Beyoğlu is a district located on the European side of İstanbul, Turkey, separated from the old city (historic peninsula of Constantinople) by the Golden Horn. It was known as Pera (meaning "Across" in Greek) during the Middle Ages, and this name remained in common use until the early 20th century and the establishment of the Turkish Republic.
According to the prevailing theory, the Turkish name of Pera, Beyoğlu, is a modification by folk etymology of the Venetian ambassadorial title of Bailo, whose palazzo was the most grandiose structure in this quarter. The informal Turkish-language title Bey Oğlu (literally Son of a Lord) was originally used by the Ottoman Turks to describe Lodovico Gritti, Istanbul-born son of Andrea Gritti, who was the Venetian Bailo in Istanbul during the reign of Sultan Bayezid II and later elected Doge of Venice in 1523. Bey Oğlu thus referred to Lodovico Gritti, who established close relations with the Sublime Porte, and whose mansion was near the present-day Taksim Square. Located further south in Beyoğlu and originally built in the early 16th century, the "Venetian Palace" was the seat of the Bailo. The original palace building was replaced by the existing one in 1781, which later became the "Italian Embassy" following Italy's unification in 1861, and the "Italian Consulate" in 1923, when Ankara became the capital of the Republic of Turkey.
The district encompasses other neighborhoods located north of the Golden Horn, including Galata (the medieval Genoese citadel from which Beyoğlu itself originated, which today is known as Karaköy), Tophane, Cihangir, Şişhane, Tepebaşı, Tarlabaşı, Dolapdere and Kasımpaşa, and is connected to the old city center across the Golden Horn through the Galata Bridge and Unkapanı Bridge. Beyoğlu is the most active art, entertainment and night life centre of Istanbul.
The area that is now known as Beyoğlu has been inhabited for millennia, and records show that a settlement existed on the northern shore of the Golden Horn since the time of Christ. In the Greek period, the hillside was covered with orchards and was named Sykai (The Fig Orchard), or Peran en Sykais (The Fig Field on the Other Side), referring to the "other side" of the Golden Horn. As the Byzantine Empire grew, so did Constantinople and its environs. This side of the Golden Horn was built up as a suburb of Byzantium as early as the 5th century. It was in this period that the area began to be called Galata, and a fortress was built by Emperor Theodosius II. The name Galata (possibly derived from the Greek word Galaktos, meaning milk) was presumably given because the area was an important farmland for the city. Gallic people believe the name Galata is Celtic. In classical mythology Galata was the ancestress of the Gallic people. The Galata section of Istanbul carries a reminder of the Celts, as does the city of Galati in Romania.
Genoa and Venice periods
The area came to be the base of European merchants, particularly from Genoa and Venice, in what was then known as Pera. Following the Fourth Crusade in 1204, and during the Latin Empire of Constantinople (1204–1261), the Venetians were more prominent in Pera. The Dominican Church of St. Paul (1233), today known as the Arap Camii, is from this period.
In 1273, Pera was given to the Republic of Genoa by the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus in return for Genoa's support of the Empire after the Fourth Crusade and the sacking of Constantinople in 1204. Pera became a flourishing trade colony, ruled by a Podestà.
The Genoese Palace (Palazzo del Comune) was built in 1316 by Montano de Marinis, the Podestà of Galata (Pera), and still remains today in ruins, near the Bankalar Caddesi (Banks Street) in Karaköy, along with its adjacent buildings and numerous Genoese houses from the early 14th century.
In 1348 the Genoese built the famous Galata Tower, one of the most prominent landmarks of Istanbul. Pera (Galata) remained under Genoese control until May 29, 1453, when it was conquered by the Ottomans along with the rest of the city, after the Siege of Constantinople.
Following the Turkish siege of Constantinople in 1453, during which the Genoese sided with the Byzantines and defended the city together with them, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II allowed the Genoese (who had fled to their colonies in the Aegean Sea such as Lesbos and Chios) to return back to the city, but Galata was no longer run by a Genoese Podestà.
Venice, Genoa's archrival, regained control in the strategic citadel of Galata (Pera), which they were forced to leave in 1261 when the Byzantines retook Constantinople and brought an end to the Latin Empire (1204–1261) that was established by Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice.
