Committee on Environment, Geography and Urbanization

Division of Social Sciences, The University of Chicago

Issue 7 | Spring 2024

Remnants of 19th Century Constantinople

Story and Photos by Hazal Kara

Istanbul is perplexing, even to someone who has spent their whole life exploring its twists and turns. It is a place of perpetual transformation, leaving you with new questions each day. Its every building, every frame is an invitation to confront the past. In that sense, Istanbul is more like a person than a place.

With this photo essay I have documented various locations in Istanbul, all of which were constructed in the 19th century, when the city was still called Constantinople. Some of these places see thousands of people come and go each day; others, having long been abandoned, sit silently in the convoluted network of the city’s streets, waiting to be given a new purpose.

A vacant high school, built in the late 19th century and minutes away from the famous Taksim square. This high school is specifically denoted as a Rum High School. Rum, often (imprecisely) translated as Greek, refers to Orthodox Christian descendants of the Eastern Roman Empire who have lived in Anatolia for centuries. The school aimed to provide education to girls from low income backgrounds. It was shut down in 1999 due to low enrollment.

Interior of the Bulgarian St. Stephen Church, sometimes called the Demir Kilise, or “Iron Church.” Located in Balat, a historically Jewish neighborhood off the coast of the Golden Horn, the Church was constructed in 1898 and renovated 120 years later in 2018.

An archbishopric next to the church, engraved with Old Bulgarian script that names the donor of the building and neighboring church. At the time of my visit, it was unclear to me if the building was still in use.

An old Italian hospital built in the 1820s to serve Genevan sailors. It has undergone many renovations since the 19th century. Today, the hospital is no longer in use, decaying, unnoticed by passersby, blending into the rest of Defterdar Yokuşu.

The u-shaped Doğan Apartments. These are some of the earliest multistory apartments in Istanbul, housing artists, writers, and other famous figures, such as Sezen Aksu, one of the most prominent pop singers from Turkey. The apartments have been featured in various Turkish cult films.

The Beyoğlu Tünel Station. Before the Tünel—one of the few funicular lines in the city—was built, thousands of people would walk up and down the incline connecting Galata and Pera (now Karaköy and Beyoğlu), two of Constantinople’s major commercial neighborhoods. Proposed by French engineer Eugène-Henri Gavand and opened to the public in 1875, the Tünel is the oldest urban subway in continental Europe.