Haliç, a motley district

It’s an introduction to a cultural mosaic of İstanbul. Our district is Haliç aka The Golden Horn. A motley district to the bone. Even though it’s in the heart of the city, most of the locals are not even aware of its existence. It’s a shame, I know! Of course it has lost most of its beauty in time and with the limitless craziness of development. But still it bears a motley of languages and religions, you still have a chance of perceiving the richness it offers.

I am going to take you on a short literary walk through Haliç. Through the intertwined cultures of structures once belonging to Jews, Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians and Turks. You can consider this route as an off the beaten path of Istanbul visits. Believe me it will be worth your while.

The streets, the houses, the structures all bear a culture and a legend tangling along with it. Stories scattered all over the place. Haliç, during the centuries has always been a preferred district of Istanbul where people wanted to live. It’s actually a seashore but not aggressive as the Bosporus; it’s airy but safe from wild winds, are only some of the reasons of preference. Especially the district was preferred by the Greek Orthodox population during the byzantine era. In the 15th century the Sultan welcomed the Jews exiled from Spain by King Ferdinand and allowed them to settle in the Haliç area. He believed that this population will add richness to the cultural integrity of the community and he was not wrong. This multicultural heritage lasted until the Republic.

Now we see what remains of this deep culture interaction. If you have the time don’t miss this opportunity to visit Haliç where you will explore some of the following highlights. These are just some of the gems;

  • Aya Gate in Cibali, a part of the ancient city walls of Constantinople that allows you to get into the city.
  • St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church; here don’t miss the maquette of a boat decorated with jewels right above the entrance in the inner court. It’s believed that St. Nicholas is the protector of sailors and fisherman.
  • Gül Camisi (Rose Mosque) aka The Church of St. Theodosia is for sure the most unique structure of the district. The architecture structure is like a Byzantine Cross and it’s been converted into a mosque after the conquest. It also has a legend tangled to it that I need to share. On the eve of the conquest it was the day of St. Theodosia and the people went to the church to pray to the saint to protect them from the Ottomans. They brought roses and laid it all over the church, so when the ottomans entered Constantinople they converted the church and named it Gül (rose) Mosque.
  • The Hamam, which is exactly across Gül Mosque, built by Mustafa Pasha.
  • Sinan Pasha Mosque, yet again converted from a Church.
  • The Hamam with a pool that was constructed by Sinan the Great Architect.
  • The House Dimitrie Candemir; one of the houses inhabited by Dimitrie Cantemir during his exile in Constantinople. He was a Romanian who wrote one of the oldest books on Turkish Classical Music.
  • Church of St. Mary of the Mongols, this is another gem of the district. It has one-two unique specialty. Firstly it was one of the only church that was not converted into a mosque after the conquest of Constantinople. It still possesses the imperial order of the Sultan. Secondly the name leans on a legend. The daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Michael VII was arranged to be married to the Mongolian King Hulagu Khan. When she arrived in Mongolia she learnt that the king died. Instead of returning her back to Constantinople the royals arranged her to be married to the son of Hulagu Han, Abaqa Khan. They stayed married for 15 years. With the death of Abaqa the princess returned to her home city where she built a nunnery and retired there until her death. The church was called Mouchliotissa meaning in Greek of the Mongols. Hence the name.
  • Phanar Greek Orthodox Lycee is by far the most beautiful structure of the district. It’s like a fable castle, with its red colour can be spotted executively. It resembles buildings in Andalusia and hence has a structure named Byzantino. It’s mostly closed for visitors but even to experience the outside of the building is once in a lifetime chance.
  • The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate is presumably the dimmest structure of the district. Compared to the Lyce of the other churches is shy but it’s one of the holiest place on the earth for Greek Orthodoxies in the world. Every Easter you have back to back busses of believers.
  • The Bulgarian St. Stephan Church, I call it the Lego church as it’s the only prefabricated iron church in the world. A unique piece of artistry and creativity. Built by an Armenian architect named Hovsep Anzavour working for an Austrian firm R.Ph.Waagner (you can see the sign in the entrance).

These are just some highlights of what the Haliç district has to offer for people with open eyes…