Thoughts reverent and irreverent from the road in Turkey


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400 DSC05598According to my writing partner Saffet Emre Tonguç there's a museum in Genoa that celebrates that city's role in the history of İstanbul and I was thinking about that today as I was poking about in the back streets beneath the Galata Tower, the most prominent reminder that there was once a virtually independent Genoese city-state looking down on the Golden Horn from what is now Beyoğlu. 

Unfortunately there's not a great deal left to show for it now. The Tower of Christ (the original name for the Galata Tower) was once just a part of the sturdy enclosing walls that ran down to meet the Bosphorus at Tophane and the Golden Horn beside the Atatürk Bridge. Slight traces of those walls still ring the tower but to find the other bits you'll need to look quite hard in the narrow, overcrowded streets running down to Karaköy. The most impressive stretch that is still accessible forms the back wall of a car park off Şair Ziya Paşa Caddesi, a little way down the hill from Raimondo d'Aronco"s neglected Art Nouveau fountain. It's extraordinary to find yourself coming face to face with a round tower jutting out from a wall that seems, despite its age and significance, to have been quite literally forgotten - and a little scary if the fate of the other remaining stretch of wall is anything to go by.

This second piece of wall lurks uphill behind the Yeşildirek Hamam, itself just off Tersane Caddesi, across the road from the Atatürk Bridge. As recently as two years ago it was still possible to get close enough to it to inspect the Genoese coat of arms carved above what was once the Harap Kapı (Ruined Gate). Now, however, it's all fenced off amid construction work for the Metro extension. The section on the water side of the road is at least shored up, suggesting that it will not be torn down, but it's depressing to find that you can't even peer through the hoardings to check what's going on around the gate. 

There are more reminders of the Genoese occupation along Kart Çınar Sokaği which runs parallel to Bankalar Caddesi on the Beyoğlu hillside. Until recently a restaurant here was housed inside a soot-blackened building dating back to 1314 just across the road from what had to be one of the most neglected monuments in the city - the building that used to house the Podestat, or Genoese governor's office, that had been modelled on a building back in Genoa. If it's disappointing to see what's happening to the walls it's more heartening to find that restoration work has now begun on this building, although the board outside gives few details suggesting that this may not turn out to be quite the meticulous restoration its age and significance might warrant.

One other significant reminder of the Genoese lurks in Karaköy in the warren of streets full of hardware shops to the north of Tersane Caddesi. Here the enormous Arap Cami on Galata Mahkemesi Sokaği actually started life as the Genoese church, a fact that becomes obvious once you look up at the "minaret" that was actually its belltower. Inside, too, the long, thin basilican shape of the builidng testifies to its origins as a church. At the start of the 16th century it was given to the Moors who migrated to İstanbul from Spain during the reign of Isabella and Ferdinand. The Genoese community was forced to move uphill towards the Galata Tower where they found a new home in what is now the church of Sts Peter and Paul.

The Genoese tried hard not to take sides in 1453 but  it did them no good. The walls round their colony had to come down, leaving the Galata Tower as the only conspicuous reminder of this little slice of emigre Italian history.

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