Kuledibi

Having been home through the ages to Greeks, Armenians, Europeans, Jews and Turks, Kuledibi (The Foot of the Tower) today is a source of inspiration to many artists.

İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue) is so full of people that, as the Turkish expression has it, “if you drop a pin it won't hit the ground,” but as you near the tunnel the crowd begins to thin and the bustle to be replaced by quiet. If you wind your way leftwards without turning into Tunnel Square you will hear the faint sounds of music. Kuledibi greets you with improvised ceremonies. Just at the entrance to the avenue you're on stands the tomb of Galip Dede, who gave the avenue its name, in front of the Galata Mevlevid Lodge. Moseying on downhill, one by one you pass shops with almost every variety of instrument you can think of, philately counters to attract the stamp collector, second-hand book stores, and shops bedecked with varicolored garments and dazzling jewelry. When you see the sign that says Şahkapısı Sokağı and proceed in the direction of the arrow, you'll have to take a deep breath. For there in all its majesty rises the Galata Tower. 

Kuledibi consists of winding, sharp-cornered streets like gateways to the tower, and of buildings that bear the marks of Levantine culture. Especially since the 90s it has witnessed certain developments in the sense of a return to Levantine culture. The major development triggering this return is that in recent years writers, artists and foreigners have chosen to live in Kuledibi. “Büyük Hendek” Avenue leads to the tower from Şişhane, and on this avenue stand not only the shops of tradespeople but also the Neve Shalom synagogue, best known of all the synagogues in Istanbul. In the course of history too, Galata has always been a tapestry of ethnic elements. Dubbed Megalos Pyrgos (Great Turret) by the Byzantines and Torre di Cristo (Tower of Christ) by the Genoese, the Galata Tower, or rather its environs, have throughout history been home to Greeks, Armenians, Europeans, Jews and Turks. Builders of the famous Kamondo Stairs that lead to the Austrian Lycée and Galata from over Karaköy way, the Kamondos are a Jewish family that lived in Ottoman times. In a number of buildings on the streets of Kuledibi one may note the use of differing architectural techniques. In the Ottoman era the Galata Tower was first used to lodge slaves who worked in the Imperial Shipyards at Kasımpaşa, and also as a warehouse for tools and materials. Later, because of its height, it became a fire tower. For many years now the upper floors have been used as a restaurant. 

At present the Galata Tower provides a 360-degree vista for Turkish and foreign tourists and travelers who want a view of Istanbul with its seven hills. Looking out from the tower, you have the feeling that you are in a panoramic documentary; on one side the historical peninsula, Topkapı Palace, St. Sophia, the Golden Horn, churches and mosques; and on the other side, a view of the Bosphorus... 

A further visual treat lies in the vines and colorful flowers that hang toward the street from the tall, wide windows of the buildings. Recently Turkish-style restaurants, have opened on the penthouse floors of most buildings, offering home cooking and, in the evenings, various melodies for the delectation of their customers. An example is a Greek-Armenian restaurant. Beyza Somel, whose mother originated from Crete, is the owner, and takes pains to see that everything is made in the authentic fashion.

Situated right at the foot of the tower, the tea garden is the perfect place to catch your breath. It's especially nice to contemplate the tower while sipping tea beneath the clusters of grapes that hang from the çardak (arbor) overhead. A bit further on is Camekân Street, from which the view of the tower is somewhat scary. But this street has several shops where handwoven carpets and kilims are on display, the product of hundreds of hours of eye-straining labor. The road leading on from this street takes you to the Bereketzade Mosque and the Austrian St. George Hospital.

Those who have settled in Kuledibi, in particular the artists, ply their trades in the studios and workshops they occupy in historic hans and buildings. Descending toward Kuledibi from the Tunnel we come upon Tımarcı Street, which has turned into a street of art. Towards Karaköy, but before reaching Yüksekkaldırım, the street on the left is home to the studio of Okay Temiz, that master of rhythm. One street up, on Serdar-ı Ekrem Street, Mısırlı (Egyptian) Ahmet, another rhythm specialist, recently started a rhythm class for those who wish to learn the art. The best known han is also on this street, the Kamondo Han (inn) which keeps up with its restaurant operation. A bit ahead are the famous Doğan Apartments, which may be cited as an example of the Italian architectural style.

These days Kuledibi is well on its way to becoming a distinct image of Beyoğlu. This historical district presents a cosmopolitan profile, what with the Gypsies who live in the vicinity of Tophane, the foreigners who have settled in Istanbul, the Turks who arrived years ago from other cities to become the tradesmen of Galata, and the Armenians, Jews and Greeks who have been residing here for centuries. This can all be seen in the restaurants and cafes that grace the Kuledibi streets. The Galata Society, founded to preserve this cultural tapestry and prevent the decay of Galata, engages in various activities to this end. In the same spirit, a Galata Festival is held every summer at the society building in Galata Square and Kule Street.