Acıbadem is a lively district of Istanbul that combines history with the future, tradition with modernity, like a huge junction connecting every corner of the city.
As I begin to write about Acıbadem, I am slightly reluctant when I press the keys. I know the people of Acıbadem do not really like the beauty of the district being advertised. You may say this is due to a strange sense of jealousy, whereas I say “No, they are right, if I lived in a peaceful neighborhood in the heart of Istanbul, I would also want to hide this from everybody and wouldn’t like others talking about the district.” As I walk around Acıbadem between the apartment buildings with flourishing lemon trees in front of the doors, I begin to realize this even more. With the four-story apartment buildings aligned along wide streets, most with their own small private gardens, this is one of the rare districts in Istanbul where the spirit of the neighborhood culture is still alive. When the residents walk in the streets, they greet one another -what a joy!
Of course the residential buildings and tall trees are not the only things that make Acıbadem so precious for Istanbul. We are talking about an old district which has been a settlement area since the 1600s, and although they are few and far between today, this was an area full of mansions owned by agas and pashas, and was famous for its almond gardens, pastures, and orchards. We should also point out that the target stone, erected on the spot where Sultan Mahmut II “hit an egg from a thousand steps away” is still standing, even though it is surrounded by apartment buildings today, and has lent its name to a bus stop. If you want to exchange a few silent words with another target stone that has survived all these years, as you travel from Acıbadem Street towards Çamlıca, you will come across Nişantaşı (literally target stone). I did, and turning back to Acıbadem Avenue, I begin walking and breathing in the district’s fresh air. I want to become more closely acquainted with this district on the city’s Anatolian side that boasts two identities: half belonging to Üsküdar and the other half to Kadıköy.
We recognize metropolises from their avenues. The width of pavements, the rows of shops, cafés, temples, schools, libraries, bakeries, flower shops, simit (Turkish bagel) shops… As I walk, I begin to imagine the past residents of each of these wide streets that added to the reputation of the city. Acıbadem Avenue is a perfect example. Historical buildings like the Marmara University Faculty of Fine Arts, the Çamlıca High School for Girls that teaches students on the grounds of the Ahmet Ratıp Paşa Pavilion, the Safter Pavilion that was built in the early 1900s, modern cafés, fast food restaurants, and a variety of cuisines ranging from Gaziantep to Paris coexist in total harmony. Around ten years ago, the students of the Çamlıca High School for Girls had to vacate the Ahmet Ratıp Paşa Pavilion. The high school that is one of Istanbul’s oldest schools, however, continues to function in the new building constructed on the grounds of the pavilion, and, in the meantime, the pavilion is under restoration. The pavilion that was a masterpiece of architect Kemalettin Bey, an outstanding artist of the Ottoman and Republic periods, can be viewed -even if it is only from the outside- after requesting permission from officials. Even with such a restricted visit, the magnificence of the wooden exterior will dazzle you. Shortly, classes in the school will end for the day, and the students will begin to pour into the street. I should have a cup of tea and map out my route as soon as possible. The best place to visit is the district’s old bakery, Badem Tat. Badem Tat is one of the oldest localities identified with Acıbadem; in their own words, “A flavor icon in Acıbadem.” I found the district’s historical sweet venue on the corner of Zeamet Street, just before the Safer Pavilion in the Kadiköy direction. The bakery was opened in 1957 in Kadiköy and Yıldızbakkal by two brothers, Ahmet and Cavit Okan from Rize, and moved to Acıbadem Avenue in 1966. The establishment, which is currently run by Cavit Okan’s sons has witnessed generations of Kadıköy residents growing up, without opening any other branches or losing its original flavors. Badem Tat Bakery is also the pioneer of the Acıbadem cookie that is famous all over Turkey.
Acıbadem is an interesting place for Istanbul travel enthusiasts. If from what I have described so far you are imagining a cute coastal neighborhood like Kuzguncuk or an old, protected Istanbul district like Arnavutköy, I have failed to portray the district the way it deserves. In addition to all the beauty, tranquility, and orderliness of Acıbadem, it is also one of the points where Istanbul’s transport network intersects. Both the metrobus and metro pass through the district. The entrance to the Avrusya Tunnel, which connects the two continents under the sea, begins at Acıbadem. And it is easy to reach the Kadıköy Pier or the Üsküdar ships in just 10 minutes. This is why the people in the streets here are divided into three categories: the residents of Acıbadem, those who come here to study or work, and people who pass through the district traveling from A to B in Istanbul.
Until the 20th century, the land in Acıbadem that had been donated to various officials by Sultan Selim III and sultans after him was full of wooden mansions built in vast gardens. This may be the reason why Acıbadem, which took its name from the almond orchards around the junction, was such a favored place among the city notables. Speaking of the city’s history, we shouldn’t forget the water gauge believed to date back to the period when Kadiköy was known as Chalcedon. Its structure does not resemble other water gauges and is probably a remnant of the fortress wall. The restored gauge awaits visitors with its thousand-year-old tales.
As I walk around Acıbadem, there is only one thing missing: contrary to what I am accustomed to as a person who lives in Üsküdar, there are hardly any parks here. But the district’s location also solves this problem because Acıbadem is neighbor to the most beautiful groves and woods on the city’s Anatolian side. If you go up towards Çamlıca, there is the Küçük Çamlıca Grove; if you turn towards Altunizade, there is the Validebağ Grove and Koşuyolu Park that is classified as the neighborhood’s central park. These are some of the places where you can relax on your visit to Acıbadem.
After all this walking, I decide to have dinner at one of the stylish restaurants on the main street and once again I appreciate the diversity of Istanbul. Walking around, eating, drinking, being in close contact with history, absorbing the city… Whatever reason you may choose for visiting, Acıbadem will fulfill your expectations and will certainly make your visit worthwhile.