The districts of Galata and Beyoğlu, just across the Golden Horn from Eminönü, are the heart of Modern Istanbul. They provide the visitor with a completely different experience than he had in old Stambul. Galata was probably named after the Celtic tribal people of the Galatians that invaded Asia Minor in 270BC. However, other origins of the name have been suggested. The lower part of Galata begins at Karaköy square, just across the Galata bridge. Already before the birth of Christ there was a settlement here, named Sycae or Sykai (meaning figtrees). Emperor Constantine fortified the place and included into his city as the Regio Sycaena. In the 9th century the name Galata became generally accepted. In return for their help to recapture Constantinople from the Latin Crusaders, Emperor Michael Paleologos granted the Genoese the right to settle permanently in Galata. The Genoese settlement flourished and in 1348 they surrounded their district with fortifications with as highlight the Galata Tower. After the Ottoman conquest in 1453, the Genoese were allowed to remain in Galata but had to share it with the Greek, Armenian and Jewish communities, as such Galata became established as the Istanbul's European Quarter.
The Galata Tower or Galata Kulesi with its 12 stories and a height of 61 m served under the Ottomans as prison and as watch tower. It even served as a springboard for early adventurers attempting to fly. In 1638, Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi made a set of artificial wings and flew from the 61 meter high tower to Üsküdar at the other side of the Bosphorus. At present there is a restaurant on top, which can be reached by elevator. Access to the balcony on top of the tower is provided by a spiral staircase from the restaurant. Climbing the two stories to the top is really worthwhile as you are rewarded with the most spectacular panoramic views with all of Istanbul at your feet.
Here are the photos of the Galata Tower, click on the thumbnails to see greater pictures
Soon after the Ottoman conquest the district of Galata became too crowded and the richer merchants moved to the hills above Galata and called this new district also Pera meaning "beyond" in Greek. Later Turkish Muslim families came and settled here and gave it the Turkish name Beyoğlu meaning son of the Bey. The first European embassies were built along the main street that became known as the Grand Rue de Pera. In 1927, the Grand Rue de Pera was renamed to İstiklal Caddesi or Avenue of Independence and is now a pedestrianized major shopping and walking area.
In 1831 the area of Pera-Beyoğlu was completely destroyed by a great fire. This created a great opportunity of rebuilding the complete district with Art Nouveau buildings and establishing city gas and public transportation. One of the most renowned buildings of the area is the Pera Palas Hotel. The hotel was built in 1891 by the Belgian engineer and entrepreneur Georges Nagelmackers to provide comfort to the passengers of his Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits that operated the famous Orient Express. The birdcage electric elevator is more than 100 years old and is still operating.
Walking further along the Istiklal Caddesi we pass several churches among which the Catholic Franciscan church of St. Anthony dating from 1907 is certainly the most prominent. Next, one passes the impressive gate of the Galatasaray Lisesi. This school was founded in 1886 as the famous Ottoman Imperial Lycée de Galatasaray with French as main language. Opposite the Galatasaray Lisesi is the Fish Market or Balık Pazar. Somewhat hidden in the narrow street is the Armenian Church of the Three Altars (Üç Horan Ermeni Kilisesi).
After a considerable walk, we finally arrive at Taksim Square, the heart of modern Istanbul. Taksim in Turkish means "dividing point" and Taksim Square takes its name from a reservoir in the city's old water conduit system. In the center of the square is the Monument of the Republic or Cumhuriyet Atını executed by the Italian sculptor Canonica in 1928.
After lunch, we conclude our visit to modern Istanbul with a visit to the Military Museum (Askeri Müze) at Harbiye, where some interesting artifacts from Turkey's military history, from the beginning of the Ottoman Empire until World War I are on display. At the entrance of the Museum complex, we are confronted with the impressive cannons that played a determining role in the Battle of Galipoli in 1915. Of particular interest is the giant chain was used by the Byzantines to seal off the entrance of the Golden Horn. The chain was spanned between two towers and was supported in the water by wooden floeats. It was first mentioned in the annals after it was used during the Arab siege of Constantinople in AD 717-718 by Emperor Leo III the Isaurian (reign 717 - 741). We conclude our visit to the museum with a concert by the Mehter, the Ottoman Military Band of the Jannisaries. Returning to the hotel is convenient with the underground train from Tünel to Karaköy. Crossing the Galata bridge for the final time, we were lucky to see a Royal Barge heading up the Golden Horn which brought back reminiscences of Ottoman times.