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Istanbul Beautiful Istanbul

July 2014

Istanbul… Orhan Veli begins his famous poem, saying, “I am listening to Istanbul, my eyes closed.” Ferhan Özpetek, in his Istanbul Red, says, “Istanbul is red and blue, a red and blue that melt into each other only in sunsets on the Bosphorus.” After Mümtaz and Nuran, Istanbul is the main protagonist of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s novel, A Mind at Peace. We read about the conquest, captivity and liberation of the city in Kemal Tahir’s Istanbul trilogy, while Refik Halid in Istanbul’s Inside Story portrays the city’s people struggling to keep pace with change in the early twentieth century. Nedim Gürsel depicts the conquest his book, The Conqueror, and Orhan Pamuk transforms Istanbul into a museum of love in The Museum of Innocence… We, too, wanted to create a panorama of our Istanbul today, so we asked each writer to describe the neighborhood he or she loves and knows best.   Ah, beautiful Istanbul...

KADIKÖY - Mario Levi (Writer)
Kadıköy Market and the Istanbul fish sandwich… 
The old-timers say there was once such a thing as being “from Istanbul”, or “from Kadıköy”… And truly this district leaves those arriving especially by sea awestruck. Passing Selimiye Barracks, you glide silently up to Haydarpaşa Ferry Station. When you finally dock at the landing, a quay teeming with gulls and, directly behind it, congested streets and thoroughfares appear. The district’s streets wind their way up to Bahariye Avenue in a maze of sounds and faces. Then there are Kadıköy’s 24-carat residents, septua- and octogenarians now... Kadıköy Market meanwhile is one of the most beautiful spots in the world. Gleaming fish stalls, field fresh herbs, pickle vendors, mezze shops, greengrocers, butchers, herbalists, rag-and-bone merchants, used book stalls, curtain makers, toy vendors, delicatessens, bakeries and much, much more… As you wander around this market, every corner offers up new scenes and stories and the thousand and one colors of Istanbul, and of life. It’s up to you to savor it all. For those eager to read about Kadıköy and Istanbul, I recommend my book, Istanbul Photographs Inside Me.

BALAT - Saro Dadyan (Writer - Researcher)
Balat, A Quarter Standing Up to Time
My Fener and Balat tours start from Kadir Has University. Then I sit down under the big plane tree in front of the entrance to the Gül (Rose) Mosque. On the left side of the road, a fountain bearing the inscription “Republic Fountain” but with no running water... I cross into the quarter from behind the magnificent land walls left from the Eastern Roman Empire and stroll through a different time in history. Amidst the sounds of gypsies cracking pumpkin seeds and children playing, I glance into a secondhand shop called Naftalin. As I walk from Fener to Balat between the houses with cantilevered balconies on either side of the road - petrified monuments of richer days gone by - I buy one of best simits in the city from the Kardeşler (Brothers) Bakery, and continue on my way. Passing by the Glass Factory and the Iron Church on the banks of the Golden Horn, I’m breathless after climbing the steps from Merdivenli School up to the Greek High School. I stop then in front of the Mesnevi Mosque and gaze down, thinking that this is precisely a boundary: between non-Muslim Istanbul below and Muslim Istanbul above.

SULTANAHMET - Cengiz Mehmet Nazım Osmanoğlu (Grandson of Sultan Reşat)
A Multicultural Capital
As a result of my father’s impressing upon us the importance of the Turkish nation while we were in exile, I was unable to hold back tears the first time I came to the old city walls. My ancestors used to live at Sultanahmet. Despite my father’s having been born in the Dolmabahçe Palace, to me Sultanahmet represented our family history. I remember my forefathers whenever I go to the old city. I imagine them there amidst the majestic buildings of the period. The Hagia Sophia for me is a building that represents many religions at once. In fact, it is the perfect representative of the Ottoman Empire, just as the empire recognized a plurality of cultures and religions. And Topkapı Palace with its magnificent view shows clearly why it was built here. I have to confess that I was very excited when I entered the old palace and saw my great-grandfather Sultan Reşat’s uniform in the Treasury. And the tulips of course are virtual symbols that this was an imperial capital. Whenever I come to Istanbul, to the old city especially, I feel I have set foot in a multicultural city. And to my mind that is what makes Turkey and Istanbul such a precious place, namely, that such a diversity of peoples and cultures, history and modernity abide here all at once."

KUZGUNCUK - Caroline Finkel (Historian)
"I like the sense of the community."
I live in Kuzguncuk since 1989. It has been like a magical place in many ways. I like the sense of the community. There is a continuity, stability about the place. It is great because you have neighbours, you can not go to seaside without saying hi to 4-5 people. Another thing about Kuzguncuk is, it is not on the way to go somewhere. So traffic is not that bad. Thanks to esnaf we don't have to take a car to go somewhere else to shop. Which is a great advantage if you live in a city. Üsküdar is close enough to do all your bureaucratic stuff, to pay your bills, etc. We also have Bostan project. I am from the countryside and I like being in the nature and also it is sustainable. People grow vegetables there. It is incredible. City farms are big things now. Alongside esnaf who has always been here, there is a very young population coming here. This is a good thing, a lot of cafes opened, more people come from outside to enjoy and people from Kuzguncuk go out more often.

