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The Shores of the Golden Horn

Photos: wowturkey


The following article is from the January/February 2004 issue of The Guide Magazine.
by Hülya Ekşigil

The Shores of the Golden Horn

Istanbul is a city punctuated by a wealth of architectural gems. Tragically, many of these have disappeared beneath the rising tide of Istanbul's irrepressible urban sprawl. Nowhere is this truer than in Haliç, or the Golden Horn - a veritable dumping ground of architectural gems. This unique setting has been home to numerous civilizations throughout history. Its past has been marked by periods of great hardship alternating with times of joy and sadness.

Legend has it that the Golden Horn gets its name from ancient mythology or from the color of its waters as it reflects the setting sun. Some believe that it gets its "golden" epithet from the abundance of fishes in its waters. In the past, you could find a matchless cornucopia of seafood in the Golden Horn. The oysters collected from its shore were a favorite with the Ottoman court. From Byzantine times right up to the 20th century, the area surrounding the Kağıthane and Alibeyköy streams that pour into the Golden Horn was a social hotspot. The banks of the Golden Horn bear the stamp of many cultures - not least the Byzantine and Ottoman civilizations. Greek, Jewish, Armenian and Muslim communities lived side by side in harmony. A freshwater estuary connected to the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn is an excellent natural harbor, making it a secure commercial port. The Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and Eyüp Mosque help create an air of mysticism. Until recently, the Golden Horn was in danger of turning into a swamp as a result of major mistakes made in urban planning since the dawn of the Republic. Today, precious reminders of its former glory are slowly emerging from its once stagnant depths. Most of the minorities that once made the Golden Horn their home have moved away, only to be replaced by under-privileged Anatolian immigrants. Many of the area's once-glorious structures are still standing, if looking somewhat the worse for wear. Today, they serve as an ironic backdrop to impoverished lives. Once concentrated in Eyüp, the presence of Istanbul's most devout Muslim community can now be felt all over the Golden Horn. Nevertheless, this seems to be no obstacle to the burgeoning number of "meyhanes" (Turkish taverns) and contemporary museums opening along the shore. With its fascinating buildings, vibrant Islamic "social life", and newly blue shimmering waters, the Golden Horn is set to open a new window on the future.

We begin our tour at Cibali at the foot of the Unkapanı Bridge. From here, we head up the Golden Horn on foot. Back in the mid-1980s, then mayor Bedrettin Dalan had a number of industrial buildings knocked down in an attempt to save the Golden Horn from turning into a bog. Sadly, a few historic buildings were also deemed to be "in the way". The resulting empty stretch of land was turned into a park. The waters of the Golden Horn are gradually becoming cleaner. Today, the shore is lined with children fishing, small boats selling fresh fish sandwiches and people out taking a stroll. In this sense, the Golden Horn is a rare oasis in the middle of the city.

A small restaurant to the left reminds us that we are on the waterfront. Golden Fish is a kind of fast food restaurant. Next door is the Balat Işkembe Salonu: the Golden Horn is famous for its "işkembeci" or tripe soup sellers. Just after these two restaurants stands the most impressive edifice on the Golden Horn: the old Tobacco Factory. Built in 1880 and financed with French capital, this was the first industrial establishment on the Horn. For the past few years, it has housed Kadir Has University. Two taverns stand just beyond the university: Barba Giritli and Cibalikapı Balıkçısı. A little further down lies Balıkçı İO. Cibalikapı Balıkçısı has been open for a couple of years. The two-story restaurant functions as a traditional tavern and is only open in the evenings. It was an immediate hit and attracts regular customers. The other two taverns have yet to show their mettle. Parallel to Cibalikapı Balıkçısı, Kömür Lokantası serves "Laz" fare from the southeast region of the Black Sea and is popular with tradesman. In the past, piano repair was one an important trade in Cibalikapı. Today, only a few piano repair shops remain.

The ancient city walls periodically appear and disappear along this bank of the Golden Horn. One of the most important gates, the Cibali Gate, stands a few steps away. Pass under this historic gate and head towards the The Church of St. Nicholas (Aya Nikola)). Another notable structure is the Gül Mosque, a converted Byzantine church, and located near the main road.


Fener, a neighborhood set on one of Istanbul's famous seven hills, is after Cibali. Fener was once the abode of wealthy and influential Greek families. Since 1601, Fener has also been home to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate located on Sadrazam Ali Paşa Caddesi off the shore road. From the moment you turn onto the street, you seem to enter an entirely different country, a world away from the maddening crowd. This is a quiet, clean and orderly world. The Church of St. George (Aya Yorgi) attached to the Patriarchate, has undergone painstaking restoration and is filled with valuable religious works.

