A Photo Walk in Balat, Istanbul

by Ana

If you enjoy going off the beaten path, then you should head to Fener and Balat (Istanbul) and get lost in their historical, colorful, and narrow streets.

 

colorful streets of balat

Colorful streets of Balat

 

If you travel to Istanbul and, like me, you’re the kind of traveler who likes to walk, go off the beaten path and stay away from the crowds of tourists; then you should definitely include Balat and Fener in your Istanbul itinerary.

Balat, the historical Jewish quarter, and the neighboring Fener, the ancient Greek neighborhood, are perfect areas to experience a bit of the local Istanbul lifestyle while getting lost in their historical, colorful, and narrow streets. Let’s get to know these areas of Istanbul better!

 

Fener and Balat, Istanbul

 

Located in the district of Fatih, along with the South side of the Golden Horn, walking around the neighborhoods of Balat and Fener is certainly a journey to the past. Back in the day, both neighborhoods were a melting pot of Jews, Greeks, Armenians, and Turks.

However, that multiethnic character of Balat and Fener was lost during the mid-20th century when a large portion of the Jewish community left after the birth of Israel and most of the Greek families fled after the Cyprus dispute of the 60s and 70s. After that, the area has been forgotten, becoming certainly one of Istanbul’s poorest ones.

 

Views of Balat from the old Greek highschool

Views of Fener from the old Greek high school

 

From 2003, following a renovation programme for Balat and Fener instituted by the European Union, the area started flourishing again with cool cafes, vintage shops, and artisan workshops. Both Balat and Fener were also included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

 

Balat streets (Istanbul)

Street of Fener, the historical Greek neighborhood in Istanbul.

 

The best way to discover Balat and Fener is by simply getting lost and wandering around their narrow and hilly streets. Among historic wooden houses of bizarre colors and shapes, synagogues, churches and mosques dating from Byzantine and Ottoman times, there are plenty of little secrets to be discovered.

One of the buildings which will surely catch your eye is the imposing castle-like structure of Phanar Greek Orthodox College (aka the Red Castle or the Red School), which was built back in 1454 with red brick brought from France.  The magnificent building dominates the hill of Fener and is still in use today as a high school for the Greek minority.

 

Fener Rum lisesi – Greek Ortodox College

Fener Rum Lisesi – Phanar Greek Orthodox College

 

Another important place not to be missed in Fener is the Church of St. George, a seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople since 1600. Even though the church is relatively small and humble, it means as much to the Orthodox believers as much as St. Peter in Rome for the Catholics.

 

The exterior of the Church of St George in Fener, Istanbul.

The exterior of the Church of St George in Fener, Istanbul.

 

But, besides history, what struck me most from Balat and Fener are the small bites of reality. During your walk, you will see lots of stray cats resting quietly, kids playing soccer, locals drinking tea and laundry hanging from house to house… Lots of photo opportunities at every corner!

Even though the area is still relatively quiet and not many tourists venture here, it is clear that it’s only a matter of time until Balat and Fener become trendy. Go now before it gets too crowded!

 

Ottoman houses of Balat

Colorful streets of Bala, the historical Jewish quarter in Istanbul.

Balat scenes

 

 

Getting there:

From Eminönü you can walk along the beautiful Golden Horn coast (around 20-30 minutes) or take any of these buses: 33ES, 35D, 36CE, 41Y, 44B, 48E, 55T, 99, 99A, 99Y, 399B and 399C. You can get off at Fener bus stop and start exploring its backstreets!

 

In Balat kids still play free in the streets

In Balat kids still play free in the streets

A walk in Balat gives you great photo opportunities.

A walk in Balat gives you many good photo opportunities.

Laundry hangs outside in Balat

Laundry hangs outside in Balat

This long forgotten area is now flourishing with cafes and artisan shops.

This long forgotten area is now flourishing with lots of cafes and artisan shops.

 

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10 comments

Escape Hunter March 20, 2016 - 16:27

There’s quite a world in there… hilly labyrinth with intriguing streets.

Reply
Anthony Cohn March 21, 2016 - 14:15

Thank you for the interesting article, I am going to Istanbul next month and will definitely add Fener and Balat to my itinarary.

Reply
Ana March 22, 2016 - 14:10

Hello Anthony, thanks a lot for your commentç I am glad that you liked my post. I will reach to you via email 🙂

Reply
Anthony Cohn March 22, 2016 - 09:42

Hi Ana,

Please would you send me one of the promotional codes for GPSMyCity? having GPSMyCity for Istanbul would really make my trip great.

Thanks
Anthon

Reply
Zaki April 19, 2016 - 13:50

hi Ana!

would you mind to send me the promo code for GPSmyCity ?
i’ll be solo traveling istanbul in next month, i’m interested in off-the-beaten-path of istanbul, and the full version of GPSmyCity will be very helpful during my visit there.

thanks,
Zaki

Reply
Ana May 10, 2016 - 08:31

Hello Zaki,

I reached out to you via email. I hope you enjoyed your trip to Istanbul, lots of off the beaten path secrets here 🙂

Regards,
Ana

Reply
Rouba Khattar August 20, 2016 - 22:21

Hi Ana!
I’ve just come across your article while researching about Fener and Balat. I’ll be visiting Istanbul in a week and I want to check them out. Can you help me in setting a route for my tour? How do I find the attractions in those areas without getting lost? And how do I go from Fener to Balat?
Thanks!

Reply
Rouba Khattar August 21, 2016 - 06:20

Hi Ana. I want to visit Fener and Balat during my upcoming visit to Istanbul. Can you give me a clear route for visiting the major attractions in this area without getting lost? Thanks!

Reply
Hendro Liu May 23, 2018 - 04:39

Hi Ana. I will be visiting Istanbul next month. Definitely gonna check outBalat.can I have the promocode too?

Thanks a lot.

Reply
Ana May 23, 2018 - 13:28

Hello Hendro, thank you very much for your comment. Unfortunately, I dont have any more codes left 🙁 But I hope you still visit Balat, just get lost there, it is wonderful 🙂

Reply

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