I’ve since long harboured the dream of having – or, more modestly, staying at – a house on the Bosporus. Something with balconies abutting the waterfront, or perhaps a terrace with a view of the passing ships, a bottle of Sipsmith at the ready and a supply of tonic water and cucumbers.
Alas, that dream hasn’t quite morphed into reality: as it seems, waterfront real estate is either occupied by Dolmabahçe Palace – which, I’m told, is not for sale – or by a monumentally large Four Seasons hotel whose clientele, at least judging by what I can gather from the outside, isn’t in the same line of business as I am. In the meantime I have to make do with Beyoğlu, that part of Istanbul that I loosely identify with Galata, Karaköy and the meander of streets fanning away from Istiklal caddesi. Don’t get me wrong here: as far as second choices go, this is the softest of landings.

The subconscious, as always, plays a big part. I love Genoa and the whole Liguria region in which she sits, pretty and smug: in Istanbul all you need to do is to scratch here and there and, voilá, the red-blue DNA of Galata will emerge. But there are also more objective reasons: chiefly Beyoğlu’s liveliness and relative libertarianism. Other parts of town might have sunk under the touristic onslaught or might be sulking in a sense of betrayal and abandonment; some will have evolved into soulless dormitories. Not here. Beyoğlu has what London lost or sold decades ago: charisma, identity and that very abused locution, “A sense of place”.

Lately, though, I’ve been coming here on tiptoe, as you’d do when entering the room of somebody who’s very sick. Encroached by terrorism on one side – the Daesh suicide attack in 2016, the Kurdish car bombs outside Beşiktaş’ Vodafone Arena on the same year and more – and authoritarianism on the other – why do you need water cannons outside Gezi Park? – I always dreaded to find the place a shadow of its former self.

I needn’t have worried.
Under a very British drizzle, Karaköy’s hipster scene was flourishing in the former docks that – the whole world over –  seem to have been built with the sole purpose of being refurbished into bars and cafés.
Click on any of the photos to start the slideshow.
In the streets leading to the sea small-town life continues unabated with barbers flapping razors in the air when labouring a point; in Galata, meanwhile, the stairway leading to my hotel had been blocked by a music video set.
Click on any of the photos to start the slideshow.
Boys still needed just a guitar to hook up with adoring fans.

Above all, there still was Istiklal caddesi. Past the barricades erected around Lycée Galatasaray, regardless of the threat of bombings, the place still throbbed with people.
Click on any of the photos to start the slideshow.
Thousands strolled up and down as dozens of buskers played folk music from Anatolia. Writer Charles Bukowski is alleged to have said, once, that “people are the best show in the world”. If he really had said that, he must’ve passed through Beyoğlu on a Saturday afternoon.

19 thoughts on “Beyoğlu’s resilience.

  1. My most prominent memory of Beyoğlu is rounding a corner and suddenly being face to face with a noisy, volatile street demonstration in 2013, so even the main street conjures up a sense of skittishness in me. I did love the hilly area near Galata Tower and also found Beyoğlu generally to feel more “real” than Sultanahmet and the more touristy parts of Istanbul (which I also liked!). I think maybe the first post I ever read of yours was set here!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree Dave! And I’d go to the point of saying that even a bad character can be “enjoyable”. One of my favourite restaurants in London’s Chinatown has a spectacularly bad service, yet I love it because of that precisely!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I must have missed this post during our recent travels. I’m glad I found it. Thank you for taking me right back to Istanbul with your wonderful words and photos. I could once again feel the life of that part of the city. We loved Istanbul, and I would gladly go back.

    Liked by 1 person

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