35 Secrets of Istanbul
It’s impossible to fit Istanbul in one post, that’s for sure. I can do a series of the hidden gems in Istanbul the beautiful city has many things to be discovered. Let’s start...
If Beyoğlu was the city's European business center, Eminönü was its oriental counterpart, and its narrow, overcrowded streets are lined with what were still called “hans,” 19th-century office blocks that had evolved from the original hans, the urban equivalents of rural caravanserais where traveling salesmen could find accommodation as they moved from place to place. Those older hans were usually two-storied, brick-built structures centered on a courtyard, sometimes with a small mosque in the center, where animals would have been stabled downstairs while their owners slept above them. There are still plenty of these old hans left in the city, many of them still in use today.
By the 19th century the hans had evolved into something closer in appearance to modern office blocks, especially on the outside, although sometimes seemingly conventional facades still fronted old-style courtyards with rooms opening off the galleries on either side. But whereas most of the old hans look fairly similar, the streets of Eminönü reveal a veritable kaleidoscope of clashing styles as resident and visiting architects competed with one another to impose their vision on the cityscape.
- Liman (Mes'adet or Davidoviç) Han is a work of Vedat Tek dating back to 1907. Liman Han, which lacks a yard, is papered with exquisite azure and turquoise tiles on the façade. It has once housed brokers, maritime agencies and contractors for unloading goods. Damaged in ‘99s earthquake, it has served until 2007. The han has been observed to have a few degrees of incline, just like Italy’s Pisa Tower, and therefore is not is use any more.
- Büyük Valide Han was built in 17thcentury by Ottoman Sultana Kösem, who exercised a strong influence on Ottoman politics for half a century, first as the wife of Sultan Ahmed I, then as mother of Murad IV and İbrahim I and grandmother of Mehmed IV. Consisting of 366 cell rooms, the han was used by Persian merchants for a while. Its historical chimneys have recently become popular on social media with the magnificent view of Bosphorus behind and therefore damaged by the tourists. If you somehow manage to climb up, please do not jump!
- One of the few remaining hans preserving its original shape, Ali Paşa Han, is a great example of Ottoman commerce center. Built with firebricks between Unkapanı and Eminönü, the history of Ali Paşa Han dates back to 18th It has housed several mercantile establishments from confectionery to wattling, tinsmithing to glass repairing. Perşembe Bazaar and İstanbul Marketplace have caused it lose its functionality in time. The only establishment that has survived for the past 50 years is the copper forging mill. The han was converted to a theatre for 3 seasons of Dostlar Tiyatrosu and had housed Nazım Hikmet’s play, “Yaşamaya Dair”. What an incredible place for a play!
- Also known as the Rüstem Pasha Caravanserai, Kurşunlu Han was built for the grand vizier to Süleyman the Magnificent in the 1540s. Remarkably, it survives to this day, unrestored, with its eight domes intact.It carries the permanent traces of Genoese, Byzantine and Ottoman works. A large part of the lower floor of the two-story inn are the remains of Saint Michele's Cathedral, built by the Genoese in 1200 years. The Byzantines also made some repairs. The upper floor was built by Mimar Sinan, between 1544 and 1550, as a caravanserai. The building, which has been serving as a passenger inn for centuries, was transformed into a tradesmen center after the caravan trade stopped. Another element that adds beauty are the vines hanging over the courtyard. According to the accounts, non-Muslims who run the inn in the Ottoman era sold very high quality wines from these grapes. Kurşunlu Han in Karaköy Perşembe Pazarı is waiting to be saved as the slabs of lead covering the roof have been dismantled & sold, arches are ruined and about to collapse any time. Private ownership is what makes the restoration an enigma.
- Named after Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, one of Turkey’s most important essayists and novelists, the Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar Literature Museum Library is housed within the 19th-century Alay Köşkü (Parade Manor) that is next to the southern entrance of Gülhane Park. Apart from special corners that exhibit the life and works of Turkey’s most renowned authors and a space that hosts workshops and award ceremonies, the library has more than 8,000 books. With more than 1,000 titles focusing on Istanbul, the collection also includes periodicals on literature and other art forms. Part of Topkapı Palace, Alay Köşkü, originally functioned as a watchpoint for the sultan to observe march past over the city walls. It was also known as the greeting kiosk since the sultan greeted the Istanbulite. Witnessed events in front of the manor included ugly ones such as executions, too. The most remarkable was when Sultan Mehmet IV at the age of 14 had to execute a list of 30 in the aftermath of their rebellion. This is also known as "The Event of the Vakvak" (Vakʿa-ı Vakvakiye), named after a mythical platanus tree on which human beings grew, as an analogy to the corpses hung from trees.
