Two interesting yet less visited sights in Istanbul are located near each other. The 16th Century Şehzade Mosque and the 4th Century Valens Aqueduct are a few hundred feet and 1,180 years of history apart.
The Valens Aqueduct was a major part of the water infrastructure of the Eastern Roman capital of Constantinople. Completed under the reign of Roman Emperor Valens in the late 4th century AD, it was later expanded during Byzantine rule. Over 250 kilometers in extent, it is believed to be the longest water supply line from the ancient world. The Valens Aqueduct remains one of the greatest achievements of hydraulic engineering of its time.
After the Ottoman conquest, the Valens Aqueduct was rejuvenated. As Constantinople became known as Istanbul, the aqueduct continued to bring water to the now Ottoman-ruled city. The aqueduct served the metropolis into the 19th Century.
Today remnants of the Valens Aqueduct still stand. A modern city has developed around a 95-foot high segment of the structure near the Şehzade Mosque. Car traffic on multi-lane Atatürk Boulevard is routed underneath the aqueduct’s supporting double arches. A contemporary piece of street art, a Space Invader, is attached to the façade of an archway.
The Şehzade Mosque is famous as the first major commission by the legendary Ottoman Imperial Architect Mimar Sinan. Completed in 1548, the layout has many features common to the later imperial mosques. Indeed, it seems that the Şehzade Mosque is a template for the subsequent Ottoman mosques in Istanbul.
Domes and semi-domes create Şehzade Mosque’s cavernous interior space. Arranged in a four-fold symmetrical manner, the hemispherical roofs delineate the exterior appearance of the structure. On one side of the complex is a large monumental courtyard, typical of the Ottoman imperial mosque layout. The courtyard covers an area similar to the mosque’s main building and is bordered on the inside by a large arched colonnade.
As is usual, the floor of the interior of the mosque is carpeted with a thick rug. The carpet feels comfortably luxurious to shoeless feet. Down low Şehzade Mosque’s walls remain unadorned. Ceiling dome decorations fashioned from intricately patterned İznik tiles are the most elaborate ornamentations in the building. The tiles are laid out symmetrically in a manner that creates a kaleidoscope-like pattern. Per Islamic tradition, only abstract decorations and Arabic script are found inside. There is no depiction of animals or humans.
Some guidebooks suggest that the Valens Aqueduct is only worth visiting if you are in the area to see the Şehzade Mosque. I would not put it this way; both the aqueduct and the mosque are individually worthy of a visit. But if you visit one of these sights, you almost have to see both. They are so close to each other that discovering just one is near impossible.