Active mosque and public library
Great for: Architecture, Ottoman History, Mimar Sinan, Sea Views
Set on the edge of the Bosporus in Üsküdar (and with the best view of the sunset over Istanbul) is the Mosque and Library complex of Şemsipaşa; so beautiful that even the birds don’t dare to land on it. The complex is quite small and was built by court architect Mimar Sinan in a stripped-down and simplified form of classical Ottoman style.
The complex was commissioned by Şemsi Ahmed Paşa and completed in 1580 just shortly before his death that same year, the complex takes its name from its benefactor who was a high ranking officer in the Ottoman Army during the height of its power.
Şemsipaşa is comprised of three parts: the former madrasah turned public library, a mosque, and a small mausoleum. The library is designed in an ‘L’ shape of 12 domes and a covered portico facing the sea. Due to the qibla (direction of prayer to Mecca) the mosque sits askew from the library and, though simple, is quite pretty. There is a story about the mosque that states that birds, out of respect for its beauty and sacred function, do not land on it. This is why the mosque is sometimes called Kuşkonmaz (basically meaning ‘birds don’t land’ though it also means ‘asparagus’). Despite the legend, birds do in fact land on it sometimes.
Another interesting feature in the mosque is the two dark green cylinders of stone that are on either side of the mihrab (niche pointing towards Mecca). These are actually designed to spin in the case of tremors to warn worshippers of an earthquake.
The third part of the complex is the small, simple tomb on the side of the mosque where Şemsi Ahmet Paşa is buried.
Despite being between the ferries and Maidens Tower, this spot is more popular with fisherman and students than sight-seers. When you walk by Şemsipaşa on the way to the Maidens Tower make sure to see if there are any birds on the roof of this little mosque.
How To Get There
Public transit will get you here really easily. From the European side take the ferry to Üsküdar and walk a couple hundred metres to the right just along the waterfront.
The other option from the European side is to take the Marmaray (the underground and undersea rail line that connects Europe to Asia) to Üsküdar station. You will see the small complex along the water in the direction of the Maidens Tower (the famous lighthouse in the Bosporus) which is south, down the coast.
Where To Stay
Obviously anything in the immediate neighborhood of Üsküdar is going to be closest BUT as Şemsipaşa is right next to a main ferry terminal and the Marmaray you can visit this area and stay elsewhere quite easily. If you want to stay in Üsküdar itself, away from the touristic centre yet in a convenient location then Üsküdar has a handful of accommodation options as well.
Have any tips or info to add? Spot any mistakes? We’d love to hear about it.