Istanbul Fener Balat Walking Tour Guide


Fener Balat Walking Tour

Fener Balat Walking Tour Guide, Route, Map

Ataturk Boulevard at Unkapani divides the Istanbul Historical Peninsula into two sides exactly from the middle. The neighborhoods on the east side such as Eminonu, Sirkeci, Sultanahmet, and Beyazit are flooded by both domestic and foreign visitors. Millions of people visit these neighborhoods to see Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and the mosques from the Ottoman era.

Edirnekapi, Zeyrek, Fener, Balat and Ayvansaray; the neighborhoods on the west side of the historical peninsula, are also highly interesting. These neighborhoods attract fewer visitors compared to the neighborhoods on the east side. This stems mainly from the fact that these neighborhoods are a little far from the main touristic attractions.

However, they are still worth visiting. Especially, Fener and Balat neighborhoods stand out as must visit places. Fener Balat walking tour helps you discover the off the beaten track Istanbul.

Fener Balat Walking Tour Guide

Fener Balat Walking Tour

Balat Neighborhood

How to Get to Fener Balat Neighborhoods?

In order to reach Fener Balat neighborhoods (From Taksim) after arriving at the historical peninsula via Ataturk Bridge, a turn to the right (Eyup direction) is needed. This is also the same path if you come from Eminonu (from Sultanahmet) side.

Again via Eyup direction, the road by the seaside should be followed. As you come closer to Fener-Balat, Kadir Has University will be the first landmark to welcome you. This building used to be a tobacco factory in Ottoman era and it is quite easy to notice it as it’s a huge building.

Kadir Has University is the meeting point for the majority of Cibali Fener Balat walking tour. Cibali and Fener-Balat neighborhoods are interwoven and it’s really easy to visit all of them by walking.

Kadir Has University

Fener Balat private walking tour

Kadir Has University at Cibali Neighborhood

The Historical Development of Fener Balat Neighborhoods

Fener Balat are two cute neighborhoods where you can still feel a neighborhood culture. However, what really makes them interesting is the history and demographic features of these neighborhoods.

Istanbul during Ottoman Empire

Following the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottoman Empire in 1453, the structure of the city changed totally. Constantinople already used to be a colorful port city and it became a more cosmopolite one due to the intense immigration of the Turks and the communities from the east.

While the new structure of the city was taking its shape, the citizens of Greek origin began to settle in Fener neighborhood. Balat neighborhood which is next to Fener became the home of Jewish citizens.

The History of Fener (Greek) Neighborhood

The actual name of the “Byzantine Empire” was the Eastern Roman Empire. As it was the heir of the famous Roman Empire’s in ancient times, the people of the Byzantine Empire were known as ‘’Rum’’ by the Turks, which meant Roman.

Due to their high command of European languages, in addition to being employed as interpreters in the palace, the Greek citizens were also active in trade and various crafts as well. The Greeks were the members of the Orthodox sect of Christianity and they practiced their belief freely under the guidance of Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.

Istanbul Fener (Phanar) Neighborhood
Fener Balat guided walking tour

Phanar Greek Orthodox College (Helenic School Of Theology)

The History of Balat (Jewish) Neighborhood

After the fall of the Kingdom of Granada, the Andalusians in the south of Spain were forced to leave their home. In addition to the Muslims, the Catholic rulers Isabel and Ferdinand announced they didn’t want Jews in Spain, either.

The Ottoman Empire opened her arms to these people who had nowhere to go. The Spanish Jews (Sephardi Jews) that were brought to Istanbul via the Ottoman ships that Sultan Bayezid II sent to Spain, settled in at Balat neighborhood and they mingled with the Jewish residents that were already there.

Therefore, the west side of the Ancient Istanbul became a cultural mosaic. The Turks lived at Cibali neighborhood, while the Greeks were at Fener and the Jews were settled in Balat. Synagogues, mosques, and churches were together in the same area.

Istanbul Balat Neighborhood

Istanbul old Ottoman wooden houses

Old Houses from Ottoman Period

Cibali Fener Balat Walking Tour Route

Due to their cultural importance that I’ve summarized above, Cibali, Fener, and Balat neighborhoods must definitely be visited. However, such neighborhoods that are so rich in terms of culture and history should be visited under the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable tour guide.

This is mainly because every street and even every building has its own story and a private guide with a nice presentation will make your visit more enjoyable and meaningful. If you would like to be accompanied by a guide, you can check Istanbul Local Tour Guide website to arrange your private tour.

Places to Visit in Cibali Neighborhood

1st Part of Fener Balat Walking Tour

Fener-Balat tours start in front of Kadir Has University. Cibali Tobacco Factory, the symbol of Cibali neighborhood is today’s Kadir Has University.