- Hidayet Mosque, located on Yalı Köşkü Street in Istanbul’s Eminönü district, was built in 1813 under Mahmud II. Prior to the mosque’s erection, the small district was a rough district known for murders, prostitution, and general poor conditions. It was given the informal name of Melek Girmez Sokağı ("The street that angels abandoned") by the locals. After the plague of 1812, Mahmud II ordered many Istanbul districts including here demolished, and in order to obscure the history of the area, he had the mosque built with the name Hidayet, a word coming from Arabic meaning "seeking the right path".
Originally of wood construction, the mosque was reconstructed in an orientalist style by the French architect Alexander Vallaury (known also for Istanbul Archaeology Museum and many more) in 1887 under the direction of Abdulhamid II. During occupancy of Istanbul it was closed due to its proximity to French Headquarters. Then for some time it was converted into prison and later in 40s leather repository. It was restorated and opened to worship and is still in use today.
- Surp Krikor Lusavoric Armenian Church in Karaköy is the oldest Armenian Church in Istanbul that was built in 1431. However, it had to be demolished due to road construction and rebuilt in 1965 by Bedros Zoby. It stands elegantly with its beautiful domes and the bell tower.
- Located in Sultanahmet, Cağaoğlu Hamam was built by Mahmut I in 1741 and has the distinction of being the last hammam constructed during the Ottoman era. The beautifully detailed building with high domed ceilings, internal marble fountains, interior garden, and two levels of individual changing chambers, is an architectural delight. The Hamam was a highly ritualized social event that gave women an opportunity to leave the seclusion of their homes and interact in a safe, sanctioned, environment when women led a severely restricted life with social activity limited to family. One of the most visited and biggest hamams has welcomed famous names like Harrison Ford, Cameron Diaz and many more.
- Atatürk Revolution Museum, the residence of Ataturk after his return from the Syrian front has undergone restoration and is a significant museum where his photographs, personal belongings and collections, paintings and historical documents from Turkish Reform are now exhibited. Atatürk lived and worked here before the War of Independence between 1918 and 1919. The house witnessed many meetings held by Atatürk during the invasion of Istanbul after World War I and it was converted it into a museum in 1928 by the Istanbul Municipality.
- You can find Eller Art Gallery on Postacı Street, down to Italian High School from Istiklal Street. Nurhan Acun exhibits his handmade jewelry along with works of other artists. He has survived a lawsuit by Santa Maria Church as the landlord after the recent law of letting the tenants of 10+ years out. You can do shopping and have a lovely chat with the owner.
- The historic apartment building Zenovitch Apartment is located in the streets of Cukurcuma, the Bohemian neighborhood of Istanbul. It was constructed in 1880 by Milo Zenoviç who had emigrated from Montenegro. The family had rented one part of the house as an income and lived in the other. The building served as The House Hotel Galatasaray after 2010 for about 10+ years but unfortunately is not in use anymore.
- Reopened in 2014 in a newly renovated space in the Crown Prince's apartments of Dolmabahçe Palace, the National Palaces Painting Museum showcases the collection of paintings of the national palaces. Highlights include 'Turkish Painters’ room, which has works of Osman Hamdi Bey, 'İstanbul views' room, which is home to 19th-century street scenes by Germain Fabius Brest, ‘Ayvazovski Hall’ dedicated to the 19th-century Russian artist who raised European maritime painting to a new level and ‘Orientalist Painters’ depicting views of the East by Western artists.
Crown Prince's apartments were built during the reign of Sultan Abdulmecid for his sons’ residence. The building itself, on the waterfront of the Bosphorus, is quite impressive.
- French Levantine architect Alexandre Vallauri designed the original building of SALT Galata to house the Ottoman Bank as inaugurated in 1892. The building is a landmark unique to İstanbul with surprisingly distinct architectural styles—neoclassical and oriental—applied on opposite façades. SALT Galata offers public access to thousands of print and digital resources, houses Ottoman Bank Museum, an auditorium and exhibition spaces, as well as a restaurant and a book shop.
