İstanbul through Eyes of Evliya Çelebi, the Famous Ottoman Explorer and Chronicler
Wait, Who’s Evliya Çelebi?
Evliya Çelebi, whose real name was Mehmed Zilli, was an Ottoman explorer who traveled through all the lands of the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century, writing a travelogue called Seyahatname, or "Book of Travel." He spent 50 years visiting and writing what he saw, and his epic journey began in İstanbul.
Evliya Çelebi was born in İstanbul, though his family was from Kütahya. One of the houses he lived in Kütahya has been turned into a museum. UNESCO marked 2011 as the “Year of Evliya Çelebi.” This was the year in which he would have turned 400.
Evliya Çelebi traveled a particular route when traveling around İstanbul. He told many of İstanbul's stories, describing the conditions of the people, the city's geography, history, language, religion, clothing, and the arts of all the places he visited. As he knew İstanbul well, his sections on İstanbul are some of the most illuminating parts in the entire corpus of his incredible work.
Ahi Çelebi Mosque
One of the first places we should think about when we're following in the footsteps of Evliya Çelebi is the Ahi Çelebi Mosque in Eminönü. This small mosque is named after a doctor, and according to legend it is the place where Evliya Çelebi's journey began. In a dream, Evliya Çelebi saw this mosque and the vision of the Prophet Muhammed who blessed his travels – the rest is history!
Rumeli Fortress was built along the Bosphorus by Mehmed II and was used by the Ottoman forces to conquer İstanbul in 1453. To this day, it remains one of the nicest spots in the city to visit. As you climb the ramparts you can look out over the city from the fortress’s massive walls.
Evliya Çelebi tells us that long before the conquest there was a church and a priest who lived there. The priest secretly adopted the Islamic faith, and when he learned that Mehmed was in nearby Edirne, he sent a message telling him that he would be the one to take İstanbul. The priest advised him to build the fortress and to cut off the Byzantine supplies – that fortress is the predecessor of the fortress that lies here today.
Galata Tower and the Story of Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi
One of the greatest legends of Turkish cultural history is Hazarfen Ahmet Çelebi, "the First Man to Fly." His tale is exclusively told in Evliya Çelebi’s Seyahatname (Book of Travel).
According to Çelebi, Hazarfen made makeshift wings and wore them before jumping off the Galata Tower and soaring through the air all the way across the Bosphorus to İstanbul’s Asian side in Üsküdar. He undertook this flight in 1632, on a windy day, and made his way across a total of 3,558 meters. This journey is now a focal point for all travelers who go to the top of the Galata Tower and look down and out over the Bosphorus, imagining themselves taking this incredible flight of science and bravery.
Anadolu Kavağı and Yoros Castle
Evliya Çelebi describes the village out here along the Black Sea coast as a small harbor with fewer than 800 homes. Today, it's not much more than that as it still represents a quiet spot on the northern coast of the city. It's a beautiful place to come and relax, and enjoy the fortress built by the Ottomans to protect the strategically important Bosphorus Strait.
Kanlıca is another district mentioned in the Seyahatname, and it's still one of the quaintest coastal districts (or, in the past, villages) in all of İstanbul. Çelebi discusses the mansions along the waterfront, though none have survived to his day.
Today, Kanlıca is famous for its tea gardens and the yogurt that's made locally and sold in stalls along the main street.
Unexplored İstanbul: 6 Historical Districts That Remain Unfamiliar to Many?
İstanbul is full of history and beauty, but you already know that. You’ve read countless articles (some from us even!) on the hustle and bustle of Beyoğlu, the shopping in Nişantaşı, the history of Sultanahmet and Fatih. You’ve been up and down the Bosphorus. But İstanbul is endless! We’ve put together a list of some other districts to discover, most of them a little more off the beaten path than you’re used to. Enjoy!
Zeyrek is one of the most historical districts in İstanbul, but it tends to be slightly off the beaten path and despite the vast history and historical monuments you'll find here, it's still largely a residential neighborhood.
But for now, this is only all the more reason to visit! The homes all around Zeyrek are historical and locals are friendly and welcoming, with kids playing in the streets and locals sitting on the front steps of their homes.
The district takes its name from the Zeyrek Mosque, a 12th-century Byzantine church called the Monastery of the Pantocrator which was converted into a mosque. The presence of the mosque and the history of the district have placed it under UNESCO protection as part of İstanbul's Historic Peninsula.
The district also houses a couple of spectacular Byzantine cisterns and the small Şeyh Süleyman Mosque, which is also a converted Byzantine church.
