tophane1Named after the Arsenal that is one of its most striking monuments, Tophane is one of those places that was until recently barely noticed as people raced through İstanbul on their way from the Galata Bridge to the Dolmabahçe Palace. Now, though, it is an increasingly trendy extension of Karaköy and Galata with its heart still around the Arsenal and the lovely Kılıç Ali Paşa Cami across the road from it.

Two important roads meet at Tophane. One is the main Bosphorus coast road, the other Boğaskesen Caddesi which runs up to Galatasaray passing several interesting little art galleries, including Pi Artworks at No. 76, whose arrival in a traditional neighbourhood has not always gone down well with the locals.

The main attraction in Tophane is the İstanbul Modern, an art gallery housed in an old waterside warehouse that really put thedistrict on the map when it opened in 2004.

İstanbul Modern

Housed inside one of the old Tophane warehouses, the İstanbul Modern (admission fee, closed Mondays) is a gorgeous, light-filled gallery where paintings are displayed thematically. Come here to get a feel for what the Turkish art of the last 150 years has had to offer.

Names to conjure with include Abdülmecid Efendi (1868-1944), Şeker Ahmet Paşa (1841-1907), Osman Hamdi Bey (1842-1910), İbrahim Çallı (1882-1960), Hamit Görele (1894-1980), and Fahrelnissa Zeid (1901-1991).

The basement is devoted to changing art and photographic exhibitions, although the False Ceiling of books by Richard Wentworth is a venerable survivor from the 1995 İstanbul Biennial.

In an imaginative move the old Museum of Painting and Sculpture (Ressam ve Heykel Müzesi) that was been closed for as long as I can remember is being moved into a building right beside the alley leading to the İstanbul Modern. Until work on it is completed small selections from the collection are being put on display there. 

kilicAround Tophane

If get out of the tram at the Tophane stop you will immediately see the gorgeous Kılıç Ali Paşa Cami on the water side of the road. Recently beautifully restored so that its cascade of lead-roofed domes are now much easier to appreciate, the mosque was a work of the great Ottoman architect Sinan; it was completed in 1580 by which time he was in his nineties. It was built for Admiral Kılıç Ali Paşa, the only captain who managed to lead his ships safely from the naval debacle at Lepanto in 1571 that marked the end of Ottoman supremacy in the Mediterranean. 

Right beside the mosque the hamam (kilicalipasahamami.com/) that was part of the complex reopened in 2012 and now offers an upmarket bathing experience that generally justifies the steep price tag. The medrese is now being restored as well. 

Facing the mosque across the side street running down to the water is the spectacular Tophane Çeşmesi (Tophane Fountain), a marble fountain covered in carvings of fruit and flowers that was originally built for Sultan Mahmud I in 1732, then rebuilt in 1957. It stands on ground that was once a military parade ground and then a fruit and vegetable market. Behind it are a row of very popular nargile cafes.

hane6Heading west along the coast road from the fountain you will see a graceful green and white pavilion. This is the Tophane Kasrı, designed for Sultan Abdülmecid in 1852 by the British architect, William James Smith. From it he was able to review his troops drilling in the parade ground in front of it. After the end of the Turkish War of Independence the Bosphorus Commission met here to agree terms for international access to the strait linking the Marmara and Black Seas. 

Right beside the Tophan Kasrı is the magnificent Nusretiye Cami (Victory Mosque), commissioned from Krikor Balyan in 1822  by Sultan Mahmud II to commemorate his overthrow of the Janissaries. The Balyans may have been remarkable architects in general but in this case they made a mistake because the thin minarets fell down not longer after the mosque opened in 1826 and had to be rebuilt.

By this time the imperial mosques had shed their load of ancillary buildings although this one still kept a private entrance for the sultan leading to a fine box inside from which he could take part in services whole preserving his privacy. In 2013 restoration work began on the mosque.

The filthy sebil (water dispensary) beside the mosque looks as if it should be part of it but in fact stood across the road before widening necessitated a move. The alley leading to the İstanbul Modern runs down to the waterside beside it. 

tophane3Across the road from the Tophane Fountain is the Tophane itself, its lower part dating back to the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent while its pretty multi-domed roofline was an 1803 addition commissioned by Sultan Selim III. Tiny cannons carved on the corners of the building are a reminder of its original use even though an interior that once housed munitions is now reused as temporary exhibition space. 

Adjoining the arsenal is a small single-domed brick building that is also used for art exhibitions. Beyond that a narrow road slopes up to Cihangir. Ruins beside it are of an old barracks that is now being excavated (2014).

Trendy Boğazkesen Caddesi strikes uphill to Galatasaray from right beside the Arsenal. Almost immediately Defterdar Caddesi branches off on the right, offering a very steep climb up to Cihangir passing the Italian Hospital. On the corner is a beautifully restored mansion block designed in 1905 by EG Ladopoulos who signed his name on it in stone. tophane2

On the lefthand side of the road is the small and not especially interesting Karabaş Tekkesi (Lodge) which dates back to the early 16th century but was effectively rebuilt in 1962.

Boğazkesen passes through an area which has been associated with the Italians since the late Middle Ages and today it still boasts a "Little Italy" off to the left where the Tomtom Suites were created out of a convent for Franciscan nuns built in 1901 across the road from the Italian Consulate and the Italian School.

Back on the main road on the left a flat, austere wall blocks from view what was once the French St Jospeh Orphenilat (Orphanage) and is now a plaster workshop. Otherwise the street is best known for its small art galleries which host a range of ever-changing exhibitions. 


Fasuli Lokantası

Turkey might not seem the most obvious place to go to eat baked beans but in fact kuru fasulye, the Turkish take on the beans, is a household staple and this is one of the best places in the city to sample it. 

Tel: 0212-243 6580, İskele Caddesi No. 10

Peymane/La Cucina

A two-in-one offering, this fashionable restaurant features high-class Italian cooking on the ground floor with a Turkish ocakbaşı (open grill) on the first floor. The food’s good, the prices in keeping with Tophane’s trendiness, despite the slightly grungy surroundings.

Tel: 0212-244 0955, Boğazkesen Caddesi No. 65/1


Tomtom Suites. Tel: 0212-292 4949

Witt İstanbul Suites. Tel: 0212-393 7900

Transport info

The Tophane tram stop is handily sited right in front of the Kılıç Ali Paşa Cami.



Nearby areas







arsenalThe Arsenal is used as an art gallery today








Events Calendar

September 2021
29 30 31 1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 1 2

Exchange Rates