Samatya Tour, July 2018

This is about a solo walking tour on Sunday, July 1, 2018. I was mostly around the Seventh Hill of the old walled city of Constantinople, ultimately in the quarter called Ψαμάθεια in Greek, and in Turkish Samatya.

The English Wikipedia page for Samatya says the Greek name means a sandy place; but in the big Liddell–Scott lexicon the words with this meaning are ψαμαθηίς and ψαμαθία, with a different syllable accented than in Ψαμάθεια. This may be a case where the written preservation of the ancient accents is useful. In modern Greek, the Pocket Oxford Greek Dictionary defines ψαμμίασις as “gravel” in the medical sense, and sand as άμμος. In Türkiye’deki Tarihsel Adlar (Historical Names in Turkey: Istanbul, 1993), Bilge Umar traces the name of Samatya to the Neriad Ψαμάθη mentioned in Hesiod’s Theogony line 1004, and Ἀμάθεια in Homer’s Iliad, Book XVIII, line 48.

In Homer, Amatheia is one of 33 named Nereids, and more unnamed, called by Thetis when her son Achilles learns that Patroclus has been killed. What Hesiod writes is,

As for the daughters of Nereus, the old man of the sea, Psamathe, divine among goddesses, bore Phocus in love with Aeacus because of golden Aphrodite; while Thetis, the silver-footed goddess, overpowered by Peleus, gave birth to Achilles, man-breaker, lion-spirited.

If not from Hesiod, we know from Homer (e.g. Iliad XVI, 15) that Aeacus is father of Peleus.

I have quoted the Loeb translation of Hesiod by Glenn Most, which I bought in Homer Kitabevi in 2009. Earlier this year in the same bookshop, when I was perusing the new Loeb volumes of Early Greek Philosophy, edited by Most and André Laks, another browser told me that he had been Most’s doctoral student. He showed me a quotation of his own review on the back of a book; actually it was a bad book, but the review had been edited to sound like praise.

I already knew a case like that. The book was Aladdin’s Lamp: How Greek Science Came to Europe Through the Islamic World (2009). The paperback cover quotes two reviews, which suggest that the idea of the book is interesting; but the book itself it not praised. One review says the author “chronicles the transmission of scientific ideas,” and this has been my feeling (I haven’t finished): the book is a chronicle, in the sense of a list of events. The author is the late John Freely, whose excellent Strolling Through Istanbul (written originally with Hilary Sumner-Boyd, 1972; revised by Freely, 2010) has been my guide in Samatya and elsewhere.

I had toured the Seventh Hill in 2013 with a friend. I had no clear plan this time, but when I left home Sunday morning, I decided to get on the subway, and I got off at Vezneciler, where the tour described in my last post had begun. Wandering, I encountered the Çukur Çeşme Hanı, the khan (the inn, the caravanserai) of the sunken fountain. The shops sold clothing, but were closed on a Sunday. However, a man and a woman were in the first courtyard. The woman in particular seemed to want to help me; but all she could find to say in English was “English?” I explained in Turkish that I was just looking around.

Laleli Mosque

I turned out to be just north of Laleli Cami, an eighteenth-century Imperial mosque that I knew nothing about.

As I wandered around the garden, I kept encountering a young man, who would look at me. I had assumed he was local, but finally I asked him in Turkish whether he was a tourist. He was. Where was he from? Iran. He was Tabrizi, so he knew Turkish.

When I told Ali I had been to Iran, starting in Tabriz, he said it was a bad country. He didn’t understand why I would have left Washington. Donald Trump’s rejection of the nuclear treaty with Iran is expected to turn Iranians against America; but this young man seemed not to have got the memorandum. He had a nearly shaven head, but told me he worked as a hairdresser. He didn’t seem to understand what it meant that I was a mathematician. When I wanted to enter the mosque itself, he did not seem inclined to follow along; but he took a selfie with me.

Somebody seemed to be asleep on the carpeted floor of the mosque.

Outside, the men’s toilets were spectacular.

Cerrahpaşa Mosque

I did not enter Cerrahpaşa Mosque this time.

Sitting in the green garden was pleasant enough.

Nearby was the peculiar building that I had spied over its wall on the last visit, but not identified. It had a dome raised on cylinder, as in some Greek churches; it had windows with lintels supported by marble columns. It was not shaped like a church, but it could be the palace of an ecclesiastic. This time I resolved to circumambulate it, to find an entrance and perhaps a better view and an explanation. This took me on a broad circuit. I first had to turn back towards the Cerrahpaşa Mosque.

