The Taksim area falls in the Municipality of Beyoğlu. Many civilisations have crossed swords over this part of Istanbul, which is, or was, Turkey’s most cosmopolitan area. A crossing over the Galata Bridge to Sultanahmet, and you will notice the difference in atmosphere.
The Galata area, to the south of Jakaranda Boutique Hotel, was the home to Byzantines, Genoese and Venetians before Ottoman conquest, but findings have shown that there were settlements in the area dating back to the time of Christ. Venetians were prominent from 1204 as the area was a hub for trade, with its shores to the Golden Horn. The Arap Mosque, originally a Roman church dedicated to St Paul that was given to the Dominican Order, is a place to visit on Galata Mahkemesi Sokak in Karaköy.
The most awe-inspiring building from the Genoese era however is the still breathtaking Galata Tower. It was built in 1348 as the Tower of Christ. For some, it has the best panoramic view of old Istanbul and is certainly worth a visit to understand the tower’s importance throughout history.
It was in this area that Europeans was introduced to coffee. Venetians were at war with Ottomans many times, but trade resumed after each war. Coffee, an Ottoman drink, became a cultural exchanges as well as a business one.
The Tünel is the world’s second subway line, after the London Underground. It was completed in 1875 towards the end of a period of rapid European modernisation. The area is also the first to receive European technologies such as telephone lines, electricity and trams. Indeed it’s the tramvay that gives Beyoğlu its trademark image. It runs right through the middle of Istiklal Street, seconds away from Jakaranda Boutique Hotel, from Taksim Square to Tünel, where you can take the subway to Karaköy on the Golden Horn.
Churches in Beyoğlu
Jakaranda Boutique Hotel is only a short walk away from Turkey’s largest Roman Catholic church – the St Anthony of Padua Church. Originally built in 1725 by the Italian community, but rebuilt from 1906 to 1912 to serve the Genoese and Venetians in the city. You can find it on your left as you leave Jakaranda, join Istiklal Street and walk towards Tünel.
The Orthodox faith also has an important church off Istiklal Street. The Hagia Triada is on the first left as you enter the street from Taksim Square.
Bars for “keyif”
Turks have a word for sitting around, talking and passing time without being very productive: keyif. You’ll find plenty of places to do just that in the Beyoğlu area.
A lively street named Cezayir Sokağı is a downhill set of steps with cafes and restaurants, located behind the Lycee of Galatasaray. It’s commonly known as Fransız Sokağı (French Street) and hosts a number of wine bars and restaurants with live music; an excellent choice for a romantic night.
The Cité de Péra, or Çiçek Pasajı (the Flower Passage) is a grandiose closed passage which is enterable from Istiklal Street or through the small fish market in the Nevizade area. It takes its name from when Russian women, having fled the Russian Revolution in 1917, started selling flowers here. But the florists were slowly replaced by tavernas from the 1940s, that still operate today for an enjoyable night of rakı and meze.
More bars and nightlife in Beyoğlu-Taksim
Just behind is the more downmarket Nevizade row of bars and restaurants, the entrance of which is about 50 metres away from Jakaranda Boutique Hotel.
You could also take a stroll through Pera and reach Asmalı Mescit for tens of bars and small clubs to hop between. The streets get very busy during the weekends and outdoor seating has been limited since the summer of 2011.
For live music in this area, Babylon is a good bet, located on Şehbender Sokak.
Bar-restaurants with a view in Beyoğlu
The aptly named 360 Istanbul on Istiklal Street number 311 provides a panoramic view of Sultanahmet, the old city and part of the Bosphorus. There’s also NuTeras, in the Pera area on Meşrutiyet Caddesi. Both places carry upper-range menus.
Turkish fast food
It might as well be a crime to eat at international fast food chain restaurants while you’re in Istanbul. The Taksim area is fantastic for a wide selection of Turkish fast food from varying regions of the country.
Emine Ana cooks a great tantuni – a finely chopped beef wrap with sumac, cumin powder, onions, tomatoes and parsley dressing. A squeeze of lemon on your wrap is the final touch before gobbling this wonderful wrap down. Emine Ana is on Billurcu Sokak, which can be reached by turning onto Büyük Parmakkapı Sokak, the second turning on your left as you enter from Taksim Square from Istiklal.
Taksim Square’s food bars are your last stop on a night out. The ıslak hamburger, literally meaning “wet hamburger” is a small garlic and tomato sauced hamburger that is scrumptious to say the least. A dürüm is a lamb doner wrap, which you can ask to be filled with cheese and toasted. Both of these are the most popular options in any of the bars on the square, the most popular being Kızılkayalar.
Further down in Nevizade, Şampiyon Kokoreç is a budget restaurant for fried mussels and fried lamb or goat intestines – kokoreç.
Culture in Beyoğlu
The Beyoğlu area is famous for grandiose cinemas and theatres and Yeşilçam Sokak where Turkish cinema flourished in the mid 20th century. Yeşikçam Sokak connects Jakaranda Boutique Hotel to Istiklal Street.
The Pera Museum on Meşrutiyet Street is a private museum with varying galleries. It has an impressive painting collection and antiques from Asia Minor.
Ada Café is a café and a bookstore on Istiklal Street number 158. It provides a relaxed atmosphere where you can enjoy a coffee and a good book.
There’s also Ara Café, on the Galatasaray section of Istiklal Street. It was the workshop for famous Turkish photographer Ara Güler and his photography of Istanbul together with the alleyway café atmosphere provides a great respite from the crowd of Istiklal.