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KUMKAPI

"Sand Gate"

kumkapi1If you head west along the Sea of Marmara coast road from Kadırga the next suburb along is Kumkapı which has always been known for the many meyhanes and fish restaurants that fan out around its main square. It's a strange sort of a place, still extremely rundown on its western side but increasingly gentrified east of the main square as tourism flows steadily down from Sultanahmet into every nearby neighbourhood. However, it can only be time now until the whole area is pulled comprehensively upmarket now that the major new Marmaray station at nearby Yenikapı has taken over from the shabby old one. 

Most people come here to eat, drink and make merry, with some of the action these days spilling out through the gate in the old sea wall onto the sea side of the coast road where restaurants have now been set up right beside the site of the fish market.

But this was once an area with a large Greek and Armenian community and there are a couple of minor historical monuments to be explored before you settle down for the evening's entertainment.

Kumkapı orginally grew up on the site of the Byzantine Kontoskalion port that was in service right through from the fourth to the 13th centuries after which it slowly began to silt up. Since then the coast road has been built on reclaimed land so that the current harbour is further out into the Sea of Marmara. 

kumkapi3Exploring Kumkapı

The single most important building in Kumkapı is probably the complex attached to the Armenian Patriarchate, most obviously the huge Church of Surp Asdvadzadzin (St Mary) with the great belltower with crosses cut out of it. The church only dates back to 1828, previous buildings dating back to 1641 having been destroyed by fires. The complex includes the schoolhouse (1830)  right next door as well as the patriarchate offices facing it across the road.

It's here that you'll find İstanbul’s least conspicuous museum, the Armenian Museum (appointments only - tel: 0212-517 0970, free). Basement rooms exposed by the 1999 Marmara earthquake now house some of the magnificent robes and other glittering fabrics once used in rituals in the Armenian churches around town.

Less obvious are two enormous Greek Orthodox churches. Completed in 1890 by the Greek architect Perikles Fotiades, the Neo-Byzantine Church of Hagia Kyriake (Çifte Gelinler Caddesi) is up a flight of steps behind the shops over the site of an ayazma (sacred spring) dedicated to St Basil and an earlier church probably dating back to the 16th century.kumkapi4

In a side street, the enormous and internally colourful Church of Panagia Elpida was completed just five years later and boasts one of the largest domes in İstanbul. It, too, stands over an ayazma,  this time dedicated to St George. The implied wealth of these three enormous churches could hardly stand in sharper contrast with the poverty of many of the battered houses in the streets around them.

kumkapi2Of Kumkapı's mosques probably the most interesting is the Tavaşı Süleyman Ağa Cami, its current 19th-century rendition incorporating a wooden minaret that was in such poor shape last time I visited that it was having to be held up by scaffolding. It was originally built in the 16th century for Süleyman Ağa, the powerful Chief Black Eunuch then lording it over the Topkapı Harem.

Eating

Time was when the Kumkapı fish restaurants had a bad reputation for skuduggery when it came to the bills. These days there rarely seem to be problems although the price of fish is not regulated so before firming up your order you should make sure you know exactly what you are asking for and in what quantities. Be careful about hanging bags on the back of seats too since there have been instances of snatching.

Kör Agop. Tel: 0212-517 2334

Yengeç. Tel: 0212-516 3227

Sleeping

Amber Hotel. Tel: 0212-518 4801

Transport info

The Marmaray runs from Sirkeci to Yenikapı but this still leaves a bit of a walk to and from the restaurants.

Nearby areas

Kadırga

Küçük Ayasofya

Sultanahmet

Yenikapı

 

 

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