The neighborhood of Kuzguncuk is one of the most beautiful districts of the city, situated amidst the greenery of the Asian shores of the Bosphorus. It features historical homes that go all the way up its main street, and cafés and restaurants that look like they've been there since the dawn of time.
"Kuzguncuk" means "little raven" in Turkish. The neighborhood historically was a quiet village getaway for wealthy Jewish and Armenian minorities to congregate, and there are still two synagogues and over five churches located in the neighborhood. In fact, the neighborhood’s first mosque was built more recently than any of its churches or synagogues, and only dates to around 50 years ago.
The atmosphere is so charming that it's often used as a film set. Rather than watching from the sidelines, come visit and feel the charm for yourself!
Beylerbeyi is a district located on the other side of the 15 July Martyrs Bridge in Üsküdar, right next to Kuzguncuk. It dates back to the Byzantine period and many of its inhabitants have lived here for centuries.
The houses you'll find reflect this, with many historical homes surrounding the jewel of the neighborhood: Beylerbeyi Palace. This palace is one of the highlights of the Bosphorus, as its name which means "Lord of Lords" would certainly indicate. It was commissioned by Sultan Abdülaziz and was built between 1861 and 1865 as his summer residence. Its sloping angles and white marble, which are reflected on the Bosphorus, are truly stunning.
Sip a cup of tea relaxing in one of the old-style cafés overlooking the palace and the Bosphorus, and enjoy the magnificence of this as-yet undiscovered neighborhood.
Balat is one of the oldest residential districts of İstanbul, and is known for its colorful houses. It is another district that in the past was widely diverse, with many Christians and Jews calling it their home for centuries. It still features one of the most historic and imposing schools for Greek Orthodox students and has many churches and hammams as well as some of the oldest cafés and restaurants in the city. The history of this district seeps out of every corner - just take a stroll and feel what it's like to walk through time.
Vefa is a hidden gem, and home to Ottoman treasures. Many of the homes are in the process of being restored and still give you a sense of the history of the region through the narrow pathways, the mosques, and the historical cemeteries scattered across the neighborhood. The highlight of a stroll through Vefa is a visit to Vefa Bozacısı, which gets its name from the Turkish drink boza. Boza is made from fermented wheat and has a thick consistency. It’s served topped with dried chickpeas and cinnamon. In the winter, it's a great warming drink, and if you're going to drink it anywhere, then Vefa is the place to do it! Plus, you'll deserve a treat following the walk through this historical and charming neighborhood!
Emirgan is one of the prettiest districts along the Bosphorus. It is a place where people come to have breakfast, smoke nargile (water pipe, or hookah), drink tea, and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Much of Emirgan is taken up by Emirgan Park, a massive park of rolling hills, splendid flowers, historic pavilions called köşks, and lush greenery. It's a great place to spend a day with your family.
The Best Places to Catch the Sunset in İstanbul
Sunset chasing is now one of the most popular travel activities, with everyone racing to share the best sunset photos across social media and become the envy of all their friends and followers. İstanbul lives up to its name when it comes to presenting stunning sunset shots, and we've put together a list of some of the best sunset spots in the city.
The Galata Tower was built in the 14th century by the Genoese and has played an important part in İstanbul's history ever since. It is also an inextricable part of İstanbul's skyline! This was once the highest point of the city and it is where Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi famously used artificial wings to "fly" across the Bosphorus.
Today you get a full 360-degree panoramic view of the whole city from one of its most iconic buildings. Stand at the spot where Hazarfen took off and catch every inch of the city's amazing skyline as it turns shades of pink, purple, and red while the sun sets behind you.
The sunset in İstanbul is all about the sun changing the color of the Bosphorus before your eyes as it goes orange, red, and purple, and every color in between. This park, right on the edge of Beyoğlu as the hill slopes down towards the Bosphorus, presents some of the most open views of the entire Bosphorus, from Topkapı Palace and Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque) all the way across to the bridge connecting Europe and Asia.
As it's a public park, feel free to pick up a bag of chips or popcorn on your way down and enjoy the sun setting before you.
You'll have to take a boat out to this one, but it's totally worth it! The Maiden's Tower is now a restaurant/café. From here, you can watch the sun set right over the Historic Peninsula while you sit in the middle of the Bosphorus capturing it all.
Büyük Çamlıca Hill
Çamlıca offers one of the highest panoramas of the city, and features two hills overlooking the Bosphorus and the Marmara Sea. There are many pavilions and summer palaces where you can relax, get a bite to eat, or sip Turkish tea before you take that perfect shot of the sunset from one of the most prominent places anywhere in the city. Now one of the largest mosques in İstanbul has been built on this hill, making an especially striking shot as the minarets rise up over the city – they are perfect for you to silhouette against the background of another of İstanbul's stunning sunsets.
