Kemeraltı Caddesi is the busy main road that runs parallel to the Bosphorus from Karaköy to Tophane where it mutates into Meclis-i Mebusan Caddesi to continue to Dolmabahçe. The T1 tram runs along this road which means there are things to see through the windows even if you never get out to walk. 

Regardless of whether you’re going to take the tram or walk,  Karaköy tram stop, the first stop after the tram crosses the Galata Bridge, will be the starting point for observing the historic structures of Kemeraltı Caddesi. Immediately to the left you will see the grey-and-cream striped facade of the Nordstern Han which is now a hotel. Facing it on the right on the facade of an otherwise nondescript modern building is a long stone sculpture bearing the signature of the famous poet-artist, Bedri Rahmi Eyuboğlu (1911-75). Step inside what is now a branch of Murat Muhallebicisi (pudding shop) and on the back wall you’ll see a superb red and gold mosaic created for the shop by the same artist in the days when it was a simple butcher’s shop.

In the empty space in front of the cafe once stood the small Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Paşa Cami designed  in 1903 by the Art Nouveau architect, Raimondo d’Aronco. When the road was being widened in 1956 it was taken down stone by stone with the intention of rebuilding it on Kınalıada. Unfortunately the boat carrying the stones then sank, scuppering the plan. More recent plans to rebuild the mosque in its original position have come to nothing.

Look back across to the left as the tram heads towards a bend in the road and you’ll see a salmon-coloured wall with a circular window towards the top. This is the back of the old Zülfaris (“Bridal Curls”) Synagogue that used to house the Jewish Museum, now moved to Neve Shalom in Galata. The building went up in 1823 on the site of an earlier synagogue; its restoration was paid for in 1890 by the wealthy Kamondo family whose money also gifted us the Nordstern Han and the Kamondo Steps in Bankalar Caddesi.

Look right again as the tram makes the bend and you’ll see the grand facade of the Karaköy Palas (1920).  

Look left again for the elbaorate facade of the Minerva Han with, running beside,  Yüksek Kaldırım (High Pavement), the steep street up to Galata that used to be lined with 118 steps (and used to be part of İstanbul’s red light district). The Minerva Han was designed for the Deutsche Bank in 1912-13.

Back on the right of the road you’ll pass 10 Karaköy, a luxury hotel created out of what was originally a 19th-century hospital for the port, then just behind it. This became the Balıklı Hanı (Fish Han)  which was home to some of the hardware stores for which this area is particularly famous. Its makeover was managed by by award-winning architect Sinan Kafadar who sneaked references to the fish (balık) even into the doorhandles. 

Across the street on the left a cobbled street strikes up to Galata. Although this was once part of the city’s red-light district (and home to a burnt-out synagogue) it is slated to become a new arts arena. 

On the same side of the road you’ll see a soot-blackened Church of Surp Hisus Pırgiç (Jesus Christ the Saviour) which was built in 1834 for a breakaway group of Armenian Catholics who had sworn allegiance to the Pope since the 18th century. Externally austere, it is said to have an elaborately decorated interior. Right beside it is St Benoit, a French high school dating back to  1583 with a brick-and-tile church up steps in its grounds. The church  dates right back to 1427 when it was founded by Benedictine monks. In 1583 the Church of St Benedict was taken over by the Jesuits who set up a boys school here. Then in 1773 it was passed to the Lazarists. In 1839 a girls school was added to the site which merged in 1987 to form the modern co-ed high school. Buried inside the beautiful church are several early French ambassadors to Constantinople. 

Back on the right-hand side of the road is the unmissably huge Armenian Orthodox Church of Surp Krikor Lusavoriç (St Gregory the Illuminator) which was designed in 1966 by Bedros Zobyan using the Armenian church at Echmiadzin as a model. It replaced a church dating back to 1431 which had been built on land bought by the Armenians from the Genoese but was demolished in 1958 to make space for a wider road. In 2013 the church reopened to the public after restoration. It is the only church in İstanbul with the familiar high-sided Armenian dome. Right beside it for the time being a stretch of exposed brickwork marks the site of a building which collapsed revealing the layers of history in this area. Across the road is the grand porticoed facade of the Greek Beyoğlu Özel Karaköy Rum Okulu (private Greek primary school), dating back to 1910 and with a tiny number of pupils.

Very easy to miss on the left-hand side is a venerable relic, a clump of rubble brickwork beside a cafe that is one of the last surviving remains of the walls built to enclose the Genoese colony in the Middle Ages – the Galata Tower is the most significant reminder of the period. 

The tram then pulls into the Tophane stop with, on the left-hand side a small park with the Kabataş Cami to one side and the impressively-domed old Arsenal building on the far side of Boğazkesen Caddesi, the busy road that heads up to Galata. The small and not especially interesting Karabaş Tekkesi (Lodge) dates back to the early 16th century but was effectively rebuilt in 1962. It operates a popular soup kitchen and always erects an iftar çadırı (iftar tent) on the adjacent football pitch during Ramazan. The lower part of the Tophane (Arsenal) dates back to the 16th-century 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.

On the right-hand side is the gorgeous Kılıç Ali Paşa Cami. Recently restored so that its cascade of lead-roofed domes is now much easier to appreciate, the mosque was a work of the great Ottoman architect Sinan and 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 away from the naval debacle at Lepanto in 1571 that marked the end of Ottoman supremacy in the Mediterranean.

Right beside it is 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 is the entrance to the Galataport. Should you be in need of a coffee and a rest, there’s a branch of the  Köskeroğlu baklava emporium on a corner near the tram stop. Or you can duck into the back streets of Karaköy where a multitude of cafes await.

Transport info

There are stops on the T1 tramline from Sultanahmet at both Karaköy and Tophane. It’a short, flat walk between the two stops although it is along a busy main road.




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