istiklal1If there's one place outside of Sultanahmet that you really should visit it has to be İstiklal Caddesi, the insanely busy pedestrianized street that runs all the way from Taksim Square to the funicular at Tünel. Everything happens here. Street musicians from all over the world go through their paces. Living statues (söğük heykeli - "cold statues" in Turkish) stand about in attitudes. Restaurants and cafes dish up the widest choice of meals to suit the widest range of budgets. Art galleries offer the latest in cultural distraction. And in between them all the crowds surge ever onward, window-shopping, people-watching, demonstrating against this or that, and just plain passing the time of day.

In the 19th century İstiklal Caddesi was the heart of Beyoğlu, the part of town where the embassies were gathered. Banks and insurance companies were also based here while a handful of grand hotels such as the lost Tokatliyan catered to visitors. Fashionable shops and cafes lined the street. With the exception of St Anthony's, churches kept a low profile in the side streets. The prestigious Galatasaray Lisesi (High School) straddled its mid-point. To get a taste of what life here might once have been like you should pop your head into the once-elegant Markiz Pastanesi, a cakeshop at the Tünel end of the street now shamefully turned into a fast-food restaurant.

Recently the character of the street has changed considerably as the one-off shops have given way to the same-old same old chain stores (my particular heartsink moments came when the original branch of the Konak kebab shop changed into a branch of Mavi jeans and when the wonderful Yapı Kredi Art Gallery reopened as a Zara). The coming of the massive Demirören shopping mall in 2011 was not greeted with universal delight despite an architectural nod towards Neoclassicism. It looks as if the elegant Emek Han right next door may soon go the same shopping-mall way. 

In the summer of 2013 İstiklal Caddesi found itself caught up in the problems over the redevelopment of Gezi Park in Taksim Square when demonstrators were chased down it by police firing teargas and water cannons. Hopefully there will be no repeat of such silliness. buskers

Along İstiklal Caddesi: From Taksim to Tünel - east side of street

Start down Istiklal, then turn left just before the Türkiye İş Bankası building. The side street leads to the Greek Orthodox Hagia Triada (Holy Trinity) church, built in 1880 to the designs of Vasiliki Ioannidi. With two tall towers and a huge dome it dominates the skyline as you look south from Taksim Square. Until the end of the 19th century the Ottoman sultans had forbidden domes on any building other than mosques, so Hagia Triada was created as a triumphant celebration of new freedoms. It was restored recently and if the caretaker is around you should be able to go inside to see the soaring iconostasis, the stupendous painted dome and the enormous chandeliers.

Keep walking until you get to Büyükparmakkapı Sokak, then turn left. On your left you'll see the old Afrika Han, one of three eraly business centres in the area that were owned by the wealhy bureaucrat Ragıp Paşa (1857-1920). The most obvious of the three is the elaborately decorated Cite de Roumelie on the opposite side of İstiklal Caddesi.

griffonJust before you reach the Galatasaray Lisesi a turning on the left, Kartal Sokak, doglegs towards the Galatasaray Hamam. Originally founded in 1498 as part of a school for Balkan boys, the hamam was completely rebuilt in 1715 and became part of the high school. A more mundane women's section was added in 1965. On its way to the hamam the street passes on the left the Zografyon Greek Boys School designed by P D Fotiadis in 1893 with griffons on its facade.

Midway along  İstiklal Caddesi you will see the high walls and equally high gates concealing the Galatasaray Lisesi (High School). This opened in 1868 and was alma mater to many famous Turks including the pop star Barış Manço. To see into its impressive gardens take the lift up to the café on the fifth floor of the Beyoğlü Han buiding immediately across the road. Beyond the school you will also be able to see Sarayburnu, the Topkapı Palace, Ayasofya and the Blue Mosque.

On the far side of Yeniçarşı Caddesi which runs down to Tophane from beside the school thee small Galatasaray Meydanı (Square) is adorned with a not particualrly beautiful monument to the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1973. 

istiklal2Misr ApartımanıImmediately beside the square is a large bookshop and the Yapı Kredi Kültür Merkezi which hosts a changing programme of impressive art and archaeology exhibitions although its main gallery was recently sold to Zara.

Keep heading along İstiklal Caddesi and you will pass the vast Mısır Apartımanı, an apartment blockthat houses on its top floor the trendy 360 restaurant. It was designed by the Armenian Hovsep Aznavuryan (1854-1935), one of only a handful of architects at work at this time whose name is known to us, and served as a winter home of the Egyptian Khedive Abbas Halim Paşa, hence its name, the Egyptian Apartments. Most of the lower floors are home to small art galleries, all of them welcoming visitors.

