İstiklal Caddesi

Everybody who lives in Istanbul, or comes here for a while, should definitely go to İstiklal Caddesi at least once.

The street musicians are playing one of my favorite songs. Here I am on İstiklal Caddesi at the end of a hard day. Who knows how many acquaintances I’ll run into, how many people’s eyes will meet mine, how many details I’ll miss on the way up to the square from the Tünel? I should visit to St. Antoine’s Church, or take in a film. I should look for some new additions to my book collection at the Aynalı Pasaj, or have a sweet at the pudding shop, or simply go for a stroll. Everybody who lives in Istanbul, or comes here for a while, should definitely go to İstiklal Caddesi at least once. You’ll definitely hear your favorite song here one day.

Located in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district, İstiklal Caddesi runs from in front of the Monument to the Republic on Taksim Square to the district of Şişhane, aka ‘Tünel’, named for one of the world’s oldest underground railways. Any stroll down İstiklal Caddesi should perhaps start from here. One end of the train that links Beyoğlu to the district of Galata on the Golden Horn is at Karaköy, the other is in the district known as ‘Tünel’. A joint English and French project completed in 1875, the ‘Tünel’ forms the southern entrance to İstiklal Caddesi. It soon became the inseparable part of Istanbul everyday life that it remains today. When you step out of the Tünel, you find yourself in Şişhane. On your right dozens of musical instrument shops line the street known as the Yüksekkaldırım. Not only these who perform in the smaller clubs, but Turkey’s top musicians as well always make a dry run here on the eve of a big concert.

The shops and arcades on either side of the road leading up from the Tünel meet the most diverse needs. You can choose ethnic costumes and other items in Aznavur Pasaj or get your hands on old books and magazines at Aslıhan Pasaj at Galatasaray. Atlas Pasaj meanwhile carries clothing, jewelry and collector’s items. The nature of the shops changes as you approach Taksim Square and you begin to encounter the restaurants, cafes and department stores you would see in any big city.

A place of gardens and vineyards in Byzantine times, the part of Beyoğlu between the Tünel and Galatasaray began to develop in the 18th century when the French and Venetian envoys that frequently visited the city began seeking
a life outside its medieval land walls. On the west side of the street, too small in those days to be called an avenue, were cemeteries and on the east the embassies. The Incipient European influence that     was felt in the middle of the century manifested itself in the construction of numerous khans, arcades and other buildings, which are still standing today. Their architectural features, employing only stone, brick or timber, were influential in later shaping the district of Beyoğlu. İstiklal Caddesi, or the ‘Grand Rue de Pera’ as it was known to those who resided here, got its present name in the Republican period.

Following his visit at the end of the 18th century, the traveler James Dallaway made some notes to the effect that Beyoğlu and its environs were used as a summer resort by  Galata and that European merchants and French, Spanish, Russian and English diplomats had homes here. Undergoing its main development in the 19th century, İstiklal Caddesi was linked to other roads when the Galata land walls were razed and soon became a center of the Ottoman foreign trade. Within a short time a commercial district grew up here that was not only Ottoman but international in scope. The graveyards in the area, too, were eventually moved to the Sütlüce and Hasköy districts. The segment between Galatasaray and Taksim started developing in the second half of the century. As trade developed and people began to settle here permanently, it became a place of residence for the affluent, who took Paris as their model.

The transition to free-standing houses and apartments with large gardens dates to the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, İstiklal Caddesi’s secret lies in its buildings, almost all of which were built in this century and exhibit the characteristics of the Art Nouveau movement. Despite the passage of time, the avenue’s historic texture lives on in those buildings.

İstiklal Caddesi, always thronging with people, where life never sleeps… You can tour the exhibitions of world famous artists here; you may even meet some of them. The avenue’s vibrant and cultured texture is a constant inspiration to artists. Would-be actors are even advised occasionally to observe the people here as a way of ‘getting into’ a certain character.

Boasting every type of entertainment venue available in Istanbul, this avenue has something to appeal to people of all ages. You can find places that are open 24/7 and have fun round the clock. The entertainment establishments in the Çiçek Pasajı, Nevizade and in Büyükparmakkapı Sokak offer a wide range of entertainment.

Besides its art and cultural life, İstiklal Caddesi is also in touch with religion. The Ağa Mosque and the Catholic Church of St. Antoine are among the avenue’s most prominent places of worship. Known for its wall inscriptions and faience tiles, the Ağa Mosque has welcomed guests on the avenue for centuries, whether for worship or for a mere visit. The Catholic Church of St. Antoine, was built in 1725 to serve those who were employed in the palace as well as those who had business here. The neo-Gothic style of the church, which acquired its present-day appearance in 1912, is due to the Italian architect Giulio Mongeri.

İstiklal Caddesi remains today a meeting place for Istanbul residents, their venue of choice for expressing their thoughts and feelings. They know that they will always find some spot here that suits them, whether they want to bum around, experience the world, or just be by themselves.
Every day people mill up and down İstiklal Caddesi, from north to south, from south to north. And as they walk, talk, run or stand still, they never stop looking at each other. That is why there are refuges like İstiklal Caddesi in big cities such as Istanbul where people don’t often get a chance to look each other in the eye. Here they recognize each other, they talk, or are silent, or even fall in love. And even if they don’t do anything at all here, real life still comes and finds them.