Popular Districts: Kurtuluş & Tarlabaşı

Hidden treasures from Kurtuluş to Tarlabaşı... If you happen to pass by Kurtuluş, please feel free to get lost in the streets!


Instead of glittering in the limelight, you will feel the sorrow of being sunk into oblivion while enjoying the delight of touching time.

Istanbul has such districts that, when you take a look at them, you cannot guess that they had once been an important part of the city. Having lost their glimmer and dynamism, they remain silent in their own shell. As if they hadn’t hosted any fairs and carnivals, or blended religions and people of every kind...they stand still like a naughty child, hidden in a nook corner after doing something wrong.

However, if you look carefully, you will see that various sects of the same religions and people from different countries have adopted these streets. Such that these districts had brought together people of different religions, ethnicity and nationality. Despite some problems due to this diversity, they are special enough to host new urban transformation projects. Let’s witness the dedicated history of these districts.

A burnt Tatavla (Byre), a settled Kurtuluş

Kurtuluş District, became a settlement area during the reign of Kanuni the Lawmaker by populating it with immigrants from Chios, was once known as “Tatavla”. The name “Tatavla” was derived from “Ta Tavla” the Greek corresponding for “Byre”. The reason for this was that the barns and the meadows of the palace were situated there. After the great fire in 1929, the district was given the name “Kurtuluş”.

Kurtuluş, in historical records, is mentioned, until the mid-19th century, as a poor Greek district. From this date to the mid-20th century, the richest and the most crowded Greek groups had lived in this area. Despite the marks of these riches are faint nowadays, the district has the airs of “she’s beautiful although she’s old”.

As Orhan Türker says in his book “A Corner from the Ottoman İstanbul: Tatavla”; although the Turks and other minority groups had started to settle in Kurtuluş, the dominance of the Greeks had continued until the 1950’s. Most of the Greeks of Kurtuluş who had suffered the 6-7 September incidents were deported according to the law enacted in 1964. A rapid social and ethnic transformation took place during the 70s, 80s and the 90s. The old buildings of Tatavla changed hands and jerry-built buildings have taken their place.

One of the unforgettable elements of the Tatavla’s history is “Baklahorani”. Baklahorani is the festival day the Greeks of Istanbul organize on the last Monday before Lent. It was a day when all the Greeks gathered, organised feasts and carnivals and got ready for Lent. Unfortunately, these festivals, which had continued until 1945, are no longer organized since the Greek population is at low ebb nowadays.

Kurtuluş behind the veil: The Churches

Another important aspect of Kurtuluş is that it shelters all the sects of Christianity. The diversification caused by the settlement of different religions and different sects to a small district takes its effects even now. Most of the Greeks being Orthodox, Kurtuluş features mostly the orthodox churches.

The Cathedral of the Holy Spirit is an important exception. Monsignor Hillerau, the Istanbul Representative of Pope had the famous architect Gaspard Fossati build the cathedral in 1845. Another important feature is that the cathedral has an underground cemetery for the nuns and the believers of the Holy Spirit. No burial has taken place since 1927 in the cemetery that contains the grave of the famous musician of the palace, Guiseppe Donizetti.

Another important church in Kurtuluş is the Greek Orthodox Church of Agios Dimitiros. The church is situated at today’s Kurtuluş Square. There is a myth about this church in one of the legends of Istanbul. Rumor has it that, when a small church in Kasımpaşa had been turned into a mosque after the conquest of İstanbul, the icon of Agios Dimitrios had been moved to the Saint Athanasios church on top of the hill, and the church was known as Agios Dimitrios from that time on.

According to the rest of the story, the icon had not only given its name to the church, but also the neighborhood was called Saint Dimitrios or Saint Dimitry from time to time. The primary construction date of the church is unknown. It can be traced back to the 16th century in the travellers’ notes and in the city plans. Repairs and annexes saved the building that is open to service today in 1726, 1782 and 1798. It is forbidden to take photos in the church. But you may visit the church if you wish to listen to the hymns and to have a spiritual journey with the smell of the incense.

Evangelistra Church is another Greek Orthodox Church in Kurtuluş. According to its epigraph, the church, completed in 1893, was built in place of an old wooden building in sixteen years. At the northwest of the church there stands the Holy Spring of Panayia Teotokos. This church, as all other churches dedicated to mother Mary, is full of icons depicting the affection and fidelity of a mother. Its most interesting feature, however, is that is in front of the church, a flea market. In this market, you may come across all kinds of stuff, from a book in French with its frayed and faded pages, to a guitar with broken strings; from a mirror with worn out glazing, to floor lamps of undetermined age.

One of the oldest Apartment Buildings in Istanbul is the Heyula Apartment.

When the apartment building craze became widespread all around the world, an apartment arose in Elmadağ. This apartment was lived in by the rich people of the period who were tired of the mansion life and were trying to keep up with the trend of the times. As there was no concern for the panorama in those days as there is now, the rooms for the servants were at the top floor. When staring at the Heyula Apartment, as magnificent as its name, you may feel envious. Perhaps, this is because the apartment reflects the delicacy and classiness of the period it was built. 

If you pass by Tarlabaşı...

If you pass by Tarlabaşı, please show some courage and step into its streets and discover what secrets it conceals for all its unkempt appearances. Your discoveries will both amaze and excite you. For instance, do you know that the both Chaldeans and Melkites, who are disbanded nowadays, have churches here?

The Chealdean and Melkite (Saint Pantelemion) churches of the Catholic belief are striving to remain standing despite their diminished community and battered appearances. Two other churches of Tarlabaşı, which belong to other sects, are the Greek Orthodox “Saint Constation – Saint Helen Church” and the Protestant Armenian “Aynalı Çeşme” church. A female chaplain administers the Aynalı Çeşme church, a situation that we are unaccustomed to. Although its community is not so large in number, it is accepted as one of the most important parts of the district.

To be informed about the history of Tarlabaşı district, we should go back to 1535. Tarlabaşı started to be a residential area due to the settlement of ambassadors of the diplomatic missions, of the workers and servants of the Levantines and non-Muslim community of Beyoğlu. When we look closely at our near-history we notice that, with its changing socio-cultural composition, Tarlabaşı is not a desirable settlement area. It is waiting for a rejuvenated appearance through the “Urban Transformation Project”.

A Polish Poet in Istanbul; Adam Mickiewicz

Adam Mickiewicz was sent to İstanbul in 1855 to organize the Polish troops who would fight in the Crimean War. But he died before accomplishing his mission due to an epidemic. The house Adam Mizkiewicz had once lived is at close quarters to Kasımpaşa. This house, in which he had lived for a while and had breathed his last, was turned into a museum in 1955. In this museum, the documents about his life and poems, his photos and busts are exhibited. The basement floor of the building is organized as a symbolic grave for the poet, who was in fact buried at Krakow. 

• The name “Tatavla” was derived from “Ta Tavla” the Greek corresponding for “Byre”. After the great fire in 1929, the district was given the name “Kurtuluş”

• Another important church of Kurtuluş is the Greek Orthodox Church of Agios Dimitrios. The church is situated at today’s Kurtuluş Square. 

• The Chaldean and Melkite (Saint Pantelemion) churches of the Catholic belief are striving to remain standing despite their diminished community and battered appearances.

• The house Adam Mizkiewicz had lived once is at close quarters to Kasımpaşa. This house, in which he had lived for a while and had breathed his last, was turned into a museum in 1955.

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