The 6th District: An Example of Accelerated Westernization

Until the 19th century from Şişhane to Elmadağ today’s Beyoğlu was basically laced with Christian and Muslim graves. Its sparsely populated area was called Pera named after the Greek word “across” simply due to the fact that it was lying across from the city centre on the Golden Horn. The residents were mainly non-Muslims and […]

Until the 19th century from Şişhane to Elmadağ today’s was basically laced with Christian and Muslim graves. Its sparsely populated area was called named after the Greek word “across” simply due to the fact that it was lying across from the city centre on the Golden Horn. The residents were mainly non-Muslims and Levantines[1], European Christians living in the Ottoman Empire. Whereas functioned like a residential backyard for wealthy people, Galata with its tower and city walls had been a high populated harbour since the Byzantine era[2].

The entry into the Tanzimat Period for the approaching of the Ottoman state to the European way of modernization was the step for Pera, Galata and the slowly growing Tophane to develop in today’s Beyoğlu. These following events directly affected the : The British-Turkish Treaty of Balta Limanı of 1838 which introduced the Ottoman state into the world market and opened the Ottoman doors to Europeans; the Tanzimat Fermanı of 1839 and the Islahat Fermanı of 1856 which introduced legally the equal position of all Ottoman subjects before the state and consequently nullified restriction pertaining to rights of freedom and private property with the result of the contribution to the enlargement of Pera through private investments[3]; the Crimean War between 1853 and 1856 that caused a flush of allied European soldiers quartered in Istanbul and the outbreak of several fires which eased the remodelling of the area into a modern quarter by both the state and private people[4].

 

Grande Rue de Pera

 

The consequence was the vitalization of Pera, Galata and their surroundings in the first half of the 19th century. New churches, hospitals or schools were established by Levantines like the St. Esprit Cathedral or the German Hospital. Furthermore the public transport on sea was introduced[5] and the Golden Horn and Pera was connected for the second time with the bridge Cisr-i Cedid financed by the mother of Sultan Abdülmecid[6].

In the second half of the 19th century the state implementation of urban planning was expanded. The aim of the Ottoman statesmen was a controlled urban development following the European example of town remodelling. Furthermore urban planning and its realization were used as a concrete strategy of demonstrating the intention of the state to modernize[7].

 

Vue prise de la Fontaine de Galata Serail

 

1855 a commission was established which started with the systematic improvement of the infrastructure and decided the division of Istanbul in municipal areas according to the Parisian model. 1857 Pera, Galata and Tophane became a pilot area under the name of the symbolized by a municipal building in neoclassical style still existing in today’s Şişhane[8]. With the help of the outbreak of several fires the was reshaped step by step. The landmark was the main road Grande Rue de Pera / Cadde-i -Kebir, which is known as the İstiklal Caddesi today. Its course was the point of reference for the renovations. In order to keep the control over the population growth Pangaltı as a new quarter was established. The Christian graveyard was moved to Şişli for the inclusion of Taksim into the city plan, which linked Pera with Pangaltı. A further upraise took place in Karaköy with its newly built Karaköy Square. In order to tear the physical barrier between Pera and Galata and gave them a “modern” appearance, the city walls were demolished[9]. The transport among the quarters was organized with horse trams. Between 1871 and 1874 the Tünel (Funicular), one of the first underground railways, was built by the French engineer Henry Gavand[10]. On the main streets the town picture changed. After several regulations wooden buildings were replaced by stone or brick constructions. Streets became wider and arranged by order[11].

 

1911 - The Top Station of The Tünel (Funicular)
1911 – The Top Station of The Tünel (Funicular)

 

The 6th district was a meeting point of the rich and prestigious not only due to the over-presence of the non-Muslim and Western residents but also due to the movement of the ruling elite to the opposite site after the building of the Dolmabahçe and Çırağan Palaces. People met for entertainment and making business at the same time[12]. Therefore, besides the state, the residents of the 6th district played a great role in the development of that area. Money was spent for the benefits of the community as a new way of status symbol[13].

