Presently, the district of Beyoğlu is a settlement comprising 45 neighborhoods and approximately 225,000 resident population. As it is a business, recreation and culture center, the daytime and nighttime population of the district goes up to several millions. According to some, Beyoğlu is the area extending from Karaköy to Taksim. Yet, for other, it is the section from the Tünel Square to Taksim.
The district of Beyoğlu, which is presently affiliated with the province of Istanbul covers the area between the west side of the Kasımpaşa Valley, north of the Golden Horn and the Dolmabahçe (Gazhane) valley. It is adjacent to the districts of Şişli and Beşiktaş. However, for laymen, the name of Beyoğlu is used for Istiklal Street which is a significant culture, recreation and business centers of the city which connects Galatasaray to the Taksim Square and its surroundings.
In the time of Byzantines, this section, which was inhabited, was called the Peran Vineyards originating from Pera which meant the side across beyond. In the last century, especially foreigners have used the name Pera instead of Beyoğlu. Turks, on the other hand, have called Pera Beyoğlu, referring to a much broader area.
There are various rumors on the origin of the name of Beyoğlu. According to one of these, the name Beyoğlu originates from Pontus prince Aleksios Komnenos’s conversion to Islam and settling here during the reign of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. Another rumor says that who lived here was not the Prince of Pontus but the son of Venetian ambassador during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, Andre Giritti’s son Luigi Giritti. This man called “Son of Bey” by Turks has been born out of the ambassador’s marriage with a Greek woman. His Konak is somewhere close to Taksim. Yet, another rumor says that since during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the term Beyoğlu was used in the correspondence with the Venetian ambassador who lived here; hence the name Beyoğlu.
The name Pera has started to be forgotten after being removed from official correspondence in 1925; with the name Beyoğlu becoming popular and starting to be used for the whole area.
From Byzantium to the Ottomans
Pera has become the later developing settlement of the Byzantium period Istanbul. Of the enclosed area surrounded by the walls of Istanbul, part of which had been built by Emperor Theodosius II on the slopes facing Golden Horn and Marmara were residences, around Sirkeci were trade firms and in Sarayburnu, Beyazıt, Aksaray, Cerrahpaşa and Yedikule were the administrative, religious and trade centers in majority. Galata on the other bank of the Golden Horn had become an external settlement. The majority of the residents of this settlement called Sycae were the Venetians and the Genovese. These settlements, later surrounded by walls, have turned into a rich trade center.
Galata, which was left to be ruled by the Genovese merchants in the 13th century, has preserved its significance in trade over centuries. The city was one of the major urban centers of the world with a population of 100,000 in the 15th century. When the city was conquered by the Ottomans, the population which was about 50,000 went over 100,000 as Muslim and non-Muslim folks brought from Rumeli and Anatolia were settled here. A great majority of the Muslims were living outside the peninsula where the old city was in this period. Skyai, too, reaching towards outside the wall, grew in the direction of Pera (today’s Galatasaray).
In 19th century, Galata displayed significant development. This section, while preserving its characteristics of becoming a trade center, started to gain the look of a European city where foreign embassies settled and also foreign bankers, brokers, banks and insurance companies concentrated in, and in addition, which accommodated recreation centers. It was in this century that the Ottoman sultans left Topkapı Palace and moved to Dolmabahçe Palace near Galata. The city was endowed with intra-city and extra-city transit capabilities like railways, tramway and tünel (subway) in the 19th century, when Feshane, the first significant industrial establishment was launched by the Golden Horn.
Beyoğlu from the Ottoman period to the Republic
During the Ottoman period, Beyoğlu was the location where the physical images of westernization focus as an area. When water, which is the most vital need, became available; Beyoğlu received a wider incoming population. After 1492, the foreign embassies in Galata moved to Beyoğlu; the area between Galatasaray and Tünel started to develop as a residential zone. This development continued in the 18th century, spreading towards Kasımpaşa and Tophane. Until late 18th Century, there weren’t too many people living outside the wall of Galata. During the final period of Byzantium, the population of Latin origin were dominating the commercial life in Galata. The number of people of Latin origin, most of whom were Genovese, was more than the Greeks. When Galata went under Turkish administration, the entirety of these Latin origin population left over from the Genovese did not leave Galata. Those remaining formed the root of the Levantines of the Turkish period.
After Istanbul’s conquest, Galata, too was inhabited with a large number of Turks. According to a document dated 1476; there were 592 Greek, 535 Muslim, 332 European and 62 Armenian homes in Galata. Turks were not in majority in the area of Galata surrounded by the wall. However; Tophane, Fındıklı, Ayaspaşa, Kabataş, the periphery of the road from Galatasaray to Tophane, Beşiktaş and on the banks of the Golden Horn, Azapkapı Sokollu Mosque neighborhood and a little further away, Kasımpaşa were full of Turkish homes.
In the 19th century, things changed. The scale of change grew in favor of non-Muslims in terms of both speed and also number in the second half of this century. In the area extending from Galata Tower to Galatasaray, the non-Muslims comprising the Greek, Armenians and the Jews and the Levantines and people of foreign citizenship were the majority. Furthermore, the change in the Ottoman state’s attitude towards Westerners went to states establishing new relations with the Ottomans, acquiring land and build buildings in Beyoğlu, settling in those areas with a large number of staff. In fact, as European states acquired land in Beyoğlu, gathering there embassy buildings around the area, Beyoğlu’s texture of buildings became richer as well.
