One of the go-to places for individuals seeking a break without leaving Istanbul is the Balat Istanbul trip. In fact, Balat is improving every day while alternatives like Adalar (Islands that are close to Istanbul) are avoided.
The tour, which is also known as the Balat Istanbul Tour but actually covers the neighborhoods of Cibali, Fener, Balat, and Ayvansaray, is a great Saturday or Sunday itinerary if you are interested in history, cultural excursions, cool locations, and/or photography. You are in the perfect location to make this wonderful Istanbul weekend plan come true. Because we have planned a carefully thought-out and magnificent excursion route that will both show you all the must-see locations and give you a chance to rest in some of the most instagrammable settings. Do not miss any opportunities for fun or destinations to visit. It just has one drawback: on weekends, you need to wake up early. You must be in Cibali by 10 a.m. because afterwards as it is a popular destination by locals, it gets really crawded.
What else should I not miss in Balat Istanbul besides the tourist attractions?
Balat Istanbul has always been unique because it is home to significant historical structures and neighbors who practice three major religions. However, it wasn’t exactly a destination where people go for weekend getaways and meet up with friends. Balat has recently found himself on stage and in the spotlight. This has a significant impact on the many good places that have opened here. This area has transformed dramatically and evolved into a popular destination thanks to the abundance of vintage shops and artisanal cafés. Here are Balat’s top 14 tourist destinations: Cibali, Fener and Balat Istanbul Neighborhood. Best part is they are all in walking distance
Within the Ottoman walls, the Muslim community of Cibali is situated where the non-Muslim communities of Fener and Balat Istanbul begin and Eminönü and Tahtakale stop. Mosques and baths dating back to the Ottoman Empire are among its most well-known features.
Regarding the origin of the name Cibali, there are numerous rumors. Cebe Ali, the first of these, was assigned to the position of offider, in the Ottoman Empire. Cebe Ali was originally from Egypt. He constantly wore a cepken, which was typically worn during times of conflict and looked like a pocket of armor. Rumor has it that instead of using land-based ships to conquer Istanbul, Cebe Ali and his troops rode on these hides and jackets of the Golden Horn. The Byzantine soldiers fled in terror upon seeing this. Cebeali was the name given to the neighborhood that lay within this section of the city walls as a result. Cibali eventually replaced Cebeali.
Tobacco Factory at Cibali and Kadir Has University
Built in 1884 under Abdulhamid II’s rule as the Reji Company building, maintained the tobacco monopoly, the structure is now home to Kadir Has University. The building, which is among the first and most significant in our industrial history, was designed by Housef Aznavur and Alexandre Vallaury, a well-known architect of the time with Levantine ancestry. It is significant because it is one of the earliest examples of a modern factory constructed in our nation using elements from the West, including iron, casting, glass, and brick.
1500 female employees and 662 male employees worked at the factory during its busiest periods. There were additional structures next to the manufacturing house, including a hospital, kindergarten, grocery shop, school, fire brigade, and sports arena, surrounding it like a living center. Here, Samsun brand was created in 1946, followed by the first cigarette produced domestically in 1956.
The tobacco factory, which is frequently addressed in a variety of genres, including poetry, novels, short tales, and songs, particularly Orhan Kemal, was shut down in 1995. Education started in 2002.
A 13th-century Byzantine cistern and a 16th-century Ottoman bath were found underneath and above the building, respectively, while it was being restored. When you come here today, you can see the ruins beneath your feet because both are protected and enclosed by a glass platform. The building’s excellent renovation has made it a multiple award-winning European. Periodically, there are also transient exhibitions. It is sufficient to give the security guard at the door your identity in order to see the exhibitions and historical building.
Mustafa Pasha’s Turkish Bath
The greatest Turkish bath in Istanbul, Küçük Mustafa Pasha Hamam, one of the venues for the Istanbul Biennial, was constructed by the vizier of Sultan Beyazt II. The center of the spa is a marble pool. One of the places that has successfully undergone repair is this one.
