The reason so many people tried to conquer it. The reason so many stories found here their setting. The reason everyone feels an irresistible charm just hearing its name. Istanbul. Just by naming it, one can summon the magic linked to every journey towards this place, so sought after by travellers, in the past as in the present.
I arrived in Turkey hoping to discover the ancient Constantinople, sure there was not only one side to unveil but more. And so I did. How? You just need to move in the opposite direction of most people, to get lost in that which is so unlikely to have anything to offer to tourists.
So I discovered the poetry in Fatih, Fener and Balat. And I assure you, moving my steps in these places was worth the whole journey.
These are very central, yet mostly unknown neighbourhoods. Here you can breath Istanbul’s true history, the one witnessing peoples, religions, social unrest, cultural movements. Simple yet incredible stories.
These neighbourhoods have the stay unknown, it’s a moral imperative. Here you will find beautiful architectures and stunning historic treasures. You will taste the delicacies of Ottoman and Turkish food culture, diving in the fish market or a spice market only known among locals. These three neighbourhoods all are inside the ancient walls, west from Eminou, facing the Golden Horn.
You will cross Fatih, among the most conservative corners in town, where the strong muslim believes can’t go unseen and are especially expressed in the Mosque of Fatih. Its alleys, its sounds, its differences, they all leave a mark on the observer. Moving towards Carsamba area one will end up in front of an unexpected Byzantine church, the Church of Theotokos Pammakaristos, also known as Fathiye Camii.
Fener, instead, is the historical Greek neighbourhood. A complex mixture of streets and alleys stretching over the slope. Getting lost here is not only easy, it’s a charming experience. Here are the Greek-Orthodox Gymnasium (Rum Lisesi) and the Church of Holy Mary of the Mongols, usually untouched by most tourist routes.
Finally comes Balat, the Jewish quarter. It survived to Byzantine and Ottoman rule, a symbol of religious coexistence in Istanbul. During the years it has become a place of gathering for everyone and among its treasures you can also spot the Church of Saint Savior in Chora, with its rich mosaics and frescos.
Istanbul is much more than what you might see during a classic touristic tour. You have to try to overcome them and find its true magic. The magic only available to who seeks the fruit and does not stop at the shell. To who wants to know Istanbul, and not just the its postcard.