Balat and the Golden Horn (My Istanbul photowalk #1)

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This part of Istanbul, situated on the ‘left bank’ (European side) between Bosporous and Halic bridges, is interesting to explore.

It is a labyrinth of narrow streets, meaning every time I go I discover something different that I missed before.

The first time I got the tram to Aksaray, and from there walked towards the sea.  Going this way you pass through the city walls…

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..and then the area of Zeyrek, full of old Ottoman wooden houses….

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There aren’t so many of the wooden houses left these days.  Being wooden, they tend to burn down.

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This one’s for sale, if you fancy a little project…

…Then to Fener, the former Greek neighbourhood.

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From here I followed the coast up to Balat.

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On subsequent trips I simply got a bus from Eminonu, getting off wherever I fancied along the way. This way is easier but buses get very crowded and they’re easier to navigate once you already have some sense of where you’re going.  It’s some distance if you try to cover it all on foot, but not impossible.

Balat was formally a wealthy neighbourhood, mainly housing Jewish residents. However the Jews started to move out of Balat around the late 1800s, following a strong earthquake.  By the 1960s none of the wealthier residents remained and the area fell into disrepair, housing only poor immigrants.

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Only recently UNESCO got involved and work started to preserve this historically significant area.

There’s a good choice of little cafes and restaurants along the route, from traditional Turkish kebab shops to arty looking hipster cafes. Or you can be a cheapskate like me, buy a pastry and a cola from the supermarket and go sit in the park watching the boats go by, thus spending less than two euros.

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There are a couple of large synagogues, but you need to make a prior arrangement to go in and look around, and I’m not much of a planner. Anyway I really preferred just walking around the narrow streets, getting lost and seeing what I could find.

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Balat is still not really on the tourist trail, and you will not see many tourists there

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Friendly shopkeepers…

20 replies »

  1. Never heard about this “neighborhood” before (to call it somehow!) I still have a pending trip to Istambul, but somehow I don’t find it any save now… did you feel yourself in danger at any point? I know there were some travels between the two political parties and that caused some explosions and bombings. Could you notice something at the main places surroundings? Would you recommend it to me?

    In any case, if some day I end up in Istambul, I’ll definitely buy that house and fix it up! It’s one of my life dreams, an old house turned into the most modern one once stepping inside!

    • Yes I’m the kind of weirdo who dreams about buying a really rundown house somewhere and somehow making it into a dream home, which is why I always notice the for sale.
      I think Turkey now is probably safer than it’s been for a while. There is a very heavy police presence. I know the US has advised their people not to come, but I think that’s political rather than any extra danger. The country has always been a bit volatile, like many places where things can suddenly fire up and the police tend to be very heavy handed in dealing with it.
      You should definitely put it on your list to come though; whether you wait for things to calm down or whether you just come anyway it is worth the effort.

  2. It looks beautiful. Istanbul is high on my list but with all the trouble recently I have put it further down for now. One day i will be there and get to see how beautiful it is for myself. Great photos 🙂

  3. I prefer getting lost as well (on foot) and discovering new surroundings – like what you did here! Even found a house for sale! 😂 I’ll take note of this place when I visit Istanbul! 🙂

  4. Istanbul looks wonderful! I’m dreaming of going there and just walking and discovering its different neighborhoods.

  5. I love this photo walk through Istanbul! I had a chance to study abroad in Istanbul one summer while I was in graduate school. I really enjoyed going to mosques, souks, and restaurants in the city. You did a great job of capturing the neighborhoods around the city without focusing on the usual tourist destinations.

    • Well I think there’s enough stuff on the main tourist destinations out there. It’s a good place to spend a few months, I think. My tourist stamp is coming to an end now but I feel it’s been about right

  6. I’ve only been to Turkey once but would love to return (especially to see Istanbul)! Wandering around a city on foot is always the best option- you stumble on things that you would never have otherwise discovered!

  7. Istanbul looks so pretty and old in the same time. I would have love to exploer it but it’s such a shame that at the moment the situation in that area is not great, and that kid of puts me off going there. I would love to eplore those narrow streets with the wooden houses.

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