When we chose our neighborhood, there were several overarching concerns. First, we wanted to be close enough to the historical sites to make seeing them a near-daily occurrence. However, we didn’t want to be in the overly-expensive tourist zone, and we wanted a largely local experience in a place where we can go quite some time without encountering a fluent English speaker. We narrowed down our choices to the Beyoglu area, but south of the very-touristy Istiklal Caddesi.
Second, we were obviously concerned with the safety of the area, and knowing that the character of a neighborhood can change fairly rapidly, we decided that sticking by certain “green flag” places would be in our best interest. These types of places are hospitals, police stations, schools, and consulates. We ended up choosing an area that has several consulates very close by, including the Dutch, British, Greek, and Swedish. The United States consulate is way too far away from the historical sites to have been a target, largely because the United States felt the need to build a large, very well protected compound of a consulate, as opposed to the converted townhouses of the smaller countries.
We were also looking for a fun place. By this I don’t mean a place with lots of nightclubs and bars, but a neighborhood where things like shops, cafes, markets, vegetable sellers, and foot traffic are common, as opposed to house after house. We are okay with street noise (and damn, can those bread vendors yell), and mainly we were looking for a lively spot to call home.
I think we did very well in finding a place in Çukurcuma. Here’s a brief history lesson, because I can’t help myself (just ask Michelle). Çukur is the term for a “hollow,” and the neighborhood does indeed find itself in a hollow between two large hills. Cuma is the Turkish word for Friday, which for Muslims is the equivalent of a Christian’s Sunday. While Muslims should pray often, Friday noon service at the mosque is as important as a Sunday mass. When Mehmed II (Fatih, or the Conqueror) was besieging Constantinople in 1453, he had forces encamped here, which was then beyond the Genoese colony of Galata, and he actually had cannon stationed on the hills, which bothered the technically-neutral Genoese quite a bit. One of the decisive maneuvers in the siege was the decision to haul warships overland, up this hill, down the other side, and into the blocked-off Golden Horn. This move allowed Mehmed to carry out the siege on all sides of the city, and it further taxed the already terribly thin Byzantine forces. When Mehmed was here, there was no mosque, so on Friday when prayers beckoned he is said to have told his men “let us pray in this hollow.” Hence, hollow-Friday, or Friday’s hollow. Çukurcuma is what we ended up with.
The area around us is quite nice. It is largely residential, and it includes some places that must be quite expensive, given what I’ve been able to see of their million-dollar views across the Horn into the Old City. It is relatively easy to find English speakers here, but it can’t always be counted on. And like most of the older parts of the city, it is built upwards on narrow, winding streets, which I think gives it quite a lot of character. I hope you enjoy the pictures.