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Fatih (in turkish: conqueror) is one of the largest and central districts of Istanbul, Turkey, in the heart of the city. Since it constitutes the old quarter of the city conquered by Mehmed II the Conqueror, even today it is also called as the "real Istanbul" or the "first Istanbul". (Previously, Eminönü, the tip of the peninsula, was also a part of Fatih district. Today Fatih and Eminönü together constitute the old Istanbul peninsula up to the medieval city walls, that area which was formerly the Byzantine capital Constantinople.) Fatih sits within the Roman walls, is home to Fatih Mosque, the first prominent Ottoman mosque in Istanbul. Since it is the primary historical area of the city, it contains some of the most important historical monuments in the city.


The main road which cuts through Fatih is Fevzi Pasa Caddesi, which leads from the Beyazit area up to the walls of the city, for a long time this was a main artery of the city. To the right (as you come out of the city) is the equally important old Valens aqueduct from the Byzantine era. Add to this the fact that the area is high up and has a commanding view of both the Sea of Marmara and of the Golden Horn, and it is easy to see why the Byzantines built a number of palaces here. And then a crowded city neighbourhood grew around it.

Furthermore, the hilltops of Istanbul have been crowned with religious architecture ever since the city was founded, and the area known as Fatih contains some of these hills; Constantine's memorial was on one, then a church of Justinian, a major church dedicated to the 12 disciples of Jesus, which in 1461 was destroyed by Mehmet II to make way for the Fatih Mosque. Finally, following the Fatih mosque complex, built on the fourth hill, came many tombs and mosques built in memory of the Ottoman hierarchy.


Ottoman period

The name "Fatih" comes from the emperor Fatih Sultan Mehmet, and means in Arabic the 'conqueror'. The Fatih Mosque built by Mehmet II is here in the district, his resting place is next to the Mosque and is much visited. It was on the ruins of a church, destroyed by earthquake and years of war, that the Fatih mosque was built, and around the mosque a large prayer school.

Immediately after the conquest groups of Islamic scholars had occupied the major churches of Aya Sofya and the Pantocrator (today Zeyrek Mosque) but the Fatih complex was the first purpose built Islamic seminary within the city walls. The building of the mosque complex ensured that the area continued to thrive beyond the conquest; markets grew up to support the thousands of workers involved in the building and to supply them with materials, and then to service the students in the seminary. The area quickly became a Turkish neighbourhood with a particularly pious character due to the seminary. Some of this piety has endured until today.

Also after the conquest the Edirnekapı gate in the city walls became the major exit to Thrace and this gave a whole new lease of life to the neighbourhoods overlooking the Golden Horn. The Fatih mosque was on the road to Edirnekapı and the Fatih district became the most populous area of the city in early Ottoman times and in the 16th century more mosques and markets were built including: Iskender Pasha Mosque, once famous as a centre for the Naqshbandi order in Turkey); Hirka-l-Sharif Mosque, which houses the cloak of the Prophet Muhammad (The Mosque is in common use but the cloak is only on show during the month of Ramadan; the Jerrahi Tekke; The Sunbul Effendi Tekke and the Ramazan Effendi Tekke both in the Kocamustafapaşa district and Vefa Kilise Mosque. The last 4 were named after the founders of various Sufi orders, and Sheik Ebü’l Vefa in particular was of major importance in the city and was very fond of Fatih. Many other mosques, schools, baths and fountains in the area were built by military leaders and officials in the Ottoman court.


From the 18th century onwards Istanbul began to grow outside the walls, and then began the transformation of Fatih into the mass of concrete apartment buildings that we have today. This process has been accelerated over the years by fire which destroyed whole neighbourhoods of wooden houses, and a major earthquake in 1766, which destroyed the Fatih mosque and many of the surrounding buildings, (which were subsequently rebuilt). Fires continued to ravage the old city and the wide roads that run through the area today are a legacy of all that burning. There are few wooden buildings left in Fatih today, although right up until the 1960s the area was covered with narrow streets of wooden buildings. Now it is narrow streets of tightly packed 5- or 6-floor apartment buildings.

