Stand with your back to the Galata Bridge so that you’re facing the Spice Market – Rüstem Pasha is to the right of the Spice Market. If you wander around in there, you’ll find another market, mostly of clothes. Apparently this street is called Uzun Carsi Caddesi but the likelihood of finding the sign that says this is pretty much nil. Walk along this street and soon enough you’ll come across a brassy sign on your right, six feet up declaring this hole in the wall is the entrance to the Rüstem Pasha Mosque.
Rüstempaşa Camii, or Rustem Pasha Mosque in English, is a beautiful example of an Ottoman mosque. To me, it was beautiful both for its looks and for the fact that it was uncrowded. It isn’t as famous as other mosques in Istanbul and I’m not sure why as its tile work is quite amazing. Maybe because it is smaller in size or “difficult” to find? True, it isn’t situated in an open plaza like the Blue Mosque or the New Mosque; instead, it is smack in the middle of the Hasırcılar Çarşısı (Strawmat Weavers Market) in the Eminönü area. However, we found it easily enough. While I didn’t see any mats of straw at the market, there were tons of everything else and the hustle and bustle meant if you happened to take one step too many while looking in the wrong direction, you’ll totally miss the entrance to the mosque. So my tip for Rüstem Pasha is PAY ATTENTION. Shop later!
This mosque was designed by Mimar Sinan, an Ottoman imperial architect, in the 1560s. It was built up over the shops of the market, so when you enter the doorway, you will have to climb some dark narrow stairs. Once up, the mosque is situated on an open terrace. The Iznik tiles that make Rüstem Pasha so beautiful are apparent starting from the exterior walls of the mosque. The patterns are typically floral and geometric and the colours are mostly blues and red. They are everywhere.
Rüstem Pasha was apparently the guy who had a hand in the destruction of the Ottoman Empire. Okay, that might be harsh. But Mr. Pasha did help Roxelana, wife of the Sultan, trick the imperial leader into beheading his heir which allowed Roxelana’s son to succeed to the throne in 1566. That son was known as Selim the Sot. Says it all right there. Whether it is true or not, history states that because of Selim’s fondness for “having a good time”, his ascension marked the start of the Empire’s decline.
Inside the mosque, it was cool, quiet, and peaceful. The lack of tourists meant we could ogle the high domes, arches, pillars, tiles, mother of pearl inlays, and wood without having to have one eye on the human surroundings. Rüstem Pasha Mosque is the perfect example of “it’s not the size – it’s what you do with it”. Despite its small dimensions, it truly is a jewel box of a mosque. And one that was very expensive to build back in the day when considering the amount of red that shows up in the Iznik tiles (red was the hardest colour to produce on tile work).
So how does one find the entrance to this mosque when the entrance is hidden in between the stalls of a busy market? How does one even find the right market? First, it takes a bit of luck. Second, it takes the same level of attention it takes to find Waldo. Third, follow some vague directions such as: