Although this part of town houses less historical landmarks than the historical peninsula of Istanbul, neglecting the modern part of Istanbul would be a shame. It still has a fair amount of must-see sightseeing spots and is the place to be if you’re in for shopping, wining and dining or a great night out. The modern part of Istanbul is the area north of the Golden Horn and consists of boroughs such as Beşiktaş, Galata, Karaköy, Nişantaşı, Ortaköy, Şişli, and Taksim. Below you find an overview of the ones you may (unknowingly) wander around in as a tourist.
Taksim Square symbolizes the heart of modern Istanbul and is a popular meeting point for a day or night out. Leisure time in this area is mostly spent on Istiklal Caddesi or one of its many side streets. Taksim is ‘open’ day and night, seven days a week – it’s a place where you’ll never walk alone! During the day the place attracts shoppers, and after dusk it remains a bustling area with bars and clubs for every kind of entertainment, often till early morning.
Located in the intersection of Barbaros Boulevard, Beşiktaş Avenue and Çırağan Avenue, the Beşiktaş borough lends its name to the district of Beşiktaş.
In Byzantine times Beşiktaş was known for the Ayios Mamas Palace (the emperors’ summer residence), the Fokas Monastery, and the Ayios Mihael Church. The latter was built in the period of Constantine I and was a famous center for Greek, Armenian and Georgian pilgrims. The residence identity of the area came during the Ottoman era. The cove of Beşiktaş was convenient/favorable/suitable to use as a dock even before the 17th century. So, Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha (1478-1546) – the chief commander of the navy in the Ottoman Empire (Kaptan-ı Derya) – started to use the bay to anchor the Ottoman fleet. He had a seaside mansion (yalı) built for himself and stayed there when he was in Istanbul.
In the 17th century the bay became a swamp. So it was filled and turned into a refined garden area for the Ottoman sultans. From then on palaces and kiosks/villas were built for the sultans and their relatives. Mahmut II – who officially reigned in Topkapı Palace for 31 years (1808-1839) – actually spent most of his time in the palaces of Beşiktaş. Finally his son Abdülmecit had the Dolmabahçe Palace built in 1855 and Beşiktaş became the official residence of the sultans.
Although after the declaration of the Turkish Republic Beşiktaş lost its reputation for hosting the sultans. However, it kept its importance since Atatürk stayed in the Dolmabahçe Palace when he was in Istanbul and he also died there.
Beşiktaş gives its name to the Turkey’s oldest sports club – Beşiktaş Gymnastics Club (Beşiktaş Spor Kulübü) It is also the third football club founded in Turkey. Beşiktaş Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa Pier, the monument of Barbaros, the tomb of Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa (Türbesi), the Sinan Paşa Mosque and the Istanbul Naval Museum (İstanbul Deniz Müzesi) are the places of interest.
Located on the northern shore of the Golden Horn, Galata is sloped and goes downwards to the sea from a hilltop. It is one of the historically rich boroughs of the Beyoğlu district. The famous Galata Tower on the small square of Galata and the Galata Bridge take their names from Galata, which means Celtic in Greek. It is believed that the Celtic tribe of Galatians camped in the area. After looting the Balkans and the west of Anatolia around BC 280-274, Galatians settled in the central Anatolia around Ankara and Yozgat.
The Galatasaray Lyceé (halfway on Istiklal Caddesi), the famous Galatasary Football team (Galatasaray Futbol Kulübü) and the Galata Mevlevihanesi Whirling Dervishes Lodge on Galip Dede Street also take their names from Galata. On Büyük Hendek Avenue you can find the Neve Shalom Synagogue which is the central and largest Sephardic synagogue in Istanbul. Down by the seaside the Galata dock stretches 758 meters long from the Galata Bridge towards Fındıklı on the north-east European bank of the Bosphorus. Although located in Karaköy it is named after Galata. Built between 1892 and 1895, the Galata dock is Istanbul’s and also Turkey’s first modern dock where the cruise ships used to anchor.
Karaköy is one of the oldest and historical boroughs of the Beyoğlu district. Located on the northern part of the Golden Horn mouth on the European side of the Bosphorus and connected to Eminönü by the Galata Bridge, Karaköy has been the center of trade serving as a dock since the Byzantine era.
