Istanbul is celebrated for its mosques, and rightly so. It seems there are inspiring mosques on every corner in this city, contending with each other in their magnificence, the number of minarets they have, the height of their domes, the opulence of their treasures, and their architectural brilliance.
Rustem Pasha Mosque is tucked away in a labyrinth of bustling backstreets by the Spice Bazaar near the Golden Horn that goes about its day-to-day business, quietly unconscious to its beauty. The mosque is small in comparison with the others. The exceptionality of this mosque is that it is filled with gorgeously elaborate Iznik wall tiles.
Rustem Pasha Mosque, in Hasircilar Caddesi, is smothered in brilliant blue and white lznik tiles that make those in the Blue Mosque look faded and tired. It dates back to the mid-sixteenth century, when the famous architect Sinan designed the mosque for Rustem Pasha, the son-in-law and grand vizier of the great Ottoman Emperor Suleyman I, “The Magnificent.”
The way in to the Rustem Pasha Mosque is a small stairway concealed among shops full of activity and selling everything from household goods to cheap T-shirts. It is easy to fail to notice, as if it has been designed to intentionally dissuade visitors, and it seems to do the trick. There is no steady murmur of visiting voices here, no persistent reminder of visiting crowds, just peace and stillness. Walking up the stone staircase to the mosque’s main patio, you are greeted by a multitude of patterns—every arcade and every wall seems to be festooned with distinctive designs of tiles as if you are walking through an enormous kaleidoscope. This composition is very pleasing and has a unambiguous architectural harmony.
Daylight streams in through the many honeycomb patterned windows surrounding its dome, highlighting the colors and their effervescence. It is a dramatic example of the proverb that small is beautiful, and is the perfect place to dodge the noise and mayhem of the city, if you can find your way to the entrance, that is. In addition, if you’re looking for a break, surrender to the Turkish baths at Cagaloglu Hamam and its barbershop-quality shaves.