Istanbul Tours
Walking Route 4: Imperial Road

Istanbul tours are probably the most fulfilling cultural tours in Turkey that you will encounter.

You have a lot of walking route options when it comes to discovering Istanbul by walking. You can start with “half day tours” and continue with “1 day tours”. Or you can combine my “Walking Tour” routes in a way that suits your needs.

You can be your own tour guides and create your own private tours after you read my suggestions for you.

Here is the fourth of "Istanbul Tours, Walking Route" that takes you to an Imperial Road that was used for centuries;

Walking Tour 2: Imperial Road (Via Mese)

Start: Philoxenus Cistern (Binbirdirek Sarnıcı), Sultanahmet

Finish: Beyazıt Square, Beyazıt

Best time: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Worst time: Saturday will be over-crowded.
Sunday will be over-deserted.
Sunday is the closing day for the Grand Bazaar.

I have made an itinerary that introduces to you, the most important ceremonial road in Istanbul that served as a showcase of Ottoman and Byzantine Empires for centuries. Besides this is the street that takes you to Beyazıt Square and Grand Bazaar.

It starts in the Old City, at the beginning of “Divan Yolu”; goes along, exploring the historic buildings on this street and then finishes at the Beyazıt Square, in Beyazıt.

You will explore the Imperial Road of Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul. You will witness the opulent past of the Old City.

I tried to explain each interesting, historic building that you will encounter on the road. You don’t have to get in each and every one of them. I just wanted to inform you about the historical back-ground of the “Imperial Road of the Old City” and the buildings around it.

What will you see?

Imperial Road (Via Regia or Mese in Byzantine Empire) (Divan Yolu in Ottoman Empire)

1. Philoxenus Cistern (Binbirdirek Sarnıcı)

2. Cevri Kalfa Primary School (Cevri Kalfa Sıbyan Mektebi)

3. Köprülü Library (Köprülü Kütüphanesi)

4. Sultan Mahmud II Tomb (Sultan II. Mahmud Türbesi)

5. Köprülü Complex (Köprülü Külliyesi)

6. Çemberlitaş Hamam (Çemberlitaş Hamamı)

7. Constantine Column (Çemberlitaş)

8. Vezir Han (Vezir Hanı)

9. Atik Ali Paşa Complex (Atik Ali Paşa Külliyesi)

10. Koca Sinan Paşa Complex (Koca Sinan Paşa Külliyesi)

11. Çorlulu Ali Paşa Complex (Çorlulu Ali Paşa Külliyesi)

12. Kara Mustafa Paşa Complex (Kara Mustafa Paşa Külliyesi)

13. Gedikpaşa Hamam (Gedikpaşa Hamamı)

Imperial Road (Via Regia or Mese in Byzantine Empire) (Divan Yolu in Ottoman Empire)

This special street is one of the highlights of your Istanbul Tours. It served as the Imperial Road during both Byzantine and Ottoman Empire periods. Its name changed according to the ones who used it, but the importance of it remained.

During Byzantine Empire Era it was officially called the "Via Regia", but its popular name was “Mese”.

The road was a part of a larger road which was called "Via Egnatia". (Via Egnatia was a high-road leading from the Adriatic coast to Thrace, with its eastern terminus at Byzantium.)

"Mese" served as the Imperial Road from Constantinople to Rome. After the construction of the city walls in 4th century, this road became the main street of the city.

It was a large street with porticoes, beginning at the Milion (in Sultanahmet Square), passing by Constantine Column (Çemberlitaş) and seperating into two branches at Philadelphion (Şehzadebaşı). Those two branches led to city exits; one going to Edirnekapı, the other going to Yedikule.

Imperial road disappeared in the late Byzantine Era after the Great Palace was vacated and the area surrounding it, was destroyed by fire.

It was rebuilt in the Ottoman Empire period but as a narrower road.

Imperial Road was named as the “Divan Road” (Divan Yolu; read as: dee-vahn yoh-loo) in the Ottoman Empire Era. Because the “Council of Ministers” travelled this road to participate in the “Divan Meetings” (the supreme council, highest council of the Ottoman Empire). And they used the same road to turn back to their homes in Fatih, Aksaray or Beyazıt neighborhoods after the meeting.

