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New book alert: ‘Istanbul 50 Unsung Places’

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Australian expat, author and sociologist Lisa Morrow has recently released a new guidebook on some of the most captivating yet lesser-known places of interest in Istanbul. From mosques to churches, doll museums and more, Morrow’s new guidebook, “Istanbul 50 Unsung Places” offers in-depth knowledge of 50 lesser-known sites broken down by different districts in the city. Each site contains personal directions and instructions on how to visit and why. I had the chance to catch up with Lisa to talk about her new book on Istanbul released this summer.

Morrow has been in Türkiye for over 20 years and while she now lives on the Asian side of Istanbul, she has lived in several cities in the country from the central Anatolian province of Nevşehir to the Mediterranean coastal city of Antalya and has been writing about her experiences in books and international publications for the last decade. “Istanbul 50 Unsung Places” is her first guidebook and came about through her fascination with the history, social life, religious customs and personal stories to be found in less famous sites around the city. This eclectic guide celebrates the rich cultural heritage of Istanbul, combining history, little-known facts, transport information, directions and handy tips.

The guidebook is the culmination of thorough research and field trips to 50 destinations throughout the city that are for the most part overlooked. Morrow details how exactly to get to the destinations, which include places such as mosques, tombs and museums. Of the 50 unsung places, 24 are on the European side, while 26 are on the Asian side.

“The names of sights are listed in Turkish because I know outside tourist areas not as many people speak English,” Morrow explained, adding that “the index is in English.” Available online in ebook and paperback form and soon to be available in bookshops in Istanbul, Morrow foresees people taking a screenshot or printing out the pages for the destinations they want to see and taking it along with them as the road map for their adventure.

“The guide includes descriptions of transport hubs in Kadıköy, Üsküdar, Taksim and Eminönü. The idea is you know what you want to see and how to get there, so you can enjoy the moment rather than constantly having to check your phone for directions. I also know not all tourists have Wi-Fi while they’re here, so readers can screenshot a walking route in advance.”

As for how the book came about, Morrow says: “I’ve spent years going to less visited places in Istanbul, all by public transport. People were always interested when I talked about what I’d seen and learned, both Turks and internationals, so I decided to put together a guide. I really want people to experience the Istanbul I live in, a place where tradition and modernity combine to create a unique and distinct atmosphere I call the ‘everyday extraordinary.”

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Undiscovered destinations

Morrow takes her readers to destinations you won’t find in guides like Lonely Planet, but as you will see they are each equally captivating in their own right, such as Zühtü Paşa Mosque near Kızıltoprak. Built in 1883-34, it contains the largest number of examples of Kufic writings of any mosque in Istanbul. Kūfic is a type of handwritten Islamic script, believed to have first been used to record quotes from the Quran in the early Islamic center of Kufah, Iraq, and this mosque has the scripture covering its walls and dome.

Morrow also takes her readers to the Yeraltı Mosque in Karaköy, which as the name suggests is hidden underground.

The interior of the Yeraltı Mosque is seen in Karaköy, Istanbul, Türkiye. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Morrow)

Another site is the Şakirin Mosque in a cemetery in Üsküdar, near Kadıköy, which was designed by a woman. Morrow also ends up in Marmara University’s Theology Faculty Mosque and Culture Centre in Altunizade and describes the fantastic fractal dome housed inside a post-modern building that also contains a library and a cafe.

Morrow visits the Aya Efimia Rum Ortodoks Kilisesi in Kadıköy, a Greek Orthodox church named after Saint Euphemia who died in A.D. 303. Her tumultuous life is described at length in the book. Morrow also takes her reader along walks in Validebağ Grove, located near Altunizade, a 354,000-square-meter (3.81 million-square-foot) tree-filled grove that once belonged to a sultan’s mother.

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An old giant tree in Validebağ Grove, located near Üsküdar's Altunizade, Istanbul, Türkiye. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Morrow)
An old giant tree in Validebağ Grove, located near Üsküdar’s Altunizade, Istanbul, Türkiye. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Morrow)

Some of the stories behind the sites are just interesting, such as how the Haydarpaşa Train Station was constructed by German architects to accommodate the tomb of Şeyh Haydar Buhari. I also didn’t know that there was a museum, called the Üsküdar Hanım Sultanlar Museum, devoted to exhibiting handmade dolls dressed in miniature exact copies of outfits worn by the sultana and sultans of the Ottoman Empire. The guidebook also contains cultural gems such as mosque etiquette, answering any of the questions that could pop into your mind. This is why whether you’re familiar with the city or not, reading “Istanbul 50 Unsung Places” is a treasure.

Morrow has written a number of books on her observations in Türkiye and is the author of the popular blog on all things Istanbul-related and beyond entitled “Inside Out in Istanbul.” Having lived in Türkiye for nearly two decades, she has been offering personal insights and sharing her tried-and-tested experiences in her entertaining vernacular with readers for decades.

Some of her books include “Istanbul Dreams: Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom,” which is her memoir about moving to Türkiye for good in 2010 when she bought an apartment and had to deal with relocating and bureaucracy. There is also “Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City” and “Longing for Istanbul: The Words I Haven’t Said Yet,” as well as “Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries,” which has also been translated into Turkish as “Türkiyeyi Keşfederek Sınırlarını Aşarken.” In addition, Morrow has created an audio tour of a walk in Kadıköy called “Stepping Back Through Chalcedon.”

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