Today, the Bağlarbaşı neighborhood, which left a mark in the minds and hearts of the Turkish people with its wooden townhouses in the films with Adile Naşit and Münir Özkul, is virtually a student campus with its newly opened universities, culture centers, libraries, shopping malls, sport complexes, and new-generation cafés.
On Sundays, if I have not made any special plans and especially if I have things to read or write, escaping from the comfort of home, I head off to the library so I can work more productively. The library I visit is generally in Bağlarbaşı. Indeed, even Sundays offer alternatives to work among books in this exceptional neighborhood. I leave home early to take advantage of the many options and the early hours of the day to complete my work. There is also another reason for this early start: in the later hours of the day, it is very difficult to find a table to work in Bağlarbaşı that has a high number of regulars that come here. I think to myself: if I finish my work early, I will be able to visit the Fethi Paşa Korusu (Grove), the Validebağ Korusu, watch the sunset from Çamlıca, and, what’s more, even treat myself to a small feast. Thinking about this “reward,” I continue working with even greater determination and enthusiasm.
It is easy to reach Bağlarbaşı by public transport from anywhere in Istanbul. After the Marmaray-metro transit from Üsküdar, in 10 minutes, you can reach the square by bus or minibus. If you travel by metrobus that connects the two continents via a bus lane that has no traffic and get off at the Altunizade stop, you can walk to the district’s center in no time. Of course, there’s always the option of coming from Kadıköy or Üsküdar on a historical tour, and on the way viewing the Selimiye Barracks, the historical mansions, the streets lined with modest wooden houses, and the hammams, churches, and mosques that stand out with their architecture.
The metro, however, is the fastest means of public transport. Nevmekan opens at eight in the morning and is the best “first” stop to begin the day with a delicious breakfast. The 4th exit of the metro reaches me to one of the main junctions connecting the Asian and European. This is exactly the point where Nuhkuyusu Street and Cumhuriyet Street, that begins in Üsküdar and extends to Kadıköy, meet. Opposite me is a testimony of the cosmopolitan texture of the district: the Armenian graveyard.
As in the case of Kuzguncuk, Bağlarbaşı is open to a world of diversity with its residents of almost all faiths -to those who wake up in the morning to the adhan recited from the Ilahiyat (Theology) Mosque, and if it is Sunday, the sound of the bells ascending from the Greek and Armenian churches saying “Good morning” to its residents. The district’s lifestyle and the existence of a common spirit are sincerely founded and are immediately felt by its visitors.
Mahir İz Street extends along one side of the Armenian graveyard, and, on the other side, Kısıklı Street. The Marmara University Faculty of Theology and its mosque, the Capitol Shopping Mall, 29 Mayıs, Üsküdar, and Medeniyet universities align these two streets. Establishments including the Akademi Hospital, Dünya Göz (World Eye) Hospital, Başkent University Hospital, and Anatolia Göz are on the Mahir İz Street side. One of the campuses of Sabahattin Zaim University is located at the point where the district ends.
The eternal resting places of many historical figures we know from books are in the Jewish, Greek, Armenian graveyards and the Karacaahmet Graveyard in the vicinity. While these graveyards remind visitors of the harmonious existence of people in the past, the greenery surrounding the modest apartment buildings creates a spacious world making the district even more “livable.”
In the coolness of the morning, I head from Nuhkuyusu Street towards Üsküdar, and I turn the corner into Selamsız. Nevmekan is now in view. There is always the option of the delicious sandwiches or börek (filled pastries) accompanied by tea for breakfast in Bağ Bakery on the corner, but today I prefer to have Nevmekan’s toast for breakfast.
Every time I visit, I discover a new detail at Nevmekan. The café’s historical building served as an IETT (Istanbul Electric Tramway, Tunnel Company) garage for a long period beginning from 1928. When the city traffic increased and the garages moved to larger locations, the site was considerably empty. At the beginning of the 2000s, it was designed as a Cultural Center and Transport Museum. With its unique decoration that resembles an open-air museum, its library founded with book donations and its vast, spacious environment, this was transformed into a place where the younger generation can study and a venue that booklovers enjoy visiting frequently. The venue remains open until 11 p.m. and with its large tables, where students from surrounding universities can form study groups, it is a place visited by students especially during final exams. During exam periods, be sure to come early so you can find a suitable reading corner -that’s what I do!
Along the entire road opposite Nevmekan are the former IETT lodgings. On Mondays, a colorful neighborhood bazaar is set up between these pretty, two-floor houses with gardens. The pleasure of shopping from the stands selling fresh fruit and vegetables is something unique. What’s more, the pleasure of shopping in the district is not limited to the bazaar alone. The smiling faces of traders lined up along the Bağlarbaşı bus stop, and the bakeries and shops in the side streets on the back of the main road conceal a wide variety of tastes. The names of these side streets will also attract your attention: apart from the names of figures such as Murat Reis and Şair (Poet) Talat, you frequently come across streets named after the professions of palace officials such as Reisülküttab (Head Clerk), Silahtar Bahçe (Garden of Armorer), Ayarcıbaşı (Chief Gauger), and Müneccimbaşı (Chief Astrologer). When officials who served in the palace reached retirement age, they were allocated places where they could live amidst vineyards and orchards. Of course, the grace and kindness of the residents that lived in harmony in the neighbourhood also played a major role in this.
When the area began to get more crowded, I decided to leave Nevmekan and head towards the TDV (Turkish Religious Affairs) ISAM (Center for Islamic Studies) Library. This library hosts researchers not only from Istanbul, but from all over Turkey. I should remind anyone intending to come here: the library known as ISAM is a library for research. Visitors must prove they are graduate students and present their library card. This is a place that serves from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week, 363 days of the year. You can study here 14 hours a day, inclusive of eating and drinking. Among the open shelves of the 3-storied building, you can discover a different book that will surprise you on every visit. And don’t be surprised if you come across familiar authors sharing their life experiences with the youth as they sip fresh tea in the vast gardens; like researchers, there are also authors that frequently visit the library.
Time passes so fast in the library, and the things to write seem to be never-ending. But I am certainly not going to give up on the feast I planned on my way here. I leave around 3, and on my way greet Abdullah Usta who has been sewing quilts with great care in his shop since 1973. A few shops further on, like Nuri Effendi in Tanpınar’s Time Regulation Institute, in his tiny shop, our watch expert Recai Bey is busy regulating the balance wheels of watches. Without disturbing him, I go to the bakery on the same street to buy einkorn bread. Maintaining the bakery’s tradition of askıda ekmek (literally “bread on the hanger,” which is the bread distributed to the needy), I also contribute and leave a loaf of bread on the “hanger.”
The point where I entered the neighborhood, where the metro exit is locate, I passes the street. I stop at the Ilahiyat Faculty’s Book Café section to ask if the book Archimedes Scripts I ordered has arrived. This is an excellent place to order books; the book arrives within two days, and you come and buy it at a reduced price. The calligraphy exhibition in the art center immediately opposite the Book Café catches my eye, but I’ll delay it until a later time. I stop off at the district’s busy Capitol Shopping Mall to buy some coffee beans, then I cross at the traffic lights to the other side of the Capitol bus stop to reward myself for a busy day working with one of the Ora's Steak&Burgers' hamburgers.