If you’re the sort of tourist who likes to get off the beaten path and away from the crowds, then you can’t do much better than spend a day getting lost in the fascinating streets of the historically cosmopolitan Fener and Balat neighborhoods. Here the houses are painted in a myriad of colors, washing lines are strung between buildings, kids play in the streets, and traces of Jewish, Armenian, and Orthodox communities still stand.
Colorful houses of Fener and Balat area of Istanbul
Begin at Kadir Has University in Cibali, an old tobacco factory which houses the excellent Rezan Has Museum. From here, walk along the coast towards the St. Stephens of the Bulgars church – notable because it is made entirely from iron. From there, you can walk inland slightly to visit the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, and up the steep hill to the imposing red brick Phanar Greek Orthodox College. Head back down the hill to stop for refreshments at Café Vodina.
From there head up to the Fethiye Museum (to see some fine Byzantine mosaics), before going on the Chora Church or Ahrida Synagogue of Istanbul (you’ll need to gain permission in advance to enter the synagogue). If you visit the Chora Church, you could also see climb up onto a section of the Theodosian Walls (old city walls of Constantinople) in nearby Edirnekapi. If you had any energy left, carry onto the Tekfur Sarayi (Palace of Blachernae), before heading down to the Ayvansaray ferry port to catch a boat back to Eminonu, Karakoy, or Uskudar. Make sure to check our Fener, Balat and Golden Horn tour.
Red brick Phanar Greek Orthodox College
The name Fener is derived from 'Fanari,' a Greek word meaning lantern – it means lighthouse in Turkish. Fener, Fatih has been the seat of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and therefore one of the most important Greek neighborhoods in Istanbul since 1600. A large number of the Greeks in Istanbul lived here right up until the start of the 20th century.
From the Eminonu bus station by Galata Bridge, take the 36CE, 99, 28E, 44B, or 99A bus that run up the coast of the Golden Horn.
Exterior of Fethiye Museum (also known as the Church of Theotokos Pammakaristos)
The less affluent Greeks and Jews of Istanbul lived in neighboring Balat, Fatih – which is home to an astonishing number of churches, mosques and synagogues, including St. John the Baptist; the Metochian of Mount Sinai, Yanbol Synagogue, Surp Reşdagabet Gregorian Armenian Church and the Ferruh Kethuda Mosque believed to be the work of legendary architect, Mimar Sinan.
One way is to take a ferry from Eminonu, Karakoy, or Uskudar to Ayvansaray, and then walk back along the coast, alternatively take a bus as listed above.