Istanbul may be seamlessly adapting to the 21st century, but certain vintage neighbourhoods retain the textured patinas of yesteryear, their urban wallpaper melding the crumbling, romantic and historic alongside all that is new, revamped and gleamingly modern. The fast-gentrifying swathe of Istanbul known as Beyoğlu, across the Golden Horn from the historic city centre of Sultanahmet, is a long-standing, culturally rich settlement that echoes with pre-Ottoman elements.
Its Galata Tower is a 1348 legacy of the Genoese. This neighbourhood is the nexus of Europeanised Istanbul and all that is artistic and Western-spirited. A fantastic renaissance has taken place here, which expresses beautifully the pull between Orient and Occident in Istanbul and the way the city’s compellingly eclectic culture functions in dense layers. The district specialises in small-scale boutiques and inspiration pieces – and is the perfect place to stroll and shop.
Start around the Galata Tower itself. Serdar-ı Ekrem Caddesi, a street descending from here, is home to such edgy, multi-label stores such as Arzu Kaprol, which sells prêt-à-porter and bespoke garments. If it’s vintage purchases you seek, the best place is Çukurcuma, a fast-evolving nook known to locals as yabancı köy (‘foreigner village’) because it’s a haunt of bohemian expats. The maze-like streets are filled with charming small antique shops.
For strong modern designs with a bespoke edge, head to the Çukurcuma showroom of interior designer and artist Nahide Büyükkaymakçı, which features her own work, such as leather tapestries and intricate glassware, and that of other Turkish furniture makers and artists. Also in the winding, bohemian streets of Çukurcuma, A La Turca, owned by antiques dealer Erkal Aksoy, is a must for those who seek unadulterated Orientalism. It is a haven of antique kilims, carpets and other textiles, ceramic pieces, ornate furniture and sumptuous Ottoman objets d’art. Although the shoes are new at Fanfinfon, the fact that this tiny sliver of a store sells footwear hand-made by an onsite cobbler is magical; master craftsman Zeynep Turuthan works in many styles and in all colours of the rainbow.
Winding Faik Paşa Caddesi and Çukurcuma Caddesi, the two main streets in the labyrinthine Çukurcuma neighbourhood, are fringed with small antique shops overflowing with ephemera. Modern Tarih sells furniture and exotic home accessories from south and central Asia and Africa. Galeri Alfa, headed by art historian Dr Ayşe Yetişkin Kubilay, offers Ottoman-era antique, original and reproduction engravings, medieval and Ottoman maps and miniature painted toy soldiers.
İstiklal Caddesi, the pedestrianised shopping thoroughfare, generally has less charming shops, but there are a few wonders. Near Tünel, at the southern end, a few shops still exude old-world warmth and present quality goods. Denizler Kitabevi (‘the bookshop of the seas’), sells old posters, maps, engravings and books. On a side street off İstiklal Caddesi, Mor presents affordable, chunky, often bronze modern jewellery by a brother-and-sister pair who have a sibling shop in London’s Soho. Also on İstiklal Caddesi is Turkey’s leading luxury glass tableware brand Paşabahçe, with a wide range including tea and raki glasses and etched glass.
The Spice Bazaar (also known as the Egyptian Bazaar) in Eminönü over the Galata Bridge, is small compared with the Grand Bazaar, but is packed with excellent delis and shops selling Turkish delight, packs of apple tea, honeycombs, cheeses, dried nuts and fruit, stuffed figs, caviar, coffee, spices, and an incredible range of herbal teas for every complaint and condition. It is the ultimate proof that Istanbul’s timeless retail charms remain intoxicating