The Byzantine Emperor Leon III actually constructed the Hagia Theodosia Church in the eighth century. As the leader of those who opposed breaking icons during the Icon Breaking Period, a woman by the name of Teodosia was put to death. Teodosia, who was assassinated for her faith, was made a saint by the Byzantines, who also erected this church in her honor in the ninth century. When the Ottomans, who invaded Istanbul in 1453, reached the church on the feast day when it was fully decorated with roses and saw it covered in roses. They were so moved that they withdrew without hurting either the church or the worshippers. Based on this rumor, the chapel that was later transformed into a mosque was given the name Gül Mosque.
The mother of Murat III, Nurbanu Sultan, commissioned Mimar Sinan to construct a bathhouse at Ayakapi. Sadly, it is currently a ruin that is being utilized as a warehouse and is set to be destroyed. The baths in the Fener-Balat region were accessible to persons of different religions. They provided they used separate basins and wore different colored cloths, due to the area’s high non-Muslim population. Mimar Sinan additionally constructed a double swamp, or the pool where Jews perform ablution, within the bath for their usage in order to address this issue. The name of the bath remained the bath with a pool as a result.
Breakfast or coffee: Perispri Cafe
For those who want a snack after skipping breakfast and those who want a coffee before leaving Fener Tour, Perispiri Cafe is a good option. a cafe/restaurant and an antique store together. It feels like you are dining in an antique-filled home with cutlery and dishes that belonged to your great-aunt and grandmother. The Quince Catorce Museum/Restaurant, which we described in our Cuba Trinidad Attractions Guide, is an example. Even only to enjoy the environment, you are welcome to come here. For a location, click. In our article on Balat Cafes & Restaurants, we discussed several cafes in Balat Istanbul.
Fener, which the Greeks referred to as a lighthouse and which the Byzantines called Petrion and the Ottomans Phanar-Phanari-Fanari, is a city in the middle of Cibali and Balat Istanbul that is very significant to the Orthodox community worldwide because it is home to the Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Metrology Church. After the events against the Greek minority on September 6-7, 1955, it became increasingly out of date. Such as architecturally flamboyant educational institutions, such as the Fener Greek Boys’ High School. Colorful mansions with Greek architecture motifs. However, later, the urban transformation frenzy and UNESCO support and the Greek quarter, whose face was renewed in accordance with the old one.
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
Let’s be clear about one thing up front: The Pope’s chief religious authority is the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul, just as the Vatican is the spiritual hub of the entire Catholic world. The Patriarch of Fener serves as the head of religion for the entire Orthodox world because Fener serves as its spiritual hub. As you can see, this church is arguably the most significant in Turkey. The leader of this church Patriarch Mattihaios II, who presided between 1595 and 1602, oversaw its conversion into an inn. The structure that now houses the patriarchate was formerly a women’s monastery. It was constructed in 1836 using the existing design. After a significant fire in 1941, it underwent renovations.
There are three wooden main doors at the Patriarchate’s entry, but the one in the middle has always been locked since 1821. Because Patriarch Gregory was executed via the middle door on Easter Sunday, April 10, 1821, on the grounds that he had supported the Greek rebellion that had erupted at the time. The patriarch’s body was left on the rope for three days with the label “punished for betraying the state” applied to it. Later, he was brought to the shore of the Golden Horn, tied to a rope at his feet, and tossed into the water.
The patriarchal crown, which represents the patriarchate, is displayed at the church’s entryway. A wishing area with lit candles is present when you come through the door. You can light a wishing candle and give the church any amount you like. The Patriarch’s Throne, built of walnut wood and embellished with mother-of-pearl and ivory floral designs, is thought to belong to the fifth century. The depiction of the holy Aya Yorgi, the Virgin Mary and child icons, the sarcophagus of three saints, and the black granite column where Jesus was tied up and camped before he was crucified. It which was brought from Jerusalem and of which the other part is in the Vatican are significant features inside the church. The church is open and closed from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm every day.