Kürkçübaşı Mosque

I went down an alleyway that ended at the gate of a school. It was a Quran school, apparently. Smartly dressed boys came out and looked at me as if I was in the wrong place. When I suggested that the big building nearby was a church, they seemed to agree.

Descending the hill towards the Sea of Marmara, I discovered the Kürkçübaşı Mosque. It seemed to be wooden, and it did not have a dome. According to the plaque, it had been erected in 1520 by Ahmet Şemsettin, the fur-coat-minder or Kürkçübaşı of Süleyman the Magnificent.

The original mosque burned in 1892. According to the Ottoman archives, a replacement was planned in 1894; but this was put on hold by the earthquake of that year, which destroyed many mosques. Two thirds of the land was sold during the Republican period. Nonetheless, in 2017, one İbrahim Çetin was able to realize the plan of 1894. Good for him.

Eventually my tour had me climbing back up the hill on a stairway. I found what seemed to be the gate of the unknown palace; but there was no plaque, and no good view of the palace.

Column of Arcadius

I continued along the route of 2013, first stopping by the vestigial Column of Arcadius from the fifth century.

The soup kitchen (imaret) of the Haseki Hürrem Sultan Külliyesi had been been under renovation and off limits in 2013. The garden was a construction zone then. Now it was green and landscaped, but I still couldn’t get in. The sign outside called it the Haseki Abdurrahman Gürses Eğitim Merkezi. Haseki was the title of the chief consort of the Sultan, and Hürrem, a.k.a. Roxelana, was apparently the first to hold this title. I don’t know who Abdurrahman Gürses was or is. Eğitim Merkezi is “teaching center”; but whether the teaching is of anything ennobling or at least useful, I do not know.

Further along the roat, a cat sat atop a tomb.

The plaque on the fence around the graveyard read, SEYDİ BABA TEKKESİ / MEŞRUTASI / RUHUNA FATİHA / RUMİ 1226, which means something like, “Held in mortmain by the dervish lodge of Father Seydi, R.I.P. 1810.”

I had assumed that Rumi referred to the Roman or Common-Era calender; but then 1226 would have predated the Ottoman conquest. Now I have learned that the Rumi calendar measures solar years from the Hejira.

Davutpaşa Mosque had been open five years before; now it was closed for renovation.

Hekimoğlu Ali Paşa Mosque

As at Cerrahpaşa, so at Hekimoğlu Ali Paşa Mosque, the garden was good place to sit. A man on my right read a newspaper while kittens played about his feet, a dish of milk nearby. Presently a man sat at my left and said Selam aleykum, and I said Aleykum selam.

Over by the mosque itself, a man fondled a cat in his lap.

I headed back down the hill towards the sea.

Monastery of Stoudios

On Samatya Caddesi, I headed west towards the Theodosian Walls, in order to see, for the first time, what could be seen of the Church of St John the Baptist of Studius, later the İmrahor Mosque.

I couldn’t get in, though the municipal worker who was sweeping up the figs that had fallen about the gate said that sometimes it was open. I sat in the nearby park before continuing down towards the sea.


Bits of the old sea walls are still standing.

The highway runs outside the walls, presumably on “reclaimed” land.

I walked east towards the subway. Some folks were picnicking on the grass. One group had brought a table, and beer sat on it. Some men bathed in the sea.

Eventually I could see Cerrahpaşa Mosque, up on the hill, and the unknown palace to its left. Back home, from a map on the web I found that the palace was the Bulgur Palace, it had held the records of the Ottoman Bank, and apparently it had been acquired by the bank as collateral on an unpaid loan; a project to make it into a sanatorium was never realized. This information is from SALT, the art institution of Garanti Bank whose Beyoğlu gallery recently reopened, after having been closed for some time for “renovation,” although rumor suggested more was going on.

Edited May 18, 2023

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Community « Polytropy on November 3, 2019 at 7:17 am

    […] Christians to have their own patriarchate. This was pointed out to me by a fellow on the street in Samatya, where “Mohammed II” (Fatih [“Conquering”] Sultan Mehmet) allowed or even […]

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    […] also a later post, “Samatya Tour, July, 2018,” for more in this area, […]

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