Exploring Ayvansaray and Balat, Istanbul

We set off, on a beautiful sunny day to explore the  Ayvansaray and Balat neighbourhoods of Istanbul, as part of our IWI Neighbourhood Coffee Morning activities. This area, by the Golden Horn, dates from the Byzantine era. It is a culturally diverse area, where churches, synagogues and mosques co-exist side by side, along with their congregations.

Church of Saint Mary of Blachernae
Pam, our guide, led us first to the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Mary of Blachernae.  This church, built in 1833, is on the site of a shrine to the Virgin Mary, dating from the 5th century AD, marking the site of a "life-giving spring", a source of miracle healing. Unfortunately, the caretaker wouldn't allow us to take any photos of the inside.

Our next stop was the Ferruh Kethüda Mosque. Built in 1562 by the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, it bears one of his signature sundials.

Mimar Sinan's Sundial

As you can see, the sundial is perpendicular to the ground and is read differently 
from the more usual ones seen today. Here, the sun casts a shadow at 11:00!

A house built into the ancient walls

Originally surrounded by the ancient walls of Constantinople, Balat is a testament to the ingenuity of man, as remnants of those fortifications form parts of houses still lived in today.

Yanbol Synagogue

We tried to visit one of the two remaining synagogues in Balat, the Yanbol Synagogue built in 1895, on the site of a much older one dating from Byzantine times. Unfortunately, there had been an attempt to bomb this building recently, so it remained locked and bolted!

Tahta Minare Camii

Mosques come on all sizes, and one of the smallest we found is the Tahta Minare, or Wooden Minaret Mosque. Originally built by Fatih Sultan Mehmed in 1458, the original wooden minaret has long gone, having been replaced in 1875. Although we were unable to go inside, the information printed on the wall told us that "the inner space of the mosque is square, with 8.06 metres each side", not very big at all!

Fener Rum Erkek Lisesi

 Like Rome, Istanbul is a city built on seven hills, so it was not surprise to find ourselves climbing ever higher, up to the Fener Rum Erkek Lisesi, the Greek Boys' School. Although this particular building was erected in 1881, this is the oldest surviving school in Istanbul. It's inception dates from the Byzantine era when it was the Patriarch School.

We couldn't leave the area without paying a visit to the home of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, a title that has been handed down since the 6th century.

As we entered the chapel, everyone gasped in amazement at the opulence of the decorations.

This gate is permanently welded shut, after  the Patriarch, Gregory V was hanged 
from the lintel by the Ottomans,  after the Greek Revolt in Peloponnesus.

Our heads now whirling with all our new-found knowledge, we ended our  day with a magnificent lunch beside the Golden Horn.

Our happy band of explorers!


  1. Nice pictures!
    It was a beautiful trip too.
    I will certainly come back to your blog to read more of your traveling

    greetings Jos van Meel

  2. Thank you, Jos. It was great fun. I am looking forward to our next trip!


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