Fener Balat Walking Tour
Istanbul Fener Balat Walking Tour by A Local Guide
Istanbul is a city steeped in deep and rich history. It was initially founded by the Greeks as Byzantium in 638 BC, later becoming Constantinople under Roman rule in Year 324 then officially becoming Istanbul many years later in 1930. It was ruled by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans and finally the Turkish Republic.
It goes without saying that Istanbul is one of the most diverse cities in the world. During the Ottoman era, only around two-thirds of its population was actually Muslims. The remaining one-third being a mix of different ethnic minorities such as the Greeks, Jews, and Armenians.
To really learn more about the minorities in the Istanbul and their unique traditions and culture, it’s important to take a closer look at individual neighborhoods such as Fener and Balat, two of the most iconic areas in Istanbul and an excellent location for a walking tour.
Table of Contents
- History of Fener Balat Neighborhoods
- Introduction to Fener Balat Walks
- Places to See in Cibali
- Places to See in Fener
- Places to See in Balat
- Things to do in Fener and Balat
- What to Eat in Fener and Balat
- Contact Us
The Fener-Balat neighborhoods are drenched in a rich history that stems all the way back to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. When the city was captured by the Ottoman Empire, the Fener district became home to the many Greeks that lived in the city and they even became important assistants to the Sultans. Phanariotes, as they were called, gave advice to the Ottoman leaders in various fields, and wealthy Phanariotes were even appointed as governors in western provinces.
Travel north from Fener and you’ll reach Balat, an old quarter of Istanbul that was inhabited by Romaniote, Ashkenazi and Sephardi (Spanish) Jews. When the Kingdom of Granada fell, the Andalusians in the south of Spain were exiled and forced to leave their home. The Catholic Monarchs of Spain announced that they didn’t want Muslims or Jews in Spain, and thus they were forced to search for a home elsewhere.
The Ottoman Empire welcomed the Spanish Jews with open arms and they were brought to Istanbul on Ottoman Ships that Sultan Bayezid II sent. They settled in Balat where they found Jewish neighbors that already inhabited the area.
Fall of Granada
The neighborhoods of Fener and Balat are within close proximity to each other yet the architectural and cultural differences are easy to see. The stark contrast of colorful Balat houses and historical Fener buildings makes the Fener-Balat area a wonderful place to embark on a walking tour.
Our walking tours usually start from the Kadir Has University which is located in the Cibali Neighborhood. It’s a great meeting spot and the perfect place to start a walking tour through the streets of Fener and finally down to the historic Balat neighborhood. All three neighborhoods are close to each other and a Fener Balat walking tour will take approximately 4 hours.
If you want to learn about the history of Istanbul, the Fener and Balat neighborhoods will certainly interest you. Many of the buildings and structures from hundreds of years ago are still standing today and they are absolutely wonderful sights that you should not miss.
Cibali is a vibrant neighborhood that had great significance during the Byzantine period and still has many old relics that have lasted hundreds of years since Roman rule.
Kadir Has University
One of the more modern buildings in the Cibali neighborhood, the Kadir Has university was founded in 1997 and serves as the starting point of our walking tours. The building originally served as a tobacco factory that was erected in 1884 but won the Europa Nostra Award for the most beautiful restoration of a historic place in 2003.
Fener Balat Walking Tour Starts Here
The Cibali Gate is one of the entrance gates into the city. It was built between the 4th and 5th centuries and has seen several restorations. The walls protected the city of Constantinople for a thousand years until it ultimately fell to the Ottoman forces in 1453.
St. Nicholas Church
The Church of St Nicholas isn’t an enormous or brilliant church like the Chora Church, but it’s still a star attraction and only open to guided tours such as the one we offer. It served as a basilica and further restorations have allowed it to stay standing as a display of classic Byzantine architecture.
Gül Mosque (Hagia Theodosia Church)
The Gul Mosque once served as a Byzantine church (Hagia Theodosia) but was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Empire that overlooks the Golden Horn. It’s one of the most important religious Byzantine buildings that is still standing.
The Fener neighborhood is full of historic buildings like churches and mansions that date back to the Byzantine era.
Old Greek Houses from 19th Century
A great way to experience the history and culture of the Fener neighborhood is to go on a walking tour of the historic buildings and houses that date back to the 19th century. The houses here have a unique architectural style that can’t be seen elsewhere in Istanbul.
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
Since 1600, the Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate Istanbul has been at the center of the Greek Orthodox world. It is the official seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and locally known as the Fener Rum Patrikhanesi. In many ways, it could be considered the Vatican of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Greek Orthodox College
The Greek Orthodox College is the oldest surviving and most prestigious Greek Orthodox School located in Istanbul. It was designed by Konstantinos Dimadis, an Ottoman Greek architect and was erected between 1881 and 1883. It is well-known for its mix of architectural styles and incredibly expensive cost at the time.
The Church of Saint Mary of the Mongols
Saint Mary of the Mongols is the only Byzantine church of Constantinople that was not converted to a mosque. Since the fall of Constantinople, Saint Mary of the Mongols was always open to the Greek Orthodox people and has stood tall since it was completed in 1281, undergoing several renovations due to fires that ravaged Fener during the period between early 1600 and 1700.