ORTAKÖY - Arzu Enver Eroğan (Grandaughter of Naciye Sultan and Enver Pasha)
A dynastic quarter
Istanbul and Ortaköy, which I call home, is where I spent my entire childhood. The Enver Pasha Mansion and the garden around it in the wooded area known as Naciye Sultan Korusu, which is permeated with the lives and memories of the sultanas and princes of the family, are surrounded by modern buildings today. This is a splendid wood where you will find the old and the new all at once. The crown princes and daughters of the sultans used to live in the buildings along the Ortaköy waterfront that today house the Four Seasons Hotel, Galatasaray University, the Boys’ High School and Feriye Restaurant. Therefore, Ortaköy, like Sultanahmet and Dolmabahçe, was one of the seats of the dynasty. Even though the Ortaköy waterfront is very beautiful, I think one needs to view it with an eye to that when walking there. And Galatasaray Island is another important place that needs to be seen in my opinion. Ortaköy is a rare quarter that has been able to preserve its former appearance and spirit, mingling its ancient atmosphere, especially the palace mosques along the tree-lined avenue, with modern buildings. Following the Mecidiye Mosque, the quarter’s remaining historic buildings are now waiting to be restored to their former splendor.

BEBEK - Leyla Alaton (Businesswoman)
Bebek is a "different sort of Istanbul neighborhood"
Bebek is an unusual Istanbul neighborhood with its little boutiques and its promenade along the Bosphorus. I used to live in the Koru Apartments in the wooded area known as Arifi Paşa Korusu. Bebek in those days was considered to be out of town. Beşiktaş was the border, and when we crossed over we used to say we were “going into the city”. Bebek is a populous district now and people come to Bebek Park in droves, especially on weekends. The Egyptian Consulate is still as splendor as it was then. The Bosphorus University campus, which is synonymous with Bebek, was one of my playgrounds as a child. I would recommend the South Campus especially to those whose want to spend a weekend amidst greenery. In addition to the handful of boats on the Bebek coast, there also used to be Fuat Süren’s yacht called Tiger. Today the whole bay is filled with big luxury yachts.

Filled with big luxury yachts, the Bebek coast represents the perfect unity of green and blue. A weekend around Bebek Mosque and Park will be a different Istanbul experience. Bosphorus Lines edging in with Bebek Port may let you take the air of Bosphorus..

ŞİLE - Sibel Eraslan (Writer)
Istanbul’s Last Mermaid
The people of Şile are the last to have had the honor of seeing Istanbul’s “Mermaids”. The very last mermaid was spotted smoothing her pale tresses with an ivory comb on the middle rock at a place called Kızlar Hamamı (Girls’ Bath). Şile is a blue-green stretch of Istanbul coastline tossed against the Black Sea like a hammock in the wind. The roads of Şile lure you in with the heady scents of wild thyme and sweet marjoram, from which it takes its name… Then, an ancient Genoese tale of the pirates of old begins in the night-rending beams of the ancient Lighthouse.

And then to drift off to sleep in the shade of the fig trees, as if plunging into a dream, while gazing down on the long, golden sand beaches of Kumbaba from atop the bottomless cliffs of the hill called Vasiyet Tepesi... Şile’s sacred waters flow hot in summer and ice-cold in winter at the Ayazma spring. And Şile cloth, gaily embroidered in stitches with fanciful names like in “Prison Window” and “Snowball”, falls on our shoulders from clicking hand looms. When the sea is smooth like a sheet of glass, the Şile natives like to say: “The sea was so calm and placid today you’d think that ants had come down to drink.”

POLONEZKÖY - Deniss Novvicki (President, Polonezköy Culture Sustenance Association)
“Polonezköy is a friendship bridge” 
I’m a sixth-generation Polonezköy resident and my wife is Polish. Some ten military families came here from Poland in 1842 at the invitation of the Ottoman government. Now the village population swells to a few thousand in spring and summer. You can see the vestiges of a long-standing culture here and you can also experience all the beauty of nature. Our village promises densely shaded paths and refreshing lanes through the forest to those who come in summer. What’s more, Polonezköy’s cultural atmosphere is especially vibrant this year, because we are celebrating the 600th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Poland and a series of special events are being organized in the village to mark the occasion. Our traditional cherry festival in June was a focus of intense interest. The Polish and Turkish folk dances performed at our gala evening were especially well received. And towards the end of the year we are aiming to hold a surprise event spearheaded by the Polish Consulate in Istanbul. We hope to bring pianists and opera singers from Poland and stage a joint concert with one of our country’s leading symphony orchestras.

