Istanbul: Places to Explore

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Beyoğlu: Istanbul's New Town

The neighborhood that climbs the Galata Hill is known both as Pera and Beyoğlu, and is often referred to as the "New Town," where the first thing you'll learn is that new is a relative term in Istanbul. Much of what you'll see here dates from the 19th century. In the early part of the 20th century, Beyoğlu was one of Istanbul's most fashionable areas, home to large numbers of the city's Greeks, Jews, and Armenians and filled with many grand, European-style apartment buildings. As the decades passed, more people started moving to the greener neighborhoods farther up the Bosphorus and what had once been one of Istanbul's most elegant neighborhoods became crime-ridden and filled with crumbling buildings. Gentrification fever has hit the neighborhood recently, and many Istanbullus are rediscovering the splendid old buildings and incredible views.

Istanbul's New Town clings to the hillside above Karaköy, and the Galata Tower, while only halfway up the hill, dominates the skyline. Tünel Square, just north of the docks, is an appealing gathering spot surrounded by shops and cafés—it also marks the start of İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Street), Istanbul's main pedestrian area. Nearby is the Pera Palace, one of the most famous of Istanbul's hotels, where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express and where Mata Hari threw back a few at the bar. From the square, İstiklal Caddesi climbs uphill through Beyoğlu, past consulates in ornate turn-of-the-century buildings, and across Galatasaray Meydanı (Galatasaray Square) to Taksim Meydanı (Taksim Square), the center of modern Istanbul.

As you walk along İstiklal Caddesi, look toward the upper stories and the heavily ornamented facades of the 19th-century buildings. Return your gaze to eye level, and you'll see bookstores, boutiques, kebab shops, movie theaters, and every element of modern Istanbul's vibrant cultural melting pot. The impressive building behind the massive iron gates on Galatasaray Meydanı is a high school, established in 1868 and for a time the most prestigious in the Ottoman Empire.

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