Saying Beyoğlu is a district just like the others would not be doing the place justice. Beyoğlu is much more than a district to Istanbul, and therefore it is not easy to explain Beyoğlu and its affection with and importance to the city. No matter how extensive an article about Beyoğlu is, something about this bustling district will always be missing.
History and Development
In the Byzantium period, Beyoğlu was not settled yet. The area was covered with orchards and its name was Pera, referring to the other side of Golden Horn. As time progressed European merchants, particularly from Genoa and Venice, started to settle in the Galata district, and the area became under Genoese control. After the fall of Constantinople, the Venetians were the first to re-establish commercial and political ties with Ottomans, and as a result the Venetians started to rule Pera. The Sultan at that time, Sultan Bayezid, expressed his desire to build a bridge in the area, and the Venetians suggested letting Leonardo Da Vinci do the design of the bridge. The bridge he designed would eventually become known as the Galata Bridge.
Urbanization of the Beyoğlu area coincides with the establishment of foreign embassies in the district, starting with the French embassy. During this time, all major countries that had any business with the Ottoman empire started to establish embassies in Beyoğlu. The people that worked at the embassies naturally started to settle in Pera, and more and more shops opened in the area to cater to their needs. Consequently, Beyoğlu became a western neighborhood right in the middle of the city, where all languages of the world were spoken.
Cultural Melting Pot or Salad Bowl?
Over the course of the years the appearance of Beyoğlu has changed a lot, but its multicultural character has stayed the same. Sait Faik best describes Beyoğlu in one of his writings:” Every night, small figurant girls from the neighborhood, Turks, Russians, Greek, Arabs, Gypsies, French, Catholics, Levanter, Croatians, Serbians, Bulgarians, Persians, Afghans, Chinese, Tatars, Jews, Italians and Maltese and many other nationalities melt, and play in the street. Barber’s apprentices chase after tailor girls. First, a gramophone’s sound is head, with screams following shortly thereafter.” Sait Faik authored his description of the multicultural nature of Beyoğlu early in the 19th century, but it still holds today, although there are some minor differences. Nowadays, bars playing folk songs are right next to bars that play rock music, and in front of both of them girls with hair in the colors of the rainbow are drinking and dancing. Hipsters drink their fancy coffees while they pass women dressed in traditional Muslim garb. There is a traditional tripe-soup restaurant and opposite to it is a French restaurant, which has a completely different kitchen. In conclusion, Beyoğlu has always been and will always be the pinnacle of a multicultural neighborhood. A lot of people complain that Beyoğlu’s appearance changes a lot, but obviously this does not affect the spirit of Beyoğlu, since it never has. Besides, Beyoğlu has always had a tolerant nature while Istanbul, as a city, usually is much less tolerant. In short, Beyoğlu has a lot to offer which might make it seem a little overwhelming, but actually this is not the case. You have the ability to go anywhere but actually you never do. Beyoğlu hosts all segments of society, every street is home to a different culture, and because of this every person has their own little part of the district that they enjoy. All possible cultures, personalities and backgrounds are crammed into this one district, but in the end everyone has their own private space to author a unique Beyoğlu story.
Photo Credits: Guillén Pérez