The Turkish city has a modern side most tourists miss
Istanbul’s historic centre provides the must—see part of the programme — the gigantic sultan’s palace, Topkapi, and the magnificent Hagia Sophia, the main cathedral of the erstwhile Byzantine empire before it became a mosque.
Next to it, the six minarets of the imposing Blue Mosque tower into the sky. One should also pause at one of the many cafes to smoke from a water pipe. And if you haven’t then also tried your hand at bargaining in the Grand Bazaar, you haven’t really visited Istanbul.
But those searching for another kind of Istanbul will cross to the northern side of the Golden Horn, a long inlet that cuts the city.
“If you want to experience the modern, cool Istanbul, then you have to come over here,” says Elyem, a 22–year-old Turkish woman.
From the rooftop terrace of the “360 Istanbul” restaurant with its spectacular panorama, she points down to the waterside district of Beyoglu, the heart of the westernized Istanbul many tourists miss.
“From up here you can even look across at the tourist attractions of the old city,” she laughs.
Elyem points northwards and says, “There is the famous Taksim Square.” She is talking about the epicentre of mass protests last summer. She admits that plans to erase the nearby Taksim Park to make way for apartments were only a trigger, not the real reason for the protests.
The Taksim Square protesters were mainly young people who suspect Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of trying to Islamicize Turkey.
A stroll through the twisting, narrow alleyways of Beyoglu can show how deep the divide is between Islamic traditions and Turkey’s modern scene. The multi—cultural district is one of Istanbul’s most popular student and entertainment areas.
Nothing here lags behin Berlin, London or Paris. Stores of all the top international brand names, from Zara to Apple, line Istiklal Caddesi avenue, now a pedestrian zone flanked by splendid Art Deco buildings.
The ancient street—car that slowly makes its way, its bell ringing, through the masses of people is like a nostalgic relic from bygone days.
In the side streets, young designers are offering their latest creations in small stylish boutiques. Most of the city’s art galleries are to be found in this bohemian district.
On the waterfront, in a former warehouse of the port, the Istanbul Modern Museum has been showing contemporary Turkish art since 2004.
Nearby, young Turks meet in the street—side terraces of hip bars to drink beer or tea, flirt and smoke a water pipe.
Since the days of the Roman emperor Theodosius up to the early 20th century, the area was called the “Pera” — which in Greek means, “over there.” It was a district that, viewed from the sultan’s city centre, was “on the other side” of the Golden Horn.
Today, for young people like Elyem, it is the old city centre that should be regarded as being “on the other side.”