- The historical Mongeri Building, a monument by the Italian architect Giulio Mongeri, who was a prominent architect in the Republican Era architecture in Turkey, serves as the headquarters of Bozlu Art Project. Founded with an independent art institute design, Bozlu Art Project Şişli aims to provide operations such as library, archives, exhibitions and art seminars and expand the horizons of the researchers and art lovers with art publications fed by these operations. Dr. Şükrü Bozluolçay Collection, which started to be collected by the end of the 70s, and artworks by artists Bozlu Art Project works with, are exhibited in the historical Mongeri Building as certain concepts.
- Taksim Maksemi, a distribution chamber of water from Belgrade Forest into the city, is an example of those that are above ground, such as those in Eyüp, and Harbiye. Built during Mahmut Han I’s era in 1732, the maksem has 2 adjacent fountains. Today it’s in fact an information center since 2013, although not known by many.
- Justice Court, built in 1844, was used as the French Criminal Court during the Capitulation Period. Neighboured by French Palace, the court looks to Little Italy Square, right in front. Functioned once as the French Consulate, today the building serves as kindergarten & primary school French Pierre Loti School. The reliefs on its façade were erroneously matched with wrong coat of arms (Louis - Justice) in a restoration.
- This small museum paying tribute to one of the greats of Turkish literature, Orhan Kemal, gives an illuminating glimpse into his life. It houses has a substantial collection of photos of Kemal with his family and other Turkish intellectuals, a complete set of the first editions of his books and his personal belongings. Orhan Kemal was best known for his realist portrayals of different voices in Turkish society. An activist as well as a writer, he spent five years in prison between the ages of 24 and 29 for his ‘alternative’ political opinions. Next door to the building of Orhan Kemal Museum is a replica of the Ikbal Kahvesi, once a popular literary hangout in Nuruosmaniye which has been torn down.
- Sadık Paşa Mansion has served in years as an American prep school, a film set and even an exhibition space in 2017 for, Halil Altındere’s ‘Welcome to Homeland’ focusing on refugees. It was originally the house of Count Czaikowsky who has found asylum in Ottoman Empire along with Polish Hungarian troops in 1849 and converted into Islam taking the name Sadık.
- Established in 1846 as a secondary school, the institution Sainte Pulchérie has become a mixed secondary teaching establishment. One of the six French high-schools in Turkey, Sainte Pulchérie requires quite a high score at the selective test conducted to access education.
- Pera Palace was the first hotel in Istanbul with hot running water, air conditioning and even the first elevator. It is also where Agatha Christie wrote Murder in the Orient Express and Ataturk used to stay while in Istanbul. Room 101, with Atatürk’s belongings is turned into a museum an can be visited every day from 10-11:00 and 15-16:00.
- The Ashkenazi Synagogue located near the famous Galata Tower is affiliated to the Ashkenazim of Austria. It was built by the Ashkenazi Jews of Austro-Hungarian origins who migrated from Austria to Istanbul. This synagogue was designed by Gabriel Tedoschi and in 1900.
- Opposite of Ağa Mosque, once stood Alkazar Theatre. Functioning since the first days of republic until 2010 at intervals, it has become the longest standing cinema of Turkey. It was operated by Safvet ve Naci Beys, initially under the name of Elektra. What a shame, it hasn’t survived until today. Thanks to the archives I have this photo of the beautiful cinema.
- By Retro is a vintage shop in Syrian Pasage on Istiklal Avenue. Used as the primary costume source of Turkish serials & movies, offers a wide collection of starting from 1920s to 2000. Its door, all but a time tunnel, welcomes you to a vintage heaven of 20’s flappers, 30’s overcoats, 50’s puffy skirt dresses and 70’s bootflares.
- Bukoleon Palace is a Byzantine palace located on the shore of the Sea of Marmara, to the south of the Hippodrome and east of the Little Hagia Sophia. Also called the "House of Hormisdas" and "House of Justinian", the palace was built during the reign of Theodosius II in the 5th century and served later as a religious meeting place until 12th The ruins of the palace were partially destroyed in 1873 to make way for the railway line to Sirkeci. It is planned to be turned into an open-air museum with a timber walking trail after some restoration.