District of Yildirim Street Cafes and Colorful Doors
You move on a little after the Patriarchate and enter Yildrm Street, which is lined with cafes and breakfast establishments. The renowned colorful doors are located at the end of street. It is constantly crowded with selfie-takers and photographers, much like the Ladder Hill in front of it.
Time for one of Balat’s most well-known Instagram locations. Decorative staircase leading to the Red School, which houses the Fig Tree Cafe.
Park and the House of Dimitri Kantemir
At the age of 15, the Romanian Prince Dimitri Kantemir (Kantemiroglu) was taken as a hostage and sent to Istanbul. He is a writer, artist, and scholar who attended Fener Greek Boys’ High School. He learned 11 languages while attending, became interested in palace music, created his own notation system. As he was unfamiliar with the western notation style, and produced a large body of work in the area of Ottoman history and music. In 1714, he was elected to the Berlin Academy. He intended to construct a palace for himself in Fener, but before he could do so, he was sent to the Moldavian Principality. Unfortunately, access to this location is now restricted in 2017; you can only view it from the outside. Dimitri Kantemir Park was created in Fatih Municipality’s garden, nonetheless. Also present are the vibrant umbrellas that are trending on Instagram.
Climbing the stairs in front of Dimitri Kantemir’s home allows you to continue the tour. You will view the Bloody Church as you go up the stairs . The fact that this church is the only one that has been open for worship continuously since Byzantium is its most significant characteristic.
The following is the origin of the church’s Virgin Mary name: In order to get along with the Mongols, Byzantine Emperor Mikail Palaiologos sought to wed his daughter Maria Despina to Ruler Hülagü Han in 1264. Maria left Istanbul with her dowry, but the long voyage husband Hülagü Han to passed away. Instead, Maria married Abakan Han, the son of Hülagü Han. Abaka Khan, a former shaman, was converted to Christianity by Maria during her fifteen years of residence there.
As soon as Abaka Khan’s Muslim brother became aware of the circumstance, he killed him and sent Maria back to Istanbul. When Maria came back to Istanbul, she established a nunnery for ladies not far from the present church.
Greek High School for Boys in Fener (Red School)
Even for Istanbul natives, this interesting structure, which has an exterior that resembles a castle, is frequently mistaken for the Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. People naturally assume that since it is such a wonderful structure, it should at the very least serve as the patriarchate. The Red School, as it is commonly called, began building in 1881, giving it its current appearance. The 600-student, three-story red brick school was finished in 1883 and is now in its current condition. Dimadis, who completed both his high school education and his architectural studies in Italy, is the school’s architect. Given that Dimadis received his education in Italy and had a specialty in Italian palace building, his old school was constructed in a wonderful adolescent palace style.
In actuality, the school, the first academic establishment founded by Greeks in Istanbul, also operated as the Patriarchate Academy throughout the Byzantine era. Following the Conquest of Istanbul, Patriarch Gennadios II met with Mehmet II and secured the required authorization for the school to start offering instruction in 1454 under the name Fener Greek School. Education was mostly theological up to the 19th century, but in 1861 it changed to classical high school education. Although there were only 59 students in 2013, education is still being provided today.
Kiremit Street Residences
This is where you can find these beautiful, renovated historic Balat Istanbul houses.
Balat Cultural Center
A cultural institution run under the guise of social responsibility and formed by the Turkish Federation of Soroptimist Clubs (TSKF). Its primary goal is to create long-term initiatives that improve Balat’s social fabric. Creating a perfect gathering place where locals may congregate.
There include areas like an exhibition hall, a cafe, a training space where classes like, music, and personal development are held. At Balat’s Vodina Cafe, handmade goods made in this kitchen are available for sale. The proceeds from all the initiatives created by the Culture House and the cafe are donated to initiatives aimed at educating and employing locals.
