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Fatih is central district of Istanbul which is known as ‘historical peninsula’. It’s surrendered by Zeytinburnu and Eyüp districts and the Sea of Marmara, Bosporus and Golden Horn. Fatih and Eminönü were two districts of historical peninsula till 2008. Then, Fatih became an only district of peninsula and Eminönü became a neighbourhood of Fatih.
It was founded by Greeks (Megara city-state) and called Byzantium first. With Roman Empire, name of peninsula changed to Constantinople. During Byzantine period, city became a centre of Greek culture and Christianity. Fatih Sultan Mehmet captured the city in 1453 and declared it as the new capital of Ottoman Empire. When Sultan Mehmet captured the city, Constantinople was not wealthy and lively city because of Latin pirate. That’s why Sultan Mehmet set out a goal as revitalizing the city. He rebuilded the city and invited people all over the Europe in order to create cosmopolitan society. 10 years after he captured the city, he built Fatih Mosque. After a while, Muslim neighbourhood raised around the mosque and got the same name of mosque.
With its deep historical background, Fatih is magical part of Istanbul. Contrary to popular belief, Fatih doesn’t present only Ottoman culture. Fatih consists of many neighbourhood and each has its own character. Çarşamba, Muslim suburb of Fatih, is the most conservative part of historical peninsula. Even in Çarşamba, nobody will disturb if you are not sharing same opinions and beliefs. Kumkapı, located along Sea of Marmara, is famous of fish restaurants and meyhanes (traditional bar-restaurant which serves alcoholic beverages with mezes). Sulukule is gipsy, Balat is Jewish, Ayvansaray is nostalgic and Fener is Orthodox. Fener houses the Church of St. George which is principal Greek Orthodox Cathedral. In a sub, Fatih district cannot be written, best way to explore the area is to walk around.
Fatih is the most touristic part of Istanbul. Housing three big empires (Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman) inside of its city walls, Fatih is rich in terms of historical buildings. Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Hippodrome, The Museum of Archaeology, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Gülhane Park, Chora Church, Süleymaniye Mosque, Yedikule Fortress, Valens Aqueduct, Çemberlitaş Hamam, Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Bazaar are the most visited touristic attractions around.
Balat is on the shore of Golden Horn and it was home to Jewish population for centuries. After a series of fires in the neighbourhood during 1800s, most of Jewish residents moved to Galata. The neighbourhood is traditionally known for its freedom and tolerance. Greeks, Armenians, Muslims and Jews lived together in Balat for centuries. Balat changed over the years and now its suburb where working-class live. This historical neighbourhood can make you surprised with its Greek and Jewish influenced architecture. Balat’s architecture and people have an authentic spirit that has been lost in much of Istanbul. Balat is still the old part of Istanbul and traditions are maintained. When you walk around in the narrow streets in Balat, you can see clothes hanged on a rope hanged in between two houses, kids playing on the streets, someone slouch a basket from balcony and grocery man puts bread to his basket. Balat is hidden paradise of Istanbul and great spot for taking photos. In the last few years, Balat has been discovered by photographers and film producers. Now, it is also in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Balat has many ruined houses from the past and UNESCO restorate these houses. They prepare good projects and they’re very successful. They just repair and don’t change anything about house.
Balat is included the government’s urban transformation project area list. Unfortunately, these urban transformation projects are a big failure. It started with the Neslişah neighbourhood as a pilot area where gipsies used to live. After government’s urban transformation project started, it was totally obvious that transformation projects doesn’t aim helping the poor residents or rebuilding. They mean demolishing the area and killing the culture in order to build modern buildings with Golden Horn view and sell it for very high prices. Only aim of government is profit and that’s obvious. They neither care about culture nor about the history. In Neslişah neighbourhood, first gipsies forced to leave their land, government built a new town which looks like totally different than it was. Now it is the turn of Balat, Fener and Ayvansaray neighbourhoods. But, residents of these neighbourhoods saw what happened in
Photo Credits: Esther Lee