Week 2 – Our Neighborhood

At the border between Emirgan and Boyacıköy, our neighborhood is very old, family oriented and traditional.  Anchored by a Mosque around the corner (Emirgan Camii), Emirgan Park (see below) and the gathering called Reşitpaşa at the top of the hill, it has quite a few very old houses like ours, and quite a few more modern apartment blocks.  None of the apartment buildings are the large units we’ve seen in other places, but are more likely to have about 4-6 apartments per building. We’ve seen some very modern looking neighborhoods in Istanbul, with flashy light displays ornamenting buildings, modern architecture and bustling clubs.  We have none of that here.

Bride and groom photographed in bus stop

Bride and groom photographed in bus stop

The neighborhood is close to Bosphorus and oriented towards it.  We are a few blocks away from the Bosphorus, which really defines much of this city.  Since we are at the narrowest point, we see quite a bit of shipping up close.  We are lucky enough to have quite a promenade along the shore that is almost continuously filled with fishermen, families strolling, couples, vendors (including one who offers chances to shoot a pellet gun at balloons strung along pilings in the water), construction vehicles, and the occasional bride and groom, getting photographs taken in the local bus stop or ferry station entrance.  The fishermen seem to be fishing for anchovies, as they use long poles to throw unbaited small hooks into the water, pulling back 5 or 6 small fish at a time if they are lucky.

View of toraman street looking uphill towards a small store

Toraman Street, towards the local store

There seems to be no flat portion of our neighborhood outside of the shoreline of the Bosphorus.  The streets are incredibly steep and narrow, mostly lined with buildings, but a few lined with huge sycamores.  Due to the very narrow or non-existent sidewalks, they are shared by pedestrians, animals, motorcycles and cars.  We heard when we arrived that there are customs governing conflicts–when two cars are going in opposite directions, the car coming downhill is expected to give way.  This might mean backing up a considerable distance to find an intersection to pass in.  While this seems a challenge, apparently the Istanbul drivers are up to it.  We saw one intrepid fellow parallel park, uphill, while talking on a cellphone and smoking a cigarette.  In a number of locations, the hills are too steep even for these streets, so they are continued as sets of stairs.  One such set goes almost right by our house, giving us an interesting challenge decending to the shore on steps of all different lengths and heights.

The street that runs along the shore changes names frequently, and is named here after a famous former resident Sakıp Sabanci (since the “c” is pronounced like a “j”, the name sounds like “Sabanjee”). The Sabanci family made a lot of money in international trade (building the Sabanci Group to a multi-billion dollar company) but more importantly to him, gave a lot of that money away to charitable causes.  His family bought a large house from the sister of an Egyptian prince  in 1951 on this street, and lived in it, especially in the summers, until the late 1990’s.  This house, rather magnificent in scale and decoration, was donated to Sabanci University to be converted to a museum.  It is right next to Emirgan Sutiş, and quite close to us.  Our first visit was a bit delayed by believing the Google Maps placement of the museum.  My search provided a dot on the map where the police station is–a very impressive and modern building, but not the museum.  I expect the policemen wondered why we walked by a couple of times peering into their station looking for the entrance.  Once we got properly oriented, we visited (fortunately picking a Wednesday, when admission to the museum is free). At the moment, they are preparing for a Miro exhibit to be opened on Sept. 23, and two floors of the museum are closed.  They did have two very interesting exhibits from their own collection, a group of Turkish Impressionists who had studied in Europe and brought the techniques and sensisbilities back, and a wonderful display of Ottoman calligraphy, including a very thorough explanation of the techniques involved (paper preparation, making the inks and pens, etc.).  We wondered if the pairing was meant to emphasize the tension between the westward focus and the native arts.

cat climbing down from tree

A local

Like most of Istanbul, our neighborhood is ruled by cats and dogs.  Just up the hill on Dönüm Sokak (“Milestone Street”) is a collection of three dogs who bark half-heartedly when we walk through, just to let us know we are on their turf.  We nearly gathered a pet on walking to our local store when a friendly puppy started to follow us.  Our garden has its rotating collection of cats, in addition to those owned by our neighbors, and there is a rivulet of cats along most streets.  There seems to be an invisible network of care for these animals–most have no owners visible to us, but there is frequently catfood scattered on walkways, and containers of water laid out on corners.

floral swan in park

Floral swan in Emirgan Park, swimming in a floral stream

Emirgan park is a local treasure.  One of the bigger parks in the city, it is beautifully laid out and decorated with flowers and water features.  There is a large pond with a waterfall (between about 8am and dark) down the cliff at the back edge and dozens of waterfowl including black and white swans.  There is a wonderful view of the Bosphorus from several locations, and a playground at the bottom of the hill.   Discovering the way to the park on a Sunday, we stumbled into a thicket of wedding activity.  In a short walk towards the end of the afternoon, we counted about a half-dozen couples getting wedding photographs taken in various parts of the park.  In addition, a very high-end reception was being started on the open plaza at the top of the park, near an impressive fountain.  As we strolled down the hill from the plaza, we came across a secluded set of benches occupied by couples who seemed intent on building the kind of relationship that could lead to a wedding.  They seemed to be a bit startled that we were there, and relieved that we were leaving.

The centerpiece of the park is a historic building called Sarı Koşk (literally “Yellow House). This is a bright yellow house with lots of gingerbread and currently houses a popular restaurant.

Yellow gingerbread house.

Sarı Koşk

I’m sure our knowledge of the neighborhood will grow over the months.  Right now, we are just figuring out how to get around, but hope to continue exploring.  We’ll have lots of opportunities, as there is a local market, and lots of varied activity along the water and the byways.

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One Response to Week 2 – Our Neighborhood

  1. Sarah says:

    This is lovely! The market sounds unreal. I personally can’t wait to hear about what university classes are like once the school year starts. Oh, and pictures of your office!


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