Close by is the huge St Anthony's Cathedral (St Antoine's), by far the most conspicuous of the many churches in this area. With its grand brick gateway and annexe builidngs and its High Gothic interior, it's a little piece of France mixed with Italy and still offers regular services today. In front of it stands a statue of Pope John XXIII (Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli, 1881-1963), a Turkish speaker who, from 1935 to 1944, served as the Pope’s ambassador to Turkey and as a priest at the church. Because of the work he did in helping Jews escape the Nazis "the Turkish Pope" was dubbed a “Righteous Gentile”. Recently a very beautiful sculpture of a distorted Crucifixion was also placed in front of the church.istiklal3St Anthony's

A recent addition to Istiklal Caddesi's many exhibition spaces, the Koç University Research Centre for Anatolian Civilisations (tel: 0212-393 60 00) hosts a range of exhibitions, not all of them to do with İstanbul.

The street starts to climb more steeply at this point and passes the Dutch Consulate built in 1855 by the Swiss brothers Guiseppe and Gaspare Fossatti. Admire its fine exterior through the gates, then turn down Tomtom Kaptan Sokak beside it which passes the consulate chapel before arriving in "Little Itally" with the Palazzo de Venezia (1695), once the embassy of the Venetian Republic to the right. After a somewhat chequered history which included a visit by Casanova in 1744 it now serves as the Italian Consulate.

draperisSanta Maria DraperisOn the opposite side of the road is the pretty French Court, built in the 18th century and, like the British Prison in Galata, evidence of the way in which the Ottomans allowed the different "millets (nationalities)" to conduct their own justice systems.

A little further along İstiklal Caddesi once stood the Mudo Pera shop whose wonderful Art Nouveau interior, complete with its original wooden cabinets and galleries, used to be one of the delights of İstiklal Caddesi. Today the shop is closed and in search of a buyer who we must pray will respect its fittings.

Continuing along the road an archway with a statue of St Mary above it marks tha Santa Maria Han with steep steps running down inside it to the Church of Santa Maria Draperis, a beautiful, barrel-vaulted structures designed by Gugliemo Semprini in 1904 and named after the Genoese woman, Clara Bratola Draperis, on whose land it was built.

Past the han is the Beyoğlu Belediyesi Sanat Galerisi (tel: 0212-249 26 10) and then the Russian Consulate, designed, like its Dutch counterpart down the street, by the Fossatti brothers in 1837. 

stonerosesStone roses of Casa BotterBetween 1900 and 1901, Raimondo d'Aronco built the fabulous Casa Botter for the sultan's tailor, Jean Botter. İstanbul's first Art Nouveau structure., today it's a soot-blackened, crumbling shell of a building festooned with gorgeous stone roses, giant sphinx-like heads and wonderful wrought ironwork that includes dramatic protruding flowers. Inside, even the windows contain stained-glass roses, although most are now cracked and filthy. Belated restoration work finally started in 2013.

Right beside the Casa Botter is the Swedish Consulate designed in 1869 by Domenico Pulger. Its garden is a haven for the many street cats who prowl this area.

If you turn left beside the Şişhane Metro station and head downhill you will pass on the right the German School in its large garden and then come to Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak, the heart of trendy Galata. Turn left and then right and on the right you will see a curious piece of Victorian Gothic in the shape of Christ Church, the Crimean Memorial church, designed by G E Street and completed in 1868. Closed in the 1970s, it was painstakingly restored under the guidance of the current priest and reopened in 1991. Its magnificent rood screen was designed by the Scottish artist Mungo McCosh and depicts well-known members of the expat community inthe guise of saints against a backdrop of the İstanbul skyline. 

 beedoorsAlong İstiklal Caddesi: From Tünel to Taksim - west side of street 

If you come out of Tünel station you will be facing the elegant 19th-century Tünel Geçidi. Bear right and you will come to the start of İstiklal Caddesi with the TC Ziraat Bankası on your left and Şişhane Metro station on the right. Like most of the banks along İtsiklal the TC Ziraat Bankası has a small gallery which hosts changing art exhibitions. 

Just beyond the bank, facing the Swish Consulate, is the distinctive Narmanlı Han which once housed the Russian Consulate. Its unmistakable facade features heavy attached Doric columns while its inner courtyard is always full of cats dozing in the sun. In the period leading up to the Second World War this was a place where the 20th-century equivalent of the chattering class met to exchange ideas over tea. Perhaps the most famous regular was the novelist and MP Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar (1901-62).

