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Beyoğlu is a district located on the European side of Istanbul, separated from the old city (historic peninsula of Constantinople) by the Golden Horn. It was known as Pera in the Middle Ages, and this name remained in common use until the early 20th century and the establishment of the Turkish Republic.
The district encompasses other neighborhoods located north of the Golden Horn, including Galata (the medieval Genoese citadel from which Beyoğlu itself originated), Karaköy, Cihangir, Şişhane, Tepebaşı, Tarlabaşı, Dolapdere and Kasımpaşa, and is connected to the old city center across the Golden Horn through the Galata Bridge and Unkapanı Bridge. Beyoğlu is the most active art, entertainment and night life centre of Istanbul.
The area that is now known as Beyoğlu has been inhabited for millennia, and records show that a settlement existed on the northern shore of the Golden Horn since the time of Christ. In the Greek period, the hillside was covered with orchards and was named Sykai (The Fig Orchard), or Peran en Sykais (The Fig Field on the Other Side), referring to the "other side" of the Golden Horn. As the Byzantine Empire grew, so did Constantinople and its environs. This side of the Golden Horn was built up as a suburb of Byzantium as early as the 5th century. It was in this period that the area began to be called Galata, and a fortress was built by Emperor Theodosius II. The name Galata (possibly derived from the Greek word Galaktos, meaning milk) was presumably given because the area was an important farmland for the city. The Italians, on the other hand, believe the name comes from Calata, meaning downward slope, as Galata, which used to be a Genoese colony, is located on a hilltop that goes downwards to the sea.
The area came to be the base of European merchants, particularly from Genoa and Venice, in what was then known as Pera. Following the Fourth Crusade in 1204, and during the Latin Empire of Constantinople (1204-1261), the Venetians were more prominent in Pera. The Dominican Church of St. Paul (1233), today known as the Arap Camii, is from this period. In 1273, Pera was given to the Republic of Genoa by the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus in return for Genoa's support of the Empire after the Fourth Crusade and the sacking of Constantinople in 1204. Pera became a flourishing trade colony, ruled by a Podestà. The Genoese Palace (Palazzo del Comune) was built in 1314 by Montani de Marinis, the Podestà of Galata (Pera), and still remains today in ruins, near the Bankalar Caddesi (Banks Street) in Karaköy, along with its adjacent buildings and numerous Genoese houses from the early 1300s. In 1348 the Genoese built the famous Galata Tower, one of the most prominent landmarks of Istanbul. Pera (Galata) remained under Genoese control until May 29, 1453, when it was conquered by the Ottomans along with the rest of the city, after the Siege of Constantinople.
During the Byzantine period, the Genoese Podestà ruled over the Italian community of Galata (Pera), which was mostly made up of the Genoese, Venetians, Tuscans and Ragusans. Following the Turkish siege of Constantinople in 1453, during which the Genoese sided with the Byzantines and defended the city together with them, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II allowed the Genoese (who had fled to their colonies in the Aegean Sea such as Lesbos and Chios) to return back to the city, but Galata was no longer run by a Genoese Podestà. Venice, Genoa's archrival, did not miss the opportunity to regain control in the strategic citadel of Galata (Pera), which they were forced to leave in 1261 when the Byzantines retook Constantinople and brought an end to the Latin Empire (1204-1261) that was established by Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice. The Republic of Venice immediately established political and commercial ties with the Ottoman Empire, and a Venetian Baylo (Bailiff) was sent to Pera as a political and commercial ambassador, similar to the role of the Genoese Podestà during the Byzantine period. The Venetians sent Gentile Bellini to Constantinople, who crafted the famous portrait of Sultan Mehmed II, which is found today in the National Portrait Gallery of London. It was also the Venetians who suggested Leonardo da Vinci to Bayezid II when the Sultan mentioned his intention to construct a bridge over the Golden Horn, and Leonardo designed his Galata Bridge in 1502, the sketches and drawings of which are located today in the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia of Milan. The Baylo's seat was the Venetian Palace, currently the Italian Consulate (and formerly the Italian Embassy until 1923, when Ankara became the new Turkish capital). The Turkish name of Pera, Beyoğlu, comes from the Turkicized form of Baylo, whose palace was the most grandiose structure in this quarter. The name originates from Bey Oğlu (literally Son of Governor) and was particularly used by the Turks to describe Luigi Giritti, son of Andrea Giritti, the Venetian Baylo during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. Luigi Giritti's mansion was located close to the present-day Taksim Square. The Ottoman Empire had an interesting relationship with the Republic of Venice. Even though the two states often went to war over the control of East Mediterranean territories and islands, they were keen on restoring their trade pacts once the wars were over, such as the renewed trade pacts of 1479, 1503, 1522, 1540 and 1575 following major sea wars between the two sides. The Venetians were also the first Europeans to taste Ottoman delicacies such as coffee, centuries before other Europeans saw coffee beans for the first time in their lives during the Battle of Vienna in 1683. These encounters can be described as the beginning of today's rich "coffee culture" in both Venice (and later the rest of Italy) and Vienna.