A little bit further up the road lies the Hotel Daphnis. The hotel consists of four small buildings that have been joined together and boasts a view of the Golden Horn. Proprietress Defne Keskin has created a welcoming atmosphere. The rooms are full of character and there is a humble but satisfactory restaurant. This is the only quality hotel on the Golden Horn. A second address for tripe lovers is the nearby Tarihi Haliç Işkembecisi on the shore.

Although our itinerary is focused on the shoreline, no tour is complete without a visit to the Fener Greek Boys High School that stands above Fener. The building looks like a giant red brick eagle sheltering the neighborhood between its wings. Appropriately, the high school has a matchless bird's eye view of Fener. However, you have to struggle up a tortuous hill to get to it. Established in 1881, this historic school only has a few dozen remaining students. Historic houses line the roads leading down to the shore. Back at the shore, notice The Women's Library housed in a restored Fener villa. The library contains publications by and about women. Istanbul's only Bulgarian Orthodox Church lies a little further on. This unique prefabricated edifice is built entirely from cast iron. The architect was probably inspired to use this modern construction material by the Eiffel Tower, which dates from the same period. The cast iron pieces were manufactured in Austria and shipped down the Danube to Istanbul where they were mounted together.

In the past, wealthy Jewish families rubbed shoulders with the predominantly Greek residents of Fener. Less affluent Jews lived in the neighboring region of Balat. Balat has a striking number of churches, mosques and synagogues. A church dedicated to St. John the Baptist; the Metochian of Mount Sinai (Yohannes Prodromos Metokyan Church) on Mürsel Paşa Caddesi is worth a visit. Mürsel Paşa Caddesi also boasts the magnificent villa of the important 17th statesman, Panayotaki Nikosi. The Yanbol Synagogue no longer holds services. Kamış Sokağı (Street) is home to the Surp Reşdagabet Gregorian Armenian Church and the Ferruh Kethuda Mosque attributed to Mimar Sinan. The mosque is significant in that the Ottoman Balat court was held in its courtyard. The Tahta Minare Hamam on Yıldırım Caddesi is one of the oldest surviving Turkish baths in the city. Leblebiciler Sokak is home to a less spiritual, more "worldly" address. Since 1878, the Merkez Pastanesi (pastry shop) has been selling a version of Italian "cassata" (cannoli). This local version of cassata consists of a cone filled with delicious, frozen chocolate cream. The Sahil Restaurant serves seafood. Argos is a new venue that serves set menus of Aegean fare. Take note: an impressive new "kurufasulyeci" (a local favorite - baked white kidney beans) restaurant is due to open in the near future on the same street. Balat is also home to the Balart Sanat Evi, which holds various artistic events and gives art classes. The Old Galata Bridge that used to connect Balat to the opposite bank stands on the shore like a half forgotten memory. Before you leave, take a look at the Balat Hospital on the left side of the road. Originally financed by wealthy Jews, the hospital is now linked to a foundation.

Located at the point where the Byzantine land and sea walls merge, Ayvansaray is one of the poorest neighborhoods on the Golden Horn. Heading in from the shore, the Blachernae Sacred Spring (Blaherna Ayazması) on Kuyu Sokak attracts people of all creeds thanks to its beautiful garden, lovely church and the restorative powers of its waters. A converted Byzantine church, the Atik Mustafa Paşa Mosque is a little further on your left. A number of important historic structures stand higher up the hill, including Toklu Dede, the Emir Buhari Tekke (dervish lodge), Ivaz Efendi Mosque with its peerless tiles from the region of Iznik, the ruins of the Palace of Blachernae and the Anemas Prison.

Pass under the Haliç Bridge and head towards Defterdar. Two famous works from the time of Suleyman the Magnificent appear before you: the Defterdar Mosque and Yavedud Tekke. The Feshane building on the right housed the first major commercial enterprise on the Golden Horn financed by local capital. The fez factory moved here in 1833 and was expanded by architect Kirkor Balyan in 1894. Turks continued to manufacture fez up until 1937. Since then, the Feshane has undergone many transformations. It is currently run by the municipality and hosts a wide variety of events. The amusement/children's park next door is the only one of its kind on the Golden Horn.

Pass by the Feshane and head on towards Eyüp. The Zal Mahmut Paşa complex designed by Mimar Sinan stands on your left. Legend has it that Sadrazam Zal Mahmut Paşa and his wife Şah Sultan were so deeply enamored with each other that they both fell ill and died on the exact same day at the exact same hour. They are buried together in the complex.


