Tucked away in the Golden Horn of Istanbul is an often-overlooked piece of history, just far enough away from the main attractions of Sultanahmet to go unnoticed. The old districts of Fener and Balat – the old Greek and Jewish quarters respectively – have somehow managed to preserve their minority histories throughout many tumultuous centuries.
As you walk along the coast from Eminönü, past the fishermen and heavy traffic, a different sort of skyline will come into view. Along the sea, the imposing figure of St. Stephens, a newly renovated Bulgarian church made almost entirely of iron, shimmers in the sunlight.
Across the bustling streets, Rum Lisesi – a Greek Orthodox church-turned-school overlooks the tangled network of alleys. The old bohemian streets beckon you in a little farther with their numerous charming cafes and quirky shops. Before you know it, you are standing above it all, glancing down at rows of colorful houses, dotted with clotheslines.
It is a version of Istanbul unlike any I had ever seen before. I don’t know why it took me so long to see it, but I know that I must go back.