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Published: July 24th 2015
As someone who doesn’t like crowds, I clearly wasn’t thinking straight when I decided to visit Istanbul’s most popular shopping street on a holiday weekend in July when there were three cruise ships in port. It was crowded and crazy, but in a funny sort of way it served me well. The crowds forced me to look into the little alleys and passages, and there is some interesting stuff in the small byways.
I only noticed the Aya Triada (Holy Trinity) church because of the cross I saw from the distance. I followed the sokak (alley) across from the French Consulate a short distance to the church. The outer door to the narthex was open, so I went in. There was a very pleasant caretaker who motioned that it was OK for me to go inside. I gave him a donation and went into the sanctuary.
This is a Greek Orthodox church, so it is built very much in that style. The dome is beautifully painted, and there are angels and cherubs scattered all around. I cannot image painting such a detailed scene on my back, in the air, on a curved surface and have it turn out so
perfect, but then I couldn’t do such work under normal conditions, either.
After I left The Aya Triada, I continued wandering down the street. Sometimes I’d just step into a doorway to get out of the stream of traffic and to gawp at the buildings. The architecture along Istiklal Street is a grand mix of styles, but it mostly seems to be from the turn of the century (the last century, I mean.) Much of I looks like a movie set, except someone has pasted modern signage over it. Just past the Demirorem Mall – another repurposed grand old baroque building – you come to Cicek Pasaji.
Cicek Pasaji, sometimes called the Flower Passage, is in the Cité de Pera building. When it was built in the late 1800’s, it was full of small shops and luxury apartments. After the Russian Revolution in 1917 a number of aristocratic Russian women opened flower shops in the Cité de Pera, hence the name Flower Passage.
Today, if you glanced into the passage below the gorgeous stained glass window, you might take it for an upscale café. However, if you go in, you’ll find it is actually a whole bunch
the open door...
of small cafés and taverns. Follow the path through these places and the passage takes a ninety degree turn where you will end up in a little alley with shops and stands that sell all sorts of things from fresh almonds to fish to silver jewelry.
I was walking along peeking into shops, when through one door I saw a wooden screen with a cross. Figuring it was a church, I walked around the screen and found myself in this pretty courtyard. There was a gentleman sitting in the shade drinking tea, so I asked him if it was a church – I didn’t want to make the mistake of walking into someone’s home if I had mistaken the meaning of the cross. He assured me it was a church and encouraged me to go inside.
I walked into a jaw-droppingly beautiful worship space. It was all rich blues, gold, and white, with sumptuous crystal chandeliers. It certainly was not anything I expected to see hidden behind a door in the fish market. As I was admiring the beauty of the space, and older lady came in, followed by a priest. We nodded to each other and I
left. Turns out this was the ÜçHoran (Surp Yerortutyun, or Holy Trinity) Armenian Church. It is located in the Sahne Sokak off the Flower Passage.
In addition to all the little hidden churches and less hidden mosques, there are some little bits of Istanbul’s history. Actually, since the city that was once called Byzantium only became Istanbul in 1923, much of this history actually took place in Constantinople. The city’s first movie theatre is here (though no longer in use) in an incredibly skinny building with lavish sculptures on the façade. The Cercle d’Orient, a former gentleman’s club, is here too, though closed for renovations and will probably repurposed for shopping.
Walking down this street I was struck by the number of street musicians I saw. Some of them, a man playing the clarinet for example, were pretty good. Others, well, not so much. There were a couple of small children playing the accordion who were notable for being so dreadfully bad at playing the accordion.
I’ve since revisited Istiklal Caddesi (Istiklal Street) and while it is always busy it was no where near as packed as it was that first visit. I’m sure there is a
lot more to see, and I’m sure I’ll go back.
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