Carry on up the road to Eyüp, arguably Istanbul's most conservative and visibly religious neighborhood. The focal point of the region is the stunning Eyüp Mosque. The narrow streets of Eyüp wind through its gigantic cemetery filled with beautifully wrought gravestones and tombs (türbe). This mystical atmosphere is ruined by music blaring from stands selling "Islamic Arabesque" and the tackiest Islamic souvenirs imaginable. After Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, this is the fourth holiest Islamic site in the world. By rights, it should be a haven of peace and quiet introspection.

Ebu Eyyûb Ensari was a close friend and standard-bearer of the Prophet Mohammed. He is more commonly known as Eyüp Sultan. He is said to have died during an Arab siege on Istanbul. After the conquest of Istanbul by the Turks, a tomb, mosque and imaret (soup kitchen) were built on the site of his grave by Akşemseddin, Fatih Mehmet the Conqueror's "hoca" (teacher). The complex worked like a magnet drawing people to the region, turning Eyüp into a hive of activity. The mosque is filled with treasures for the eye as well as for the soul, including valuable carpets, chandeliers and lamps, a massive plane tree in its courtyard and a stunning tile-covered tomb. The surrounding streets feature many important tombs and mosque complexes (külliye).

Eyüp used to be famous for its wooden toys, perhaps because Eyüp Sultan is reputed to have loved children. White clay from the shore was used to make ceramics decorated with blue patterns. Eyüp was also renowned for its "kaymak" or clotted cream that came from Bulgarian dairy farms. Sadly, these are all things of the past. Today, Eyüp's market boasts two important addresses: the Akmanoğlu Bakery that opened in 1883 and Osmanlı Hanımeli, a humble local eatery. The grandiose sister establishments of the Mihmandar Lokantası (restaurant) and Ensar Tatlıcısı dessert shop are two of Eyüp's more "swanky" establishments.

Enter the beautiful park across from the entrance to the Eyüp Cemetery and head back down to the shore. The Sultanate Caiques wait below. Enjoy a tour of the Golden Horn either alone or with a group on Istanbul's version of the Venetian gondola. Otherwise, do as the masses do! Save money and hop on one of the hourly Turkish Maritime Line motorboats that cross over from Üsküdar on the Asian side to Eminönüand on up the Golden Horn, returning via the same route. That way, you get the same tour for a fraction of the cost.

We have come to the end of the most heavily populated area of the Golden Horn. Our original plan was to remain on the shore, but no trip to the Golden Horn is complete without enjoying the view from Eyüp. Lamartin famously said that any man would die happy overlooking this view. Continue by heading straight up Karyağdı Sokak, passing among touching gravestones along the way. Eyüp is a surprisingly peaceful cemetery, devoid of any morbid fascination. The Kaşgari Tekke stands on the left on your way up. On your right, the slopes leading down to the Golden Horn are covered in gravestones. However, this is one empty tract of land. This was once the Executioners' Cemetery. The few remaining headstones stand far away from those of their neighbors who did not wish to be buried near the executioners. You pass by the grave of painter Avni Lifij as you approach the Pierre Loti cafè, named after the French writer who wiled away many an hour here. Rabia Hanım, the founder of the cafè, is buried in the cemetery to your right. The cafè has an awesome view of the Golden Horn, stretching from Kağıthane to the Marmara. If you can, try to get here before sunset so that you can see the Golden Horn at its best as you savor a frothy cup of Turkish coffee.




The Shores of the Golden Horn
Finding the Wildest Fish & Finest Wines – on the Aegean Coastline
Gone To The Dogs? Or Doggone Progress?
Green Patriarch: The Environment and Interfaith Dialogue
Kalamis: Then and Now
Mehmet Konuralp: ”There's something captivating about Haghia Sophia”
Sweetness and light: The art of Baklava
The Mysteries of the ”Tespih”
Birsen's Horizons
Fred's Trip Logs
Bahar's Views on...
Business World
From Members' Pen
Interviews with Members
Moms & Kids Corner
Pets with Dr. Demirel
The archives of The Guide
The Archives of Turkishtime
Teen's world

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The Shores of the Golden Horn
Finding the Wildest Fish & Finest Wines – on the Aegean Coastline
Gone To The Dogs? Or Doggone Progress?
Green Patriarch: The Environment and Interfaith Dialogue
Kalamis: Then and Now
Mehmet Konuralp: ”There's something captivating about Haghia Sophia”
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