Once known as the Jewish district of the city, Balat contains many synagogues and a diverse cultural background that is reflected in the colorful architecture that lines the streets.
Colorful Houses of Balat
The streets of Balat are filled with brightly-colored houses that are inhabited by the many families that live in the neighborhood, creating an iconic backdrop that is perfect for photo opportunities during the walking tour.
Fener Balat Walking Tour
The Ahrida Synagogue is one of the oldest in the whole of Istanbul. The once thriving Jewish quarter of Balat was served by the great Ahrida Synagogue and it became one of the most important buildings in the entire neighborhood. Several renovations throughout the centuries have kept it true to its original architectural design.
Surp Hiresdagabed Armenian Church
Another large ethnic minority in Istanbul is the Armenians. During the Ottoman rule, a Greek church was offered to the Armenian population of the city. It fell to fires several times over the past few hundred years, only to be rebuilt many times with the most recent restoration taking place in 2012.
St. Stephan Bulgarian Church
Also known as the Bulgarian “Iron Church”, St. Stephen Bulgarian Church is a Bulgarian Orthodox church in Balat. It is made from cast iron elements and has a neo-Gothic architectural style that stands out from the rest of the neighborhood, making it a must-see destination.
Things to Do in Istanbul Fener Balat
Of course, there are also plenty of things to do in the Fener-Balat neighborhoods that you simply can’t miss!
Have a Great Turkish Breakfast
Locals love to flock to the Fener-Balat neighborhood on the weekends to get a delicious traditional Turkish breakfast. Forno Restaurant offers one of the best Turkish breakfast in the area as you can see it from the visual below.
Eat Delicious Turkish Food
The local restaurants in Fener-Balat serve some mouthwatering dishes made from traditional recipes and fresh local ingredients. If you love Turkish cuisine where you’re from, then trying the real thing in Istanbul will take your taste buds on a journey!
Drink Good Coffee
Whether you’re a coffee lover or just want to sample a local delicacy, you can experience some delicious high-quality artisanal coffee here in Istanbul. We’re home to one of the most famous coffee shops in the whole country; Coffee Department.
Try Meyhane Restaurants
Turkish Taverns (locally known as Meyhane) are perfect casual spots for a drink and some delicious local snacks. You can bring a few friends, meet and chat with some of the locals, or even just come in for a quiet drink on your own if you’d like some peace and quiet.
Find the Best Instagram Spots
Between the colorful houses of Balat and the traditional architecture of Fener, you’ll find plenty of spots for social media pictures and unique blogging ideas. Check the #Fener and #Balat tags on Instagram and Twitter to get an idea of what to expect on your walking tour.
Istanbul Fener Balat Walking Tour
Buy Unique Antiques
Balat is one of the alternative shopping places in Istanbul. If you love a bit of antique hunting then the Balat neighborhood hosts many auctions over the weekend where you can pick up beautiful antiques for rock-bottom prices.
You’ll be surprised at what you can find when you attend one of the local auctions here in Balat just don’t buy too much that you can’t fit it all in your luggage!
Experience the Brotherhood of Religions
Istanbul is a city with many unique ethnicities. Just by observing the locals, you’ll get to see how so many cultures came together and lived together in peace and harmony for many centuries.
Restaurants and Cafes in Fener and Balat
Fener-Balat is no stranger to great cuisine, so here are a couple of places to consider if you’re ever hungry for some food after your walking tour with us.
A cute cafe close to the Cibali neighborhood that has been converted from the courtyard of an old church. They serve delicious locally brewed coffee, drinks, cocktails and play live music on the weekend. It’s the perfect hang-out spot after your walking tour.
A stylish little restaurant that serves an open-buffet Turkish breakfast. It’s decorated with unique antique furniture like paintings and sets of armor, making it a unique place to get some food and also admire the sights.
Delicious food and coffee served up in a local atmosphere. There’s not much seating but the Turkish Pide and Lahmacun here are excellent as a snack or even a full meal. They even do traditional pizzas that you might be used to if you want something a little more westernized.
Barba Vasilis is a fantastic local tavern that serves mezes and alcohol. It’s a warm atmosphere, the tavern itself is majestic and beautiful, and it’s near the Golden Horn which makes it an excellent place to stop at after a walking tour.
Looking for delicious Kofte and Sucuk? Fener Köftecisi offers some delicious meaty foods that are spiced and prepared in the traditional way. It’s affordable, it’s tasty and it will instantly become one of your local favourites!
For the ultimate in third wave artisanal coffee, Istanbul is home to the Coffee Department, one of the most famous coffee shops in the whole country. It’s a small, cute little shop with a relaxing atmosphere that is sure to put a smile on your face.
Cumbali Cafe is a popular coffee shop that serves up a great brew, but the location offers outdoor seating on a busy corner street of Balat. This makes it an excellent place to relax when you want to just sit and observe the locals going about their daily business.
A warm and charming local restaurant that has been featured in some Turkish songs. It’s very famous among the locals and serves up traditional Turkish cuisine with a beautiful setting and friendly staff.
Istanbul Fener Balat Walking Tour
By Licensed Tour Guide Serhat Engul
* There is no group tour to join. Private guided tour is offered only.
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