Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul
“Istiklal Avenue (Turkish: Istiklal Caddesi) is one of the most famous avenues in Istanbul,visited by nearly 3 million people in a single day over the course of weekends. Located in the historic Beyoglu district, it is an elegant pedestrian street, approximately three kilometers long, which houses exquisite boutiques, music stores, bookstores, art galleries, cinemas, theaters, libraries, cafes, pubs, night clubs with live music, historical patisseries, chocolateries and restaurants. The avenue, surrounded by the unique nineteenth century Turkish architecture, starts from the medieval Genoese neighbourhood around Galata Tower and ultimately leads up to Taksim Square.
Historic tram on Istiklal Avenue Galatasaray Square is located at approximately the center of the avenue and is home to one of the finest educational institutions established in Turkey at the time of the Ottoman Empire; originally known as the Galata Sarayi Enderun-u Humayunu ( Galata Palace Imperial School) and today known as Galatasaray Lisesi.
In the historic Karakoy district towards the end of the avenue, it is possible to see the world’s second-oldest subway station, generally known and referred to as simply Tunel (The Tunnel) which entered service in 1875. Moreover, the German High School of Istanbul (Deutsche Schule Istanbul in German, Ozel Alman Lisesi in Turkish), one of the best high schools in Istanbul, is also located near Tunel.
The cosmopolitan avenue is surrounded by an array of historical and politically significant buildings, such as the Cicek Pasaji (Flower Passage) where small, intimate restaurants and taverns are found; Balik Pazari (The Fish Market), the Italian Catholic churches of Santa Maria and S. Antonio di Padova, the Greek Orthodox Haghia Triada, the Armenian Church (among many other churches), several synagogues, mosques, academic institutions established by various European nations such as Austria, France, Germany and Italy in the early 19th century, consulates (former embassies before 1923) of several nations including France, Greece, Russia, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
During the Ottoman period, the avenue was called Cadde-i Kebir (Grand Avenue) and was a popular spot for Ottoman intellectuals, also becoming a center for European foreigners and the local Italian and French Levantines who referred to it as Grande Rue de Péra. When 19th century travelers referred to Constantinople (today, Istanbul) as the Paris of the East, they were mentioning the Grande Rue de Péra (Istiklal Caddesi) and its half-European, half-Asian culture. With the declaration of the Republic on October 29, 1923, the avenue’s name was changed to Istiklal (Independence) for commemorating the triumph at the Turkish War of Independence.
The shopping street is littered with popular stores (think Saphora, Benetton, Starbucks), a few churches, mosques and consulates, galleries and restaurants. Most of the interesting locations are immediately off of the avenue and include smaller stores, shops, restaurants, and pubs. Despite the huge crowd of locals and tourists alike, prices for food, drinks and knickknacks are reasonable by US standards, expensive for Turkish standards. The more interesting and quaint end of the street is near Galata Tower, as the Taksim Square end is more akin to a giant bus stop or taxi stand. On the day we visited (we’ll be back), a cultural parade moved slowly down the street.
A note about street cats: Amazingly, street cats live quite symbiotically with the Turkish people. The people pet and feed them and the cats provide a source of entertainment, affection and I am guessing rodent control. As we walked the street we encountered hundreds of cats, most friendly and in decent health.