Following the conquest of Constantinople and Pera in 1453, the coast and the low-lying areas were quickly settled by the Turks, but the European presence in the area did not end. During the 19th century it was again home to many European traders, and housed many embassies, especially along the Grande Rue de Péra (today İstiklâl Avenue). The presence of such a prominent European population - commonly referred to as Levantines - made it the most Westernized part of İstanbul, especially when compared to the Old City at the other side of the Golden Horn, and allowed for influxes of modern technology, fashion, and arts. Thus, Beyoğlu was one of the first parts of İstanbul to have telephone lines, electricity, trams, municipal government and even an underground railway, the Tünel, inaugurated in 1875 as the world's second subway line (after London's Underground) to carry the people of Pera up and down from the port of Galata and the nearby business and banking district of Karaköy, where the Bankalar Caddesi (Banks Street), the financial center of the Ottoman Empire, is located. The theatre, cinema, patisserie and café culture that still remains strong in Beyoğlu dates from this late Ottoman period. Shops like İnci, famous for its chocolate mousse and profiteroles, predate the founding of the republic and still survive today.
The foreign communities also built their own schools, many of which went on to educate the elite of future generations of Turks, and still survive today as some of the best schools in Istanbul (see list of schools in Istanbul).
The rapid modernization which took place in Europe and left Ottoman Turkey behind was symbolized by the differences between Beyoğlu, and the historic Turkish quarters such as Eminönü and Fatih across the Golden Horn, in the Old City. When the Ottoman sultans finally initiated a modernization program with the Edict of Tanzimat (Reorganization) in 1839, they started constructing numerous buildings in Beyoğlu that mixed traditional Ottoman styles with newer European ones. In addition, Sultan Abdülmecid stopped living in the Topkapı Palace and built a new palace near Beyoğlu, called the Dolmabahçe Palace, which blended the Neo-Classical, Baroque and Rococo styles.
When the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the Turkish Republicwas founded (during and after the First World War) Beyoğlu went into gradual decline. Much of the foreign communities left the city, and the local communities of ethnic minorities such as Greeks, Jews, Levantines and Armenians who formed the majority of the residents in Beyoğlu found it increasingly attractive to live elswhere in the city, or elsewhere in the world; a process which gained momentum with the Varlık Vergisi (Wealth Tax) of the World War II years, the Istanbul Pogrom in 1955, and the Cyprus dispute in 1974. The widespread political violence between leftist and rightist groups which troubled Turkey in the late 1970s severely affected the lifestyle of the district, and accelerated its decline with the flight of the middle-class citizens to newer suburban areas such as Levent and Yeşilköy. By the late 1980s, many of the grandiose Neoclassical and Art Nouveau apartment blocks which were once resided by the late Ottoman elite became home to penniless immigrants from rural Anatolia. While Beyoğlu continued to enjoy a reputation for its cosmopolitan and sophisticated atmosphere until the 1940s and 1950s, by the 1980s the area had become economically and socially degenerated.
