Besiktas (Istanbul Bosphorus Towns) I

Besiktas (pronounced'Besh-ik-tash') is a district of Istanbul, Turkey located on the European side of the city, by the coast of the Bosphorus.

Besiktas district council administers a number of communities running up the Bosphorus on the European side (from Dolmabahçe Palace up to Bebek) and the land on the hills behind these settlements. The district includes some of Istanbul's best-known locations, such as Arnavutköy, Balmumcu, Bebek, Etiler, (parts of) Levent, Ortaköy, Ulus, and Yildiz. Besiktas has a population of 190,813 (2000 census).


Turkish Naval MuseumThe Bosphorus has been settled for a long, long time and there are many places of historical interest. This stretch of the Bosphorus shore is slightly sheltered from the strong north-easterly winds that bring storms to Istanbul and thus ships have always been moored here. Indeed in Greek and Byzantine times the area was called Diklopion, meaning 'two pillars'. Furthermore one theory of the origin of the current name Besiktas is that it has mutated from Bestas (meaning "five stones"), referring to the pillars to which ships were moored in the time of Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa.

However 'Besiktas' literally means 'cradle-stone' in Turkish; 'besik' being 'cradle' and 'tas' being 'stone', and there is an alternative story about how the area got this rather absurd name: this being that a church was built above a relic, a stone said to have been taken from the stable in Nazareth where Jesus was born (the stone being later removed to Hagia Sophia in the city). Apparently there are Byzantine records of this church, named 'konapetri' (cradle-stone ).

In ancient times the villages on the Bosphorus shore were isolated communities in the forest that lined the water-side. The Bosphorus however was prominent in the history and mythology of the ancient Greeks, and villages like Besiktas would have had their place in traditional tales such as Jason and the Argonauts. In the Byzantine era churches and a monastery were built and the tradition of having a summer palace on the Bosphorus was begun by the Byzantines with their Ayios Mamas palace complex. The Bosphorus settlements however, being outside the city walls, were vulnerable to raiders from the Black Sea coasts and little of this architecture or the statuary that would have decorated it so gloriously has survived.

In the Ottoman period, once the emperors had established control of the Black Sea coasts the Ottoman navy was docked in the Bosphorus and the Bosphorus villages became safe and attractive again. One man in particular, the legendary sailor Barbarossa, built his palace and mosque in Besiktas, making it his home. By now Besiktas was an established Bosphorus crossing for caravans trading across Anatolia and along the silk road, and of course for the great Ottoman armies.

This coast was of course very attractive to the Ottoman rulers, who built hunting lodges and then great palaces in the area, and the Besiktas district contains some of the most important and attractive Ottoman buildings. The area was thus the scene of scene of great intrigues of the late Ottoman period such as the dethronement of Sultan Abdulaziz at Dolmabahçe Palace in a coup in 1876 and the announcement of the founding of the Ottoman parliament in 1908, and the deposal of Sultan Abdulhamid II at Yildiz palace in 1909.

Following the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1924, the Ottoman ruling family was deported and the palaces and mansions along the coast were emptied out. Some were given to new government ministries, some used as schools and other public buildings, other were pulled down.

Places to see

Statue of Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa in Barbaros Square near the ferry stop in BesiktasBefore Besiktas - Coming into Besiktas up the Bosphorus from Karaköy or down the hill from Taksim you will first go past the impressive Inönü Stadium, home of Besiktas football club, and then the last great Ottoman palace, Dolmabahçe. Leading uphill from here, through the districts of Visnezade, Valideçesme and all the way up to Tesvikiye, are quiet and pleasant residential streets. The buildings are small and there is a real Istanbul metropolitan feel to the area. Indeed some of the first apartment buildings is Istanbul are in this area.

The central district of Besiktas itself hosts a major bus terminal, a ferry port for boats to the Asian side of the city (the motor boats from here to Üsküdar are the fastest of all the Bosphorus crossings). There is a small bus terminal at the dock and at rush hour this whole area is busy with commuters transferring between boats and buses. From here it is easy to get a bus, dolmus or taxi up to business and shopping districts such as Levent, Etiler, Taksim or Nisantasi.

With all these transport connections, the centre of Besiktas is a very busy area indeed. The area is full of offices and shops and many of the large office buildings house schools where young people come to take evening and weekend classes to help them through university entrance examinations. However, some exploration off the beaten path reveals many winding streets, house cafés, restaurants and bars (food in the area is basic (much of it kebab or döner, with a beer to wash it down from one of the bars afterwards) but the choice is excellent). There are also some nice cafes on the Bosphorus waterfront near the ferry docks. Many of the streets in the shopping district are pedestianised and the area is quite tidy, the shops quite smart, not the swish international chains like Mango or Zara that you find up the hill in Nisantasi or the big shopping centres in Levent, but quality locally-produced clothing. The boutiques have replaced some of the older butchers and grocers but there is still plenty of food-shopping, including a fish-market right in the centre of the shopping district. And you can still find tailors, shoemakers, and all kind of little shops that can make or fix anything from your umbrella to your underwear.

Besiktas ( Istanbul Bosphorus Towns ) - II


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