The Galata Köprüsü (Galata bridge) lacks grace, but its stunning location and supreme importance in linking the old and new İstanbuls together more than make up for its lack of architectural merit. There’s a walkway either side of the bridge close to water level, backed by a myriad of lively cafés, bars and restaurants. The tram rumbles across the upper level, and the bridge’s guardrails are invisible behind a solid wall of expectant anglers. At the northern end of the bridge is the rough-and-ready port area of Karaköy, from where you can either walk up to Galata/Beyoğlu on the steep Yüksek Kaldırım Caddesi, past the Galata Tower, or take the Tünel underground train/funicular.
Further inland is Galata proper, once a Genoese city state within İstanbul and now an up and coming district full of bars and restaurants. The district of Pera (Greek for “beyond” or “across”), now known as Beyoğlu, lies to the north and uphill from Galata. This is the beating heart of modern İstanbul, particularly along İstiklâl Caddesi. The locals head here in droves to shop, wine and dine, take in a film, club, gig or gallery – or simply promenade. So, too, do an ever-increasing number of visitors, many of whom base themselves here to take advantage of the nightlife. At the northern end of İstiklâl Caddesi is massive Taksim Square, regarded as a symbol of the secular Turkish Republic and home to numerous hotels and convenient bus and metro terminals.
By the mid-nineteenth century Pera was the area of choice for the main European powers to build their ambassadorial palaces, and it is this imported architecture that still dominates today. The completion of the Orient Express Railway in 1889 encouraged an influx of tourists, catered for in luxurious hotels like the splendid Pera Palas.The nightlife of the quarter was notoriously riotous even in the seventeenth century, and by the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the area had become fashionable for its operettas, music halls, inns, cinemas and restaurants. It was only after the gradual exodus of the Greek population from İstanbul following the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923 that Galata and Pera began to lose their cosmopolitan flavour. Beyoğlu and Galata have been transformed in recent years, and İstiklâl Caddesi is pedestrianized and boasts a cute antique tramway. Today, the thoroughfare bustles with life virtually twenty-four hours a day, and the side streets off it are host to scores of lively bars, clubs and restaurants, many of which stay open until six in the morning.Read More
The exit from the upper Tünel station in Beyoğlu is fronted by a small square from which İstiklâl Caddesi (known as the “Grand Rue de Pera” prior to Independence) heads 1.5km north towards Taksim Square.
Along İstiklâl Caddesi is the sadly empty and neglected Botter House, a fine Art Nouveau apartment building with a carved stone facade and wrought-iron balcony designed by the Italian architect Raimondo D’Aronco. Further up on the right is the Palais de Hollande at İstiklâl Cad 393. Built in 1858 on the site of the home of Cornelis Haga, the first Dutch diplomat in Constantinople during the fifteenth century, it now houses the Consulate to the Netherlands.
Many other buildings lining İstiklâl Caddesi are also typically European, like the Mudo shop at no. 401, with a beautifully preserved Art Nouveau interior. The oldest church in the area is St Mary Draperis at no. 429, which dates from 1789, although the Franciscans built their first church on the site in the early fifteenth century. Better known is the Franciscan church of St Antoine at no. 325, a fine example of red-brick neo-Gothic architecture. Originally founded in 1725 it was demolished to make way for a tramway at the beginning of the century and rebuilt in 1913.
The famous Çiçek Pasaj (Flower Passage) had its heyday in the 1930s when the music and entertainment was supplied courtesy of anti-Bolshevik Russian émigrés. These days it’s home to a collection of attractive but rather overpriced and touristy restaurants. Far better is Nevizade Sokak, a street dedicated to fish restaurants (all with outside tables), and incredibly lively bars and clubs and, further south near the Tünel entrance, the similar but trendier streets around Asmalımescit Sokak.
Taksim in Turkish means “distribution” and the low stone reservoir on the south side is the building from which Taksim Square takes its name. The reservoir was constructed in 1732 to distribute water brought from the Belgrade Forest by aqueduct. Steps on the north side of the square above the main bus terminal lead up to the pleasant Taksim Parkı, with its bench-lined paths and open-air tea gardens.
The Atatürk Cultural Centre is to the east of the square and is one of the leading venues for İstanbul’s various international festivals. It is also home to the State Opera and Ballet, the Symphony Orchestra and the State Theatre Company, but was closed for restoration at the time of writing.