Running for almost a mile between Taksim Square and Tünel Square, İstiklal Caddesi is the heart of modern Istanbul. The street was once known as "La Grande Rue de Péra," after the Pera neighborhood. (The name "Pera" means "across" in Greek, and it was used because the area was on the other side of the Golden Horn from the city proper.) In the 19th century, palatial European embassies were built here, away from the dirt and chaos of the Old City. The wealthy city folk soon followed, particularly after the short funicular called the Tünel—the first underground urban rail line in continental Europe—was built in 1875 to carry them up the hill from their workplaces in the banks and trading houses of Karaköy. The area was traditionally non-Muslim, and the Greek, Armenian, Catholic, and Protestant churches here are more prominent than the mosques. The impressive building behind the massive iron gates halfway down the street is Galatasaray, a French-language high school founded in 1868
that for a time was the most prestigious institution of learning in the Ottoman Empire.
Today İstiklal is a lively pedestrian thoroughfare, filled with shops (an increasing number of them international chains), restaurants, cafés, and a handful of cinemas. Turks love to promenade here, and at times it can turn into one great flow of humanity; even in the wee hours of the morning it's still alive with people. This is the Istanbul that never sleeps.