Daily Sabah (Turkey)

Europe in Istanbul: Cultural, historical markers in Pera quarter

The district, famously known as Pera, within the environs of Şişhane enjoys a wealth of distinguis­hing architectu­ral and cultural features. It is stylized as Istanbul’s European quarter, which is true considerin­g its history

- MATT HANSON

WHEN Hemingway arrived in Istanbul in the Roaring ‘20s, he did not plan to party, not exactly, but to cover the movement of people between Greece and Turkey. The year was 1922, and a dreaded policy measure was due to land on the internatio­nal conference tables of Lausanne, Switzerlan­d, when, in January of 1923, the government of Greece signed the “Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Population­s” with the parliament that republic founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had quite newly formed in Ankara.

WHEN Hemingway arrived in Istanbul in the Roaring ‘20s, he did not plan to party, not exactly, but to cover the movement of peoples between Greece and Turkey. The year was 1922, and a dreaded policy measure was due to land on the internatio­nal conference tables of Lausanne, Switzerlan­d, when, in January of 1923 the government of Greece signed the “Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Population­s” with the parliament that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had quite newly formed in Ankara.

While Hemingway gained well-deserved and riveting material from the front of the humanitari­an crisis on the landmass of Thrace, he would later say that journalism was good for a writer, but the whole business was best left as early as possible, so as not to stifle creativity. He was only one among the bohemian intellectu­al writers and artists who graced the floor of the Pera Palace Hotel, among them Agatha Christie, whose book, “Murder on the Orient Express” immortaliz­ed Istanbul as a Belgian’s detective’s crime fantasy.

Nowadays, the redolence of mental diversion and imaginativ­e allure is still hot on the busy streets of 21st-century Pera, where the highland urban environs of Tepebaşı offer a powerful cocktail of sights and activities. Overlookin­g the Golden Horn inlet, with the complex and overwhelmi­ng urbanizati­on of Istanbul’s sprawling hills in the distance, there is a formidable representa­tion of culture between Pera Museum, the Big London Hotel and neighborin­g contempora­ry art galleries.

Oftentimes presenting their latest exhibition­s with a billowing, building-wide canvas, Pera Museum holds a treasury of late Ottoman and early modern Turkish art, including permanent collection­s of paintings by one of the fundamenta­l artist-intellectu­als of his day, Osman Hamdi Bey, whose paintings are almost surrealist in their realism, depicting the people and traditions of Turkey as the pursuit of undying, Orientalis­t fascinatio­ns. Their displays of official portraitur­e in the age of empires are as essential as they are ripe for historical critique.

AND ON DOWN THE WAY

A few skips and a hop from the Pera Museum, there are surprising, multilayer­ed revelation­s that wait, opening the city like an onion, the sting of its outer skin accentuati­ng the taste of its experienti­al bounty as a whole. The Big London Hotel (or, in Turkish, Büyük Londres Oteli) is a sumptuous gem of architectu­ral singularit­y. Inside, its antique furniture and elaborate wallpaper is a paradise of embroidere­d upholstery and ornate wood. There are outmoded artifacts from the 20th century all around, such as a peculiar, irresistib­ly charming German-Turkish jukebox.

But perhaps most curious is a caged bird named Yakup, a Turkish appellatio­n that would be Jacob, as anglicized, and conjures an air of Jewish heritage. The parrot is a relic of the place, perched proudly, though confined, beside the old bar, where a man who has worked at the hotel for decades kindly answers touristic questions with more reliabilit­y than the shy, tropical pet. And if talking is a probable pastime amid such a wealth of ancient design, there is a dark, little hall of vintage rotary phones that will tickle any playful spirit out for a joke.

Despite the grab of the Big London Hotel’s terrace in summertime, and its use as a movie set for such films as Fatih Akin’s classic masterpiec­e “Head-On” (2004), it is mostly the setting for light amusement and heavy doses of nostalgia. Only a minute or so walk away, Istanbul Research Institute prepares a serious measure of programmin­g regarding the history and culture of the city, with one of the most substantia­l, well-backed foundation­s for research into Byzantine, Ottoman and Republican eras.

If that’s too much erudition and pedagogy for something like an afternoon stroll, it is best to try an exhibition at Galerist or ArtOn, two major institutio­ns for contempora­ry art with a splendid array of represente­d artists whose works are on the cusp of the internatio­nal scene. Galerist is housed within a historic apartment, the peeling paint of its hipster decor reinvented in the interest of stimulatin­g dialogue and thought on the nature of visuality and its aesthetic, philosophi­cal dimensions. ArtOn has a more commercial feel, yet its artists, like Burcu Erden or Ali Elmacı, are often young and empowered to create what it means to make art afresh.

SO AS NOT TO OVERSTAY

When whiling away the day, and perhaps into the night, strolling and sightseein­g, whether as a local with some wellearned downtime, or a globetrott­er out for the next venture, every neighborho­od, especially Pera, is rich with ways to kick into slow gear, to sit back and relax a little. The patisserie Pera Bakery is one mellow haunt for that kind of ambiance, and it is situated within an elegant, former residentia­l building downstairs from a cultural space called Kıraathane Istanbul Literature House, which supports writers and minorities.

For more, the stylish cafe Noir Pit is always bustling, if not exactly with very gregarious, caffeine-addled clientele. And on down the way, the streets open up with a wide view of the historical peninsula and its inlet ports, where industrial behemoths rise up, and yet magically, they do not obscure the beauty of the watery, citified landscape. It is a confluence for people from all walks of life who amble about not far from the feeding frenzy around Galata Tower, or Istiklal Avenue, and so many countless points of beguilemen­t within Istanbul’s core.

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 ?? ?? People walk in front of Cite de Pera, or Çiçek Pasajı (Flower Passage), in Beyoğlu, Istanbul, Turkey, October 2018.
People walk in front of Cite de Pera, or Çiçek Pasajı (Flower Passage), in Beyoğlu, Istanbul, Turkey, October 2018.
 ?? ?? A view of the Galata Tower and Beyoğlu, Istanbul, Turkey, June 22, 2006.
A view of the Galata Tower and Beyoğlu, Istanbul, Turkey, June 22, 2006.

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