THE BOSPHORUS IS THE LOVELIEST AND MOST CHARMING PART OF ISTANBUL. THOUGH NOT MUCH IS LEFT FROM THE OLD FISHING TOWNS ON BOTH SIDES OF THE STRAIT, THERE STILL ARE COASTAL DISTRICTS WHERE OLD -NEW MANSIONS STAND SIDE BY SIDE AND LIFE SEEMS TO FLOW QUICKLY.
In Arnavutköy, where the coasts of the Bosphorus embrace each another, history is intertwined with the smell of the sea, and wooden mansions line the coast. As you walk up the narrow streets, the memories of the district follow you. Hestia is the first name of this 1,500-year-old district that stretches down from a small hill; it was known as such due to the lime kilns located here. Its current name, Arnavutköy, (village of the Albanians) is thought to be based on the Albanians who settled here in the 16th century.
At weekends, the locals seem to prepare themselves for the spring. The cafés and patisseries along the Bebek Arnavutköy Street slowly fill with a joyous buzz. The heart of the district is where the main street intersects with Beyazgül Street, which is always lively, while Arnavutköy Park resembles a small fairground. Some sip their morning coffee at the tables in front of Any Kafe while others prefer cult Arnavutköy that also hosts mixed exhibitions on its upper floor. Köfteci Ali Baba’s tables, where meatballs are served, are booked solid towards noon.
A View by Akıntıburnu
The area between Akıntıburnu on one side of the strait, and Kandilli, on the other, is one of the spots where the Bosphorus current is the fastest and the deepest. French naturalist Petrus Gyllius visited Istanbul for research and stopped by Akıntıburnu. Here, he observed and recorded that the waters of the Bosphorus dramatically accelerate so much so that crabs climb on the rocks on the shore to continue their way. Gyllius was so impressed by this city that he wrote two books about Istanbul, one of which includes his famous quote: “All other cities are mortal, but I think Istanbul shall be eternal as long as mankind exists.”
Further down Akıntıburnu Balık, a fish restaurant, is one of the famous meeting places in the district, while I am distracted by Arnavurtköy Tevfikiye Mosque which has a small stone door with two inscriptions above. The locals enjoy the sun and the sea on the observation deck while children run around the courtyard.
Engaged in deep conversation, two middle-aged men sit on a bench by the sea. One of them, Kenan Bey, invites me over. “This is quite calm during the week; it’s also lovely at the weekend but very crowded,” he says with a smile.
The Streets of Arnavutköy
No: 107 Eskici (junk shop) is one of my favorite places to visit in Arnavutköy. There’s nothing you can’t find here. The adjacent Girandola Dondurma is a boutique ice cream shop that makes you forget all your troubles with a cup of pomegranate ice cream. They offer different flavors each season since they use fresh and seasonal fruit to make their ice cream.
The streets of Arnavutköy are too many to be wholly conquered. You want to do justice to its beauty by closely examining the façade of each house lined along Francalacı Street. Even if you walk for a whole day, it still wouldn’t be enough. Parallel to the end of Francalacı Street, Bakkal and Mumhane Streets are a must-visit before you leave.
Art Workshops Side by Side
Another landmark is Taksiarhis Church on Satış Meydanı Street. Though it’s closed except for ritual days, make sure to ring the doorbell. The church’s caretaker almost always invites you in to take a look around.
Time for a coffee break after all this walking! Meercat Art Workshop on Arnavutköy Deresi Street both serves delicious coffee and offers sculpture and painting workshops. They also have a weekend schedule for kids. Located on the same street, Galeri Selvin displays a new show each month while Gajuva Atölye allows visitors to take a closer look at their wooden and ceramic designs.
The hearty smells emanating from the famous fish restaurants all around Arnavutköy set one’s salivary glands going. Adem Baba is one of those eateries where you’d count yourself lucky to find an empty table. “You catch fish with a net and people with a silver tongue” is written in a frame on the wall.
If you’re one of those who crave for a cup of tea after a meal, we have a wonderful suggestion. Kavanoz Café on Takkeci Street serves tea not in a cup but in small jars and has a lush garden to enjoy. You’re almost at the end of this lovely tour; just one more stop…
The Most Famous Mansion in Arnavutköy
Located on the road from Arnavutköy to Kuruçeşme, Halet Çambel Mansion deserves any visitor’s attention not only for its beauty but also for its history. Built by Mahmud II’s Armenian gardener in 1820, the mansion was purchased by İsmail Hakkı Paşa in 1930. Later on, it was inherited by Halet Çambel. The first Turkish female athlete to attend the Olympics, Halet Çambel is a world-renowned figure also known for her archaeological studies. The mansion stands like a monument that preserves the memory of Çambel (who contributed greatly to the deciphering of Hittite hieroglyphs, founded Karatepe-Arslantaş Mound, the first open-air museum in Turkey), and the Ottoman period.
A Breath of Fresh Air
Arnavutköy had lost its authentic appearance due to several fires. Now, it’s reclaiming its past glory with restored wooden houses, and reopened cafés and galleries. Overlooking the best Bosphorus view, another charm of this lovely district is that all the highlights you need to see are within walking distance. Each step takes you to a café, a gallery, or a fish restaurant.
Arnavutköy offers a breath of fresh air with its mansions that take the Bosphorus in their arms, wooden houses that lean on narrow streets like close friends, and the wonderful view which can be taken in from anywhere in the district.