BEYOGLU TRAVEL GUIDE

Istiklal Street Istanbul

Beyoglu is where Istanbul's shopping, looking, eating, entertaining heart beats. It is a busy neighborhood day and night, cosmopolitan and at times chaotic. This is where you can find great food at decent prices, cheap beers as well as expensive dinners. It is also cultural heart of the city with movie theaters, art galleries and museums including the Pera Museum, the most important in Beyoglu and among top museums in Istanbul.

The ever crowded Istiklal street crosses Beyoglu from Tunel, Asmalimescit neighborhoods to Taksim Square and is what comes to people's mind first when they think of Beyoglu. A nostalgic tram crosses Istiklal Street but it is better to walk. The side streets just off Istiklal street offer pleasant surprises whether for art, food or drinks and waiting to be discovered.

HISTORY OF BEYOGLU

Beyoglu, also known as Pera district, is part of Galata, a trade colony of the Genoese and the Venetians formed during the Byzantine times.

After the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, the colony continued its existence under Ottoman rule. The transformation of this region into a wealthy Western oriented district happened in mid 19th century. It was where wealthy foreigners, ambassadors, influential Jewish, Armenian and Greek minorities lived. It was the finance capital of the Ottoman Empire, not unlike Wall Street of those times. Neoclassical and art nouveau buildings are a testimony of that period.

After the founding of the Turkish Republic, it lost importance as a financial and influential district in state affairs but it has kept its distinct Western feel and the symbol of the West in the eyes of Istanbul residents. Hence until the 1950's Taksim and Beyoglu were a special district for the Turkish people too.

That all changed with the influx of rural people immigrating to Istanbul from around Turkey who were building slums in the peripheries of the city after Wall Street backed right wing party has promised to create immediate wealth for everyone. Unfortunately, that promise happened to be mostly by land speculation as opposed to the period of Ataturk when wealth was generated through labour and production. To date 60% of the city is still made of illegal or once illegal but later transformed to legal buildings by politicians. These buildings are called gecekondus and they still are an ongoing concern in Istanbul.

The only major place these slum people were able to take a hold in Istanbul city center was Beyoglu, so the region was inundated with poor young people with no jobs. Needless to say crime had flourished in the 70s and 80s and although contained in recent years it still goes on in the boundaries of the Beyoglu, along with some notorious bars.

THINGS TO DO IN BEYOGLU

Spend some time whether in a small passage cafe off Istiklal or head for shopping, food, entertainment. The population of Beyoglu has changed after Istiklal street was converted to a pedestrian street in 1990 and the arrival of Turkish and foreign highly educated, well paid people. The first people to settle in the neighborhood after Istiklal street changes were artists, professors and bohemes. Later on came business, then big business and finally high end shops. Nowadays it is the cosmopolitan lively district of Istanbul. Most buildings have been renovated, upper class restaurants and bars have flourished and the side streets became multicultural, not much unlike a piece of NYC with hip new cafes, bars and restaurants springing up monthly.

Today Beyoglu area is the place for shopping for antiques, old maps, old books, stamps, fine dining, partying and people watching. There are four districts worth mentioning in Beyoglu area, Asmalimescit, Cihangir, Galata and Cukurcuma. Tarlabasi is a rundown neighborhood you should avoid, as it is notorious for criminals.

Galata Tower and the Galata Whirling Dervish Hall (Galata Mevlevihanesi) are the most important historic landmarks of Beyoglu district.

HOW TO GO TO BEYOGLU

Walking from Taksim on Istiklal Street or walking up the Galip Dede/Yuksek Kaldirim street from Karakoy or simply taking the tunel (one stop metro) from Karakoy.