After Apamea, our van took us to Musyaf Castle, the legendary headquarters of the Order of Assassins. Known to the Crusaders as “Old Man of the Mountain”, Rashid ad-Din Sinan led the Syrian branch of the Nizari Ismaili sect, or what commonly known as the Order of Assassins, from Musyaf Castle on a 20m high plateau 40km west of Hama. In the 12th century, Rashid ad-Din Sinan controlled a part of northwestern Syria from Masyaf Castle. Rashid and his followers were famous for imposing the military tactics of assassinations in the region. In fact, the Order of Assassins was the origin of the modern word “assassination.” Sultan Saladin, the founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty who controlled a kingdom stretched from Syria and Yemen all the way to Egypt and North Africa, was Rashid’s primary enemy. A truce was made between the two simply because Saladin feared for the danger of assassination from Rashid’s network. In 1191, Rashid was involved in the successful assassination of Conrad of Montferrat, the King of Jerusalem. Musyaf Castle was later occupied by the Mamluks and Ottomans. After an extensive restoration in 2000, the legendary Masyaf Castle of the Assassins continues to dominate today’s skyline of the town of Masyaf.
Thanks to legends and folklore, books, graphic novels and video games, the mysterious Order of Assassins still lives long in people’s imagination after 800 years.
Funded by the Aga Khan Trust, extensive restoration of the castle was undertaken in the early 2000’s.
Appeared in the Assassin’s Creed game series as the base of the Assassin Order, Masyaf is actually a small peaceful city.
With a population of 22,000, Masyaf was inhabited since the 8th century BC. The Crusaders first knew of Masyaf and its castle in 1099 AD, 41 years before the castle was conquered by the Nizari Ismaili force.
In the Syrian Civil War, Israeli air strikes hit an Iranian associated missile production facility in Masyaf.
Often compared to his contemporary Michelangelo in the west, Mimar Sinan was the greatest architect of the Ottoman Empire. Out of the 370+ projects in his 50-year career, the famous chief architect of the Ottoman Empire considered Selimiye Mosque his true masterpiece. The UNESCO seems to agree on this and granted Selimiye Mosque the status of a world heritage. The huge complex is organized as a külliye, with a wide range of functions managed by the mosque. At Selimiye, Sinan experimented with various configuration of domes, semi-domes and galleries to form an impressive and unified interior bathed with natural light. The famous mosque was even depicted on the Turkish 10,000 lira banknote from 1982 – 1995.
A statue of Mimar Sinan was erected in front of the Mosque to commemorate his architectural achievement.
Instead of a series of small domes, Sinan built a large central dome instead. The size of the dome is similar to the one at Hagia Sophia.
As a külliye, the mosque complex also includes schools, covered market, clock house, outer courtyard and library, all being managed under one single institution.
Four identical minarets were erected by Sinan instead of a series of distinctive minarets like many of its predecessors.
At the four corners, minarets point up to the sky.
The interior is dominated by a series of semi domes and the central dome. Lines are symmetrical, simple and elegant.
Just like the Hagia Sophia, celestial windows are provided at the dome base to lighten up the interior.
Supported by eight pillars, the dome is a stunning spectacle from below.
A drinking fountain is housed under a richly decorated structure.
Considered as one of the finest in Turkey, the mihrab is visible from any location in the mosque.
Several circles of lights are suspended over the vivid carpet to provide a warm ambience in the evening.
Close to the border between Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey, about 240km northwest of Istanbul stands a small city with a big history. Founded by Roman Emperor Hadrian upon an earlier Thracian settlement, Edirne was known as Hadrianopolis in the Antiquity era. After conquered by the Ottomans, the city was renamed to Edirne, and served as the capital city of the Ottoman Empire from 1369 to 1453, before the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. With Selimiye Mosque, the UNESCO World Heritage site that has been widely considered as the best work of architect Mimar Sinan, and several other impressive mosques and historical complexes, Edirne is one of the most popular excursion destinations for tourists in Istanbul. Taking an early morning bus (2.5 hour) from Istanbul Bus Station, spending a full day at Edirne and returning to Istanbul by a late afternoon bus was exactly how we spent our day.
In the morning, we took the tram and then metro to the main otogar, the main bus terminal of Istanbul where one can catch a bus to any destination in Turkey, and even to neighboring countries. We picked one company (worth the time and effort to check out the options) for Edirne. Bus companies in Turkey come in various prices, comfort and service levels. In general, the buses are clean and pleasant. Our first impression of Edirne, the main gateway city between Europe and Turkey, was pretty laid-back and peaceful. It felt like a completely different world from bustling Istanbul.
Built in 1447, the Üç Şerefeli Mosque is one of the most well known mosque in Central Edirne. With a 24m diameter dome, the Üç Şerefeli Mosque had the largest dome in the Ottoman Empire before the conquest of Constantinople.
Üç Şerefeli Mosque literally means the “Mosque with Three Balconies”, referring to its unique minaret.
Opposite to Üç Şerefeli Mosque, Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Bath was a public bath designed by Mimar Sinan and completed in 1569. Part of the building was demolished to make way for road construction in the 1960’s. The demolition was ultimately stopped but its damage remains visible today, epitomizing the careless urban planning back in the 20th century.
Completed in 1414, the Eski Camii (Old Mosque) is the oldest mosque in Central Edirne.
The most notable features in Eski Camii are the large calligraphy on the walls.
The calligraphy were created at various times by artists from all over the Ottoman Empire.
Most of the interior decorations dated back to the 19th century.
The Eski Camii is covered with nine small domes instead of one large one.
We managed to walk around the city and explored different streets in the heart of Edirne.
On the streets of Edirne, we bumped into several groups of kids wearing football jerseys.