Church of Metrology
Although it is an Orthodox church, it is not connected to the Fener Greek Patriarchate like the others. The reason is the construction of this church made with personal fund of Jerusalem Patriarchate. The 5000-year-old sycamore trees in the church’s grounds and the double-headed marble eagle image that serves as the patriarchal sign are what make it unique.
Additionally, 10th century inventions by the renowned physicist and mathematician Archimedes’s discovery of the original scrolls carrying his writings is another intriguing aspect of the church. There were computations on the scrolls that emerged from this place, including those of Archimedes on spheres, cylinders, and spirals, the balance of planes, and the measurement of circles.
The University of Copenhagen professor who found it in 1906 managed to smuggle it out of Turkey. When it was bought for $2 million at a New York auction in 1998, it reappeared on the market. It is on display in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, USA, right now. A religious ceremony is held here once a year on the naming day even though the church has no congregation (23 April).
Balat begins after the Fener neighborhood and follows the wall of the Jerusalem Church. In contrast to Fener, Balat Istanbul is an old Jewish neighborhood. Balat’s name is thought to have originated from the Greek word “palation,” which means palace.
Sephardic Jews who fled the Inquisition and immigrated to Istanbul from Spain in the 15th century were the first to settle in this area and construct synagogues specific to their community. They did so at Beyazt II’s request. On the other side of the Golden Horn, communities like Balat Istanbul and Hasköy saw the gradual arrival of Jews from Georgia as well as Spain.
The Jews of Balat Istanbul, who had coexisted peacefully for generations with their Muslim neighbors from Ayvansaray and their Greek neighbors from Fener, were the majority of the Jews in Istanbul in the 17th century. However they fled Balat Istanbul after huge immigration to Israel in the 1950s. Those who remained did so in Taksim, Nişantaş, and Şişli, among other areas of the city. A few historical sites that are a must-see in Balat Istanbul include the Agora Tavern, which UNESCO renovated, as well as the colorful homes, historic synagogues, antique shops, and Sancaktar Tepesi and Vodina Streets.
Saint Stefan Church from Bulgaria
The most significant aspect of this elaborate Bulgarian church, is that it can be totally disassembled and is made of cast iron. Although they were associated with the Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. They did not attend Greek churches because they did not have their own.
The Bulgarians also arrived with a proposal for a church of their own, influenced by the Nationalist movements of the 19th century. In an application to the government in 1848, Stefanaki Bey, one of the community’s leaders. He stated that he would offer his own land in Fener so that they might erect a place of worship. The sultan approved the house’s construction. A wooden church was erected in its place after this place of worship.
All of the components of the present-day cast iron church were later manufactured in Austria under the design of Istanbul architect Housep Aznavur. They were transported here by ship through the Danube River and the Black Sea in 1896. As a result, the Greek Patriarchate no longer has any influence over the Bulgarian Church. Until January 7, 2018, the church was undergoing repair; however, it is now accessible to visitors. Every day from 8:00am to 17:00pm, it is accessible to tourists.
Built in 1458 by Fatih Sultan, it is a very simple and adorable mosque. The two streets are split in half, and it makes a beautiful backdrop for pictures. The Wooden Minaret Bath is located right next to it.
Lunch: Köfteci Arnavut
It is a modest, run-down, but historically significant restaurant in Balat Istanbul that has been in business since 1937. Initially established as Blue Corner, but as time went on, Köfteci Arnavut became more well-known.
This place is well renowned for its meatballs. We first tried it here and fell in love years ago, when trileçe was available everywhere. You won’t believe the difference until you give it a try.
Balat Istanbul Houses on Stairs Hill
This staircase, is one of the most photographed spots in Balat Istanbul. It was restored as part of the UNESCO Cultural Heritage program.
