It was one of those cold, overcasted spring days when we met up at the kahve of Yedikule train station. Kahve is the place where local men of the neighborhood gather to spend the day in idle chat or playing cards. You wouldn’t miss it; there is at least one in every neighborhood. Maybe it is because stations and suburban lines were made redundant, the kahve place was completely empty. After having warmed up a bit around the heating stove, we laid the maps on the table and negotiated on the itineraries of our field research to explore this neighborhood by the Golden Gate, once the most important gate of the city. Its name translates as 7 towers, referring to the 7 towered bulwarks where the sea walls meet the land walls of Constantinople.
So here was the itineraries of our day out in Yedikule:
* The kahve of the train station and the station barber: Why not for a change? How crummy could it be? photo #1
* The abandoned train station and the rails: The metro is taking over, so this might be your last chance to visit to Istanbul’s suburban train stations.
* The Golden Gate and the urban gardens: the neighborhood is famous for its lettuce grown in its urban gardens still operating since the Ottoman times. The gardens are right across the Golden gate.
* The Marble Tower: One of the defensive towers of the sea walls. As a result of clumsy urban planning, it was cast away from the city walls. It looks so forlorn trapped between the sea and the road.
* Yedikule museum, formerly the Ottoman dungeons: We skipped it to spare it for another gloomy day.
* The sea walls and Narlıkapı: Imagine there was no road and the waves were splashing against the crumbling sea walls.
* Safa: the famous tavern in the old city. Taking a short break or a long lunch?
* Sulu Manastır: formerly the seat of the Armenian patriarchate.
* the vernacular houses of İmrahor İlyas bey caddesi: İlyas Bey was the master of stables to the Sultan Beyazıd II.
* Imrahor Mosque: Formerly the Studion monastery. Much to our delight, we learned that UNESCO is in charge of the restoration.
Under normal circumstances, we would not have a rakı-meze lunch in the middle of the day. Nevertheless, we enjoyed taking a refuge in Safa, one of the established taverns in the city. Do not be fooled by the empty tables! In the evening, it is a cosy place bustling with rakı-meze lovers. We wasted away the day sipping rakı and talking about politics & history. A vicious cycle, which no one feels any regret about. Through engaging in such rituals, I am learning how to become a real Turk, I said it to myself.
It got so late that we hardly made it to the Sulu Manastır. Many other churches we wanted to visit were already closed. Some are only open for the sunday mass, anyway. The name of the monastery, sulu manastır, indicates the presence of a holy spring -ayazma- in the complex, which is always associated with the Greek orthodox church. Ayazma is etymologically connected to the Greek words Aya= hagia/holy and ma=water. After the conquest by the Turks, it was granted to the Armenian community by Sultan Mehmet II and was the seat of Armenian Patriarchate for about 2 centuries. (1461-1644) Both the holy spring downstairs and the church Surp Kevork have charming colors and an inviting atmosphere. The street where the church is located has the same inviting feel too, with the wide pavements, shady trees and the stores that cater to the needs of its community. The community schools are within the same complex, which is probably one of the reason for its vibrant atmosphere. Which gave us a kind of relief. Despite everything, they are still here. Since the 15th century! Since Turks made this city their home!
What you see in the photo above is the outer gate of the Golden Gate or Porte Aurea, as they used to call it. Porte Aurea used to be a Roman arch, which was integrated into the city walls later on. On top of the triple arcade stood a quadriga of 4 elephants. This imperial triumphal gate has many victories to boast about; the restoration of the Byzantine Empire by Michael VIII Palaeologos after the Latin invasion being one of them. (1204-1261) And below is a detail from the city walls, which I will insist on calling it Byzantine lace.
And this is only the start, I am telling you. If you do not get stuck in Safa having what-is-to-become-of-us-and-Turkey sort of conversations, you will find more treasures!