Although there was a vibrant commercial life in Galata, no great scale mosques were built there, nor were there any medresahs constructed. The biggest reason for this was lack of water in Galata and Beyoğlu. Indeed, areas which had some available water had become the stage of major Turkish settlements. Tophane and Kasımpaşa on either side of Galata vouch for this. The settlements on the other bank extended towards Halıcıoğlu and Sütlüce.
The water problem of Beyoğlu was tackled seriously only in mid-18th Century. When the Bahçeköy water system was built by Mahmud the First in 1732, Beyoğlu has been able to get ample water. There are 25 fountains dated to 1732 when Beyoğlu area got plenty of water. The 49 fountains built 1737-1800 and 76 fountains built 1800-1923 also indicate the areas where the Turkish population was predominant.
Bahçeköy network has not been adequate for Beyoğlu over the years. Beyoğlu was reinforced from time to time for water in later periods as well. When the system bringing water from Terkos Lake to Istanbul was built in late nineteenth century, Beyoğlu was also supplied water. In the empire period, the latest water reinforcement to Beyoğlu was in the reign of Abdülhamid 2. The waters of about 60 springs between Kemerburgaz and Cendere were collected and conveyed to Beyoğlu through iron pipes in 1904. These waters are known as the Hamidiye Waters.
Distribution of paid water to homes and other private institutions in Istanbul has started with the Terkos and Elmalı systems. It is with the Terkos and Elmalı waters that the residents of Istanbul have started to consume paid water in their homes.
Actually, the factor causing attention to be directed to Beyoğlu was the state. Because indeed it was first state which lent a hand to the ridges and coastal areas of Beyoğlu. The state was demonstrating in existence by establishing new institutions in this area. These were units like palaces, modern schools, military barracks, hospitals and administration offices. It was with these that reforms were manifesting themselves, introduced and taught to the public and were launched. Mahmut II has followed the path of Selim III in terms of reforms and opening to the west. Beyoğlu’s star has started to shine basically at the time of this sultan. The fact that the sultan’s palace has moved from Istanbul to Beyoğlu side indicates that royalty preferred Beyoğlu to Istanbul.
In this period, for example, in a home in Karacaağaç nearby Sütlüce, mathematics and geometry courses has started to be offered secretly. Implementation of a reform in secrecy has used the Beyoğlu side. After a while, this geometry house would start operating openly around Tersane and this academic unit offering positive science courses like mathematics and geometry would be a beginning for the Royal Naval Engineering Unit established in 1773.
In the same manner, Baron Dö Tott has established the Speed Artillery as a second reform action in the military sense. These have trained in Beyoğlu and Kağıthane three days a week. Among Baron Dö Tott’s innovations, one should remember the establishment of the Canon Foundry in Hasköy. In 1792, the Humbaracı Barracks was built in Halıcıoğlu. During the same year, renovations have taken place in Tophane, right next to Galata and at the historical Golden Horn ship building docks. In 1795, Royal Engineering School has started instruction in its building in Halıcıoğlu. One has to cite the Beyoğlu Barracks among the institutional buildings which have affected the development of Beyoğlu in this regard. Beyoğlu Barracks was prepared for artillery troops.
As years went by, Beyoğlu’s becoming the more preferred area is revealed by other points too. Implementation of the model municipal administration techniques in Beyoğlu in 1858 indicates that this preference extended to the field of administration, too.
Without doubt, Beyoğlu has been the place where a lifestyle and image different from overall Turkey has been Beyoğlu in respect of garments, lifestyle and buildings. From 1860 to 1864, Aşıklar and Ayazpaşa graveyards were lifted, Galata walls were knockned down, new streets and roads were opened and the construction of wooden buildings was banned for preventing fires. In 1873, the Tunnel which connects Galatasaray to Beyoğlu was launched. In 1913, electrical streetcars were put in service between Beyoğlu and Şişli. After the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Republic, Beyoğlu’s settlement areas moved from Teşvikiye and Maçka to Beşiktaş beyond Şişli to the slopes of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. During this development, homes gradually turned into businesses. Along the main street, which got the name İstiklal Street after the Republic, which was previously called Cadde-i Kebir, stores, banks, coffee houses, theaters, cinemas, patisseries and recreation sites were opened. This development progressed towards Şişli along Halaskargazi Street.
Urban planning was done a few times during the Republic period, considering the rapid urbanization in Istanbul. When the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus were zoned for industry under these plans, these areas started to be filled with factories and businesses, starting from late 1940s.
There are a large number of institutions and locations within the boundaries of the district of Beyoğlu today. Among these are; Mimar Sinan University in Fındıklı, Atatürk Culture Center in Taksim Square, the North Marine Command in Kasımpaşa, Tophane-i Amire in Sütlüce (Koç Industrial Museum), Aynalıkavak Pavilion, Istanbul Chamber of Industry on Istiklal Street, Yapı Kredi Culture and Publishing, the Çiçek Archade, the Fish Market, Aksanat and numerous movies, Muammer Karaca Theater, the Tunnel and Streetcar transit and the Galata Tower in Galata.
Beyoğlu, which presently accommodates major hotels, theaters, cinemas, schools, consulates, foreign culture centers and art galleries is one of the most vibrant and popular neighborhoods of Istanbul.