The Arcades of Beyoğlu

Thronged by thousands daily, Istiklal Caddesi is chock full of buildings that reflect the cultural changes of the recent period and the dynamism of the times. With their cinemas, theaters, restaurants, cafes and art galleries, the famous arcades of Beyoğlu preserve their original vitality even as their owners and regulars come and go.

When you stroll from Taksim Square down to Tünel, the Rumeli Pasaj (arcade) appears on your right just after the French Consulate. Built by the court chamberlain Ragıp Paşa in the second half of the 19th century, its eclectic mix of Baroque and Empire style ornamentation catches the eye at the entrance to the arcade, itself in the neoclassical architectural style.

The Anadolu Pasaj (1910) just opposite and the Afrika Pasaj (1905), which joins Büyük and Küçük Parmakkapı Streets, were also built by Ragıp Paşa, a palace functionary who had three arcades built and is rumored to have named them the Rumeli (European), Anadolu (Asian) and Africa to symbolize the far-flung reach of Ottoman rule. An important commercial center when it was built, the lower floors of the Africa Pasaj were an apartment building occupied mostly by Levantines. Unlike the Rumeli Pasaj, the other two serve more as passages between streets today.

After the Rumeli Pasaj is the Emek Pasaj, known for its movie theaters where 'Yeşilçam' (Turkey's Hollywood) films were once shown. Proceeding from the entrance with its ground-floor shops selling gifts and costume jewelry, a person is carried back to the old days by the posters that decorate the walls of the staircases winding up to the upper levels. The Cité de Alep, now known as the Halep Pasaj, is in the same direction. It might surprise a person to hear that this spot in the center of Beyoğlu was once a flying circus where magicians did tricks and acrobats on horseback performed stunning feats. Built by the Arab family of Hacar, the Halep Pasaj once boasted a 'Variété' in a wooden building at the back, which was also known as the 'Pera Circus Theater'. Renovated for theater and opera productions in 1889, in the Republican period it was known as the French Theater until the 1950's when it earned fame, renamed the Beyoğlu Pasaj, for its movie theaters. This arcade, where the famous Beyoğlu Cinema is also located, is lined with tiny shops selling everything from posters, albums and picture frames to gift items and books. Directly opposite the Halep Pasaj is the Atlas Pasaj, at whose entrance are the Atlas Cinema and the Sadri Alışık Theater. The two buildings at the back of this arcade, which consists of three large structures, has the appearance of a mall with numerous shops.

When you reach the square in front of Galatasaray Lycée at the heart of Beyoğlu, if it's evening the melodies beginning to rise in the distance and the voices of the people singing along will lure you into the famous Çiçek Pasaj or 'Flower Passage'. Aka 'Cité de Pera', Çiçek Pasaj boasts a plethora of traditional restaurants where you can quench your thirst and sample the tasty Turkish appetizers known as 'meze'. Çiçek Pasaj, which opens at one end onto the avenue and at the other onto the old Istanbul Balık Pazarı or Fish Market, plays host to some very old denizens indeed. Maruni Naum Efendi's wooden theater and a hotel called 'Palais des Fleurs' once stood in the area where the Çiçek Pasaj and Avrupa Pasaj, both built following the Pera fire of 1870, stand today. The Avrupa Pasaj in particular presents a sharp contrast to the other arcades with its unique architecture and ornamentation. The statues in the arches of the upper level of this long, corridor-like arcade and the unusual items sold in the shops give this pasaj a different air. Colorful ceramic tiles, embroidered silk covers and Turkish fabrics and kilims dazzle the eye in this pasaj which is known as the mirrored arcade for the mirror-encased columns separating the shops. Continuing along the avenue we come to the Aznavur and Hacopulo (Hazzopulo) arcades, where Italian architecture reigns supreme.

Built in 1883, the Aznavur Pasaj subsequently underwent several renovations. Its shops sell a host of gift items ranging from miniatures, mother-of-pearl inlaid boxes and water pipes to clothing that appeals to the young people. Built by the Istanbul Greek Hacopulo Family but better known today as the 'Danışman Geçidi', the Hacopulo Pasaj housed some of the most fashionable shops of its day. Home to vendors of thread, buttons and headgear, this arcade at the same time had a political mission. The Young Turks met here and their newspaper, 'İbret', published by Ahmet Mithat Efendi and Namık Kemal, was also printed on the premises. A venue mainly of small cafeteria-type restaurants today, the arcade also has a few book dealers and old-fashioned artisans' establishments. Directly opposite the Church of St. Antoine, conspicuous for its magnificent architecture, the El-Hamra Pasaj, built in the first half of the 19th century, is quieter than the others.

At first an entertainment center with a French Theater and Billur Saray (Crystal Palace), this arcade was subsequently razed and rebuilt to accommodate the most opulent theater of its time, built by the famous architects Ekrem Hakkı Ayverdi and Kiryadis. Interest in the El-Hamra waned as new movie theaters went up around the city, and a new one has now been erected in its place after a recent fire.

At the lower end of İstiklal Caddesi another arcade rises before us which distinguishes itself from all the others. Built by Suriye Paşa in the 1880's, the Suriye (Syria) Pasaj is the most resplendent of them all on the interior. The original building was designed with a shopping area on the lower level and dwellings on the upper levels and is said to be the first building after the imperial palace to be supplied with electricity and city gas. Turkey's first movie theater was also opened in this arcade which boasts two elevators. Silent films began to be shown here in 1910 in a cinema called the Ciné Central, which later took the names Şafak and then Cumhuriyet before unfortunately closing after it was renamed the Zafer Cinema. The French-language Istanbul daily Stamboul was printed here from 1875 to 1964, as is today the Greek-language Apoyevmatini, which has been published since 1925 in the old-fashioned way in black and white and without photographs. Finally, after the Suriye Pasaj and almost at the Tünel appears the 'Passage Oriental', which stood vacant for years until it reopened recently as the Passage Markiz. Known as the Lebon Patisserie until 1940 when it became Markiz Patisserie, this café and pastry shop is located right at the entrance to the arcade. An important center of cultural and social activity in its day, it was also a meeting place of artists, writers and intellectuals for years.

With its ever changing face, Beyoğlu has undergone many transformations in the last two hundred years but has always preserved a special place in the memory. The sole unchanged witness of that change and dynamism are the buildings that line the avenue from end to end.