galata12The smaller tower on the right is Beyoğlu HastanesiOld names: Skyai, Pera

These days Galata, the area around the landmark Galata Tower that was once the heart of Genoese Pera, is one of the trendiest parts of İstanbul. It's true that the crazy ban on pavement cafes that came into force in 2011 has taken some of the wind out of its sails but still this is a hip and happening place par excellence, full of small, quirky cafes and boutiques as well as a growing number of classy hotels.

All this is very new. Fifteen years ago İstiklal Caddesi was lively only as far as Galatasaray Meydanı after which the closer it got to the tower the greyer and grungier it became. In those days apartments were snapped up for peanuts by those with a nose for a bargain. Today you'll search in vain for anything affordable. 

The most obvious attraction here should be the Galata Tower itself although in reality that is a bit of a missed opportunity, aside from the spectacular views from its balcony. Much more worthwhile is the refurbished Galata Mevlevihanesi Museum, a mine of information on all things dervish. 

Otherwise the monuments here are low-key and tend to get overshadowed by the shops. Italian and Jewish visitors are likely to find this a particularly rewarding area to explore. 


Like Byzantium, Galata was protected by walls from early times, with the first forifications erected by Constantine and then strengthened by Theodosius.galat1On 29 May 1453 the Genoese surrendered the key of the Tower to the Ottomans

Genoese traders had established a foothold in Constantinople as far back as the 11th or 12th century. At first they, like the Venetians, Pisans and Amalfians, managed their affairs from a base on the Golden Horn but after the end of the Latin Interregnum in 1261 they were rewarded for having helped the Byzantine Emperor against the Fourth Crusaders by being allowed to set up a self-governing colony between the Galata Tower and the shores around Karaköy. It was surrounded by walls and governed by a podesta (governor) quite separately from the rest of Constantinople.

In 1453 the Genoese tried to hold on to their privileges by staying neutral between the Byzantines and the Ottomans. It was to no avail. They were forced to hand the keys to their great tower to Fatih Sultan Mehmed and then demolish their walls. 

Around Galata

Assuming that you have arrived here by funicular or via İstiklal Caddesi you will find Galipdede Caddesi running straight downhill towards the tower. You'll come almost immediately to the Galata Mevlevihanesi Museum on the left. Galipdede Caddesi itself is famous for shops selling musical instruments. 

Could you tell a member of the Kadiriyye tarakat from a member of the Celvetiyye? If not, then the Galata Mevlevihanesi Museum (closed Mondays, small admission fee) is the place to come to find out about all the different religious brotherhoods that have played a role in Turkey as well as about the “Mevlevi” (whirling dervishes) movement and its most famous members.

mevleviSemahane of the Galata MevlevihanesiThere was always a small museum of literature and musical instruments in the Galata Mevlevihanesi, but since its restoration this has been moved up into the galleries, while an entirely new and surprisingly informative museum has been created beside the semahane (dance hall) where the dervishes still whirl on a regular basis. For exact dates and times check the noticeboard outside.

As for the Mevelevihane itself, it was originally set up by İskender Paşa who is buried near the Arasta Bazaar in Sultanahmet in 1492. 

Walking downhill you will pass, also on the left, Teutonia, an imposing apartment block that was once home to the German Club and a Nazi propoganda centre around the time of the Second World War.

Soon you will reach a crossroads. If you kept going straight ahead you would come eventually to Karaköy. If instead you turn left you will find yourself walking along Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak, until recently a completely run-down back street but now the newly recobbled and cleaned-up street that runs almost to the Crimean Memorial Church and that is shaping up to be Istanbul’s Soho. It's packed full of designer shops and cafes.

At the far end of Serdar-ı Ekrem stand the Doğan Apartments, a beautiful block of flats set round a garden that was built in 1895 and managed to retain its cachet even during the years when the surrounding area was in decline. Today, of course, it's absolutely prime real estate. galata4Doğan Apartments

But most people will turn right, heading for the Galata Tower which looms over a small square in which can still be seen small traces of the wall that once enclosed the Genoese trading colony as well as the lovely Bereketzade Çeşme (Fountain), designed in 1732 for a mosque, then moved here in the 1950s.

As for the  Galata Tower, at 61m tall and capped with a witch's hat roof it is the most distinctive feature of the Beyoğlu skyline. It was built by the Genoese, who called it the Tower of Christ, in 1348-49 to replace an earlier tower placed here by the Emperor Justinian in 528, and it formed the apex in a triangle of walls that ran down to the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. The witch's hat was only added in the 1960s even though it is now such an indispensable part of its image.

It would be great to report that the tower contained a museum detailing the history of the Genoese colony and directing visitors to the other reminders of that period but in fact the tower is only used as a restairant-cum-nightclub of the particularly touristy type. Still, while you're up on the balcony you should pause to think about Hezarfen Ahmed Çelebi who, in 1638, is thought to have succeeded in flying on makeshift wings from the tower to Doğancılar Meydanı in Üsküdar on the Asian side of the city. At least that's the story according to 17th-century travel writer, Evliya Çelebi, not always the most reliable of sources.

A sign on the wall of the tower commemorates the surrender of the keys of the Genoese colony to Fatih Sultan Mehmed on 29 May 1453.

galat4Galipdede CaddesiIf you turn downhill along Camekan Sokak behind the tower you will past a second building that makes its presence fely on the skyline and that is Beyoğlu Hastanesi which was originally built in 1904 as the British Seamen's Hospital, designed by Percy Adams. Its distinctive tower which will remind some of an egg in an eggcup served as a watchtower so that mariners could signal ahead if they had emergency patients on board. In 1924 the British gave the hospital to the Red Crescent.