Venice immediately established political and commercial ties with the Ottoman Empire, and a Venetian Bailo was sent to Pera as an ambassador, like during the Byzantine period. It was the Venetians who suggested Leonardo da Vinci to Bayezid II when the Sultan mentioned his intention to construct a bridge over the Golden Horn, and Leonardo designed his Galata Bridge in 1502.
The Bailo's seat was the "Venetian Palace", originally built in Beyoğlu in the early 16th century and replaced by the existing palace building in 1781; which later became the "Italian Embassy" after the unification of Italy in 1861, and the "Italian Consulate" in 1923, when Ankara became the new Turkish capital.
The Ottoman Empire had an interesting relationship with the Republic of Venice. Even though the two states often went to war over the control of East Mediterranean territories and islands, they were keen on restoring their trade pacts once the wars were over, such as the renewed trade pacts of 1479, 1503, 1522, 1540 and 1575 following major sea wars between the two sides. The Venetians were also the first Europeans to taste Ottoman delicacies such as coffee, centuries before other Europeans saw coffee beans for the first time in their lives during the Battle of Vienna in 1683. These encounters can be described as the beginning of today's rich "coffee culture" in both Venice (and later the rest of Italy) and Vienna.
Following the conquest of Constantinople and Pera in 1453, the coast and the low-lying areas were quickly settled by the Turks, but the European presence in the area did not end. Several Roman Catholic churches, as St. Anthony of Padua, SS. Peter and Paul in Galata and St. Mary Draperis were established for the needs of the Levantine population.
Nineteenth century Beyoğlu
During the 19th century it was again home to many European traders, and housed many embassies, especially along the Grande Rue de Péra (today İstiklâl Avenue). The presence of such a prominent European population - commonly referred to as Levantines - made it the most Westernized part of İstanbul, especially when compared to the Old City at the other side of the Golden Horn, and allowed for influxes of modern technology, fashion, and arts.
Thus, Beyoğlu was one of the first parts of İstanbul to have telephone lines, electricity, trams, municipal government and even an underground railway, the Tünel, inaugurated in 1875 as the world's second subway line (after London's Underground) to carry the people of Pera up and down from the port of Galata and the nearby business and banking district of Karaköy, where the Bankalar Caddesi (Banks Street), the financial center of the Ottoman Empire, is located. The theatre, cinema, patisserie and café culture that still remains strong in Beyoğlu dates from this late Ottoman period. Shops like İnci, famous for its chocolate mousse and profiteroles, predate the founding of the republic and still survive today.
The foreign communities also built their own schools, many of which went on to educate the elite of future generations of Turks, and still survive today as some of the best schools in Istanbul (see list of schools in Istanbul).
The rapid modernization which took place in Europe and left Ottoman Turkey behind was symbolized by the differences between Beyoğlu, and the historic Turkish quarters such as Eminönü and Fatih across the Golden Horn, in the Old City. When the Ottoman sultans finally initiated a modernization program with the Edict of Tanzimat (Reorganization) in 1839, they started constructing numerous buildings in Beyoğlu that mixed traditional Ottoman styles with newer European ones.
When the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the Turkish Republic was founded (during and after the First World War) Beyoğlu went into gradual decline. Much of the foreign communities left the city, and the local communities of ethnic minorities such as Greeks, Jews, Levantines and Armenians who formed the majority of the residents in Beyoğlu found it increasingly attractive to live elsewhere. The process gained momentum with the Varlık Vergisi (Wealth Tax) of the World War II years, the Istanbul Pogrom in 1955, and the Cyprus dispute in 1974. The widespread political violence between leftist and rightist groups which troubled Turkey in the late 1970s severely affected the lifestyle of the district, and accelerated its decline with the flight of the middle-class citizens to newer suburban areas such as Levent and Yeşilköy.
By the late 1980s, many of the grandiose Neoclassical and Art Nouveau apartment blocks which were once resided by the late Ottoman elite became home to immigrants from the countryside. While Beyoğlu continued to enjoy a reputation for its cosmopolitan and sophisticated atmosphere until the 1940s and 1950s, by the 1980s the area had become economically and socially degenerated.