Before we tell you the importance of the seven hills of Istanbul, we should have a refreshment course on Europe's other most famous Seven Hills; Rome. Rome was founded in between seven hills in Italy, as a gathering town for several small villages. From that small town, a nation rose that effectively changed the world. Their borders reached to the east and west edges of the European continent. On the most Eastern Corners, the Byzantine Empire that was founded during the end times of the Roman Empire, found itself on another set of seven hills to remind the world that Rome was still alive in all corners of the world. The Byzantine Empire found itself on seven hills of Istanbul, where they honored themselves as the new Rome. They built Churches on each of the hills to continue the tradition, and the land stayed unconquered for some time, until the Ottoman Empire came along. In 1453, Constantinople was conquered, and generations of sultans from then on built Mosques on each of the Seven hills to send a message to the Western empires. This blog is about each of the seven hills and their mosques, all sitting in the same district of Istanbul; Fatih.
1) Hagia Sophia and Sultan Ahmed Mosque
Sophia was first built to be the central cathedral of the Byzantine Empire. Its beauty and design were unmatched in the world, until the Ottoman Empire's capture of Istanbul from the Byzantines. By the orders of Sultan Ahmed the First, a mosque was to be designed on a hill overlooking the Hagia Sophia. This new mosque was to be more glamorous than even Hagia Sophia. Once it completed, the building took over the fame of the city in its mantle. Hagia Sophia was closed for a long time to the public, until recently reopened as a mosque. The two architectural beauties still stand on two hills overlooking one another, and welcome any visitor to Istanbul.
2) The Sun and the Moon of Edirnekapı
Born in 1522 in Topkapı Palace, Sultan Mihrimah was the daughter of Suleyman the Magnificent, and Sultan Hurrem. She receives her name Mihrimah from the collective name of the Sun and the Moon in Farsi. As the years pass, and the Beautiful Sultan Mihrimah reaches the age to marry, two candidates rise to have her hand in marriage. One is a governor of Diyarbakır, Rüstem Pasha, and the other is the famous architect Sinan who has designed many of the other famous mosques of Istanbul. The architect was married at the time, and Mimrimah is married to Rüstem Pasha.
Years pass again, and Sultan Mimrimah calls the Architect Sinan to commission a mosque for her. She lets him have freedom with its design, as well as its location. The urban legends suggest, although many years have passed from their first interaction when Mimrimah was 17 years old, to the time of the commission years later, Sinan had never stopped loving the Sultan in secrecy.
The architect choose the hill across another mosque he designed for Süleyman the Magnificent on Edirnekapı. Sultan Mimrimah Mosque was completed after almost two decades, and its beauty took even longer to be realized by the masses. The mosque itself was darker lighted than others throughout the year. On a handful of days in a year (during the months of April and May alone), the Sunset can be observed on one end of the Mosque, while the Moonrise can be seen from the opposite end of the building
3) The Mosque of Grand Mustafa Pasha
Sitting in the Sümbül Efendi area, our last prominent landmark to visit is Kocamustafapasa, which was a Byzantine church in the 13th century, and turned in to a mosque after the conquest of the city. As well as being home to the ancient slave merchants' Arcadius Forum in the Ancient times, the crypt of Sümbül Efendi can be found next door to the building. He was a follower of the Sufi order after whom the part of the district is named after.
4) The Mosque of Yavuz Sultan Selim
The Çukurbostan area of Fatih district is where Yavuz Selim Mosque stands. Once the location of Aspar Cistern, a Byzantine owned location, the Mosque is the closest hill to the Golden Horn that separates the two sides of Europe. While here, you should also add a slight detour to your path and visit Balat and Fener, old Greek and Jewish quarters that offer equally beautiful sceneries and adventure.
5) The Mosque of Beyazit
The part of the district, Beyazit, was home to the Theodosius Grand Forum in the pre-Byzantine era. Although it is in ruins, the hill still has a claim to fame through two outstanding monuments. The 16th-century Süleymaniye Mosque designed by Mimar Sinan has also a title as the UNESCO World Heritage Site. It sits next to the intersection also known as the Beyazit square, full of merchants operating by the Grand Bazaar since the Ottoman era.
6) Çemberlitaş / The Burnt Pillar
Just north of Beyazit, a major meeting spot for Constantinople sat on this hill. These days, only the bottom half of the 330 AD Constantine column remains still standing. The same half of the pillar gives the name of Çemberli Taş to the area, where nearby the 18th-century Nuruosmaniye Mosque is now reaching for fame.
7) The Hill of the Conqueror
During the reign of the Byzantine Empire, an important religious building of that time was sitting on this hill. It was already in ruins when the Ottoman Empire invaded. They cleared the area and built the 15th century Fatih Mosque instead of the Church.
Yet, the same passion to conquer the city that Sultan Mehmet carried, was also shared by the city itself. The mosque was damaged during the major earthquake of 1766, and it had to be rebuilt. Perhaps to remind the world that Istanbul is a city of fighters, the city's conqueror, Sultan Mehmet is buried in the crypts of the Fatih Mosque.