Not far from the Narmanlı Han stands a long-suffering Art Nouveau gem, the Markiz Pastanesi, once another favoured meeting place for the chattering classes. It belonged to a man named Lebon who was brother-in-law to the Levantine architect Alexandre Vallaury, the man responsible for the nearby Pera Palace Hotel. Today what was once a stylish café with a whiff of Vienna about it has been turned into a fast food café called the Yemek Kulübü. Pop inside for a cut-price bowl of soup and you'll be able to admire two wonderful ceramic panels depicting spring and autumn that look as if they must be works of Mucha but were in fact by the French ceramicist, J.A. Arnoux.

As you pass it’s worth ducking into the secretive Suriye Pasaj shopping arcade which houses in its basement By Retro, one of İstanbul’s finest vintage clothes shops. It’s also home to Katia’s, a bespoke hat shop that is the last survivor of the old Greek shops of İstiklal Caddesi.

Opened in 2011, SALT (open daily, tel: 0212-377 42 00, www.saltonline.org) is an impressive multi-media gallery housed in one of İstiklal Caddesi’s 19th-century mansions. Regularly changing contemporary art/avant garde exhibitions run on the upper floors while the ground floor has a drop-in cinema – grab a programme in advance to make sure you catch the start of the best showings. The small café is another plus.

A jarring intrusion into the generally elegant buildings of İstiklal is the Odakule, a towering 1970s structure which most people only know because it provides a short cut through to Meşrutiyet Caddesi and the Pera Museum. Actually, it does have its own small art gallery too, worth visiting sometimes depending on who's showing.

The narrow Danışman Geçidi is decorated with pictures of the Galata Tower and Kızkulesi in roundels above the entrance. Walk through to discover the cobbled Huzzopulo courtyard with several small tea shops. It serves as a short cut for getting to Meşrutiyet Caddesi and Tepebaşı.

Nearby the Aznavur Pasajı (Arcade) was erected in 1924 and houses many small shops. Stand back from it and you'll be able to see that it was created in Art Nouveau style out of stainless steel. 

Shortly after passing the arcade you cross the road leading left to the British Consulate. On the far side of the road is what was, when it opened in 1875, the appropriately grand local Post Office building (compare and contrast with the mundane model across the square in Yeniçarşı Caddesi). Today it has a philately museum on the ground floor and temporary exhibition space upstairs.

Soon after you pass the Galatasaray Museum you'll spot the Balık Pazarı (Fish Market) which is, not surprisingly, full of stalls selling fresh fish alongside lots of fruit, veg and delicatessen-style produce. There are also stalls selling fried mussels. On the right wooden doors lead through to a courtyard in front of the Üç Horon (Holy Trinity) Armenian church, built in 1838 on the site of a 16th-century church. The barrel-vaulted church is usually open to visitors.

Keep walking through the Fish Market and then turn right into Nevizade Sokak which is lined with meyhanes, the Greek-style tavernas that evolved in this area when there was still a large Greek population.. During the day you can walk through it and find it silent, then as darkness falls it turns into a seething mass of diners.

citedeperaEntrance to Çiçek PasajıAlternatively turn left into the Avrupa Pasajı, an undercover shopping arcade decorated with Classical statuery and full of antique and souvenir shops.

Right beside the Fish Market is the famous Çiçek Pasajı (Flower Arcade) was built in 1870 as the Cite de Pera by Zografos Efendi to house small shops. These days it's full of meyhanes, this time undercover. It stands on the site of the Naum Theatre that burned down in 1870. It takes its name from the White Russian flower-sellers who flocked here after the Bolshevik Revolution left them refugees in Constantinople.

The immensely popular Tokatliyan Hotel (AKA the Hotel Splendide), opened in 1897 beside the arcade and hosted the likes of Trotsky and Atatürk before falling on hard times in the 1950s. Today only its second branch in Tarabya is still in business.

Turn left down Balo Sokak and walk to the end where, on the right, you will find the small Doğançay Museum housed in a restored 19th-century mansion. Burhan Doğançay (1929 - 2013)  was one of Turkey’s best-known contemporary artists with several works on display in the İstanbul Modern Art Gallery as well as in this museum and in foreign collections. The top floor of the museum also displays paintings by his father Adıl (1900-90). 

It's worth taking a look around the Halep Pasajı (Arcade, AKA Cite d'Alep/Aleppo Arcade) which was commissioned by a Syrian in 1885 and once housed a circus. Today it's home to a more prosaic cinema and a few shops with a rather alternaive feel to them.

Usually conspicuous for the blue-and-white Greek flag fluttering in front of it, the Şişmanoğlu Megaro belongs to the Greek Consulate but is often used for temporary exhibitions usually to do with aspects of Ottoman Greek life.