Fatih today

Valens Aqueduct in Fatih
Valens Aqueduct in Fatih

Today Fatih, which is one of the largest districts of Istanbul contains areas including Aksaray, Fındıkzade, Çapa, Vatan Caddesi that are more cosmopolitan than the extreme conservative image it has in the eyes of many people (because of the Çarşamba community). It is one of the largest districts of Istanbul and with Eminönü which was officially an area of Fatih district until 1928 and with its historical Byzantine walls, conquered by Mehmed II, it is the "real" Istanbul of the old times before the current enlargement.

Admittedly the area has become more and more crowded and from the 1960s onwards the more middle class residents moved to the Anatolian side and other parts of the city. Fatih is now very working class but being a previously wealthy area is better-resourced, with a better established community than the desperate poverty of the newly built areas like Bağcılar or Esenler, which are inhabited entirely by 1980s migrants in desperate circumstances. Fatih at least was mostly built to some sort of plan.

Besides Haliç University and Kadir Has University, two different Faculty of Medicine campuses of Istanbul University (Çapa Faculty of Medicine and Cerrahpaşa Faculty of Medicine) are in Fatih.

Moreover, since 1586 the Orthodox Christian Patriarchate of Constantinople has its headquarters in the relatively modest Church of St George in the Fener district of Fatih.

Fatih has many theatres, including famous Reşat Nuri Sahnesi. The area is quite well-served for schools, hospitals and public amenities in general. As Fatih is next to Eminönü there is a smaller choice of shopping than in other areas, but there are still boutiques on the main thoroughfares, many of which still carry a fair number of trees. A number of Istanbul's longest-established hospitals are in Fatih, including the Istanbul University teaching hospitals of Çapa and Cerrahpaşa, and Haseki Public Hospital, Samatya Public Hospital, Vakıf Gureba Public Hospital. A tramway runs from the docks at Sirkeci, through Sultanahmet to Aksaray which is a part of Fatih.

Also, headquarters of some of the main units of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, including the Fire Authority of the city are based in Fatih.

Fatih has many historical and modern libraries, including Edirnekapı Halk Kütüphanesi, Fener Rum Patrikhanesi Kütüphanesi (the Library of the Patriarchate), Hekimoğlu Ali Paşa Halk Kütüphanesi, İstanbul University Cerrahpaşa Tıp Fakültesi Kütüphanesi, İstanbul Üniversitesi Kardiyoloji Ensitütüsü Kütüphanesi, İstanbul Üniversitesi Tıp Fakültesi Hulusi Behçet Kitaplığı, İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi Kadın Eserleri Kütüphanesi, Millet Kütüphanesi, Mizah Kütüphanesi, Murat Molla Halk Kütüphanesi, Ragıppaşa Kütüphanesi, Yusufpaşa Halk Kütüphanesi.

Moreover, it must be pointed out that - according to Fatih Police - in the night hours the quarter is quite unsafe.

On the other hand, today Fatih is known as one of the most (Islamic) conservative areas of Istanbul because of Çarşamba area which is essentially a very minor part of this historical district. Çarşamba is famous with bearded men in heavy coats, the traditional baggy 'shalwar' trousers and Islamic turban and women dressed in full black gowns are a common sight as this area is popular with members of the Naqshbandi Sufi order affiliated to a Sheikh, who is known as 'Mahmud Hoca'. Conservative parties always do well in this area.


Some parts of Fatih


Things to see

Today, there are still remnants of the sea walls along the Golden Horn and along the Marmara shore, to give a sense of the shape of old walled city and there are a number of important pieces of architecture in the Fatih district, including the Valens Aqueduct across Ataturk Bulvari, the fortress on the city walls at Yedikule, the Byzantine Palace of Porphyrogenitus, the Roman column of Marcian, Fethiye Cami, Kariye Camii (the former Byzantine church of the Chora), Gül Camii (another former Byzantine church), Fenari Isa Camisi (a complex of two byzantine churches), the Greek Patriarchate with the Church of St George in the Fener district, Yavuz Selim Camii, and the Fatih Mosque itself.

The tombs of some of the famous sultans, including Mehmed II the Conqueror (Fatih Sultan Mehmet) and Selim I the Grim (Yavuz Sultan Selim) and some of the leading statesmen of the Ottoman Empire, including Gazi Osman Pasha are in Fatih.

There is no doubt much, much more history remains buried under the concrete.


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