Welcome to Çukurcuma Street, the land of antique shops. Maybe some of you know Cihangir quartier, since it’s included in most of the touristic guides. However, it has nothing to do with the breathtaking mosques of Sultanahmet or the frenetic rhythm of Istiklal Avenue. I will try to briefly describe this amazing corner of Istanbul and what I’ve been feeling since I moved here almost seven months ago.
When I first arrived, coming from duller parts of the city, and saw the old red-bricked houses and the impressive lion statues of Karadeniz Antika shop, I felt like entering a Miyazaki film. In the mentioned multi-floored shop you can find basically everything, from Greek-Latin style columns to Napoleon-era knives and Nazi medals – I’m no expert but they look pretty original -. If you carry on down the street – it’s a little steep, you can really tell when going up during hot summer days or winter floods – you will see an old stone fountain with Ottoman inscriptions. Right in front of it there’s a quite normal mosque. The ezan (call to prayer) reminds 5 times daily that you are still in a Muslim country, just in case you forgot wandering in Taksim.
Little later you spot a bunch of nice antique shops. The owners are willing to explain you the most curious stories about their sometimes bizarre items – old postcards, fancy vintage suits, film posters, toys, bikes, mirrors, chairs and a long etcetera of random objects. There’s an atelier with many wooden craftwork on display – they quickly pick it up on rainy days! -.
Once one of them, Kadir Bey, invited me for a cup a tea and told me a lot about Çukurcuma. According to him back in the days there was only an “antique-coffee shop”, some weekends antiquarians used to gather and swap around. From the 70s the antiquarians started to settle and open shops. He also told me that the “golden era” of Çukurcuma was in the 90s, now apparently there’s a lot of competition in other parts of Istanbul, but still Çukurcuma keeps its prestige and it’s the best known among European tourists.
Another interesting fact, the antique shops are surrounded by modern studios plenty of young hipster-vibed guys, often discussing and having tea with the antiquarians, so here you have the dialogue between old and modern design and craftsmanship of Istanbul in few alleys. Some trees along the sidewalks and the vines that climb up the facades create a comforting atmosphere. A little custom-made tailor shop with Sherlock Holmes type of fabrics deserves special mention.
At this point, right in the middle of the street, you come across the well-known Museum of Innocence, based on the book of Novel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. After the visit – I guess it makes more sense if you have read the book – you can have a rest at Café Yiğit, where youngsters and antiquarians normally gather. In the last stretch you see some old Greek-style houses, more studios, lamp stores and finally a neon lighted hamam that has nothing to do with the rest, but still it’s the welcoming building from that side.
I forgot to say that during the walk you can peep the magnificent Galata Tower into the background, a privileged sight if you know a little bit about Istanbul and its housing problems, always kalabalık (“crowded”) as the locals say.
At night it’s a pretty quiet neighborhood, occasionally some young designers meet up in front of their studios to have a beer and a chat. But in case you want to go berserk, Istiklal is within 10 minutes walking.
During many months, every morning from my window of a third-floor flat, number 49, I could see the reactions of people from Europe, Latin America, Asia while passing by and listen to languages from all over the world. And at the same time the local sellers yelling at the top of their lungs “kurabiye” (cookie) or the “ayran” (drink made of yoghurt, salt and water) van with its catchy song, a delightful show for silence-loving ears. I could also sometimes even hear the rumors of demonstrations in Cihangir Square, above all during the intense electoral campaigns.
I will say that I feel lucky to have daily experienced this mini-world, the most pleasant face of a city that it’s not always so welcoming.
This, my friends, is Çukurcuma, land of antiques, a place to get away from reality among endless relics from another time.
P.D.: I would like to dedicate this little note to my flatmates in Çukurcuma, Mert Sezer and Henry Chen, for the welcoming and all the good times.