Filed under: History & Information, neighborhoods, Restaurants & Bars, Shopping, top-feature
Divanyoglu – the heart of Sultanahmed
Divanyoglu is a street. The name, meaning ‘Way of the Council’ comes from the fact that during the times of the Ottoman Empire, the ministers and members of the sultan’s council used this road to arrive at Topkapi Palace.
On horseback of course, accompanied by their entourage and in full regalia. Today’s visitors and citizens of Istanbul alike who use this main thoroughfare of Sultanahmed on a daily basis may wear trainers and backpacks or suits and laptop cases, but it’s still the heart of the district and full of things to do and to see.
From Hagia Sofia to Grand Bazaar
Stepping out of Hagia Sofia and heading west, just following the tracks of the streetcar you find yourself at the upper end of Divanyoglu. It’s a semi-pedestrian street, which means it’s closed to general traffic but the #38 streetcar from Zeytinburnu to Kabatas runs along it. So do the occasional police car or tourist bus and therefore you are well advised to look both ways before crossing from one side to the other. The pavements are a bit tricky too, quite narrow in places, uneven and with an unexpected step here and there which can cause a sprained ankle if you get distracted.
Sutlanahmed has a long history. In Byzantine times, horse races and contests were held in the hippodrome which is now a park from which the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, the Theodosius Obelisk and the Million Stone are all visible and within walking distance.You really couldn’t be closer to Istanbul’s main attractions than in Divanyolgu.
At the other end of our walk, a good 30 minutes away if you don’t stop much in between is the Grand Bazaar but if you don’t want to walk just hop on the #38 for a few stops.
Divanyoglu’s modern attractions
It isn’t only ancient history which makes Divanyoglu so interesting to explore. A multitude of cafes and restaurants line the street and its side alleys. I am particularly fond of several ‘holes in the wall’ where you just lean in the window, point at the hot and cold dishes displayed in a buffet and eat at a table inside at much more reasonable prices than in restaurants with full service.
You’ll also find travel agencies which not only provide air and bus tickets but also excursions, tickets for the whirling dervishes and nightclub shows.
Next comes another favourite of mine: one of Istanbul’s best and most famous bookshops, called, appropriately, ‘Bookshop’. There are actually two, one on each side of Divanyoglu. They have an amazing selection of books about Turkey and Turkish culture, from guidebooks to literature to stunning coffee table books. They also carry a variety of novels in English, French, German and Russian.
An adjacent very small and dark shop deserves closer inspection. It’s an antique shop which sells silver mirrors and other artefacts as well as drawings and etchings from artists of the Ottoman period. The best pieces are inside and the owner is happy to show you all his amazing treasures.
Still some money left? Then take a glance of some exquisite jewellery shops or try on a pair of the unique carpet boots.
Even if you don’t get much further, a few hours are easily and enjoyably spent walking up and down Divanyoglu alone.
Photographs are author’s own.