The Divan Meetings were very important for Ottoman Empire.Colorful processions passed along this street on the days of "Divan Meetings" so that it was named after these meetings as “Divan Yolu”.

This region became the city center; government offices, state ministries and the mansions of state officials were located around.

You will see thet the street is full of mosques, medreses, libraries, hamams of the old complexes and shops which were built by viziers and pashas. Building complexes was a way of showing respect to the Sultan those days. And of course it was a good way to strengthen the bonds with the Sultan to secure the position of the donor of the complex.

This historic road is a pedestrian walkway serviced only by a tram today. You can treasure the moments of this particular one of your Istanbul Tours by walking without being harressed by cars.

The new name of the street is “Yeniçeriler Caddesi” (Janissaries Street).

You can walk along it starting from the Sultanahmet Square and following the tram-way in the direction of the Grand Bazaar. It takes 20-30 minutes to reach Beyazıt Square. You will get past mosques, madrasahs (theological schools in Ottoman times), tombs, Byzantine monuments and so on…

It is a nice walk, like taking an animated lesson of history.

And the best part is; it takes you to Grand Bazaar...

Address: Yeniçeriler Cad. Starts from Sultanahmet.

1. Philoxenus Cistern: (Binbirdirek Sarnici)

The cistern one of the oldest Byzantine cisterns in Istanbul. It was built as a water storage in the 4th century during the reign of Constantine, the Great.

Its dimensions are 64 m. by 56.4 m. and its height is 19 m. There are 224 marble columns supporting little brick domes. You can see the signs of masonry craftsmen who built this cistern carved on the capitals.

It's believed to be built underneath the palace of the Roman senator Philoxenus, hence its named after him.

“Binbirdirek” in Turkish means "One thousand and one columns", referring to its many columns. During the Ottoman period the cistern was used as a silk production atelier.

It is now open to the public. It is not only used as a museum, there are small shops, a restaurant and a cafe in the middle of the cistern.

If you are interested in seeing more Byzantine Era buildings in your Istanbul Tours, get in and see how competantly they have built this cistern.

Where exactly?:

You can see it at the west of the Sultanahmet Square. The entrance is on Işık Street, behind the Justice Court. Take the first left after Sultanahmet tram stop, you will see it at the right hand side.

Opening hours: Daily between 09:00-18:30

Entrance fee: 5 TL

Adress: Sultanahmet

Tel: 0212 518 10 01

2. Cevri Kalfa Primary School: (Cevri Kalfa Sibyan Mektebi)

This building was built as a primary school in 1819 by Sultan Mahmud II, in the name of Cevri Kalfa, who saved his life from his pursuers.

The building served as an educational facility until it was donated to Turkish Literature Foundation in 1945.

It serves as a library today and there are some shops on the entrance floor.

You will see this building from the outside, at the three of your Istanbul Tours (Old City tours to be specific), because it is so close to Sultanahmet Square and Sultanahmet tram stop.

Where exactly?: You can see it at the right hand side of the street.

Adress: Yeniçeriler Street, Sultanahmet

3. Koprulu Library: (Koprulu Kutuphanesi)

You will encounter a buch of libraries during your Istanbul Tours. But this one is special. It is the first private library of the Ottoman Empire period and dates back to 1662. The libraries were built by the Sultan or a member of the royal family until this small library was built.

It has a central big domed space, opening to the courtyard. Still serves as a library and has a collection of 2775 manuscripts and 1958 printed volumes.

Where exactly?:

You can see it on the left hand side of the street.

Adress: Yeniçeriler Street, Sultanahmet

4. Sultan Mahmud II. Tomb: (Sultan II. Mahmud Türbesi)

If you don't enter any of the buildings on this route, please enter this. This is going to be probably the most interesting tomb you will see on your Istanbul Tours. And it will attract your attention while passing it because of its huge size and decorations.

Get in and take a tour, it won't take long.

This complex is a design of architect Garabet Balyan (a member of the famous architects family of the Ottoman Empire Era) and dates back to 1840.

The complex consists of the tomb, guardian’s room, a sebil (a water distribution system), a fountain and a cemetery.