The history of this building dates back to 19th century and it changed the sociological structure of the neighborhood during the time it was a tobacco factory and it turned the neighborhood into a workers’ neighborhood.

It evolved into a university in the modern days and once again it made an impact on the fate of the neighborhood, making it the center of cultural activities. This building has played an important role in increasing the popularity of Fener Balat neighborhoods in recent years.

Istanbul Cibali Neighborhood Map
  • The Cibali Gate & Old Police Station

After a walk once passing by the university, Cibali Police Station, which became the subject of a famous Turkish play “Cibali Karakolu”, and the Cibali Gate can be seen.

Cibali Gate through the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople
Istanbul backstreets walking tour

Cibali Gate & Cibali Police Station

  • Gul Mosque – The Church of Hagia Theodosia

The Church of Hagia Theodosia was built in the name of St. Theodosia who was martyred during the Byzantine Iconoclasm. It was believed that this church would heal the people in the Byzantine era.

The structure attracts attention thanks to its red colored bricks from outside and the interior of the building is a great place to take some amazing photos.

Gül Mosque was a Byzantine Church
Istanbul Byzantine heritage walking tour

The Church of Hagia Theodosia

  • The Sur Gate & Nev-i Café at Ayakapı Street

Let’s continue discovering the city walls of Constantinople and its gates that made the access to the city possible. By a short walk from the previous gate, The Sur Gate and Nev-i Café, which was a police station back in days, can be seen.

Police stations that functioned as checkpoints next to the gates that would open to the city are still standing today.

Old Police Station is now a cafe with The Golden Horn view

The Sur Gate & Nev-i Cafe (Ayakapı Street)

  • Atolye Kafasi

When you pass through The Sur Gate, you will see wall painting of Turkish actors and actresses on the wall. Atölye Kafası is managed by a very skilled family in wood craftsmanship. They bring carpenter craftsmanship and café together, thus creating an amazing concept.

You can see tons of different carpenter crafts and feel like in another world. And outside the café, you can find the figures of Turkish movie actors and actresses painted by street artists, which is a great source for cool Instagram posts.

Fener Balat Istanbul Backstreets Walking Tour
Istanbul street photography

Istanbul Street Art

Atolye Kafasi Cafe at Fener Balat Walking Tour
Fener Balat Cafes & Restaurants

Atolye Kafasi Cafe

Things to Do in Fener Neighborhood

2nd Part of Fener Balat Walking Tour

An amazing cultural treasure is hidden in Fener neighborhood. Naturally, Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Patriarchal Church of St George inside Patriarchate Complex are two places to visit in this neighborhood.

Istanbul Fener Neighborhood Map
  • Konstantin Marashli School

If you go to Greek Orthodox Patriarchate via Dr. Sadik Ahmet Street, you can come across the building whose image can be seen below.

This structure seems to be one of those at Ephesus Ancient City, but indeed it’s a school built by a Greek ship owner with the money donated to Fener neighborhood. However, it doesn’t serve as a school anymore since it doesn’t have any students.

A Primary School By Constantine Marashli
Fener Balat things to do

Konstantin Marashli School

  • Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople

Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople was the strongest leader of Christianity when the Byzantine Empire was at its strongest times, so much so that, the Patriarch had a bigger authority than the Pope and he would crown emperors and he would be deeply respected.

The Patriarchate’s influence weakened over time as the Byzantine Empire lost its former power and the Crusade soldiers invaded Constantinople during the 4th Crusade (Sack of Constantinople). Although the city was taken back in 1261 by the Byzantines, the Patriarchate has never become as strong as its old days.

Nevertheless, considering today’s Orthodox world, the level of influence of the Patriarch can be realized in the old days. It’s mainly due to the reason that the vast majority of Christians in Eastern Europe, Russia, and the Middle East are Orthodox Christians.

Sultan Mehmed II, converted the Hagia Sophia, the flower of the Patriarchate, into a mosque, however, he didn’t end the patriarchate’s existence. On the contrary, with a decree he wrote, he guaranteed its safety and the security and made sure it functioned as before.

Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate Buildings
Istanbul Fener Balat tourist attractions

Church of St. George exterior

  • Patriarchal Church of St. George

The Patriarchal Church of St. George is a small and beautiful church in the courtyard of the Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. The wood carved and gold foiled altar in the center of the church is spectacular.

If you visit the church while a ceremony is performed, you will have a chance to observe a really different and interesting religious ceremony. The hymns that sound like a mournful requiem are worth listening.