Hence numerous buildings at the Grande Rue de Pera were financed by influential and rich residents like the Çiçek Pasajı. In 1870 Pera was largely devastated by a fire. Among the destroyed buildings was also a theatre that endowed the name of the Sahne Sokağı meaning Stage Street. The area was reconstructed as Çiçek Pasajı by the Greek banker Hristaki Efendi, where florists and bakeries could offer their products. The sale of flowers gave the building the name flower passage. Around 70 years later it should become a place for meyhanes[14].

Another feature of the 6th district was the indisputable European influence and westernisation. The district appeared almost like a miniature Europe concentrated on the Grande Rue de Pera and mixed with oriental elements. Almost whole Western countries were represented by splendid embassy buildings whose architectural style became an inspiration for new constructions. Here are some hotels and restaurants proving the Western impact: Brasserie Suisse, Café-Restaurant de Paris, Hotel de Londres, and Hotel Bristol[15].

The 19th century’s Beyoğlu was a district revived through changing Ottoman politics in favour of European modernization. However not only the Ottoman state but also wealthy locals and European representatives invested in the 6th district and transformed it into a cosmopolitan Ottoman centre. Embassies, hotels, restaurants, schools or hospitals of different states and communities sprang up like mushrooms according to the Western model. From the impressive buildings of the Bankalar Caddesi to the Crimea Memorial Church almost all historical buildings are an evidence for the cosmopolitanism dominating the 6th district which is still perceptible in the vibrant life of Taksim and the İstiklal Caddesi.

 

 


[1] Çelik Gülersoy, Beyoğlu’nda Gezerken (İstanbul: Çelik Gülersoy Vakfı Yayınları, 2003), 21-22
[2] Zeynep Çelik, Değişen İstanbul: 19. Yüzyılda Osmanlı Başkenti (İstanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, 1996), 26
[3] Alexandra Yerolympos, “Urban Transformations in the European Provinces of the Ottoman Empire at the End of the 19th Century”, in Economy and Society on Both Shores of the Aegean ed. Lorans Tanatar Baruh and Vangelis Kechriotis, (Athens: Alpha Bank, 2010), 453
[4] Çelik Gülersoy, Beyoğlu’nda Gezerken, 27-33
[5] Prof. Dr. Vedia Dökmeci , Doç. Dr. Hale Çıracı, Tarihsel Gelişim Sürecinde Beyoğlu (İstanbul: Türkiye Turing ve Otomobil Yayınları, 1990), 35
[6] Prof. Dr. Vedia Dökmeci , Doç. Dr. Hale Çıracı, Tarihsel Gelişim Sürecinde Beyoğlu, 41
[7] Alexandra Yerolympos, “Urban Transformations in the European Provinces of the Ottoman Empire at the End of the 19th Century”, 452
[8] Zeynep Çelik, Değişen İstanbul: 19. Yüzyılda Osmanlı Başkenti, 38-40
[9] Zeynep Çelik, Değişen İstanbul: 19. Yüzyılda Osmanlı Başkenti, 56-59
[10] Prof. Dr. Vedia Dökmeci , Doç. Dr. Hale Çıracı, Tarihsel Gelişim Sürecinde Beyoğlu, 38-39
[11] Zeynep Çelik, Değişen İstanbul: 19. Yüzyılda Osmanlı Başkenti, 42-45
[12] Zeynep Çelik, Değişen İstanbul: 19. Yüzyılda Osmanlı Başkenti, 38
[13] Haris Exertzoglu, “The Cultural Uses of Consumption: Negotioting Class, Gender and Nation in the Ottoman Urban Centers during the Nineteenth Century”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 35 (2003), 84
[14] Çelik Gülersoy, Beyoğlu’nda Gezerken , 116
[15] Zeynep Çelik, Değişen İstanbul: 19. Yüzyılda Osmanlı Başkenti, 105-108




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