It’s the year 1875, the date 17th January a Sunday and the third underground system ever in the world comes alive in İstanbul, at that time Constantinople of course. Of course London , with its spider web underground beats everyone else by operating in 1863 followed by New York in 1869. But who would have guessed that the İstanbul would be the second. With the instruction of Sultan Abdülaziz the construction of the 573 metre tunnel started in 1871 and was completed in 1874. In the inauguration almost 150 years ago an animal was sacrificed for the well-being of the tunnel and as a thankfulness to God.
In the beginning people were so afraid of this alien machinery that animals were sent for a ride in the contraption to demonstrate that it was safe. And as there was a common saying between the public, “Should we go under the ground before we die?”
It’s called The Tunnel, yes like a movie title. Whenever I travel in it I always recall The Smiths’ “There is a light that never goes out” song, don’t ask me why but I do… The Tunnel or as we call it Tünel is just a one stop funicular climbs or slides down the steeply uphill for 500 meters from Karaköy to Tünel Square at the southern end of Istiklal Caddesi or vice versa.
The original idea popped up in the mind of a French engineer named Eugene Henri Gavand while he was observing the hassle the public experienced shuttling between Karaköy and Beyoğlu. Thank God this young French chap was able to convince the Sultan at that time and hence the foundations of Tünel were laid. To be exact the first stroke was on the 30th of June 1871 and the last piece of the pie was laid on the 5th of December 1874.
Tünel is constructed on a one way lain with two train wagons running simultaneously on the same track. In the middle of the track there is a double lain where the two wagons cross side by side and continue to their short direction. Of course perfect timing is crucial here. The original wooden wagons were operated by steam engines and eventually concerted to modern electrical systems. The Tünel operated for almost 96 years with its nostalgic wooden wagons and yet again renovated by a French company to lift it up to its modern look.
The journey is very pleasant and very short.
It only takes 1.5 minutes for the whole trip excluding the waiting for the departure time which can be sometimes more than 3-4 minutes. The distance is 573 meters and the two wagons can carry up to 160 people at one go. But it’s an experience for sure that you need to live to the full. Imagine you are experiencing the third underground system of the world. I would suggest that you use it one way because you should also experience the steep hill either upwards or downwards depending on your performance.