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Üsküdar is a large and densely populated suburb of Istanbul, on the Anatolian shore of the Bosphorus right opposite the heart of the great city, next to Kadıköy. It is home to about half a million people.
Üsküdar (ancient Chrysopolis, mediaeval Scutari) was a city in Bithynia founded in the 7th century BC, in a valley leading down to the Bosphorus shore, by the inhabitants of the Greek colony of Khalkedon and was first known as Chrysopolis (city of Gold) (perhaps because it was a wealthy little port, or because of the way it shone when viewed from Byzantion at sunset). The city was used as a harbour and shipyard and was an important staging post in the wars between the Greeks and Persians. In 410 BC Chrysopolis was walled by the Athenian general Alcibiades. As its larger and more important neighbor across the Bosphorus grew, the town became a toll-booth for the Bosphorus and later became the first point of defence of Byzantion against the Ottoman armies. Byzantine armies were stationed here, but to no avail; by the time Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans (in 1453) Üsküdar had already been in Turkish hands for 100 years.
In the Ottoman period Üsküdar was one of the three communities outside the city walls (along with Eyüp and Galata). The area was a major burial ground, and today many large cemeteries remain including Karacaahmet Mezarlığı, Bülbülderesi Mezarlığı, and a number of Jewish and Christian cemeteries. Karacaahmet Mezarlığı is one of Istanbul's largest cemeteries. Bülbülderesi Mezarlığı is said to be the favoured burial place of the Sabetay community, including the educator Şemsi Efendi; this cemetery is next to Fevziye Hatun mosque, also said to be a centre of Sabetay culture.
Üsküdar is Istanbul's oldest-established residential suburb and still fills that role today. It has a more relaxed atmosphere and therefore better quality of life than the overcrowded European side of the city yet is directly opposite the old city of Eminönü and transport across the Bosphorus is easy by boat or bridge. So there are well-established communities here, many retired people, and many residents commute to the European side for work or school (being cheap and central Üsküdar has a large student population). During rush-hour the waterfront is bustling with people running from ferryboats and motorboats onto buses and minibuses. And the smell of the sea, the sound of foghorns, motorboats and seagulls. And the best view of the city.
Now, in 2006, the central square is being dug up for a tunnel under the Bosphorus which will carry an underground railway. However this is predictably continuously running into artefacts of great archaeological value.
The area behind the ferry dock is a busy shopping district, with many restaurants and a number of important Ottoman mosques. There is however a need for more in the way of cafes, cinemas, billiard halls and places for young people to hang out.
Sights of Üsküdar
Uskudar has areas of greenery which can be an escape from the density of the city, including the Çamlıca hills and the Bosphorus coastline, and the area also has a number of important historical sites to visit, especially the palace at Beylerbeyi.
'Fetih Paşa Korusu' is a large park on the hillside coming right down to the Bosphorus shore slightly beyond Üsküdar in the area called Paşalimanı. It is named after Fetih Ahmet Paşa an Ottoman prince who among other things was responsible for industrialising the glassworks of Ottoman Turkey, and had a home in the area. The parkland is in fact privately owned and let to the state on condition that it is preserved as a park. The owners are the estate of pioneer Turkish industrialist Nuri Demirağ. There is a cafe in the park, a stone waterfall which children climb on and a small stage area where on Friday evenings in summer a band of amateur musicians give open-air concerts at sunset. At weekends the young lovers of Üsküdar collect here to stroll and cuddle in the shade.
Üsküdar is home to many historical mosques and Ottoman buildings, many built for the ladies of the harem, and many built by the famous architect Mimar Sinan. One of the first things you see on arriving by ferry are the two large mosques on either side of the ferry port; the Mosque of Mihrimah Sultan; and Mimar Sinan's Şemsi Paşa Mosque, the daughter and wazir of Suleiman the Magnificent respectively. Şemsi Paşa has a small library building in the courtyard and here one can sit and enjoy the sea breeze off the Bosphorus. Also in the centre of Uskudar you will see the fountain of Ahmet III, an impressive marble structure.
Going uphill above Uskudar and to the right as you come away from the coast, in the area called Doğancılar, there is the attractive mosque of Valide Sultan, which is very similar in style to the work of the great architect Sinan, and not far from here there is the beautifully tiled, Çinili Camii.
The religious monuments include the Aziz Mahmud Hudayi Tekke (Aziz Mahmud Hudayi who is buried in Üsküdar was the founder of the Jelveti Sufi order) and the Nasuhi Effendi Tekke (Nasuhi Effendi being the founder of the Nasuhiyye Khalwati Sufi order, and the grandfather of the late American Music Industry icon, Ahmet Ertegün).
Üsküdar ("Scutari") became famous during the Crimean War as the location of the British Army hospital modernized by Florence Nightingale from 1854 to 1857. This is now the Selimiye barracks and can be visited today, one room has been reconstructed as a museum to Florence Nightingale.