The last few days in Istanbul were quiet. I ventured outside between cloud bursts, but the rain continued. Stormy skies provide a dramatic backdrop for photos, but it’s not fun in a torrential downpour. After ignoring it, thinking the storms would blow over, mother nature won. I succumbed to the weather.
The rain caused disruption and flash flooding on Istanbul’s European and Asian sides. Seagulls were the only creatures undaunted, and they seemed to enjoy the deluge and even play in it. Disappointed but not defeated, I kept envisioning myself walking the Golden Horn coast exploring less-visited Istanbul. Yesterday, it finally happened! Today it’s raining again, so happy I didn’t miss the brief period between storms. Next week’s forecast is for hot, sunny weather!
I climbed the hilly part of the Golden Horn trail, cutting inland and taking a longer route following a series of steep steps in interesting residential areas. I descended via the easier coastal side, with jaw-dropping panoramas of the Golden Horn.
At the top, I stopped at Pierre Loti Café for lunch, where people were enjoying food and the spectacular view. For those who don’t want to walk the steep hill, a cable car runs from Eyüp Sultan Mosque to a viewing point near the café.
Eyüp is an historically important area, especially for Turkey’s Muslims. It’s part of Fatih municipality, extending from the Golden Horn to the Black Sea. Eyüp has fascinating history! Ayoub (Eyüp in Turkish) Ansari, “standard-bearer of the Prophet Muhammed, fell in battle during Arab army attacks on the walls of Constantinople in the 700s. He was buried along the shores of the Golden Horn”.
Ayoub’s tomb is a “sacred site in both religion and Turkish political history. He was not only a friend of the Prophet, but also key to the greatest Ottoman victories”. Magnificent Eyüp Sultan Mosque was built at Eyüp’s grave site.
Because of its “sacred and historical importance, many imperial princes and other Ottoman grandees desired to be buried in Eyüp”. Soon, “anyone with the money for a gravesite wanted to be buried there”. Eyüp cemetery extends uphill from the mosque all the way to Pierre Loti Café at the top. The ancient, mystical-looking tombstones are fascinating!
Like most places on this trip, there’s much more than what’s visible to the eye or could ever be posted in a blog. The area has piqued my interest in Turkey’s Black Sea Region. I’ll return to the Golden Horn for further exploring. Since Athens is my next stop, I’m considering options for getting there and the possibility of going by boat through the Aegean Sea.
Fener and Balat
I mentioned Fener and Balat districts in a previous post. Both are part of Fatih municipality and are UNESCO world heritage sites. They’re said to have the “richest history in Istanbul”.
Located on the Golden Horn Peninsula, these areas once were inhabited by Turkish citizens of Greek, Jewish, and Armenian origin. Today, “traces of these original peoples are scarce in the neighborhoods”. Populations are “predominantly Muslims who immigrated to Istanbul from rural Black Sea regions”.
“Organized like small villages, the tangle of cobblestone alleys that go up and down gives the impression of being in a labyrinth filled with treasures. The colorful Ottoman houses, some of which are perfectly restored, the religious buildings, the small craftsmen, the merchants, the children playing in the street, and the linen hanging from the windows give this area a unique charm, out of a time that will allow you to discover a new side of Istanbul.” TooIstanbul.com
Fener was an important Greek quarter in Istanbul. It prospered after the Ottomans captured Constantinople. From the 18th century until the end of the Ottoman Empire, Orthodox people settled in the area. After the Greeks were forced out, Turkish settlers moved in, transforming the neighborhood culturally and visually.
Fener is home to several places of worship, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and Church of St. George. Millions of Orthodox Christians consider the church a “fundamental place of spiritual authority”.
Greek Pammakaristos Church in Fatih Çarşamba District has Byzantine mosaics dating back to the 14th century. The church was converted into Fethiye Mosque (meaning Mosque of Conquest) in 1591. The mosque “fell into disrepair over the years, but was restored in 1949 by the Byzantine Institute of America and Dumbarton Oaks“. Still a mosque, today “a partitioned section serves as Fethiye Museum“.
The Greek High School is another important historical site in Fener. The stunning building is still a school. It’s visible from different angles throughout the area.
Balat, Istanbul’s former Jewish quarter, was developed in 1492, when the Sultan welcomed Jews who were persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition. It was the “largest district of the Sephardic Jewish Community in Constantinople”.
Three synagogues are still active in Balat – Ashkenazi, Italian, and Neve Shalom. In conjunction with several major activities – (1) “fall of the Ottomans, (2) industrialization of the Golden Horn, and (3) creation of the State of Israel – Balat declined”.
Since the 2000s, UNESCO has facilitated “restoration of over a hundred buildings in Balat”. The area was highly publicized when a popular Turkish television series, Çukur (meaning “the pit”) was filmed there featuring Balat’s “colorful architecture and charm”. The series is about a district identified with crime – excepting drugs, which are forbidden and not produced, used, or sold there. Violent struggles ensue when new groups try to break the Balat drug ban.
One of the oldest and most spectacular districts of İstanbul, as you walk along Balat’s “narrow-cobbled streets, you sense an atmosphere unlike anywhere else in İstanbul, and indeed the world”.
Balat is a welcoming community, and locals are happy to chat with tourists. Many families have lived there for generations. The area is noted for its diversity and as a home to various Istanbul minorities. Points of interest include:
- Sveti Stefan (St. Stephen) Bulgarian Church – with Viennese iron castings and a Russian belfry tower
- Yanbol Synagogue – built by Jews of Yanbol, Bulgaria during the Byzantine period
- Vaftizci Yahya (Church of St. John the Baptist) – built in 462 A.D., one of the oldest surviving Byzantine churches in Istanbul
The area’s beautiful coastal promenade includes cozy cafés, restaurants, and lush parks along Pierre Loti Hill. The hill is named after Pierre Loti, a French novelist who loved Istanbul and considered it his second homeland.
In addition to its great beauty, Istanbul has extremely rich history and culture! There are many hidden treasures. So far, I’ve only discovered a few. More later…