To see something a little more off the beaten path in Istanbul, I decided to go to Arnavutköy on an early summer morning. Getting there was part of the experience; after taking the commuter train to Eminönü, I walked the bridge crossing the Golden Horn, and waited at a bus stop with quite a few others. When an already full bus showed up, people were trying to squeeze into it; after a while, the driver gestured that we should enter though the back doors, thus not having to pay for the ride which suited me well as I did not have a ticket. I got off at Beşiktaş, where a guy at the ticket booth, who barely spoke English, told me to take bus 40B, or so I thought. The timetable indicated I had to wait 20 minutes, and I wandered around the waterfront, where a sign suggested there should be a boat from here to Arnavutköy, but no one could tell me where it left. When the bus pulled up, I found out it was not going to Arnavutköy, and the driver pointed to the main road. I ended up taking bus 22, which lasted only some 10 minutes, passing under the Bosporus Bridge linking Europe and Asia.
First thing to do was to walk the promenade at the waterfront, giving great views over the waters between Europe and Asia; I could easily see the big Turkish flags on the other side. Lots of Turks were trying to catch fish here, and I had to walk carefully not to touch their fishing rods. I had expected to see old Ottoman houses here, but my first impression of the houses lining the waterfront was that they looked pretty new. When I crossed the Arnavutköy-Bebek road, I realized it was constructed in front of the houses which apparently had once been directly on the Bosporus. The houses looked nice, but a tad too shiny, and I decided to try my luck at the backstreets in search of more telling examples of the Ottoman houses. The historic village of Arnavutköy was originally constructed by Greeks back in the 4th century BCE which they called Hestai - it would change name to Promotu and Anaplus before getting its current name after the famous conquest of then Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire in 1453. Meaning Albanian village, Sultan Mehmet named Arnavutköy after the Albanians who were resettled here. The history of the village is not only multi-ethnic but also multi-religious; christians, jews, and muslims all settled here.
As soon as I walked into the village of Arnavutköy itself, the houses became noticeably older and more attractive. Sun barely reaches into the narrow streets, but does shine on the wooden Ottoman houses, some well maintained, others with blistering paint, most with decorations on the walls, windows, and doors. There are newer houses, some of concrete and bricks, but many are still the mansions of a style that was used centuries ago. Inevitably, Arnavutköy has seen great fires destroying much of the village, but it was always rebuilt, so even though they look old, oldest houses of Arnavutköy today were probably constructed some 100 years ago. The more I saw and the more I walked, the more I liked the quiet backstreets of the village. Even though the style of the mansions is similar, I did not find one house exactly like another: some are brown, some green, white or yellow, some are narrow, some wide, some have balconies, some only bay windows - streets are rows of unique samples of the Ottoman houses for which Arnavutköy is famous. Getting back to Istanbul was again not easy, as the bus got trapped in traffic, I followed the example of the other passengers, and walked back from there, back to the chaotic bustle of the city: what a contrast with the peaceful atmosphere of Arnavutköy.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Arnavutköy (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Arnavutköy.
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