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Down at the Eminonu waterfront in Istanbul all is hustle and bustle as commuters jostle tourists in the queues to board the ferries over to Asia.
For the time being, the picturesque old boats still operate to Üskudar, the most obvious destination for visitors in search of history and fine mosques. On the Kadikoy route, however, a new generation of smarter ferries has been introduced to make the half-hour crossing to a suburb that makes up in liveliness what it lacks in eye-grabbing monuments.
Kadikoy started life as the Ancient Greek town of Chalcedon in the years when Byzantium (Constantinople, Istanbul), on the other side of the water, wasn’t even a glimmer in anyone’s eye. That makes it rather odd that so little remains of its past. Still, for those with an interest in what makes modern Istanbul tick, Kadikoy makes a great place to explore, with plenty of eating and entertainment options to pad out the sights.
As the ferry nears Kadikoy, you’ll see, looming up on the left, the huge building that houses Haydarpasa Station, a German-designed project dating back to 1906 whose fate now hangs in the balance as Turkey’s creaky rail network reinvents itself as high-speed and the Marmaray project redirects local train services to Üskudar. A hotel that could be reached by boat à la Venice? It’s a nice idea, although at the moment another shopping mall is just as likely to reoccupy the space.
Stepping off the ferry in Kadikoy, you won’t be faced with a Sinan masterpiece as in Üskudar. Instead, you will find yourself wandering out into what is now a major transport intersection with the only building of distinction the curiously mauve-pink 1920s structure originally designed to house a covered market and now used by the Istanbul Conservatoire. The thing to do, then, is to move away from the ferry terminal as quickly as possible and plunge into the hubbub that is modern Kadikoy.
The market area
If you walk behind the Conservatoire, cross the busy main road and duck in between the shops on the right, you’ll find yourself in a network of narrow pedestrianized streets with, as its centerpiece, a collection of gloriously colorful market stalls. This is not one of those markets which only takes place on an easily missed one day in the week but a permanent feature of Kadikoy, a place to come to find ripe strawberries out of season, individually packaged pieces of lokum (Turkish delight), big jars of pickled pine cones, thick juicy Trabzon hurma (dates), fresh apricots from Malatya and vine leaves just flown in from Tokat in Central Anatolia all ready for stuffing.
For those who enjoy just mooching about amid shops, the market will be a dream come true. For others, though, there are a few specific sights, including the rather curious bronze statue of a crocodile placed at one of the junctions to commemorate Strabo’s story that, in the first century B.C., the Chalcedon locals would head inland to feed the crocs. Here, too, a couple of churches, one Greek Orthodox, the other Armenian, stand as reminders of more cosmopolitan times.
The pedestrianized Istiklal Caddesi of the Asian side of Istanbul is not as conspicuous as its better-known European counterpart. To find it, you should walk straight up Sogutluçesme Caddesi from the harbor until you reach the landmark statue of a bull. Bahariye Caddesi runs off to the right with a little old tram, just like the one from Taksim, trundling along it.
Before you turn down the street, take another look at the bull, which is as much of a hit with photographers as the one in New York’s Wall Street. Few of the young men who climb onto its back to have their picture taken, though, probably realize its illustrious history as one of a set of 24 statues commissioned from French sculptor Pierre Louis Rouillard by Sultan Abdulaziz after his visit to Europe in 1867.
As you turn down Bahariye Caddesi, you’ll spot the bell tower of another Armenian church on the left. Shortly afterwards, a turn to the left leads to the Nazim Hikmet Cultural Center; near the main road, a mural commemorates Osman Hamdi Bey, the great 19th-century artist and museologist who was also the first mayor of Kadikoy.
Unlike Istiklal Caddesi, Bahariye Caddesi is not lined with beautiful 19th-century architecture. On the other hand, it is home to the impressive Sureyya Opera House, which dates back to 1924 and was converted into a cinema when opera fell from fashion. It’s well worth booking a ticket to a performance there just to see the beautifully restored interior, a shrine to the days when cinemas boasted décor as impressive as theaters. Afterwards, you might want to note the battered remnants of the 19th-century Koçeoglu Hamami (Turkish bath) stranded unloved in the middle of the pavement.
Tucked away inland, Kadife Sokak used to be the heart of Kadikoy’s nightlife, with many small themed bars inside what were once 19th-century terraced houses. Today, most of the action has migrated west into the streets around the market where there’s more space, but you might still like to stroll down here to admire some of the old stone and wooden houses and, perhaps, to drop in on the huge Hagia Triada (Holy Trinity) church with its peaceful garden.
On the way back, you might also like to stroll along Tellelzade Sokak, Kadikoy’s cut-down version of Beyoglu’s Cukurcuma antiques area.
Kadikoy itself is a popular residential area for Istanbul students. Those of more mature years and deeper pockets tend to snap up apartments in quieter Moda, which lies immediately to the south, within walking distance of the ferry terminal. There are two main reasons to come here, the first of them being the Baris Manço Museum that commemorates a pop singer whose premature death in 1999 provoked an outbreak of national mourning not unlike that over Princess Diana in England. In his youth, Manço may have fancied himself a fully paid-up member of the 1970s counter-culture, but in later life he too preferred to live in the leafy surroundings of Moda in a house where much memorabilia is now on display (closed Mondays).
The second reason to come to Moda also has a link with Manço, and that is the pretty little ferry terminal that juts out on a pier just a short walk away from the house; when it became redundant, Manço was one of those who fought to have it restored. Today, it serves as the perfect place to pause for a drink or a light lunch with a great view back towards European Istanbul.
One more curiosity lurks in Moda in the grounds of the Koço Restaurant overlooking the ferry terminal. Here, down a few steps, is a small chapel built around an ayazma (sacred spring) dedicated to St. Catherine. It’s one of the few such springs still easily accessible to the public.
Üskudar may not be the greatest place to eat out in Istanbul. Kadikoy, on the other hand, is home to Ciya, a gourmet eatery that spreads itself out over three separate buildings on Guneslibahçe Sokak and offers a great menu of seasonal delicacies hard to find elsewhere in the city (at this time of year it’s said to be a good place to try keme kebabi, made from the Middle Eastern desert truffle).
Not quite so high profile but also well worth seeking out is Kadi Nimet Balikcilik, a wonderfully simple fish restaurant almost completely hidden behind some of the market stalls. You may have to wait for a table at busy times, but it will be well worth it.
Kadikoy is also home to several fine old-fashioned patisseries, including the original branch of Baylan on Muvakkithane Caddesi, which specializes in wonderful caramel ice cream sundaes called kup griyes.
Finally, if you just want somewhere to grab a bite before catching the ferry back to Eminonu, you could do worse than to head for Denizyildizi (Starfish), housed upstairs in what was the original Kadikoy ferry terminal and offering a perfect view out to sea.