One of İstiklal Caddesi's most threatened buildings is the beautiful Emek Pasajı (Arcade) built for the Armenian plutocrat Abraham Paşa in 1884 and once home to the elitist meeting place, the Cercle d'Orient. While it looks as if the facade may be saved the small shops and cafes behind it appear destined to be demolished in favour of yet another shopping mall.

Across a side road from the huge and unloved Demirören Shopping Mall, the Ağa Camii is the only mosque on İstiklal Caddesi. The existing building mainly dates from 1834 although parts dates back to 1594 when Hüseyin Ağa, the Commander of Galatasaray, had it built as an extension of Galata Palace (?).rumelieEntrance to Cite de Rumelie

Just past the mosque is one of the most beautiful of the İstiklal arcades, the Cite de Roumelie/Agora Romelias whose name appears on the facade in Greek, Ottoman Turkish and French. It was paid for by Ragıp Paşa who also commissioned the nearby Afrika and Anadolu Hans. In 2013 restoration work began on the facade.

FrenchFrench ConsulateA little further along the road is the Akbank Art Gallery which hosts an interesting variety of temporary exhibitions and concerts. As you near Taksim Square you'll pass the   elegant lowslung stone building (1898) that houses the French Consulate. It was erected on the site of an 18th-century plague hospital and houses a cafe, French bookshop and exbition space. Immediately behind the Consulate is the Armenian Church of Surp Pırgiç.

As Taksim square comes into view you'll see an 18th-century octagonal stone building with a marble fountain in its side. This was the maksem which used to serve as a water distribution system (the water was stored in the large cistern that runs along one side of Taksim Square). The Koranic inscription over the door reads ‘Everything was created from water’. Near the roof are two tiny birdhouses added in the 19th century.


Want to grab a quick, cheap bite? Then the Taksim end of İstiklal Caddesi is known for its many döner kebabı stands as well as for its more unlikely ıslak (wet) burgers, a sort of Turkish take on a spicy McDonald’s.


Rare chance to sample Circassian cuisine including tulen, the Caucasian take on chicken soup, and a variety of mantıs (mini dumplings).

Tel: 0212-245 4858, www.ficcin.com, Kallavi Sokak No. 3

Köfteci Ramiz

Crying out for a mix-and-match salad bar? Then this is the place to head for. Köfte (meatballs) may be what made this Akhisar-born chain of restaurants famous but in summer their salads win hands down.

Tel: 0212-292 5812, www.kofteciramiz.com, İstiklal Caddesi No. 215


There are branches of Starbucks aplenty along İstiklal Caddesi but if you want the taste of a good old-fashioned Turkish coffee then duck down this unpromising alleyway to find the real thing in a pocket handkerchief-sized cafe with barely room to sit down. The name means something like "the buffalo doesn't sink".

Olivia Geçidi No. 1/A

Lades (Wishbone) 2

One of the best places in Istanbul to try out a popular breakfast staple called menemen, which is a cross between scrambled eggs and omelette, and very tasty too. Oh, and there’s plenty of chicken on offer as well.

Tel: 0212-251 3202, Sadri Alisik Sokak No. 14

Zübeyir Ocakbaşı & Restaurant

One can only imagine the stir it must have caused when actor Ralph Fiennes of The English Patient fame dropped by in 2011 to sample the offerings at this small grill housed in the basement and ground floor of the Art Nouveau Ferah Apartment block designed by A and J Caracach. It’s a meat-eaters’ paradise although the service can be a little inconsistent.

Tel: 0212-293 3951, Bekar Sokak No. 28


Dila Suites

Four comfortable suites in a converted townhouse just steps away from the Fish Market. Perfect if you want to party in Nevizade until the early hours.

Tel: 0212-249 5552, www.dilasuites.com, Balık Sokak No. 16

 Richmond Hotel

The only hotel right on İstiklal Caddesi is not great for the mobility-impaired since it has stairs up to its lobby. But the rooftop Leb-i Derya restaurant is a winner.

Tel: 0212-252 5460, İstiklal Caddesi No. 227

nosttramEnd of line for İstiklal Caddesi's nostalgic tramTransport info

The Taksim Square end of İstiklal Caddesi si accessible via the funicular up from Kabataş, itself accessible by tram from Sultanahmet.

The Tünel end of İstiklal Caddesi is accessible via funicular from Karaköy, itself accessible by tram from Sultanahmet. Alternatively you can get to it by Metro to Şişhane.

A nostalgic tram trundles along İstiklal Caddesi stopping in front of the Ağa Cami, the Galatasaray Lisesi and the Şişhane Metro station. It's a slow but fun way to get along the street although if you hop on and off the fares will quickly mount up. 

Nearby areas






Taksim Square





Read more about the arcades off İstiklal Caddesi: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-261355-doing-the-istiklal-caddesi-passeggio.html













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