In the last 10 years of the 19th century the area became the banking center with the Osmanlı Bankası. This bank, which played the role of treasury and government bank, opened its central building here, followed by the Italian and Austrian insurance companies.
Today, serving as a hub for intercity and international transport as well as cruise ship port, Karaköy is also an important commercial center with various mechanical, plumbing, electronic and electrical appliance shops in the Perşembe Pazarı.
Noteworthy cosmopolite monuments and places of interest are:
- The Zulfaris Synagogue used as the Five-hundredth Anniversary Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews (500. Yıl Vakfı Türk Musevileri Müzesi), inaugurated on November 25, 2001
Istanbul Modern, Turkey’s the first and only private museum for contemporary art inaugurated in 2004.
- Turned into a mosque by Mehmet II the Conqueror in 1475, the Arab Mosque is the only remaining Gothic church from the ante Ottoman period.
- Donated by the Sephardic Jewish banker Abraham Kamondo, the baroque style built Kamondo Stairs climb up the hill from Voyvoda Street to the 19th century neighborhoods.
Completely safe during day time, yet not to be wandered after dusk, Karaköy has also name and fame for the city’s red light district.
One of the popular boroughs in the Beşiktaş district is Ortaköy, literally translated ‘middle village’. It inherited the name from its location: in the middle of the European bank of the Bosphorus. One of the main characteristics of Ortaköy is that it has always been a cosmopolitan area which hosts Turkish, Greek, Armenian and Jewish communities. Today it is one of the main places of interest for locals and tourists alike because of its seaside cafés, restaurants, night clubs and bars spread around the area. Unfortunately, Ortaköy is also very well-known for its packed traffic, especially at the weekends.
The most outstanding structure of this small neighborhood is the Ortaköy Mosque which is located by the sea on the Ortaköy square. The Neo-Baroque style designed mosque was ordered by Ottoman sultan Abdülmecit.
The Şişli borough is located in the Şişli district, located between the Sarıyer district in the north, the Beşiktaş district in the east, the Eyüp and Kağıthane districts in the west and the Beyoğlu district in the south.
Full of farming fields and vineyards the area had very little settlement until the mid 19th century. The trading middle-class Levantines, Jews, Greeks, Armenians and also Turks who lost their houses in the 1870 fire of Beyoğlu moved to the area and built homes with an European look: big stone buildings with high ceilings and art nouveau wrought-iron balconies.
The first horse pulled tramways started operating in 1871 and its line reached Şişli in 1881. In 1898 the Şişli Etfal hospital was built in the memory of Abdülhamid II’s daughter who died when she was only eight months old. Şişli became the last stop of the electrical tramway in 1913 and from then on it kept on growing rapidly. After the foundation of the Turkish Republic Şişli kept on building on the main road (Halaskargazi Street) and the area around it.
Today offices, banks, big shops, cafes, and restaurants occupy the large buildings on the avenues, yet the back streets are still residential. One of Europe’s largest shopping malls, Cevahir, is located in Şişli. Built in Ottoman style, the Şişli Mosque is a grand landmark situated between the Halaskargazi and Abidei Hürriyet Avenues.
Within the Şişli district Nişantaşı is located on the Vali Konağı Avenue and is surrounded by the Maçka, Harbiye, Osmanbey and Teşvikiye neighborhoods.
The area was used by the Ottoman soldiers to improve their shooting skills on target stones. Nişantaşı means ‘target stone’ and that’s where the name of the area comes from. In the mid 19th century Sultan Abdülmecid established two obelisks to set the beginning and the ending points of the borough. He also ordered the construction of the Teşvikiye Mosque and the police station. The area grew in the second half of the 19th century and became popular due to its central position, being close to both the Yıldız Palace and Pera (Beyoğlu).
Until the 1930s Nişantaşı was the area of mansion houses, after which its face rapidly changed to elegant apartment blocks. Its Art Nouveau apartment buildings are still well-known.
Today Nişantaşı is one of Istanbul’s most residential estates boroughs with luxurious restaurants, cafes, pubs, galleries, boutiques and stores of world famous brands. It is the hometown of wealthy and well-educated figures of the Turkish jet-set, culture and art.