Istanbul Patriarchal Church: St. George’s Cathedral
Istanbul Fener Balat how to get there

Church of St. George interior

  • Phanar Greek Orthodox College

Phanar Greek Orthodox College is a faculty of theology founded to train ecclesiastics. However, it’s a high school with special status, but no formal religious education is provided at the school anymore. This building was built by architect Dimadis in 1881 and it definitely has unique architectural features.

This is the very structure that’s frequently shared on Instagram with Fener and Balat tags. This building is so popular as it’s so majestic that it reminds visitors of Hagia Sophia and the sight of such a structure is a thrilling experience for the visitors.

Most people mistake this school with the Patriarchate Complex as they discover an amazing building. It’s common to come across such mistakes on social media posts.

Istanbul Fener Greek Orthodox College
Istanbul walking alternative walking routes

Phanar Greek Orthodox College

  • The Church of Saint Mary of the Mongols

This church Is the only church that has survived to date since the conquest of Istanbul. Although it’s community is not as big as before, it’s still active. A decree written by Sultan Mehmed II can be seen inside the church.

As the firman ordered, the Church of Saint Mary of the Mongols have never been converted into a mosque and it belongs to the community of the Greek Orthodox.

  • Dimitrie Cantemir House

Dimitri Kantemir grew up in Fener neighborhood and as a non-Muslim in the Ottoman bureaucracy, he reached the highest level possible and became the governor of Ottoman Empire’s vassal, Moldova.

He was an intellectual who could speak multiple languages and had a big interest in poetry, philosophy, music, and science.

He composed a lot of Turkish music and he saved old works from being lost by notating them. The mansion he lived in the past is at Merdivenli Mektep Street in Fener neighborhood.

  • Colorful Houses At Kiremit Street

The same way the houses at Balat are famous, the houses at Fener’s Kiremit Street are equally famous.

After visiting the Church of Saint Mary of the Mongols, you should definitely walk down from Usturumca Street and enjoy the spectacular show that the beautiful houses that are lined up right on the start of the ramp.

Old Istanbul Houses from Ottoman period

Old Houses at Fener Neighborhood

Colorful Greek Houses at Fener Neighborhood
istanbul unusual things to do

Colorful Houses of Fener Neighborhood

Things To Do in Balat Neighborhood

3rd Part of Fener Balat Walking Tour

Balat is a word derived from Palation which means “Palace”.  It’s named so due to the fact that the Emperors of the Byzantine Empire would reach Blachernae Palace via the sea and entered the palace via this gate.

As Balat used to be the settlement area for the Jews, there are a lot of synagogues in the neighborhood.

Istanbul Balat Neighborhood Map
  • Ahrida Synagogue of Istanbul

Ahrida Synagogue is seen as the most important synagogue in Balat neighborhood. It was built by the Jews that migrated from Macedonia. Unfortunately, the entrance to the synagogue is subject to permit.

The inside of the synagogue is decorated with invaluable furniture and the sermon platform to address the community resembles the forepart of Noah’s Ark, therefore the story of this myth is kept alive.

Ahrida Synagogue in Balat
Istanbul Jewish heritage walking tour

Istanbul Ahrida Synagogue at Balat

  • Merdivenli Yokus Street

This is the street where most of the photos during Fener Balat walking tour is taken. This is where Balat’s famous colorful houses are located. These houses can be found on side alleys of Balat although they are a little complicated.

  • Surp Hiresdagabed Armenian Church

This church used to be a Greek Orthodox Church and it was allocated for the Armenian community by the firman of a Sultan.

The original building burnt down in 1692, but it was rebuilt. However, it was damaged many times due to some other fires. Finally, in the 19th century, by Sultan Mahmut II’s order, it was built with stones to protect it from fires.

  • St. Stephan Bulgarian Church

The Bulgarian community, influenced by the nationalistic movement after the French Revolution, wanted to break free from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and they built their own church.

However, as the land allocated for the church was a filled land, the main skeleton of the church was made of steel so that it wouldn’t slide to Golden Horn and be lasting.

St. Stephan Bulgarian Church
Istanbul off the beaten track guided tour

St. Stephan Bulgarian Church

Fener Balat Walking Tours By Serhat Engul

You may arrange your private guided tour for Fener Balat Neighborhoods in order to discover hidden gems of Istanbul. Serhat Engul is a licensed tour guide who offers off the beaten track tours of Istanbul. You may join Serhat to walk through the oldish streets of Istanbul. These streets provide amazing photo opportunities.

Fener Balat Private Guided Walking Tours
Fener Balat Private Guided Walking Tour

Fener Balat Tour by Serhat Engul

Written By Serhat Engul


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