The tomb is an octagonal building covered with marble. Sultan Mahmud II, Sultan Abdülaziz and Sultan Abdülhamid II are buried in this modest tomb.

Actually, the tomb is not the part that is interesting but the cemetery. The cemetery contains the finest examples of headstones made in the late Ottoman period. You will see a lot of marvellous carvings and reliefs on the marble stones.

   Where exactly?:

You can see it at the right hand side of the street.

Adress: Yeniçeriler Street

5. Köprülü Complex: (Köprülü Külliyesi)

As by now, you have seen a variety of complexes on your Istanbul Tours that were built by viziers, pashas or the royal family members.

This complex was built by the Grand Vizier Köprülü Mehmed Paşa, in 17th century. The complexes that government officials donate are smaller in size then the complexes that royal family members donate. This is a way of showing respect to royal family. And of course, lack of further financial sources. :)

Köprülü Complex consists of a masjid (a small place for prayers), a madrasah (teological school), a tomb, a sebil, a fountain and some stores.

It is a modest and nice complex. Get in and see the small courtyard, have a quick tour in this small complex.

Where exactly?:

You can see it at the left hand side of the street.

Adress: Yeniçeriler Street

6. Çemberlitaş Hamam:

You will encounter a number of hamams on your Istanbul Tours. And you will see that they can vary in size and shape depending on the social statue of the donater and the needs of the neighborhood.

This hamam was commissioned for Nurbanu Valide Sultan, (wife of Sultan Selim II), in 1584.

Hamams can be a part of a complex or they can be built as a single building. This was built as a single building, not as a part of a complex.

The women’s section was demolished for the road construction in the late 19th century. The men’s part is still serving as a hamam and there is a restaurant in one section.

There used to be several hamam buildings in each neighborhood during Ottoman times and early Republic Period. But they were demolished because of the decreasing need for hamams after the implementation of water infrastructure that serves each building.

Where exactly?:

You can see it at the right hand side of the street.

Adress: Yeniçeriler Street

7. Constantine Column: (Çemberlitaş)

This column is one of the few obelisks remaining from the Roman Empire period. Sadly to say, you will not see a lot of these on your Istanbul Tours, only 6 of them remained.

It was erected by Constantine the Great (reign: 324-37) in the center of the square called the Forum of Constantine.

At the summit there was a large capital which was surmounted by the statue of Constantine as Apollo. The statue was destroyed during a storm in 1106.

Constantine Column consists of a masonry base surmounted by a shaft of six drums and a marble block. The joints between these drums are hooped with iron bands which give its name in Turkish. (“Çemberlitaş” means “Stone with rings”). The total length of the monument is 34.8 meters.

Where exactly?:

You can see it at the right hand side of the street.

Adress: Yeniçeriler Street

8. Vezir Han:

You are going to see a number of "Han"s during your Istanbul Tours.

A simple explanation of Han is that, it is a commercial building for merchants. There are a variety of Han buildings that differ in size, number of storeys, numbers of lodging rooms and shops.

A Han, can be a single building or can be a part of a complex. “Vezir Han” is a part of the “Köprülü Complex”.

The building still shows the glory of its times with its grandeur appearance. One can day-dream about entering a parallel universe just by entering through the arched, heavy, wooden gates. It can be used better of course but the building is stillimpressive.

It is a two-storey building with two courtyards in it and dates back to 17th century. Courtyards have irregular triangular shapes and are surrounded by arched porticoes. Irregular shapes indicates that the surrounding area was stuffed with other buildings.

Originally, there was a stable for horses,a storage place for the merchandise and stores in the basement. Other floors were lodging places travelling merchants and shops. Today they are all used as shops.

   Where exactly?:

You can see it on the side street of “Divan Yolu” at the right hand side. Get in the side street between Çemberlitaş Hamam and Constantine Column (Çemberlitaş), you will see it at the right hand side.

Adress: Yeniçeriler Street

9. Atik Ali Pasha Complex: (Atik Ali Paşa Külliyesi)

This complex was commissioned for Atik Ali Paşa, Grand Vizier of Sultan Beyazıt II. and dates back to 15th century.

