With their heads slightly tilted, arms raised in exaltation and spinning in graceful circles, the whirling sufi dervishes are among the most enduring images of Turkey. Istanbul boasts a number of places in which to catch a ceremony, but we chose to attend the twice-monthly performance in the Galata Mevlevihanesi; the city’s oldest tekke.
Under the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul was one of the world’s great ethnic smorgasbords. Greek, Armenian, Albanian and Turk all got along relatively well and lived peaceably, if not equally, under Ottoman law. So it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that Jews fleeing persecution in Europe found a permanent home here, and have long been part of the city’s cultural fabric.
I’m beginning to think that we could have dedicated 91 days to just Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district. In fact, a blog devoted entirely to the city’s main shopping street isn’t inconceivable. İstiklal Caddesi For 91 Days. The number of bars, restaurants, shops, theaters and galleries along “Independence Street” is overwhelming. We spent an entire day exploring just its historic arcades. What follows are short descriptions of our favorites, with links to their exact locations.
At the last second, I nearly lost my nerve and ordered chicken. But I stayed strong and, in a confident voice, ordered the “Ciğer Şiş”: the Liver Shish Kebab. At least, I think I sounded confident. I might have whimpered a little, but if the waiter caught it, he didn’t let on.
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.
Standing 66.9 meters in height, the Galata Tower dominates the skyline of Beyoğlu and is one of Istanbul’s most instantly recognizable landmarks. Anxious for a birds-eye view on our first full day in the city, we visited the tower, showing up just in time for sunset.
Istanbul, one of the world’s great cities, was going to be our home for the next 91 days. Minarets, mosques, harems, hamams, kebab, coffee, Turkish delights, towers, castles, islands, whirling dervishes, Greeks and Ottomans, hills, ferries, markets and music… it’s enough to make the experience-hungry traveler delirious. We knew we’d have to hit the ground running, because there was going to be a lot to do.