Pierre Loti Hill
Looking for one of the best views as the sun sets over the Golden Horn? There's no question where they lie – right here, at the top of Pierre Loti Hill where you can sip Turkish tea with the entire Historic Peninsula as a backdrop! Pierre Loti Hill was named after the well-known French novelist Pierre Loti, who loved the city and this view in particular. Look out at the view and make sure you catch all the colors of the Golden Horn as the sun sets behind it, the historical wonders that spread across the entire Historic Peninsula, and the Galata Tower on the other side!
Büyük Valide Han
This is one of the city’s more secret spots, but ultimately, it's still maybe one of its best. Climb up through this secret passageway right up to the top of the Historic Peninsula and find yourself all alone on a rooftop with the whole city before you! The sun will set behind you and light up the entire Golden Horn and Bosphorus - you won't believe your eyes!
Otağtepe Park is located at the end of the second bridge on the Asian side of the city. It's one of the city’s lesser known parks and you'll have a chance to get a great sunset shot from a location very few know about! The sun sets across from you, shimmering on the Bosphorus as the bridge stretches out before you and merges into the green where you stand. The park is set on a large hill, so you're overlooking the city. It’s a truly magnificent vista which you might have all to yourself!
Beyoğlu’s 7 Most Historical Arcades
Beyoğlu is famous for its shopping arcades, arched covered passageways, known by the Turkish word pasaj. The arcades are full of shops selling all kinds of wares, with great prices and offering the opportunity for some real discoveries. These arcades were often built at the turn of the 19th century, with shops located on different floors, and sometimes you really have to search to find the hidden gems!
But we’re here to help! Here are seven of the most historical arcades in Beyoğlu.
This is possibly the most fun, colorful arcade in Beyoğlu. Çiçek Pasajı still harks back to the Taksim of yesteryear. During the Tanzimat period, Sultan Abdülhamit and Sultan Abdulaziz came to attend a performance at the famous Naum Theater on the corner of Istiklal Avenue and Sahne Street in Beyoğlu. Verdi's famous opera Il Trovatore was staged at this theater before it was even shown in Paris. The theater was built again as an arcade after it burned down in the Great Fire of Pera. Today, the arcade features delightful mezzanines, appetizing aromas, and the sounds of wonderful traditional live music. Thanks to the florists who opened in the years of the armistice following the war, the arcade was named Çiçek Pasajı, or Flower Arcade. The building was renovated in the 1980s and has been a popular evening spot ever since.
In 1870, Armenian businessman Agop Köçeyan built this structure as a residence for himself. There was a barn underneath the building. Later, it was turned into a circus. An arcade was added here with an amendment made in the following years. The passageway and the residential building were later merged. Before he died, Köçeyan donated them to a church. In 1932, the building was transformed into an art center. It was renovated in 1948 as the biggest cinema on Istiklal Avenue, with a seating capacity for 1,400. The cinema is still in operation. The Atlas Arcade is an indispensable address for the city's cultural and artistic life with the legendary Atlas Cinema and İstanbul State Theater Small Stage on either side. The building bears the traces of Ottoman architecture, with 44 stores still preserving its historical appearance. Original souvenirs, clothes, and authentic jewelry are sold at Atlas, and why not try to catch a show at the theater and/or the cinema which have shows just about every day.
This arcade is the first place in all of İstanbul to be supplied with electricity and gas, after the imperial palace. It was built by a Syrian national in 1901 in a neoclassical style and completed in 1908 (“Suriye” is the Turkish word for “Syria”). It’s a popular spot for secondhand clothes and unique accessories. The downstairs vintage shop feels like it’s right out of a fairy tale. There’s something for everyone, with a costume store downstairs that’s provided the costumes to various popular Turkish dramas.
Avrupa Pasaji (Europe Arcade) was also built around the turn of the century, in 1874, and is one of the oldest arcades in Beyoğlu. The sculptures that face out onto the street are among its most striking features. It’s somewhat reminiscent of a fairground, and it sells goods that are just as eclectic. The shops themselves are incredibly quaint, with all kinds of unusual souvenirs available. They also have a collection of foreign language books and clothes.
The exterior of this late 19th-century arcade is ornate and decorative, and very alluring. The building is six stories including its entrance. Like many buildings on Istiklal, there are stores and housing blocks on the front. There is a second structure in the back, which is connected to the passageway, which was formerly the Varyete Circus Theater. This part was built in 1886. Horses, and trick horseback riding and trapeze artists performed here, and it was particularly famous as a variety circus. The building was turned into a theater in 1904 and is one of the rare large-scale historic halls in İstanbul. Halep Pasajı (Aleppo Arcade) is one of the most active, oldest arcades in Beyoğlu.