These are the streets that surround Yanbol Synagogue. The famed ancient Agora Tavern, Yanbol Synagogue, antique traders, mirror dealers, and others are lined up here.
Nearly hidden behind the Agora Tavern is the iron gate at the entrance to the Yanbol Synagogue. Jews from the Safarad community who fled the Bulgarian town of Yanbol constructed this synagogue. A 1694 edict renewed it, despite the fact that its original construction dates to Byzantium. Unfortunately, visiting is not something you can do very often. If you are not a member of the Jewish community, there are highly severe security precautions.
The Ahrida Synagogue
Jews who moved to Balat Istanbul in the 1400s from Ohrid, Macedonia, constructed a synagogue. The “Teva” prayer reading part has the form of a ship. It is a place of devotion where prayers have been offered continuously for 550 years. Sabbatay Sevi, who referred to himself as a prophet, delivered a sermon here. Like Yanbil, you will be happy to observe things from a distance at most.
Church of the Armenians of Balat Surp Hreshdagabet
The Church of Miracles is another name for Hreşdagabet, which is Armenian for Archangel. Because it is said that the ritual, which is performed every year on the second Saturday in September. Michael and Gabriel, two archangels, are honored in the church. It was once an old Orthodox Greek church. However, due to the growing Armenian population in the area, it was given to them. Because of this, there is an additional, tiny holy water space beneath the church, which is unusual for Armenian churches. On Thursdays and Sundays, the church is accessible to guests until 14:00.
Mosque in Ferruh Kethuda
At 1563, Ferruh Ağa, the grand vizier of the Magnificent, built the mosque in Ayvansaray. Which is a creation of Mimar Sinan. When it was first constructed, it was surrounded by dervish lodges, but over time, just the mosque remained. After the lodges were shut down, the mosque—a lodge during the Ottoman era—was left deserted for a while. In 1986, it got a significant repair. The sundial at the back of the mosque is its most significant feature.
A mosque built in the ninth century, but it was also known as the Aya Tekla Church. In 1490, during the reign of Beyazt II, the grand vizier, also known as Atik or Koca Mustafa Pasha, transformed the chapel into a mosque. Ahmet Ağa Fountain, built in 1692, is the fountain in front of it. In front of the mosque there was a baptismal pool. Today, it is on display in the Archaeological Museum. On the building’s north wall, there is a sundial.
Agora Tavern for dinner
The 120-year-old Agora Tavern is one of Istanbul’s historic ear cuts. In 1890, Asteri established the Agora. Asteri left it to his son, who passed it on to his grandson Hristo. Hristo also made a sale and relocated to Athens. However, this is not the tavern that Zeki Müren’s Behiye Aksoy sang about in their well-known song. Izmir is home to the aforementioned Agora Tavern.
There are two Agora Taverns even in tiny Balat. A few blocks distant is another pub called Balat Agora Meyhanesi. Clearly, this is history. Ezel Akay, a director and actor, has repaired and is in charge of it. Make sure to eat at Agora Tavern for dinner.
Where is Balat?
On the Golden Horn’s coastlines in the Fatih district of Istanbul’s ancient peninsula, Balat is a neighborhood that is close to the Fener and Ayvansaray communities.
By car, it takes 15 minutes to go 4 kilometers from Eminönü to Balat. 4 kilometers from Karakoy to Balat.
20 minutes by car, 6 kilometers separate Fatih and Balat,
Balat is located 5 kilometers away from Eyüp and can be reached in 15 minutes by car.
How can I get to Balat?
Those traveling from the European side can take the buses leaving from Taksim and arrive at the Balat stop in 20 minutes. If you are traveling from the Asian side, it will take you 15 minutes to get to Fener-Balat.
If you exit the M2 line Metro at the Haliç stop, you can travel toBalat by riding any bus that travels in the Eyüp direction. Every minute or by walking for 15 minutes.
If you want to discover more about Balat Istanbul you can check our other blog post about Balat too from here.