A delicious electric tram, an exact replica of those that operated at the beginning of the last century in Istanbul, unites the two historically opposite poles of the old European district of Pera (on the other side, in Greek) or Beyoglu, as it is called today: the great square from Taksim, the heart of the neighborhood, and the majestic and medieval Galata Tower. The red tram, which slowly descends to the vicinity of the sea from the top of the hill where Beyoglu sits, could very well reflect the idiosyncrasy of this area of the Turkish city. In this elegant neighborhood where German, Greek, Italian and Russian immigrants and refugees joined another community that had been here for centuries in the 19th century, Jews expelled from Spain, medieval monuments and churches transformed into mosques, a synagogue or a Sufi monastery contrast with designer cafes and restaurants. And in between, the dazzling Pera Palace hotel, faithfully preserved since its inauguration 130 years ago.
Once the romantic urge to get on the tram is satisfied, all travelers will go down or up İstiklal street once or several times, formerly known as Grand Rue de Pera and the main artery of this district located on the other side of the Golden Horn, in front of the Istanbul of the Hagia Sophia, Blue or Suleiman mosques, of the Topkapi palace —the residence of the Ottoman sultans— or of the most famous bazaar on the planet.
More informationThe tram that runs along İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue), in Istanbul.Alamy Stock Photo
İstiklal Caddesi, Independence Avenue, starts at Taksim Square, next to the new mosque inaugurated in 2021, one of the last great religious buildings erected under President Erdogan, and the Republic Monument. Throughout its kilometer and a half, the pedestrian avenue, full of walkers and shoppers at all hours, gently descends between superb 19th-century buildings on the ground floor of which are numerous cafes, restaurants and international brand clothing stores. There are also some fabulous old-fashioned pastry shops here, such as Hafiz Mustafa, established since 1864 on this first stretch of İstiklal and a good place to complete your breakfast or pick up an assortment of baklava and other Turkish sweets.
La plaza Taksim de Estambul.efired (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
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Always walking in the direction of the Bosphorus, Galatasaray square and the Balik Pazari (Fish Market) immediately appear, where you can buy caviar and other sea delicacies in gourmet stores such as Resat Balik or eat fresh fish in the various restaurants in this same alley from the bazaar.
Shop window of Hafiz Mustafa, a pastry shop established since 1864 in the first section of İstiklal (Istanbul).Alamy Stock Photo
A few meters further on, a good idea is to turn right to take Mesrutiyet street —parallel to İstiklal— and get to know the fantastic Pera Museum. It has a permanent collection of orientalist works of art in which a series of paintings that splendidly reflect the Ottoman imperial world between the 17th and 20th centuries, fascinating portraits of the sultans or scenes from the harem stand out. The jewel of the museum is The Turtle Trainer, by the painter Osman Hamdi Bey, who was also a diplomat for Sultan Abdülaziz. You have to visit its attractive designer café, which houses the piano that accompanied Maria Callas.
A five-minute walk from the museum, another key Beyoglu landmark is the legendary Pera Palace hotel, opened in 1892 to accommodate travelers on the Orient Express train. This is a wonderful building where, among hundreds of celebrities, Agatha Christie stayed, who is said to have written in suite 411 Murder on the Orient Express. The room is furnished with period furniture, framed photographs and newspaper clippings, and a copy of the English author’s Underwood typewriter; her mythomaniacs can stay in it for about 250 euros per night. The superb and elegant building is the work of the Franco-Ottoman architect Alexander Vallauri, who designed it according to the canons of art nouveau with some oriental touch. It is definitely worth it to go through the revolving door to enter a world lost in the 19th century, have tea in the impressive Kubbeli Lounge, eat in the elegant Agatha restaurant, have a drink in the Orient Bar or snack on some Turkish delight. in the Patisserie de Pera.
Back on İstiklal Avenue, the former embassies, now consulates, of Russia and Sweden occupy two landscaped palaces protected by imperial-style bars and gates, while mysticism reigns in the Mehlevi Museum and, already very close to the Galata Tower , in the Synagogue and the Quincentennial Foundation and Museum of Turkish Jews. The first illustrates the Sufism of the dervishes with a very interesting display of photographs, musical instruments, ceremonial costumes with their cylindrical headdresses or beautiful Arabic calligraphy. On Sundays at six in the evening you can attend a spectacle of the dance of the whirling dervishes in its auditorium. For its part, the Jewish temple —protected by strict security measures— exhibits documents and objects related to the history of the Jewish exiles in Turkey (mostly Sephardim) and their descendants and gives away copies of the Salom newspaper, which publishes some pages in Ladino. At the end of Büyük Hendek street, where this foundation is located, stands the imposing Galata Tower, which has watched over the maritime traffic of the Golden Horn since 1348, when Pera was a Genoese colony facing the powerful Constantinople, capital of Byzantium. . Emblem and symbol par excellence of Beyoglu, from its viewpoint you get a wonderful view of the Sultanahmet neighborhood and the historic center of the city, the minarets of the Hagia Sophia, Suleiman and Rüstem Pasa (or New, although it dates from the 16th century) mosques. , Topkapi Palace and the estuary that separates the two European sectors of Istanbul.
The views of the Golden Horn from one of the windows of the Galata Tower, in Istanbul (Turkey). YONCA60 (Getty Images)
In the middle of the afternoon, you fancy a Turkish coffee or tea and for many locals the best cafeteria and pastry shop has one of its branches very close to the Galata Bridge that crosses the Golden Horn. It is Güllüoglu Karaköy, with a large terrace and a cozy lounge where you can choose from a wide assortment of delicious pastries and oriental sweets. If night has already fallen and it’s time for dinner, the Antiochia restaurant, a stone’s throw from the Pera Palace, serves special kebabs typical of the southern region of Antakia in a beautiful setting with old brick walls. Luxury dinner for an unbeatable price.
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