Starting from the early 1990s, a conscious programme of urban renewal has brought numbers of young professionals back into the area and revitalised the main shopping artery. However, the low-lying areas such as Tophane, Kasımpaşa and Karaköy, and indeed the side-streets of the whole area are still very grubby, while the residents are mostly poor and conservative. Despite all the European-style glamour along İstiklâl Avenue, the larger Municipality of Beyoğlu is controlled by the Islamic-leaning AK Party, thanks in large to the relatively conservative surrounding quarters like Kasımpaşa and Dolapdere. Parallel to İstiklal Avenue runs the wide bi-directional boulevard named Tarlabaşı Caddesi, which carries most of the traffic through the area and was constructed in the 1980s at the expense of demolishing many historic buildings. The streets on either side of this road have numerous elegant historical buildings and churches which are in need of repair, and the once cosmopolitan areas surrounding them have become impoverished in the recent decades.
However, due to the long tradition of foreign residents, there is still a strong cosmopolitan atmosphere in the heart of Beyoğlu, where people from all corners of the world, belonging to various ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds, live in quarters like Cihangir and Gümüşsuyu. Most of the consulates (former embassies until 1923, when Ankara became the new Turkish capital) are still in this area; the British, German, Russian, Dutch and Swedish consulates being among the most impressive buildings.
Where the Heart of Istanbul Beats
Modern day Beyoğlu is a major entertainment and shopping district for people from all sorts of ages and backgrounds in Istanbul. The main thoroughfare is the historical and attractive İstiklâl Caddesi, running into the neighbourhood from Taksim Square, a pedestrianised solid mile of shops, cafés, patisseries, restaurants, pubs, winehouses and clubs, as well as some of the city's best bookshops, theatres, cinemas and art galleries. Much of İstiklâl has a 19th century metropolitan character, and the avenue is lined with elegant Neoclassical and Art Nouveau buildings. A large restoration movement has been initiated since the 1990s, and many of these historic buildings have been repaired and restored, even though some of them are still in various states of decay. The nostalgic tram which runs on İstiklal Avenue, between Taksim Square and Tünel, was also re-installed in the early 1990s with the aim of reviving the historic atmosphere of the district.
Most of the city's historic pubs and winehouses are located in the areas around İstiklal Avenue in Beyoğlu. The 19th century Çiçek Pasajı (literally Flower Passage in Turkish, or Cité de Péra in French, opened in 1876) on İstiklal Avenue can be described as a miniature version of the famous Galleria in Milan, Italy, and has rows of historic pubs, winehouses and restaurants. The site of Çiçek Pasajı was originally occupied by the Naum Theatre, which was burned during the great fire of Pera in 1870. The theatre was frequently visited by Sultans Abdülaziz and Abdülhamid II, and hosted Giuseppe Verdi's play Il Trovatore before the opera houses of Paris. After the fire of 1870, the theatre was purchased by the local Greek banker Hristaki Zoğrafos Efendi, and Italian architect Zanno designed the current building, which was called Cité de Péra or Hristaki Pasajı in its early years. Yorgo'nun Meyhanesi (Yorgo's Winehouse) was the first winehouse to be opened in the passage. In 1908 the Ottoman Grand Vizier Sait Paşa purchased the building, and it became known as the Sait Paşa Passage. Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, many impoverished noble Russian women, including a Baroness, sold flowers here. By the 1940s the building was mostly occupied by flower shops, hence the present Turkish name Çiçek Pasajı (Flower Passage). Following the restoration of the building in 1988, it was reopened as a galleria of pubs and restaurants.
