in the city (formerly the American Academy for Girls), is set in beautiful grounds and has one of the best school libraries in Turkey; Üsküdar Anadolu Lisesi - a state school with an intensive German language program; Haydarpaþa Lisesi; Marmara University's faculty of theology; Burhan Felek sports complex.

Selamsýz old residential neighbourhood, home to a Gypsy community and the riot police! the top half of the attractive district of Acýbadem also belongs to Üsküdar, including the excellent Acýbadem and Academic hospitals. This avenue with its wonderful patisseries, ice-cream parlours and cafes as well as Burger King and 7-Eleven is the centre one of the most pleasant neighbourhoods of Istanbul, consisting of tree-lined streets and well-planned housing areas. And Çamlýca Girls High School set in a lovely tree-lined garden

Up the Bosphorus
The boundary of Üsküdar is far up the Bosphorus, and beyond lies Beykoz. The Bosphorus is of course the most beautiful feature of Istanbul. However going up the Bosphorus from Üsküdar on the Anatolian side it is hard to find places to sit and enjoy the view, the coastal strip is either too narrow or is built on. Üsküdar's Bosphorus villages include:

just past Üsküdar the coastline is called 'Paþalimaný', 'liman' means 'port' in Turkish and boats would moor here. There is a big stone warehouse on the shore (formerly used to store tobacco), which was built by late-Ottoman architect Vedat Tek. There is a small area of parkland right on the shore and the entrance to the large 'Fetih Paþa Korusu' park is here (see below).

A magical Bosphorus village of attractive streets with little shops, seaside cafes and many old-fashioned wooden houses Kuzguncuk has a nostalgic village atmosphere, although the main road along the Bosphorus carries too much traffic for it to be perfect. There is a ferry dock and a little park on the waterfront. The village was called Kosinitsa in the Byzantine period and until recently the people of Kuzguncuk were the typical Istanbul cosmopolitan mixture of Turks, Greeks, Jews and Armenians. Today some of these communities remain and the area has become an attractive middle-class neighbourhood, home to people like film director Uður Yücel, sculptor Kuzgun Acar, painter Acar Baþkut (whose studio is in the village), architects Nevzat Sayin and Cengiz Bektaþ, and the late poet Can Yücel. The neighbourhood is also portrayed in the novel 'Mediterranean Waltz' (Kumral Ada Mavi Tuna) by Buket Uzuner.

Just beyond the Bosphorus bridge is Beylerbeyi (formerly the Greek name was Stauros) , an area famous in Istanbul for its fish restaurants, and for Ottoman palace on the shore. The Sabancý family of Turkish industrialists have sponsored the restoration and building of the school, police station and other public buildings, thus making them appropriate to the many very attractive houses and shops in the village.

Formerly a quiet waterfront village, famous for the cucumbers grown in gardens on the green hillsides behind. There are a number of very grand seaside villas (yalý). The village has a number of shops, bakeries and waterfront cafes (the view of the Bosphorus is of course gorgeous, and all waterfront cafes are busy at weekends especially). Since the mid-1990s new housing estates have been built on the hillsides and now there are always queues of traffic through Çengelköy. But the village retains some of its romantic charm. The name Çengelköy means 'hook' or 'anchor' in Turkish, apparently there were blacksmiths or metalworkers in the village in Byzantine and Ottoman times.

The highly prestigious Küleli Military High School is on the Bosphorus beyond Çengelköy. Most graduates from here go on to war academy and careers as army officers.

Inland from Uskudar
Çamlica (aka Tchamlidja in the 19th-century form) is the highest point in Istanbul and commands a panoramic view of the entire city. Koþuyolu is a quiet residential district inland from Uskudar, with some well-known hospitals in parkland going back to the Ottoman period.

Sights of Üsküdar

Uskudar has areas of greenery which can be an escape from the density of the city, including the Çamlýca hills and the Bosphorus coastline, and the area also has a number of important historical sites to visit, especially the palace at Beylerbeyi.

'Fetih Paþa Korusu' is a large park on the hillside coming right down to the Bosphorus shore slightly beyond Üsküdar in the area called Paþalimaný. It is named after Fetih Ahmet Paþa an Ottoman prince who among other things was responsible for industrialising the glassworks of Ottoman Turkey, and had a home in the area. The parkland is in fact privately owned and let to the state on condition that it is preserved as a park. The owners are the estate of pioneer Turkish industrialist Nuri Demirað. There is a cafe in the park, a stone waterfall which children climb on and a small stage area where on Friday evenings in summer a band of amateur musicians give open-air concerts at sunset. At weekends the young lovers of Üsküdar collect here to stroll and cuddle in the shade.

Üsküdar is home to many historical mosques and Ottoman buildings, many built for the ladies of the harem, and many built by the famous architect Mimar Sinan. One of the first things you see on arriving by ferry are the two large mosques on either side of the ferry port; the Mosque of Mihrimah Sultan; and Mimar Sinan's Þemsi Paþa Mosque, the daughter and wazir of Suleiman the Magnificent respectively. Þemsi Paþa has a small library building in the courtyard and here one can sit and enjoy the sea breeze off the Bosphorus. Also in the centre of Uskudar you will see the fountain of Ahmet III, an impressive marble structure.

Going uphill above Uskudar and to the right as you come away from the coast, in the area called Doðancýlar, there is the attractive mosque of Valide Sultan, which is very similar in style to the work of the great architect Sinan, and not far from here there is the beautifully tiled, Çinili Camii.

The religious monuments include the Aziz Mahmud Hudayi Tekke (Aziz Mahmud Hudayi who is buried in Üsküdar was the founder of the Jelveti Sufi order) and the Nasuhi Effendi Tekke (Nasuhi Effendi being the founder of the Nasuhiyye Khalwati Sufi order, and the grandfather of the late American Music Industry icon, Ahmet Ertegün).

Üsküdar ("Scutari") became famous during the Crimean War as the location of the British Army hospital modernized by Florence Nightingale from 1854 to 1857. This is now the Selimiye barracks and can be visited today, one room has been reconstructed as a museum to Florence Nightingale.

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