The Porte

29/09/2017 10:05

From Café Loti’s terrace, on the last of Istanbul’s seven hills, view shows as Golden Horn splits new town and the old Seraglio and the memories of past empires. Beyond, Asia is sensed. Bridges stand between both shores with its frenetic traffic and numerous minarets project to the skies calling believers.

These are the minarets of Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet, Yeni Camii, Rustem Pasa Camii, Beyacit and Suleymania and many others, alongside the countless domes silhouetted on the great palace of Topkapi, beside the Porte, the one that gave access to the government of Grand Vizier and therefore the Empire. But descending from the heights to the pavement near where more mundane matters are elucidated, here people come and go mixed with tourists roaming among coaches and Ayasofya Square. Following the avenue that in times of Rome and Byzantium was the main one, the broad street, where today the tram stops and shops of any kind are opened to Beyacit square. Before, at the right-hand, a sidewalk in slight decline leads to the door of Kapalıçarşı, the Grand Bazaar. A loophole where fifty-eight covered alleys has goods of any kind that fill every corner. Four thousand stores offer crystal chandeliers with metal reinforcements, colourful fabrics, glassware and tea sets, among thousands of things. Once there were the caravanserais where foreign merchants could stay and keep their products. Prices are negotiated on a chatter which usually benefits the seller, especially if the buyer does not have a rough idea of the value of the object of his desires.

In Eminönü district, not too far, is Mısır Çarşısı, the Spice Bazaar. Its dimensions don’t emulate the Grand Bazaar of course, but it is extraordinarily diverse in their specialty. Piled in perfect stacks ground turmeric, cardamom seeds, star anise and unimaginable curry mixes and seasonings and there is no shortage of the popular pickles in their glass jars showing vinegary carrot pieces, gherkin, chilli or olives. There are also fruit and flowers scented soaps, selected fragances packed into thin sandalwood incense sticks just waiting to be lighted on to disperse their essences.

In front, passengers looking for a ferry which take them to distant shores, actually not as much as the end of the Bosporus or simply swirl to the other bank. Sellers try to entice them with appetizing snacks of mackerel and sardines from their stalls in the docks, some even provide small plastic chairs just to give a look closer to a restaurant terrace.

Meanwhile, light in the sky decays in intensity over the Golden Horn while neon from Galata Bridge first floor increases. Above them, cars parade in both directions. Undeterred fishermen cast their bait into the water. The fishing lines are seen from the restaurants and some fish occasionally lift.

Haliç Hatti, the Golden Horn, delves land within, piercing this part of southern Thrace. But before exhausting the city are still the districts close to Café de Loti, the one on the seventh hill. Very close is Eyüp cemetery, in one of the most conservative Muslim neighbourhoods of the city. The name comes from Abu Ayyub al Ansari, companion of the Prophet, who died in the first attempt to conquer Constantinople. Ayyub was buried here and after the capture of the city, nobles and Turkish officials wanted to be buried near him.

It is on this side of Haliç, in the neighbourhoods of Fener and Balat, where have remained the strongholds of Orthodox confession in Istanbul: the Bulgarian St. Stephen Church and the Greek Patriarchate. Bulgar Kilisesi is peculiar. And that is because its cast iron structure was built in 1870 in Vienna and transported in pieces to Istanbul over one hundred barges on the Danube. In the Patriarchate is the Orthodox Church of St. George, this date from 1720. The building rather seems a stronghold. Here, the shoeshine boys old trick consists in turning to stay ahead of the passer and dropping furtively their brushes, as if it would be by accident, but enough evident for the witness who, solicitous, will pick it up and return it. Then the shiner will insist one thousand and one times in clean the shoes, asking finally an exorbitant sum for the service. The best answer is to leave the brush left on the floor. He will not forget it. 

Once left behind orthodox churches, in times when the city was still called Constantinople, stretch along the shore the land leased to traders’ legations of the Italian Maritime Republics: Venetian, Amalfitan, Pisans and Genoese. The latter ended up settling down in front, where they built the strong Galata Tower. With nearly 230 feet high was for long the tallest building in the city. From the outside balcony, the view over the city is overwhelming, from the Golden Horn to the Bosporus and the Sea of ​​Marmara. At its feet run the busy streets of Beyoglu. The most popular of these is Istiklâl, Independence Avenue, a long street with a good stretch where road traffic has been excluded except the vintage tram that runs up to Taksim Square. Here are fashion shops, music and art galleries framed in nineteenth-century architecture that made this neighbourhood a benchmark of modernity when it was still called Pera. The street was then known as Grande Rue de Pera. Approximately halfway towards Taksim is the Çiçek Pasajı, a modernist gallery surrounded by historic restaurants near an area where the streets are invaded by tables and chairs and fresh fish counters only are alternated with bars and taverns that are packed as the sun sets. Nevizade Caddesi is just a sample.

Üsküdar, the former Crysopolis would later be known as Scutari, is currently one of the main districts of the Asian side of Istanbul. To improve communication between both parts of the city was opened in October 1973 the first Bosporus Bridge linking Ortaköy in Europe with Beylerbeyi in Asia with six lanes that run just over a thousand yards. In October 1988 the construction of a new bridge, four miles north, expanded the capacity to absorb the traffic between both banks, this is the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, although it is also known just as the second bridge.

Ferries and barges have continued to cross from one to the other shore of the Bosporus, ferrying people, vehicles and goods. This transfer did not end with the construction of the two bridges and boats and smoke wrap up and down the Strait. They pass by Kiz Kulesi, the Maiden's Tower that once was a watchtower and lighthouse and now houses a cafe and a restaurant. Also, before reaching the Mediterranean, to the Prince Islands and the Sea of Marmara​​. In the opposite direction they sail up until Kara Deniz, the Black Sea that Greeks called once Ponto Euxine. 

© J.L.Nicolas


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