North and uphill from the sprawl of Galata and Karaköy, the district of Beyoğlu is the beating heart of modern İstanbul. Locals head in droves to İstiklal Caddesi in particular, 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, who base themselves here to take advantage of the nightlife.
Beyoğlu’s pedestrianized main boulevard, İstiklal Caddesi, boasts a cute antique tramway, and bustles with life virtually twenty-four hours a day. Massive Taksim Square, at its northern end, is regarded as a symbol of the secular Turkish Republic, and holds numerous hotels as well as convenient bus and metro terminals. Side streets hereabouts are host to scores of lively bars, clubs and restaurants, many of which stay open until six in the morning.
What’s now Beyoğlu used to be known as Pera (Greek for “beyond” or “across”). By the mid-nineteenth century, Pera was where the main European powers chose to build their ambassadorial palaces, and this imported architecture 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. By the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the area had become fashionable for its operettas, music halls, inns, cinemas and restaurants. Only after the gradual exodus of the Greek population from İstanbul following the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923 did Galata and Pera begin to lose their cosmopolitan flavour.