Behind the unsightly docks of Haydarpaşa Limanı, piled high with containers unloaded off ships from all over the world, is an area often overlooked by those exploring Istanbul. There are some unique historical treasures to be found.
Selimiye, located in Üsküdar, is not a residential or commercial area. It’s populated with several military buildings, universities and schools, hospitals, and the Harem Otogarı, a large bus station. A few of the interesting buildings located there are visible from the ferries coming from the European side to Kadıköy.
One of these belongs to the law faculty of Marmara Üniversitesi. It was used as a high school, Haydarpaşa Lisesi, from 1933 to 1983. To me, it looks somewhat like a huge haunted mansion. My friend Selen attended law school there and said it’s just as scary on the inside as it is on the outside, but nonetheless quite a remarkable building.
The other noticeable structure is a massive building with a large tower in each of its four corners. This is a historic military barracks called the Selimiye Kışlası. Built originally of wood in 1799 by Selim III, the Janissaries burned it down in a revolt in 1808. Mahmut II rebuilt it in 1828 out of stone. It was temporarily used as a British military hospital in 1853 during the Crimean War. The barracks now serve as the headquarters for the Türk Kara Kuvvetleri (Turkish Land Forces), the main branch of the Turkish Armed Forces.
A little known fact is that English nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale lived and worked at the barracks from 1854 to 1857. It was there that the first organized military hospital was developed and many modern nursing techniques in hygiene and sanitation were first documented. A room in the northernmost tower is now a museum dedicated to her contributions, while the actual room is currently being used by the Turkish military.
It’s possible to visit the museum by making an appointment two days in advance. You’ll have to fax a copy of your passport to the base with a desired visit date and time and a contact number (your hotel should be able to do this for you). When you arrive and go through security, you’ll have to surrender your camera and phone at the entrance. The fax number is +90 (216) 310 79 29.
Unfortunately, over 6,000 British soldiers died at the Selimiye Kışlası during the Crimean War. Many of them are buried in the nearby Haidar Pasha Cemetery, hidden away out of sight and very much off the tourist trail. Most of the Crimean War graves are not marked, but there are graves of Commonwealth soldiers from both World Wars and some British civilians. In addition, there’s an obelisk erected by Queen Victoria in 1857 and a plaque dedicated to Florence Nightingale in 1954. A marker points visitors in the direction of the well-kept cemetery.
On a hill overlooking the Selimiye Kışlası is the Büyük Selimiye Camii, a mosque built in 1801 by Selim III. It’s not often visited by tourists but is thought of as one of the more beautiful mosques in Istanbul. I really enjoyed the shaded setting among the tall trees in its courtyard. Click here for a virtual tour.
To get to this part of Üsküdar from the European side, first take a ferry to Üsküdar. You can take a dolmuş going from Üsküdar to Kadıköy and ask the driver to let you out at Karacaahmet Mezarlığı. All the sites are within walking distance from there. Alternatively, a taxi wouldn’t cost much to hire to take you directly to the area with the barracks, university, and cemetery. You can also walk south along the seaside if you have extra time to kill. It could take about 45 minutes.