Pano, established by Panayot Papadopoulos in 1898, and the neighbouring Viktor Levi, established in 1914, are among the oldest winehouses in the city and are located on Kalyoncu Kulluk Street near the British Consulate and Galatasaray Square. Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi (literally Republic Winehouse), called this way since the early 1930s but originally established in the early 1890s, is another popular historic winehouse and is located in the nearby Sahne Street, along with the Hazzopulo Winehouse, established in 1871, inside the Hazzopulo Pasajı which connects Sahne Street and Meşrutiyet Avenue. The famous Nevizade Street, which has rows of historic pubs next to each other, is also in this area. Other historic pubs are found in the areas around Tünel Pasajı and the nearby Asmalımescit Street. Some historic neighbourhoods around İstiklal Avenue have recently been recreated, such as Cezayir Street near Galatasaray Lisesi, which became known as La Rue Française and has rows of francophone pubs, cafés and restaurants playing live French music. Artiste Terasse (Artist Teras) on Cezayir Street is a popular restaurant-bar which offers panoramic views of the Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque and Galata Tower.
Throughout Beyoğlu, there are many night clubs for all kinds of tastes. Babylon and Nu Pera are among the most popular European style night clubs and restaurants in the district, while Kemancı plays rock, hard rock and heavy metal. Maksim plays Oriental music, while Andon is a place where one can eat, drink and dance to the traditional Turkish music called fasıl. There are also classy restaurants on the top of historic buildings with a magnificent view of the city, such as 360. The Ottoman era Rejans is a historic Russian restaurant. Asmalımescit Street has rows of traditional Turkish restaurants and Ocakbaşı (grill) houses, while the streets around the historic Balıkpazarı (Fish Market) is full of eateries offering seafood like fried mussels and calamari along with beer or rakı (Turkish ouzo), or the traditional kokoreç. Beyoğlu also has many elegant pasaj (passages) from the 19th century, most of which have historic and classy chocolateries and patisseries, such the Markiz Pastanesi, along with many shops lining their alleys. There is also a wide range of fast-food restaurants in the district, of international chains such as McDonald's, Burger King, Domino's Pizza, Pizza Hut, etc; as well as local Turkish chains, such as Simit Sarayı which serves simit (sesame-covered, ring-shaped pretzel bread) along with cheese and tea, or individual eateries such as döner kebab houses.
Beyoğlu is just as vibrant in daytime as it is at night. Apart from the hundreds of shops lining the streets and avenues of the district, there is also a substantial business community. Odakule, a 1970s highrise building (the first "structural expressionism" style building in Turkey) is the headquarters of İstanbul Sanayi Odası (ISO) (Istanbul Chamber of Industry) and is located between İstiklal Avenue and Tepebaşı, next to the Pera Museum. Most of the upper floors of the buildings in Beyoğlu are office space, and small workshops are found on the side streets.
Things to see
Istanbul Modern, located near Karaköy Port on the Bosphorus with a magnificent view of the Seraglio Point, resembles Tate Modern in many ways and frequently hosts the exhibitions of renowned Turkish and foreign artists.
Pera Museum exhibits some of the most interesting works of art from the late Ottoman period, such as the famous Kaplumbağa Terbiyecisi (Turtle Trainer) of Osman Hamdi Bey. Apart from its permanent collection, the museum also hosts visiting exhibitions, which included the works of world-famous artists like Rembrandt.
Doğançay Museum, Turkey's first contemporary art museum dedicated to the works of a single artist, officially opened its doors to the public in 2004. While the museum almost exclusively displays the works of its founder Burhan Doğançay, one of Turkey's foremost contemporary artists, one floor has been set aside for the works of the artist's father, Adil Doğançay.
Hotel Pera Palace, built in 1892 for hosting the passengers of the Orient Express, is another renowned structure in the district. Agatha Christine wrote her most famous novel, Murder on the Orient Express, in this hotel, and her room is still conserved as a museum.
Beyoğlu also has many historical Tekkes and Türbes, and several Sufi orders such as the Cihangirî (pronounced Jihangiri) order were founded here.
S. Antonio di Padova on İstiklal Avenue, the largest Catholic church in Istanbul, and Neve Shalom Synagogue, the largest synagogue in the city, are also in Beyoğlu. There are numerous other Catholic and Orthodox churches in the area.