If instead you walk down Galata Kulesi Sokak you will pass on the left the Galata House Restaurant, chamingly housed in what was, between 1904 and 1919,  the British Prison, a reminder of the way in which different "millets (peoples)" were allowed to administer their own justice in Ottoman times. 

Continuing downhill, on the right you will pass the gate leading into the Dominican Church of Sts Peter and Paul, built in 1841 by Gaspare Fossati. The Dominicans originally worshipped in what is now the Arap Cami in Karaköy and moved to this location when their church was given to the Moors expelled from Spain. The current buildiing is a replacement for older ones lost, as ever, to fire. 

Further downhill on the left stands a particularly dejected relic of the days of Genoese power: the 14th-century Podestat, originally a copy of Genoa's own San Giorgio Palace, from where the Genoese governor asserted his will. When I last visited it was undergoing much-needed renovation. 

The Podestat stands beside steps leading down to Voyvoda (Bankalar) Caddesi in Karaköy. Before going down the steps it's worth diverting to the right along Kart Çınar Sokağı, a dingy alley with the 18th-century St Peter's Han looming up on the right. This was built for a French ambassador's whose coat of arms still survives on the walls. More poignant is the memorial to Andre Chenier, a Consntinople-born French poet who was guillotined in Paris in 1794, aged only 32.

galata10Aside from the Galata Tower little remains of the Genoese fortificationsIf you retrace your steps along Kart Çinar Sokağı you will pass the back of the Schneider Synagogue (Tailors’ Synagogue, closed Saturdays) built in Felek Sokak in 1894 for Jewish tailors working in Galata. Beyond that on the right you will see the much-photographed Kamondo Steps running down to Voyvoda (Bankalar) Caddesi. They were placed here in the 1880s to provide a short cut up to Galata from Karaköy.

Instead of heading down to Karaköy from Galata Tower you could walk along Büyük Hendek Caddesi towards Şişhane. Even the name of this street - Great Moat - commemorates the Genoese fortifications although most people head along it and then turn down  in search of the Neve Şalom Synagogue. This started life in a local boys school before moving to a purpose-designed building in 1949. Two bomb attacks, one in 1986, the other in 2003, have left the management very wary of visitors. Unless you have obtained permission in advance you will not be allowed to enter the synagogue.galata2Old matzo bakery

The synagogue aside, there are other reminders of the old Jewish presence in the area including an old matzo bakery that is sometimes used as an exhibition space. Not far away from it, at the back of a car park, you'll find a crumbling round tower, the last to survive from the Genoese fortifications.

glata3Ceiling of Salti PasajıAlso in the back streets here is the lovely Salti Pasajı, built in 1899 for Sami Salti. Finally, you might want to look out for an Art Nouveau fountain, the Laleli Çeşme, designed by Raimondo d'Aronco in 1904. It's at the junction of Laleli Çeşme Sokagı and Şair Ziya Paşa Caddesi.



Trendy types are always clustered in the doorway of this small and cosy café-bar whose name - meaning “fun and games” - exactly evokes its atmosphere. The menu is broadly international. 

Tel: 0212-252 7488, www.mavragalata.com, Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak No. 31/A

Sntrl Dükkan

If you’re after a really good burger this well-placed, colourful and spacious branch of a popular small chain is the place to head for. 

Tel: 0212-243 1868, Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak No. 28

galata11İstanbul's one Art Nouveau fountain Sleeping

In 2013 a number of the hotels and self-catering apartments in this area were abruptly closed by the authories.

Anemon Galata Hotel

A rare hotel on the "modern" side of İstanbul that goes for an antique look in its rooms, the Anemon also has an absolutely winning location with a terrace dining room that is so close to the Galata Tower that you'd swear you could reach over and touch it. 

Tel: 0212-293 2343, Büyük Hendek Caddesi

Eklektik Galata Evi

Gay-friendly small hotel in a side turning near the Doğan Apartments with small, colourful rooms.

Tel: 0212-243 7446, Kadribey Çıkmazı No. 4

Galata Residence Apart Hotel

Housed in a building near the Schneider Synagogue that was built in 1881 by the Kamondo family for destitute members of the Jewish community, the Galata Residence offers comfortably furnished if unflashy apartments in a quiet neighbourhood. You can only book for a week at a time though. 

Tel: 0212-292 4841, Hacı Ali Sokak

Georges Hotel

Housed in the restored Kamondo Han (1861-8) built for the wealthy Kamondo family, this super-stylish 20-room hotel has done away with a reception area which means that you’ll check in in your actual room having walked throug the ground-floor Le Fumoir Restaurant to get there. The new rooftop terrace is a big plus. 

Tel: 0212-244 2423, www.georges.com, Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak No. 24

Transport info

The easiest way to get to Galata is to take the Tünel funicular up from Karaköy and then to turn right out of the station and then right again down Galipdede Caddesi which eventually turns into Yüksek Kaldırim and runs right down to Karaköy if you want to walk back.

Alternatively it's a very pleasant walk along İstiklal Caddesi as long as it isn't too crowded.

Nearby areas


İstiklal Caddesi




Read more about Genoese İstanbul: http://www.turkeyfromtheinside.com/blogbloggingaboutturkey/entry/16-seeking-the-genoese-in-istanbul.html 

galatacatCats love the tranquil grounds of the Mevlevihane











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