Fener & Balat are two historical villages located at the shore of Golden Horn in Istanbul. They are both reflecting the harmony of three different religions cultures that lived peacefully in Ottoman years. You can see a church in the beginning of a street and a mosque at the end while the synagogue stands at the rear street.
So mainly the neighbourhood was formed of these different religion believers. Their life style, ethical beliefs and of course economical situation shaped the architecture of buildings, praying houses, streets, shopping and their destiny. If you are walking through the streets of Fener & Balat you will find out that each building actually has its own story.
Nowadays the area became popular with new and younger businesses openings. Thus brought picturesque of Fener & Balat mixed with historical buildings forming colorful streets.
I prepared a route for family travelers to find out the popping picturesque historical areas. You can walk this tour with children plus strollers. However Istanbul is a city located on hills, there will always be ascendings and descendings on streets. The path of my route is medium hard to walk at some streets, but mostly light which will only take 4-5 hours to complete with children.
If you want a short and an easy path, then find my suggestion at step #9.
Transportation:To start the tour you must get to Ayakapı in Fener firstly. So please take metro line to Haliç station. Take the bus at Eminönü side at Haliç Metro riding to Ayakapı Stop in Balat village.
The Walking Route :
#1 AyakapıAyakapı is one of the historic gateways in Istanbul formerly built in Byzantine times which letting you get in through the Byzantine castle walls to inner city of Istanbul. The walls had been constructed in AD 4th century by Byzantine Emperor Constatine. So do step inside the ancient city walls. Here you will find the new face of village Balat that is popping new age businesses. You can take a quick look at Atölye Kafası meaning Mind of Woodencrafts, which is a very unique example of how this neighbourhood is reforming. You will find original handmade wooden crafts for your home at Atölye Kafası.
Ayakapı, Yavuz Sultan Selim Mahallesi, Ayakapı Cd. No:2, 34083 Fatih/İstanbul
#2 Nev-i KafeAt Ayakapı gate you will see an old style Turkish coffee house just at your right hand side on the corner. This house had been used as station for Yeniçeris' in Ottaman years. Yeniçeris were special military troop in Ottoman Army. You can have a real Turkish coffee cooked on coral fire which is very delightful.
#3 Hotel Troya Balat
From Nevi Kafe turn to left and start walking on the main avenue till Doktor Sadık Ahmet Avenue. At the beginning of this avenue you will notice the detached four same old style colored Turkish houses. The story of these attached houses is that a very rich Greek father had 3 daughters which he loved them alot but he never wanted to be apart of them. So he had built these 4 colorful old houses for him and his daughters. I love this street as it looks so picturesque.
Hotel Troya Balat
#4 The Primary School Of Maraş- Maraşlı Rum İlkokuluMaraş (read like Marash) family was formerly a very rich family who had moved to İstanbul from the city Maraş which is located in middle of Anatolia. They wanted to built a primary school for Greek students in 1900s and gave their family name to be recognised, The Primary Greek School Of Maraş.
This building looks very dramatic to me because it is just like a temple from Greece with its four columns in front. Nowadays shool is closed as there are not enough students for education.
Maraşlı Rum İlkokulu, Yavuz Sultan Selim Mahallesi, Dr. Sadık Ahmet Cd. No:32, 34083 Fatih/İstanbul
#5 Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarch- Fener Rum Ortodoks PatrikhanesiWhat I love about this two villages is that you find a sinagog, a church and a mosque located on the same avenue. So lets try to feel the peacefullness of different cultures discreation formed the shape of neihbourhood here.
As you walk on the same avenue, you will notice a policeman guard in front of a wooden house which stays on your left hand side. This is the most modest place around here and it is The Greek Orthodox Patriarch which has a very master role in the world of Christianity. You can always enter and pray here any time you like except Sundays, as there will be a praying ceremonial with limited number of people are only allowed in.
Fener Rum Patrikhanesi, Yavuz Sultan Selim mah., Doktor Sadık Ahmet Caddesi no:19, İstanbul
#6 Fener Greek High School and The Cover PhotographI am sure you won't miss this gorgeous red bricked building on the hill. That building is known as Fener Greek High School which had been built in 1880s. The red bricks had been brought from France in those times.
Most of the locals know the place as Greek Patriarch, but this is totally wrong. Patriarch is a more modest building as you have seen before on your route.
So the school is located at Akçin Street on Yıldırım Avenue. The place is also a very picturesque and of course one of the epical silhouettes of Istanbul. There is no allowance to visit this historical building as it is a school.
Fener Greeek High Scool is on a hill, which is very hard one to drive up with the children of course. So here comes my suggestion: Just take a break at beginning of Akçin Street and have your lunch at Fener Köftecisi. You will find delicious Turkish style meat balls which my children loves. After your rest, you can climb and have the family photo plus see the Golden Horn from a different point of view.
