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ON THE SHORE OF LAKE, SEA AND HISTORY
2002 / MARCH

No pleasure can compare with that of entering a city for the first time, particularly when you have heard much told about it; or leaving a city behind on a journey to new places. For travellers from the Balkans and the distant countries of Europe making their way to Istanbul for the first time, the last stop before entering the city was Büyükçekmece. This lake, separated from the Marmara Sea only by a narrow strip of land, was also the first stop of travellers and Ottoman armies heading westwards. Here the great 16th century Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan built the Büyükçekmece mosque complex, which reflects his genius in its full splendour.
According to the 17th-century traveller Evliya Çelebi, Büyükçekmece was part of the judicial district of Eyüp on the Golden Horn. In Byzantine times the town was known as Atira or Atirus, and served as a halting place for travellers and armies, as it continued to do in Ottoman times. Evliya Çelebi writes that the lake was famous for plaice and eels, which were caught in the famous net fishery here.

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ON THE SHORE OF LAKE, SEA AND HISTORY
2002 / MARCH

Prior to the Zigetvar campaign of 1566 Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent commissioned Mimar Sinan to build a complex consisting of mosque, prayer terrace, kervansaray, water fountain, and the beautiful arched bridge spanning the neck of the lake, but did not live to see the work completed. The bridge consists of four separate sections with a total of 28 arches, and is 635 metres long in all. Hundreds of builders and stonemasons were employed on this ambitious project, whose position between sea and lake caused considerable difficulties according to contemporary chronicle writers. Huge pumps were used to remove the water in the process of inserting the gigantic piles for the bridg'si foundations. Molten lead was then poured into the spaces between the piles, each of which was over five metres in height. This technique, used for the first time by Mimar Sinan, has enabled the bridge to survive as strong as ever to the present day.

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ON THE SHORE OF LAKE, SEA AND HISTORY
2002 / MARCH
One of the most interesting features of the bridge are the jutting bays supported by consoles, and marked with inscription panels. One is carved with four couplets composed by the poet Hüdai and designed by the celebrated calligrapher Derviþ Mehmet, and another bears Sinan's signature. Here travellers could halt to rest on the long bridge, or converse with friends and acquaintances whom they met.At the eastern end of the bridge stands the kervansaray, built of stone and brick, and originally having a leaded roof, for which reason it was known as Kurþunlu Han or Lead Khan. After it fell into disuse as accommodation for travellers the building was used for some years as a storage depot for sunflower seed oil. The kervansaray was restored in 1988, and is now used as a cultural centre. One of the most fascinating features of the building illustrates Mimar Sinan's brilliant as an inventive engineer as well as architect. The chimney flues from the 21 fireplaces in the building lead to the piers of the bridge, and the hot air is thought to have prevented the surface of the bridge from icing over in cold weather.
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ON THE SHORE OF LAKE, SEA AND HISTORY
2002 / MARCH

Istanbul has grown over the centuries, and today Büyükçekmece lies on its outskirts. With its cultural park encompassing the historic buildings of the town, and its beautiful views of sea and lake, Büyükçekmece is a perfect place for a day out or weekend break. After visiting the beautiful triple panelled stone Fountain of Sultan Süleyman and listening to the echoes of past travellers in the kervansaray, you can enjoy lunch in one of the lakeside restaurants. Then as the sun begins to set, you can walk along the bridge to one of the balconies and watch its reddening reflections on the lake and the sea.

* Sami Boyaci is a freelance writer

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