The pedestrianized shopping street of İstiklal Caddesi boasts one of modern Istanbul’s most nostalgic sights: antique tram cars rattling along the mile-long street from the Tünel funicular station to Taksim Square.
The presence of the antique tram in bustling, forward-looking Taksim Square is jarring. You might initially think that it’s a replica, a stationary nod to the past… but then the thing starts moving and people clamber on, fighting for seats. Puttering down the street at speeds barely eclipsing walking pace, the tram proves an irresistible lure for kids, who hop onto the back for a free ride.
These freeloaders have the tacit permission of the tram drivers, who are dressed in period gear and spend as much time waving to photo-taking bystanders as conducting. And so the tram is a curious hybrid; both a solution to the Beyo?lu’s transportation needs, and a wistful tribute to the past. There’s the costumed driver, the rascally scamps hanging off the back, the slow speeds and the antiquated cars. Quaint, but then most of the passengers are serious-looking locals just trying to get home after a long day of work.
After our initial ride, we never used the tram for anything other than a photo op. It runs infrequently, is usually packed full, and you can walk down İstiklal just as quickly. Still, the tram is always full. Walking simply isn’t as fun as sitting at the window of an antique tram, watching the modern world slowly ramble by.