- Yedikule Gashouse, producing hot air via coal, was built in 1873 to lighten Eminönü & Fatih districts. The sight being by the historical peninsula harbor was chosen to easify the transfer of machinery & construction. It has ceased functioning along with the rest of the gashouses in 1993. Although housing several art events right after and expected to become a museum, today, along with the land that CER ateliers once stood as infrastructure of railways, is being turned into residences & hotels via high profile projects L
- Ihlamur Pavilion is named after the linden trees that adorn its ornamental gardens. The history of Ihlamur Kasrı dates back to 18th century;the area was first a vineyard then a court garden during the reigns of Sultan Ahdülhamid I & Selim III. During the reign of Sultan Abdülmecid I, the imperial palace of Ihlamur was constructed, designed by one of the most renowned architects Nikogos Balyan.There are two kiosks; the main building Ceremonial Kiosk for official use and the Maiyet Kiosk for harem. You can rest in the café near the pool side in the garden after your visit to those kiosks. Maybe even while you are having breakfast, you can be charmed by Ottoman ambiance. Enclosed by high surrounding walls, it’s incredible that visiting the pavillion can in fact be an escape from the city.
- Tiled (Hunting) Kiosk in the garden of Ayazağa Pavilion is known to have been designed by Sarkis Balyan during Sultan Abdülaziz’ era.This was where sultan had rested during summer days and drank coffee while listening to music. This miniature looking wooden hunting lodge stands among one of the best turkish wooden art of early 19th century. Having built by the reform-minded Sultan Selim the 3rd, the kiosk was famous for its sandal parties thrown at its pool during Sultan Mahmut the 2nd's reign. It owes its name to the tiles brought from England during Sultan Abdülaziz's trip. In the Republic Era, the area became a military district. After the recent developments, the kiosk is now a part of an architectural complex; renovated but apparently the pool seems to be non-existent anymore.
- Church with the same name of is situated atop Ayios Dimitrios Holy Spring (ayazma). Dating back to the Byzantines, the water of the spring is believed to be good for women’s breast and breastfeeding diseases. Water can be found in a cave, which is 40 meters in height and 1.20 meters in width.
- Makbule Atadan’s Mansion is where Atatürk’s sister Makbule Atadan resided. Atatürk used to visit his sister here and spend time across the Bosphorus. He’s known to chat with fishermen who offered him fresh fish. Today, the mansion is no longer right by the front, as a coast road was built later. Makbule Hanım who has participated shortly in politics with her brother’s insistence, has in fact, written two books about Atatürk.
- Located in the Belgrad Forest, Atatürk Arboretum was established in 1949 by Professor Doctor Hayrettin Kayacık on a 345 hectare plot, boasting over 2000 different types of native and foreign trees and plants. The arboretum was built on the site of the first plant nursery in Turkey, which was founded in 1913 and still stands in the center of the arboretum. Ranging from half an hour to 1.5 hour, three routes exist to visit the area. Enter this gated sanctuary and admire the unusual flowers plants. Fresh air, quietud, peace and lots of greenery await you in this tree museum. Must visit for all that we miss in the city.
- Notre Dame du Rosaire Complex was built as monastery, school and church in 1895. It is converted into Yeldeğirmeni Art Center in 2014. Imagine watching a jazz concert here!
- Paşalimanı Flour Mill is constructed in 1858 during Selim III’s reign. The factory was functional until 1940s. Neighboring buildings of the historical flour mill were built as grain warehouses in 1789-1802 however they were used as tobacco storages afterwards by Tekel. Nowadays, these buildings serve to Istanbul State Opera Ballet and Istanbul State Theatre. The flour factory is confused to be a part of Tekel’s warehouse.
- Abdülmecit Efendi Mansion opened its doors to visitors thanks to Istanbul Biennial that took place in 2017. The exhibition was in fact called Door Opens to Those Who Knock J The neo-Ottoman wooden mansion, originally built as a hunting lodge in the 1800s, was home to Abdülmecid Efendi, a sophisticated royal family member, passionate about painting and a caliph himself. On the walls and above the doors there are written many verses taken from Turkish and Arabic poets. Today, the pavilion is used for the social activities of Yapı Kredi Bank. Unless you have a friend to let you in, look for events like these to take a look inside.
- Monastery of Hagios Spyridon (Terk-i Dünya) is on the southwest coast of Heybeli Island, perched on the promontory that forms the western horn of the huge crescent-shaped bay known as Pine Port. The walk up here is worth the magnificient view.
- Located in the Yıldız neighborhood of the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul, Yıldız Hamidiye Mosque is so in sight, yet, not visited much. Sultan Abdülhamid II had the mosque built for Friday prayer ceremony. The clock tower was added later to the site which witnessed an assasination attempt on sultan in 1905. I have a thing for architect Sarkis Baylan’s designs for sure!