ANADOLU HİSARI - Leyla İpekçi (Writer)
“You can escape the hustle and bustle of time at Anadolu Hisar.”
Life flows with the waters of the Bosphorus at Anadolu Hisar. Cats, ivy and historic wooden mansions await you on the green, unspoiled hills behind the waterfront homes. Those restored with the latest technology flash smiles at passersby. The nightingale’s song, green parrot flyovers, and the daily baths of the herons at the shore are everyday occurrences here. You may even encounter a school of dolphins from time to time. The ancient gravestones in the cemetery evoke a boundless sense of peace and repose. You escape the hustle and bustle of time. The Göksu River is a gently flowing stream with cafes and restaurants on both banks. Traces of the Bosphorus of poets Ahmet Haşim and Ahmet H. Tanpınar live on here still. Visitors to the Küçüksu Summer Palace can watch the sunset at the waterside cafe. And a panoramic view of the Bosphorus can be had from Güzelhisar on Otağtepe Hill.

BÜYÜKADA - Su Yücel (Painter)
“Büyükada teaches the language of colors” 
The seasons are more pronounced on Büyükada than in Istanbul. There, I observe the colors of the trees. As you walk in the woods, mirrors seem hidden between the trees. Rays of light sifting through the dark green create a magical atmosphere. You will see impressive changes in the sunlight even during the daytime. Some days the sun sets directly opposite, and the moon rises right behind it. Being on Büyükada means learning the language of nature. I also love the island’s quiet spots. There are many spots on the island where artistic souls especially can get away from the city and find inspiration. I like to climb Aya Yorgi Hill not by the route everyone uses but up the wooded paths on the back side of the hill, hopping and skipping from rock to rock. The best view of Istanbul, to my mind, is to be had at Aya Yorgi. Sometimes I take my paint sets along and delve into the island’s inner recesses and then choose a suitable spot for myself. I spread out in the wild, observe the colors at length and paint my paintings. Exploring the coves in a small boat is a lot of fun, too. Büyükada is as good for reading as it is for painting. I love to read Sait Faik, the writer who best conveys the sense of what it means to be an islander.

BEYOĞLU - Emin Nedret İşli (Antiquarian book dealer)
Beyoğlu is a Magic Box
I am beholden to Beyoğlu for broadening my horizons, for teaching me about western books and learning, for introducing me to truly important people and for being virtually a second university. When you climb up the Yüksek Kaldırım, you will see the German Teutonia Cultural Center and Galata Mevlevi Lodge, the one of the most beautiful buildings of the Islamic face of the city. At the corner, on the door of the Santa Maria Draperis Italian Church at the bottom of the steps there, is an inscription expressing gratitude to Sultan Abdulhamid II, which is unique in that sense. The Garibaldi building at the Deva Çıkmazı, houses a serious Italian library. The Haçopulo Arcade reminds one of an Italian town. With its garden and environs, the French Anatolian Research Institute on Nuri Ziya Pasha Street is a perfect Pera setting. Aslıhan Arcade is the best place for used book browsing.Surp Yerrortutyun Armenian Church behind Tokatlıyan Hotel hosted the celebrations in honor of the 1908 Second Ottoman Constitution to shouts of Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood and Fraternity. When you continue up the avenue, you again come to booksellers and antiquarians at Parmakkapı.

KARAKÖY - Saffet Emre Tonguç (Historian and Guide)
“Karaköy’s star is rising” 
Becoming one of Istanbul’s favorite districts of late, Karaköy for centuries has represented the city’s gateway to Europe. The district’s multicultural fabric dates far back. In the 1490’s, Karaköy was home to Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. At the end of the 19th century it was transformed into a financial center. White Russians fleeing house and homeland came to Karaköy as well. A historic port, Karaköy is undergoing an incredible transformation today. New cafes, restaurants, hotels, shops and art galleries are opening in rapid succession. The area is also rich in architecture. Karaköy Palas on Karaköy Square was built in the 1920’s by the Italian architect, Giulio Mongeri, in a blend of the Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman styles. The many historic khans in the district represent a host of styles from Gothic to Renaissance with their pointed arches and ornate windows. Another of Karaköy’s treasures is the “Yeraltı” or Underground Mosque. A giant chain obstructing enemy ships from entering the Golden Horn was once stretched across the mouth of the estuary to a tower that stood previously where the mosque is now.

SAMATYA - Selim İleri (Writer)
“There’s an aura of old Istanbul at Samatya.” 
Samatya is like a natural film set exhibiting fragments of old Istanbul. We shot many films there in the 1980’s and 1990’s. One day I’ll never forget - it was a hot summer day - I asked the owners of the home in which we were working for some water. They brought me a glass of ice cold water on a delicate, hand-embroidered doily. That’s how water used to be served to guests in the old Istanbul of my childhood. In Samatya one still comes across such refinements, which are an extension of our traditional lifestyle. The modest kind of shopping typical of old Istanbul lives on here as well… As you stroll through the streets of the quarter, you’ll see little shops - barber shops, grocery stores, green grocers. When you go outside the land walls, you encounter Istanbul’s last truck gardens. The fresh vegetables once grown here were sold at stalls along the bottom of the wall. Now itinerant vendors, albeit few in number, wend their way through the back streets, which are all interconnected. The weary stone and wood frame houses of old Istanbul whisper tales of past lives. Samatya in that sense imparts an inner peace to me. I wouldn’t exchange this quarter for any place in today’s Istanbul.