The Galata area, part of Beyoglu in today’s bohemian Istanbul,was the epitome of European culture in the 19th century, and heart of the banking area of the (then sinking) Ottoman Empire. The newly gentrified—and expensive—housing is unrecognizable from my first visit 20 years ago, when this was a no-go area at night. These days it offers steep cobbled streets and traditional workshops—plus your best views of Istanbul. START: Tunnel at Karaköy.
1- Tunnel to Tünel.
Take a ride on the world’s secondoldest subway system, after London, and the shortest. French engineer Eugene Henri Gavand built the 573m-long funicular in 1874 after seeing locals traipsing between Galata and Pera (from experience, it’s hilly!), initially with a steam engine and gas lamps. You can see photographs of early streetcars and tramways outside Karaköy station. Start your journey from this station if you’re coming from Sultanahmet or Eminönü.@15 min. Mon–Fri 7am–9pm; Sat and Sun 7.30am–9pm. Jeton or akbil 0.90 TL. Sebahattin Evren Cad. www.iett.gov.tr/en.
2- Tünel Lokantasi.
Although service can be erratic, I love breakfast on their roof terrace with delicious homemade bread,
made with onions and herbs. 261
Istiklal Cad. 0212 245 7025. $.
3- Galata Kulesi (Galata Tower).
You’ve probably already climbed the tower (see Best in One Dayp 7) for Istanbul’s best panoramic views, but take a minute to visualize an unusual flight. In the late 17th century, Hazerfan Ahmet Çelebi (1609–1640) was one of the world’s first aviators, using artificial wings to power his flight as he leapt off the tower over the Bosphorus; apparently he was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s studies of birds in flight (seep11).
4- Galata Evi (House).
Five minutes walk from the tower and converted by architects Mete and Nadire Göktugin the 1990s into a Georgian/Russian restaurant, this was originally an early 20th-century British jail, one of several major political powers with prisons here. Have a drink and poke around its tiny dining areas and terrace, and try and spot the prisoners’ graffiti. Opposite, the mid-19th-century Dominican Church of SS Peter and Paul built by the Fossati Brothers is hidden behind high walls, as instructed by the Ottomans that churches must be out of sight.
@15–30 min. 61 Galata Kulesi Sok. y0212 245 1861 (restaurant res.). www.thegalatahouse.com.
5- Kamondo Merdivenleri (Camondo Staircase).
Built in 1860 by Avram Camondo, head of the powerful Jewish banking family (see Special Interest, p 34) this curvaceous double staircase led from the main banking street to his family home on Felek Sokak. Built just after his son Moise was born, its hexagonal design was arranged so that if a child slipped, there wasn’t far to fall. It was later used by his children to get to school, and for him to go to the bank. You might recognize the staircase from Henri CartierBresson’s photograph taken during
his 1964 Istanbul trip.@10 min. See p 36 for details.
6- Osmanli Bankasi Müzesi (Ottoman Banking Museum).
A real gem even if your eyes glaze over at the thought of finance. Near the bottom of the Camondo Staircase, and housed in the former Ottoman bank HQ (next to the Central Bank of Turkey), this was Constantinople’s first ‘modern’ bank. The street today still has many banks, in an imposing row of
mainly early 20th-century houses. The exhibition kicks off with Queen Victoria’s Royal charter, authorizing the foundation of the Imperial Ottoman Bank in 1856 for a mere £500,000. Venture into the original vaults with bundles of banknotes from 1875. Thought the 2009 US and UK credit crunch was bad? Nothing like the financial crisis during the 1875–1881 Russo-Ottoman war, judging by original loan contracts between the bank and Ottoman government. It’s great to see that even sultans had to follow the same banking rules as mere mortals; even the harem eunuchs had savings and
loans here. Walk upstairs to the temporary galleries to look down onto the present-day banking hall. @1 hr. 35–37 Voyvoda Cad. 0212 334 2270. www.obmuseum.com. 3 TL.
Open daily 10am–6pm. Tram: Karaköy.
7- Perşembe Pazari Caddesi.
One of the area’s busiest and most charming streets, this is chock-full of hans, 18th-century merchants’ houses. On the corner of Bakir Sokak is Genoese Saksi Han,where you can peep at the arched ceilings in the workshops. Look out for Ceneviz(Turkish for Genoan) Hanat #17, and Serpus Han,then left up Yeni Camii Çeşme Sokak at the [email protected](water fountain) with stone Ottoman inscriptions. @15 min.
8★Arap Camii (Arab Mosque).
Approach from Tersane Caddesi for a dramatic first glimpse: The mosque’s deep red minaret was once the bell-tower of the church, built by the Genoese in early Italian Gothic architectural style. Mehmet II turned it into the red-walled Galata Camii in the 1470s, later known as Arap Camii when Beyazid II assigned it to Moors (Muslims from the Spanish region) fleeing the 15th-century Spanish Inquisition. Over the years, minor repairs and alterations after fires include a new a wooden gallery. I love its relaxing courtyard in the middle of this hectic area, with benches surrounding the @adirvan (ablutions fountain). @15 min. 15 Futuhat Sok. Open dawn to dusk.
9- Yanik Kapi (Burned Gate).
This is the only remaining gate of the city walls dating back to Genoese times. Look above the archway to the plaque with St George’s cross, the symbol of Genoa, now under a casing so unfortunately difficult to see. @10 min.
10- Yeralti Camii (Underground Mosque).
No neck-ache from gazing up at ceilings here, with 54 sturdy pillars supporting the low vaulted ceiling. The mosque is at the base of a tower, originally built in the sixth century to guard the entrance of the Haliç (Golden Horn), and location of one end of the enormous chain blocking the waterway (which you can see a part of in the Military Museum, see p 44). The tower was used as warehouse, dungeon, and from the 18th century, a mosque. Very little is visible from the street and once inside, its bulky
pillars make it hard to judge its immense size. Inside are tombs of Sufyan bin Uyeyne, Amr bin As and
Vehb bin [email protected], martyrs and companions of Prophet Mohammed.
@20 min. [email protected] Open daily 9am–nightfall. Tram: Karaköy.
11- Karaköy Balikcilar Çarşisi (Karaköy fish market).
The spruced-up waterfront has a popular fish market (red and exposed gills mean the freshest)
plus wooden stools and tables and simple shacks cooking up local fish, with optimistic cats slinking around. With a couple of juice barrows squeezing fresh oranges, this makes an interesting alternative snack to the boats at Eminönü (see p 45) plus a better view of the Old City skyline.
12- Kardeşler Balikçilik.
Enjoy freshly grilled fish with salad and bread at wooden rickety tables, staying open late on warm summer evenings. 21 Fermeneciler Cad, [email protected] Sok. 0212 293 8606. $.