Istanbul’s Seven Hills

Number seven has always been a mystical number, whatever one’s faith or culture. Consider for a second, stories about the creation of the world. Also, consider its appearance in the three...

Number seven has always been a mystical number, whatever one’s faith or culture. Consider for a second, stories about the creation of the world. Also, consider its appearance in the three major religions. Seven sins and seven virtues, seven heavens, seven days of creation, seven gates and layers of Hell, and so on…

Interestingly enough, the number seven is also a favourite digit of many people around the world. However, Musa ibn Nahman, known as Nahmanides, a Jewish scholar from Andalucía, attributes this to a cabalistic explanation – number seven is the number of the natural world. The number appears in many forms, including seven days of week, seven colours of the rainbow, seven notes of the musical scale, seven mouths of the Nile, Seven Wonders of the World, and so on…

During ancient times, people believed the number seven to represent perfection or excellence. As expected, the concept of the “seven hilled city” emerged and the first original “seven hilled city” came to be known as Rome. The ancient founders of this city wanted to symbolize its holiness. When the city became the honourable capitol of the glorious Roman Empire, this term changed to signify Rome’s world power and authority.

It also isn’t a coincidence that California, Mecca, Tehran, Barcelona, Edinburgh, Seattle, Moscow, Madrid and Lisbon later claimed to be built upon seven hills.

The ancient city of Byzantine had never claimed to be built upon seven hills, but when Constantine the Great visited the city, he was so impressed that he decided to build his new capital there. As a result, Constantinople became the “New Rome”, and consequently Constantinople succeeded Rome’s power and authority. As expected, the “seven hilled city” was emulated in the new capital of glorious empire.

In order to accentuate the city’s glory, the hills were topped by magnificent Roman structures, but were later replaced by those of the Ottoman Empire. The seven hills are located in the current-day Fatih district, and you can visit many of them where they house the magnificent structures.

Sarayburnu Hill

SARAYBURNU HILL (Topkapı Palace / Hagia Sophia)

The ancient city of Byzantium was founded in Sarayburnu Hill, and since then the city has retained its cosmopolitan vibe, despite Istanbul’s growing population, Sarayburnu Hill begins from Seraglio Point or Sarayburnu in Turkish, which means “Palace Point”, and extends over the area where the Romans built the glorious Hagia Sophia and the Ottomans built Topkapı Palace and the Blue Mosque. If you continue to wander around the area, you would also find the Basilica Cistern, German Fountain, Hagia Irene and Ibrahim Pasha Palace among other tourist attractions.

Nuruosmaniye Mosque

ÇEMBERLİTAŞ HILL (Nuruosmaniye Mosque /  Forum Constantine)

This hill is known to be approximately 10 meters higher than Sarayburnu Hill. It resembles its past-day attractions as the area still draws thousands of tourists every day to the Grand Bazaar. During Byzantine times, Forum Constantine was built on this hill, along with the Column of Constantine or Çemberlitaş in Turkish. The Ottomans blessed the hill with Nuruosmaniye Mosque, the first royal mosque displaying baroque and neo-classical elements, with the Grand Bazaar located right next to it.

Süleymaniye Mosque

BEYAZIT HILL (Süleymaniye Mosque / Great Nymphaeum)

Approximately 60 meters above sea-level, Beyazıt Hill makes up one of the highest hills, built as a public sanctuary in honour of Nymphs during Byzantine times. Constantine the Great built a forum which was later rebuilt and renamed as Forum of Theodosius by Emperor Theodosius I. Pantokrator Church, another important landmark of the Byzantine period, was converted into a mosque, which is called “Zeyrek” today. The Süleymaniye Mosque was designed and constructed by Mimar Sinan, the most famous architect of the Ottoman Empire, at the order of glorious Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent. The Beyazıt Mosque, Süleymaniye Mosque and Istanbul University are what is left of the Ottoman Empire today.

Fatih Mosque

FATİH HILL (Fatih Mosque / Old Holy Apostles Church)

Here is one of the highest points of the old city, and home to the first sultan mosque built by Mehmed the Conqueror. During Byzantine times, it was the site of the Church of the Holy Apostles, second in size and importance to the Hagia Sophia. When Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453, the Holy Apostles briefly became the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, but then abandoned by the Patriarch, and eventually demolished by the Ottomans to build the Fatih Mosque. This hill slopes down to the Golden Horn on north, to Aksaray on the south, and connected to Beyazıt Hill by the Valens Aqueduct.

Yavuz Selim Mosque

YAVUZ SELİM HILL (Yavuz Selim Mosque / Cistern of Aspar)

This hill slopes up from Golden Horn, ends in the Çarşamba neighbourhood and is the closest hill to the Golden Horn. Yavuz Selim Hill includes a variety of notable structures including: the Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque, displaying the architecture of the pre-conquest Ottoman mosques, the Cistern of Aspar or Sunken Garden of Sultan Selim, Fethiye Mosque or Pammakaristos Church, a Byzantine church that was converted into a mosque, and Church of St. George, the senior patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church and home of the spiritual leader of the world’s Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Mihrimah Sultan Mosque

EDİRNEKAPI HILL (Mihrimah Mosque / Chora and Blakhernai)

At approximately 70 meters above sea level, Edirnekapı Hill is the highest of seven hills. It is a sort of extension of Fatih Hill, and it is separated from Yavuz Selim Hill by the valley running down the Golden Horn. Here is the site of Chora Monastery, one of the original structures of Eastern Roman art and a major tourist attraction for its mosaics. In the 12th century the Blakhernai Palace was built here and it served as an imperial residence until the conquest of the city in 1453. If you can make it to the top of the hill you will find the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, which was constructed by Architect Sinan for Mihrimah Sultan, the beloved daughter of Suleiman the Magnificent.


KOCAMUSTAFAPAŞA HILL (Haseki Complex / Arcadius Forum)

Kocamustafapaşa Hill is unique from the other six hills because it is the only one close to the Sea of Marmara. It starts from the Aksaray area and extends to the Theodosian Walls and the Sea of Marmara. It rises up between the Cerrahpaşa and Samatya neighbourhoods, reaching almost 60 meters above sea-level. This site was famous for its slave bazaar in both the Byzantine and Ottoman times until the 19th century. The Haseki Mosque is the main attraction on the hill, and was constructed for Hürrem Sultan, the beloved wife of the Suleiman the Magnificent and the first woman in court to be actively engaged in politics.


Vout. C. (2014). The Hills of Rome: Signature of an Eternal City. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press
Selva Suman. (2011). Quentioning an “Icon of Change”: The Nuruosmaniye Complex and the Writing of Ottoman Architectural History. Online publication. DOI: 10.4305/METU.JFA.2011.2.7
Virginia Maxwell. (2013). Istanbul (Travel Guide). Istanbul. Lonely Planet Publications
Baring, Rose (2011). Istanbul. (DK Eyewitness Travel Guide). London. DK Publishings
Jacqueline Leo. (2009). Seven: The Number for Happiness, Love, and Success. New York. Twelve

Photo Credits: , Pashazade

1 comment

  1. Avatar photo
    Murat Kelesoglu

    Excellent, That is what I was looking for. Thank you.

Leave a Reply