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. Let me take you there!
If you visit me in Istanbul, I won’t take you to the Blue Mosque or to Hagia Sophia. Of course, you should visit those places too. But now that I call this city home, I would prefer to show you its secrets, and take you off the beaten path. I will show you the 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 about. 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 favorite spots in Istanbul. This is a gem, a majestic old building from which you will be able to see into 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 abandoned. However in the Büyük Valide Han, is still possible to find some craftmen that seem 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 on the entrance, you will know it when you see it.
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 step!
Even though this place does not appear in any Istanbul guidebook, Büyük Valide Han is not longer a secret. Whenever I visit, 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 both the building and themselves at risk. 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-touristy 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!