Galata Tower: An Istanbul Classic
Galata Tower (Turkish: Galata) gained its importance by the virtue of transforming into a trade colony of the Genoese and the Venetians, beside then-Byzantine Constantinople. After Ottomans captured Istanbul, the autonomous status of Galata was left untouched, except that its city walls were razed (except a few disconnected parts in the length of a few meters spotted by the archaeologists here and there).
The first time Beyoğlu area (Pera in the past), which lies north of Galata, was settled is during 1850’s, when Grand Rue de Pera (“the Great Road of Pera”), today’s Istiklal Street (İstiklal Caddesi), was opened. Taksim Square (Taksim Meydanı) is even younger, it has taken its existing appearance as late as 1930s.
İstiklal Caddesi is Istanbul’s prominent pedestrian street. At anytime of the day there are thousands strolling the street and myriad restaurants and retail offers in the side streets. This is also the original diplomatic district when Istanbul was the capital of the Ottoman Empire, so search out the various impressive embassy buildings that are now consulates since the capital moved to Ankara. The British consulate in Hamalbaşı Caddesi is worth a look.
Starting its life as a Western/Catholic (Genoese/Venetian) stronghold beside Eastern (Orthodox Byzantine/Muslim Ottoman) Constantinople, Galata has always represented ‘West’. This is quite easily visible from the neo-classical architecture of most of the area, but there is more than that: First street lighting, first underground railway (Tünel, also oldest in continental Europe), as well as first European-style theaters in Turkey were always applied in this district.
The decision of Ottoman dynasty to abandon Topkapı Palace in old city for western-style Dolmabahçe Palace near Beyoğlu was a largely symbolic but important act during the last century of Ottoman Empire, when the westernizing effort had a climax.