Hazzo Pulo Pasajı
This little arcade is one of the hidden gems of Beyoğlu. With small cafés and shops selling souvenirs, it’s maybe one of the most charming places in the city to sip a cup of Turkish tea. In 1871, merchant Hacopulo's passageway had houses on the upper floors and shops on the lower floor, and this original design remains intact up to the present day.
This multistory arcade is excellent for shopping with secondhand shops, and shops selling jewelry, comic books, CDs, and all sorts of eclectic items. The arcade was named after the family who lived on the upper floors. Now you’ll find a gym and a language school on the attractive upper floors.
5 Amazing Parks for a Family Day in İstanbul
When you’re traveling as a family, oftentimes you want to visit the historic sites and the rest of the family just wants to run around and play. İstanbul’s natural beauty and green spaces offer you the perfect settings to enjoy a picnic (or more!) and for your kids to play in the local playground or run around to their heart’s content. Here’s a list of 5 amazing parks, all near each other in İstanbul. You can pick and choose, or go to more than one in a single day!
Yıldız Park is İstanbul’s largest park, located between Beşiktaş and Ortaköy. It covers 25 acres right in the middle of the city and was recently completely renovated to become one of Europe’s most beautiful city parks.
The park essentially spreads across a massive hill, making for what is now a set of rolling parklands with a river running through them, leading into a number of streams and waterfalls. There are wooden bridges over the river and streams, perfect for children to run along – they are perfectly safe and high enough for them to go on!
The park was originally part of the complex that surrounded the sultan’s hunting palace, and before then, it was forestland. There are four köşks located throughout the park, each one serving tea and small snacks. There are also dozens of playgrounds scattered across the park, built for different ages and abilities.
The park is massive – it’s quite easy to get lost! – and it’s very easy to find a little corner all to yourself and just relax amidst the greenery as squirrels, hedgehogs, and other wildlife come up and ask for offerings from your picnic basket!
Just up from Beşiktaş, not far from Yıldız sits an undiscovered gem of İstanbul. Another former hunting palace, this park has no playground, but it makes up for it by having peacocks, ducks, and rabbits running around free. The park is closely manicured, so bringing in food is not allowed (beyond little sandwiches for yourself or your children) and children are discouraged from chasing the animals.
The köşks on the premises are breathtakingly beautiful, and you can wander into the main one, which is used as a dining area during the winter months. There’s a pond at the back of the park with turtles and frogs jumping about, and leading up to it, there’s a wilder garden that children can explore, possibly discovering a resting peacock trying to escape visitors!
This park is lesser known and is almost never crowded, so it’s a great place to visit with your family. You can experience the city’s history while also letting the little-ones have their fun in the sun. It is the only park on this list with an entrance fee, but it’s negligible (2.5 Turkish lira) and the upkeep is extensive, so you can certainly appreciate where the money is going.
Emirgan is another extensive park, a little farther along the Bosphorus than the other two. It’s known in particular for its beautiful flowers, and it’s a must-see during the spring for the variety of different colored tulips that are planted all across the park in various incredible arrangements. There are squirrels running around, many different playgrounds (including some excellent climbing jungle gyms for older children), and the park slopes up to a köşk which provides breathtaking views of the Bosphorus. The köşk is an excellent place to get a cup of Turkish tea and relax, looking out onto some of the most beautiful flower arrangements you’ll ever see.
Meyve Bahçesi (Fruit Garden)
Another hidden treasure, this huge park is right under the bridge in Ortaköy, and, as its name implies, it is a fruit garden with endless trees where children can come and pick their own mulberries, apples, pears, and pomegranates (when in season). There’s only one playground, located at the bottom of the park, but it’s well closed off and almost never crowded. Fruit trees line a 20-minute walk to the top of the park, where there’s a lovely café that serves a surprisingly wide variety of things to eat and drink. The refreshments provide welcome nourishment in the summer months after the walk up - there is a major road just above the park, for those who’d rather walk down rather than up.
This may be cheating a little, but the gardens at Dolmabahçe Palace are free of charge and impeccably well-maintained. They are quite large and along the waterfront there’s a café which serves snacks and drinks with the best view you’ll find anywhere in İstanbul. Look one way and you’ll see Topkapı Palace rising before you, look the other way and you’ll see the bridge crossing to the Asian side of the city. And of course, the stunning palace itself sits before you in all its glory. Children are encouraged to run around and enjoy the beautiful gardens, and in the summer months, there are lovely flower arrangements to admire as well.