"Take a walk away from the crowds" Istanbul Off The Beaten Path Tip by TheWanderingCamel

Istanbul Off The Beaten Path: 525 reviews and 1,175 photos

1. Lose yourself in back streets
1. St Mary of the Mongols
3. Landmark tp look for - the Greek gymnasium
4. The Holy Gate
5. The sailor's church

If time allows, don't be content with just Istanbul's Byzantine biggies and Ottoman opulence such as the Ayasofya and the Blue Mosque. These two are set fair square on the city's main tourist path and a visit at just about any time will find hordes of other tourists (we're all tourists) there at the same time. Seek out some of the more obscure corners and you have every chance of having them either all to yourself .

An hour or so in the area around the Greek Patriarchate could begin outside the Church of St Mary of the Mongols, the only church in the city that has remained a place of Greek Orthodox worship ever since it was built in the late 13th century. When the Ottomans took the city in 1453, Mehmet the Conqueror signed a decree that left the church in Greek hands - a copy of that decree hangs in the church today, the original document is squirreled away for safe keeping. Not that you have much chance of seeing even the copy - this is one church that is usually firmly locked away behind its high wall. I haven't yet managed to see inside but MrL was lucky enough to gain access on a recent work-related trip to Turkey.

The church is easy enough to find - use the dome of the Greek gymnasium (high school) as a land mark and look for the watermelon pink painted church nearby.

You have two choices now. Walk up the hill and away from the water and you'll find the glorious Church of the Pammakaristos - but that is worth a review all of its own. (In fact, it has two.)

Walking down the hill, all the way down to the Golden Horn waterfront and along the pavement back towards the Galata Bridge, look for the Aya Kapsi - the Holy Gate - in the city walls, then on past the Church of St Nikola (the sailor's church, not very old despite the ancient walls it hides behind) will bring you to Eminonu, the Galata Bridge and the Spice Market area - once again you're back on the tourist-thronged Beaten Path.

Walk back through the Holy Gate however and you'll find youself in a warren of little streets, a great place to wander awhile. This area has a very mixed population that includes Balkan Muslims, Armenian and Arab Christians, Jews and settled Roma (gypsies). This city continues to be as cosmopolitan as it was under both its Byzantine and Ottoman rulers.

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  • Updated Feb 10, 2012
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