This is one of the Ottoman Complexes that bears significant elements of early period of Ottoman Architecture which you will see on your Istanbul Tours.

The mosque of the complex is an architectural link between the Bursa style (early Ottoman style) and the classical Ottoman style. The mosque has preserved its original shape but other parts of the complex have lost their original shapes in time.

Where exactly?:

You can see it at the right hand side of the street, after Constantine Column.

Adress: Yeniçeriler Street

10. Koca Sinan Pasha Complex: (Koca Sinan Paşa Külliyesi)

This complex was commissioned for Grand Vizier Koca Sinan Paşa (conqueror of Yemen) by architect Davut Ağa (the student of Mimar Sinan), in 1593. Koca Sinan Paşa has served as Vizier and Grand Vizier for three different Sultans, in a row; Sultan Selim II., Sultan Murad III. and Sultan Mehmed III.

The complex consisted of a madrasah, a masjid-classroom (small quarter for classes and prayers), a tomb and a sebil (a free water distribution system). All building parts of the complex have precise geometrical proportions.

The tomb in the graveyard is a notable example of Ottoman classical architecture. It is a sixteen-sided domed structure but it has an octagonal interior. It is subtly decorated with polychrome stone and stalactites. The exterior facades of the tomb is not a monotone one, its elements feature a variety of decorations.

Most of the buildings you will see on your Istanbul Tours were made of cut stones, so was this complex. Most of the wooden structures couldn't make it to our day, because of the famous fires of Istanbul.

Where exactly?:

You can see it at the right hand side of the street, after Atik Ali Paşa Complex.

Adress: Yeniçeriler Street

11. Corlulu Ali Pasha Complex:

This complex has double madrasahs in it, which served separately for boys and girls.

It was commissioned for Çorlulu Ali Paşa in early 18th century.,

It has a nice courtyard with big trees. Today it serves as a coffee-house and a carpet store.

Where exactly?:

You can see it at the right hand side of the street, after Koca Sinan Paşa Complex.

Adress: Yeniçeriler Street

12. Kara Mustafa Pasha Complex:

This complex was commissioned for Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Paşa and built between 1681-90. But building this complex couldn't save him from being executed for his failure on siege of Vienna.

This is one of the multi-functioned complexes that you will see on your Istanbul Tours. It consists of a mosque, a madrasah (theological school), a primary school, a classroom-masjid (a place for classes and prayers), a sebil, a water reservoir, a graveyard and a row of shops.

The shops were demolished and the graveyard was displaced in 1956, during the road construction.

It is one of the few L-shaped madrasahs that you will see in your Istanbul Tours. The classroom of the madrasah is an octagonal space covered with a dome.

You will see quite a number of sebils ( a water distribution system) on your Istanbul Tours. This one has 6 marble columns and iron-grilled windows between these columns.

The tomb is an open tomb surrounded with 12 colums and decorative iron-grills between them.

Where exactly?:

You can see the complex at the left hand side of the street, rgiht across Çorlulu Ali Paşa Complex. But the "sebil" (sebil: part of the complex that serves free drinks for charity) is at the right hand side of the street, serving as a sandwich shop today.

Adress: Yeniçeriler Street

13. Gedikpaşa Hamam:

This is one of the largest and nicest hamams you will see in your Istanbul Tours. It gave its name to the neighborhood.

It was commissioned for Grand Vizier Gedik Ahmet Paşa in 15th century.

It has a large dome covering the main space and small domes around it. It has 27 basins in men’s section and 21 basins in women’s section.

The building still serves as a hamam.

Where exactly?:

You can see it on the side street of the Divan Yolu, on the left hand side. Take the first left after Kara Mustafa Paşa Complex, walk down the street, you will see it on your left hand side.

Adress: Gedikpaşa Street

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I hope you liked the "Istanbul Tours, Walking Route 4: Imperial Road".

This is one of the best Istanbul Tours that will give you the feeling of Imperial Istanbul.

And I hope you are not tired yet! There are lots of Istanbul Tour options I have created for you...

Now let's head to:

"Istanbul Tours, Walking Route 5: Beyazıt Square and Süleymaniye Complex"

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