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The New Mosque seen from Golden Horn
The New Mosque seen from Golden Horn

Eminönü is a district of Istanbul in Turkey. This is the heart of the walled city of Constantine, the focus of a history of incredible richness. Eminönü covers the point on which the Byzantine capital was built. The Galata Bridge crosses the Golden Horn into Eminönü and the mouth of the Bosphorus opens into the Marmara Sea. And up on the hill stands Topkapı Palace, the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii) and Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya). Thus Eminönü is the main tourist destination in Istanbul. It was a part of the fatih district until 1928, which covered the whole peninsular area of old Istanbul within the medieval city walls - that area which was formerly the Byzantine capital Constantinople. Since the resident population of Eminönü is low today, it is scheduled to rejoin the fatih district.


The Golden Horn was a natural port, particularly the Eminönü/Sirkeci shore, which being on a peninsula was also eminently defensible. It was for this port that İstanbul was built, and from here that İstanbul grew, with the oldest neighbourhoods being the port districts along the Golden Horn. In time the Byzantine port was also occupied by merchants from Genoa and Pisa, who eventually acquired their own wharfs and waterfront districts.

The Golden Horn was still a thriving port in Ottoman times, occupied by importers, warehousemen, sailors and traders of every description, the centre of trade in the city, a labryinth of narrow streets wokshops and markets leading uphill to Topkapı Palace, the Ottoman capital.

The district's name, Eminönü, also reflects its' place in history. Translated from Turkish to English it roughly means 'in front of justice'. Emin meaning 'justice', önü meaning 'in front of'. The name most probably came from the Ottoman courts and customs houses on the docks.


The nature of the place did of course change in the industrial age; the Galata Bridge was built across the Golden Horn; steamships came, then electricity, then the railway and the Istanbul terminal of the Orient Express was naturally sited at Sirkeci Station. The sea walls still surrounded the city, and the sea gates of the port of Eminönü were the point of entry for goods, and for people. Eminönü was bounded to fatih until 1928. She became district of İstanbul in 1928.

Following the huge railway station, other grand stone buildings followed in the late Ottoman period, commercial buildings, the central post office among others. And in the early days of the Republic of Turkey, Eminönü was renovated extensively; the big square was opened up in front of Yeni Cami (by clearing out the tollbooths at the end of the Galata Bridge); The Spice bazaar was restored; the fish market was cleared off the shore of the Golden Horn and a road opened up to the new bridge at Unkapanı.

By the 1950s, the area was continuously clogged up with traffic, which was eased somewhat by the construction of the large coast road around the point and all the way out to Istanbul airport.


Eminönü today

Although the government has moved to Ankara and Istanbul has expanded rapidly to becoming the enormous city we have today with the centre of business now in huge shiny buildings elsewhere in the city, Eminönü is still buzzing. It still has the busiest ferry crossings for the Bosphorus and for the Marmara Sea, still has the only car ferry across the Bosphorus and still has the only mainline railway terminus (where trains can be caught to Eastern Thrace (Trakya) and Europe) and people flood into the area on boats, buses, or the light metro from Aksaray.

During the daytime the area is packed with merchants and their customers, hordes of shoppers and many tourists. Add to this a number of key government buildings including the governor's office and the main campus of Istanbul University in Beyazit. At night it is very, very quiet. There is some housing in Eminönü but most of the buildings are offices, shops and workshops, and if you do happen to be there in the evening the contrast with the daytime is eery and somewhat menacing. In the daytime there are 2,000,000 people in Eminönü, but the district has only 30,000 residents. The people that do live in Eminönü are working class and conservative.


Things to see

Eminönü has many historical mosques and buildings, many of Istanbul's best-known landmarks. Recent development has improved Eminönü greatly and many of its winding streets which can at first seem imposing, have been developed and improved, while Eminönü has started to repair the many mosques.


Shopping in Eminönü

The area is heaving with shoppers; especially at weekends people come from all over the city, looking for discount clothing, or plastic accessories, staionery and cheap toys in the streets behind the Spice Bazaar. You will not find the classy boutiques of the big shopping centres, the clientele in Eminönü is much more traditional and working class. The narrow climbing street called Mahmutpaşa for example is the place where those of a conservative nature come to buy a coat or a headscarf, or to kit their boys out in the costume they wear on circumcision day.

Eminönü is crawling with thousands of people hawking goods on handcarts, makeshift stalls or a blanket laid out in the street, as well as the millions of little shops and workshops in the streets, bazaars and the big stone fortresses from the Ottoman era called Han in Turkish. Every inch is retail space, even the underpasses taking people from the ferries are lined with shops, kebab grillers and boys selling cigarettes. Predictably there is a fair amount of purse-snatching and pickpocketing in the crowds. And the narrow streets are hard to keep clean.

There are so many businesses packed into such a small area that a single street or even a single building can be the centre of a particular trade, and turning a corner will take you into a totally different atmosphere. Here you are surrounded by stall after stall of denim jeams, and across one block you are submerged in the scent of coffee and spices. The variety is breathtaking and Eminönü takes some exploring.

Some well known sub-districts (semt) include:


Eating in Eminönü

In the daytime the choice of food is incredible, and in particular the area is covered with 'lokanta' serving soups, stews and hot vegetable dishes at lunchtime. You will find these in all the bazaars and shopping streets, for example the street called Hocapaşa near Sirkeci station has a great variety. Eminönü offers any number of fast foods and snacks including döner, lahmacun and the grilled mackerel sandwiches on the waterfront by the ferry docks. These used to be sold from boats, this is now banned but you can still find mackerel grillers in the area.

Much of the district is closed down in the evening although you will still find food in the following places:


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