Büyük Valide Han is a hidden gem in Istanbul. The big han of the Sultan’s Mother is a historical inn where you can see the past, the present and one of the best views of Istanbul off the beaten path. Let me take you there!
If you visit me in Istanbul, I won’t take you to the Blue Mosque or to Hagia Sophia. Needless to say, you should visit those places too. But now, that I call this city my home, I prefer to show you its secrets and take you off the beaten path. I will show you those corners of Istanbul that you won’t find in the guidebooks. I will take you to the spots that only few tourists get to discover and even most locals don’t know. We will go to places that, in order to find, first we will have to get lost. Today I am taking you to one of those places, one of my favorites spots in Istanbul. This is a gem, a majestic old building from where you will be able to see the past, the present and one of the most breathtaking views of this endless city. Welcome to the Büyük Valide Han, the big han of the Sultan’s Mother.
Located all over Istanbul, the so called “hans” or “caravanserais” are buildings that once upon a time offered accommodation to the traveling merchants and their animals. They also stored the Oriental and European wares from the ships that arrived to the Golden Horn.
The oldest, biggest and probably most impressive of the Istanbul hans is Büyük Valide Han. Built in 1651 by Sultan Murad IV’s mother, this Ottoman building accommodated thousands of traveling merchants and their animals for more than 350 years.
Most of the old hans in Istanbul have been already abandoned. However in the Büyük Valide Han, is still possible to find some craftmen that seem to be reluctant to leave the building and keep working as they have done for centuries.
Büyük Valide Han: How to get there?
The Büyük Valide Han is located in Fatih, the district that encompasses the historical peninsula of Istanbul (Constantinople). More specifically, the han is located in Çakmakçılar Yokuşu, one of the bustling backstreets of Mercan, the neighborhood between the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar.
To get there, your best bet is taking the tram to Eminönü, locate the Spice Bazaar and keep walking North towards the Grand Bazaar through the labyrinthine alleys that connect both bazaars. If you have a GPS, look for Valide Han in Çakmakçılar Yokuşu. Here is a map I have found for you:
Finding the old building between the bustling backstreets around the bazaars is part of the experience! Since the building has its name in the entrance, you will know when you’ve come to the right place.
Once you have located the Büyük Valide Han, go through the large wooden gate. After passing by the first courtyard, you will see an abandoned building to your left. Climb the stone stairs and you will be inside the old han.
Büyük Valide Han has two floors and three courtyards. If you want to venture up, find the caretaker, Mehdi Bey (who is usually in the second floor) and offer him a small tip to unlock the door for you, really worthy for the breathtaking views and the experience you are about to get. Note that climbing up to the roof is at your own risk, watch your steps!
Even though this place does not appear in any Istanbul guidebook, Büyük Valide Han is not longer a secret. Whenever I visited, I shared the roof with large groups of tourists, both foreign and local. Some of them were jumping over the domes while trying to get the best picture and putting at risk both the building and themselves. Do not forget this place was built over 350 years ago and remains in a visible damaged condition. Please, avoid jumping over the domes and running across the rooftop.
This is a historical place, a real gem that has somehow survived the passage of time. Please respect the history of the building!
In the heart of Istanbul but still off the beaten track, Büyük Valide Han is the perfect place for those interested in the non touristic side of the city. If you like to climb on roofs and are interested in historical and abandoned places, you should not miss this treasure. Enjoy!