Fener Rum Lisesi, Balat Mahallesi, Sancaktar Ykş. No:36, 34087 Fatih/İstanbul
The cover photo is a house located at Akçin Street which you will easily see as you climb to Fener Greek High School. I loved the house with mostly of the blue colour and of course the style of door decorated with triangles as in Aegean Island houses. I hope you have the luck to find the black cat to pose for you same as me ;)
#7 St.Yorgi Church ( Aya Yorgi Kilisesi) - Meterology ChurchNow it is time for walking down from the hill and take the street Sancaktar Yokuşu on your left. You will find out more historic houses and of course the colorful Turkish teahouse İncir Agacı Kahvesi generated from the famous old Turkish movies. If you have time have a cup of tea here and breathe the stories by talking local people.
At the end of Sancaktar Yokuşu turn your left and find your way back to Yıldırım avenue again. You will notice a stone wall lying on left side of the avenue. This is the garden walls of St. Yorgi Church- Meterology Church. As there is no enough Christian Greek community to pray, the place is always closed, except 23rd April.
This date is important for the community as it is time of giving the name of the church. There is a second St. Yorgi Church in Istanbul which is located at Princess Island's biggest one as named as Büyükada in Turkish. At 23 rd of April every year, Greek community at Büyükada walks the hill to St.Yorgi Church to pray.
Balat Mahallesi, Yıldırım caddesi No:45, Balat
#8 Tahta Minareli Cami- The Mosque with wooden MinaretYou will notice a small mosque with one minaret on the same avenue as you walk. This had been built by the order Sultan Mehmet of Ottaman, who had conquered Istanbul in 1453. The minare had been built by wood and mosque had been used for more than 400 years. However the mosque needed restoration in 1850s. After the restoration the minaret had became as how it is nowadays.
Yıldırım Caddesi, No:65 Balat, Istanbul
#9 Merdivenli Yokuşu Sokağı (Street)As you head on Yıldırım Avenue, walk to find Bekri Mustafa Street through till you came to colored historical Turkish houses on hill of stairs on your left handside where the street's name is Merdivenli Yokuşu, which meaning street of staired ramp. I suggest you to have a family photo here and if you are not tired, please climb all the stairs up for an other view of Golden Horn.
Merdivenli Yokuşu Sokak, Balat, Istanbul
!!! At this point if your children are tired of walking you can skip the rest of the tour but must visit Bulgarian St. Stephen Church by Golden Horn shoreline, which I described at #12
Balat Mahallesi, Mürselpaşa Cd. No:10, 34087 Fatih/İstanbul
#10 Surp Hreşdagabed Armenian ChurchSurp Hreşdagabed Armenian Church is located at Haci İsa Mektebi Street on Yıldırım Avenue. There is a primary school just across the church.
The church was founded at the beginning of 17 th century by community of Orthodox. The former church was made of wood originally, however after several restorations it became as it is now. I love the place as it is colored in pink inside of the church.
The Armenian Church has a story of healing ceremonies in late 1990s because of the holy water spring found under the church. Nowadays there are no ceremony but still you can find this holy water being sold by the church.
Ayvansaray Mahallesi, Kamış Sk. No:2, 34087 Fatih/İstanbul
#11 Ahrida SynagogueAhrida Synagogue is one of the two remaining synagogues in Balat. It is the oldest and probably most beautiful synagogue in Istanbul. It was founded before the Ottomans conquest of Istanbul in 1453 and has been in constant use ever since. Tourists can only visit by prior arrangement with a tour guide.
Ahrida Synagogue, Ayvansaray Mahallesi, Kürkçü Çeşmesi Sk. No:9, Balat,İstanbul
Photo source: Türkiye Hahambaşılığı Vakfı
#12 Bulgarian St.Stephen ChurchThe Bulgarian St. Stephen Church is a Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which is famous because of its cast iron exterior. Also known as the Bulgarian Iron Church, the religious structure belongs to the Bulgarian minority who were allowed to built a national church in the 19th century. Richly ornamented and composed of three domes that form a cross-shaped basilica, the altar faces the Golden Horn. There are only 3 iron churches on earth which are located in Brazil , Argentina and Istanbul. The Bulgarian St. Stephen Church is one of epical silhouettes of Istanbul with its gold and iron mixture beauty.
Balat Mahallesi, Mürselpaşa Cd. No:10, 34087 Fatih/İstanbul
Where to eat in Fener & Balat- A cheese toast with Turkish coffee for breakfast at Nev-i Kafe noted at #1
- Turkish meatballs at Fener Köftecisi which is at Akçin Street as stated at #6
- Forno Balat is one of the best place in the neighbourhood with freshly cooked crispy lahmacun or pide at big oven.
Forno, Fener Kireçhane sokak No:12, Balat, Istanbul
- Breakfast and tea at İncir Ağacı Kahvesi noted at #9
- Have some cookies and salty crackers from Historic Old Style Evin Turkish Bakery on Yıldırım Avenue
Fener & Balat tour will be a guide of understanding how local life had been in the past, at present and will be in future of Istanbul for you. So please make sure you had great family times and pictures at epical locations as the locals do.
If you also want your friends to find out how the local life in Istanbul is, please feel free to share this article too.
Come visit Turkey ;)