Wandering through the old districts of Istanbul, you can easily see how rich and multi-layered is the history of this city, the former capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. This is evidenced not only by the most magnificent and well-known buildings but also by those less apparent, often hidden in a tangle of narrow streets. One of them is the building of the old bazaar, now known as Taşhan i.e. the Stone Inn. We stumbled across it accidentally, wandering from Yenikapi station towards Şehzade Mosque. Our attention was caught by a stone building, the entrance of which was visible at the end of the alley turning off Gençtürk Street. Soon, we found out that it was worth getting off the main route because Taşhan is not only an extremely photogenic place but also the one with a fascinating history and hiding a great secret.
The building was erected under the name Siphahi Han in 1763 on the orders of Sultan Mustafa III. The siphahi were the Ottoman counterparts of European knights and, as cavalrymen, together with the janissaries, they formed the core of the sultan's army. Siphahi Han was a part of the Laleli Mosque Complex. In addition to the mosque, erected in the Baroque style, the complex consisted of many buildings, including a madrasah, i.e. a Muslim theological school. Almost all of these buildings have disappeared from the face of the earth over the centuries. For example, the madrasah burned down in 1911. Today, in addition to the mosque itself, the preserved buildings include the mausoleum of Mustafa III and his immediate family, built on an octagonal plan, as well as the Stone Inn.
The irregular plan of the inn resulted from the need to fit it into the densely built-up urban tissue of the 18th-century Istanbul. The inn consists of two courtyards of different sizes surrounded by two-storey arcades and an elongated corridor connecting it with Fethibey Street. In both courtyards, there are octagonal fountains, unfortunately not working at present. The building resembles a secret garden hidden in the city centre.
The history of the inn was dynamic, and its various functions have been reflected in the multitude of names under which it is known. It served as the barracks of the sipahis and janissaries, a caravanserai, i.e. a hostel for travellers, a marketplace, and a warehouse. In the early 1990s, the building was restored thanks to the efforts of the president of the Taşhan Foundation, Kemal Ocak. One name - Katırcılar Han - suggests that muleteers stayed in it, too. Finally, the name Çukurçeşme Han is a clue as to the biggest surprise hidden under the inn. This name literally means a sunken fountain, but it's not about any of the fountains in the courtyards of the inn.
Like many other buildings in Istanbul, the Stone Inn was erected over the buildings from the times of the Eastern Roman Empire. In this particular case - the building stands above a spacious cistern constructed 800 years ago. The water was once collected there, to meet the needs of the inhabitants of Constantinople. Over time, the cistern was drained, and at the beginning of the 21st century, an elegant restaurant called Arkat serving Ottoman cuisine was opened there. The name of this venue means an arcade and refers to the arcaded corridors around the courtyard and to massive brick supports with semicircular arches, supporting the roof of the cisterns. Gala dinner parties and special events took place in this atmospheric interior.
Unfortunately, the business went bust some time ago, and the entrance to the cistern, located in the centre of the larger courtyard, is now closed. The Stone Inn, on the other hand, only acts as a half-hearted shopping mall.