When you walk over the top of one of the steep hills of Istanbul you suddenly find yourself in the heart of the city: the small coastal town of Kuzguncuk, between Beylerbeyi and Üsküdar. Don’t be surprised!

Kuzguncuk is a small neighborhood that is far from the crowds and confusion of Istanbul; in fact, it is like a small town. The recorded history of the neighborhood stretches back to the 17th century. However, its residents claim a more ancient history. With every new thing I learned about Kuzguncuk I became more eager to visit the area, and so I set out. I decided to go early in the morning, because I wanted to get a simit from the Tarihî (Historical) Kuzguncuk Bakery and sit on a stool at the Çınaraltı Kahvesi by the Bosphorus, greeting the passing seagulls. The bakery is famous; I cannot forget the bread made with einkorn wheat. While sitting in the café I share my simit with the seagulls; the café is like a necklace on the Bosphorus. Fishermen, who took up their fishing poles to enjoy Istanbul at this early hour, are with me. They cast their lines into the Bosphorus while I enjoy the blueness of the water and the sky. Across from me is Ortaköy and Beşiktaş… Istanbul, on the other shore, presents a very different face: the bridge, seagulls… After I have absorbed all this and my coffee is finished, I head towards İcadiye Avenue. There are cats all around who are determined to join me… This neighborhood is as famous for its cats as it is for its blue and green environment. 

Kuzguncuk was the first residential area for the Jewish community. Later this neighborhood opened its arms to the Armenians, Greeks, and Muslims. For years all these communities lived together in peace. This is one of the things the residents of the neighborhood are proudest of -the ability to live in harmony. There are two synagogues, two Orthodox churches, an Armenian church, and two mosques here. Kuzguncuk melts all these spiritual riches in the same pot and presents a cultural mosaic. It is said that the name for the area was given by Justinian II and is derived from the word "hrisokeramos," which means “golden tile.” The reason for this was that there was a church here which was covered in gilded tiles. Evliya Çelebi states that by the reign of Sultan Mehmed II this area was known as “Kuzguncuk,” and that the name came from a wali (a saint in Muslim culture) called Kuzgun Baba who lived here. Those who write and discuss the name of this place prove how much history this area has witnessed. 

This historical neighborhood has been the setting for a number of films and series. A few examples of such series include Ekmek Teknesi, Perihan Abla, and Hayat Bilgisi, which were watched by members from every generation. When going up the hill of İcadiye Avenue, which leads up from the coast, I can see the Ekmek Teknesi bakery. There is a tea shop immediately in front of the bakery. I wonder if the hero, Heredot Cevdet, is telling a story inside. Before embarking upon the cobblestone road, I look up at the sky which is covered by plane trees. I must not miss a moment of this walk. Turning left from the tea shop I enter the street of Perihan Abla. Here is Perihan Abla’s house; Meraklı Melahat is watching me from the window!

As time progresses residents of Istanbul who want to experience a little nostalgia in the heart of the city start slowly to arrive. The number of people who are taking photographs in front of Kuzguncuk’s historic houses increases. Leaving the crowds behind, I walk along İcadiye Avenue for 10-15 minutes and reach Kuzguncuk Gardens. This garden, set back on the left, a few meters from the road, promises a country life in the middle of the city; every year there is a lottery draw to divide the gardens between the residents. Those who want to get their hands dirty can plant whatever they want throughout the year. The story of these gardens dates back; years ago they belonged to Kuzguncuklu İlya and were known as “İlya’s Garden.” In addition to the little gardens that have been divided up for people to plant, there is a playground. In the summer, films are shown here. At the top of the gardens there is a row of colorful wooden houses, adding even more charm to the area. This is a place to come not only to get away from the city, but also to breathe some fresh air. 

Every Wednesday there is a street market in Kuzguncuk. The large market adds charm to the narrow streets. There is also a Kastamonu Village Market for those who want to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. This is a charming little shop that sells organic products here. They look so attractive that it is worthwhile passing in front just to take a photograph. 

As it attracted more attention, Kuzguncuk started to show interest in the artistic scene. Art galleries, antique shops, and boutiques have grown in number. Every time you come here you can see a new studio or the opening of another shop. This, of course, merely adds to the historical texture of Kuzguncuk. 

I start to walk along the coast again. It is as if every house I see on my walk is telling a different story… Üryanizade Mosque, on the shore, tells its own story. The minimalist and charming architecture immediately attracts attention. The Cemil Molla Pavilion, which is on the upper side, was built at the end of the 1800s by Cemil Molla, the grandson of Üryanizade Ahmet Esad Efendi, the patron of the mosque. The unique style of Kuzguncuk has helped to preserve these buildings. On the pavement across from me is Dilim Patisserie, which has been creating delicious eclairs and its own poğacas since 1977. And when the season is summer, as it is now, it is not possible to pass here without tasting their famous ice cream. 

Kuzguncuk is a neighborhood that stretches to the shores of the Bosphorus. The steep hills that connect the neighborhood are covered in places with colorful stairs. Nothing can be better than sitting at the top of the stairs on Bican Efendi Street and looking at the Bosphorus. 

The third generation coffee shops, which have become incredibly popular lately, mean that Kuzguncuk is a coffee lovers’ paradise. It is possible to find a number of coffee houses with different concepts. Nail Bookshop, which is keeping alive the book-coffee concept; Bostan Café, from where you can look on the gardens as you drink tea; Vanilin Chocolate; Kafe Lâ Mekân; and the new shops that open every day with a new concept all have a place here. My interest is attracted by Botanik Bahçe Kuzguncuk, which is on İcadiye Avenue. This green location, which combines a well-organized botanic garden and a café is ideal for a tea break. The owner of the garden Sabri Cemal Bey says that he has brought saplings that were specially raised in Sakarya. The location attracts a lot of attention from tourists. Sabri Cemal Bey tells about how he came to Istanbul during the mübadele (exchange of Greek-Turkish populations) and says, “My grandfather was the first bookseller in Üsküdar; his name was Hacı Sabri Cevad and everyone knew him. They gave me his name.” 

As I spend more time here I come to understand that everybody in this neighborhood has their own story.

Before I started walking along the streets looking for stories I was not aware that this neighborhood was this beautiful. Now I am. And I know this, like Yahya Kemal said, “Just to love one neighborhood is worth a lifetime.” 

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