The grand past
Until 1800 Sisli was open countryside, used for hunting, agriculture and as the city's burial ground, and there are still a number of cemetries here. It was developed as a middle class residential district during the last years of the Ottoman Empire and the early years of the Republic (the late 19th-early 20th centuries). French culture had a great influence in this period and the big avenues of Sisli had a European look; big stone buildings with high ceilings and art nouveau wrought-iron balconies, little elevators on wires in the middle of the stairway and so on. This trading middle-class was comprised of Jews, Greeks and Armenians as well as Turks, many built homes in Sisli after a large fire in the district of Beyoglu in 1870. Still today many of Istanbul's Armenians live in the Kurtulus area of Sisli. The area was alslo popular with the Levantine trading families of this period and as the Ottoman empire contracted Sisli attracted migrants from the former lands in Greece and the Balkans. In the late 19th century Sisli was one of the first areas to be supplied with tramlines, electricity and a gas supply. The orphanage of Darülaceze and the large Sisli Etfal hospital were built here in this period, also the prominent French schools of St. Michel and Notre Dame de Sion.
Following the founding of the Turkish Republic in the 1920s, larger and larger buildings were put up along wide avenues such as Halaskargazi Caddesi, the main road that runs through the middle of Sisli, with its little arcades of shops below tall buildings of apartments and offices. In the republic the area was still the residence of the middle-class, as well as traders there were now writers and poets and Sisli acquired theatres, cafes and other cultural amenities. The Hilton Hotel was built here in the 1950s and many others followed.
From the 1950s onwards people from Anatolia began to migrate to Istanbul in search of work. In most cases they illegally built themselves squatters on unclaimed or government-owned land (see gecekondu). Some of these people settled in parts of Sisli in the 1950s and 1960s, especially at the northern sections of the district, around Mecidiyeköy.
The centre of Sisli today
Now that the wealthy elite of central Sisli have moved further out of the city, the large buildings on the grand avenues are occupied by offices, banks, and big shops. Since the 1970s most older buildings have been pulled down and replaced with newer, and perhaps less unique, multistory structures. The back streets are still residential, and many working-class families and students have settled here. As in most parts of Istanbul, the number of people living and working in these blocks challenges the existing infrastructure; for example, competition for parking spaces is intense, and traffic during peak hours can come to a standstill. But for the residents of Sisli, there are plenty of shops, cafés, pubs, and other amenities and these make life in Sisli still manageable. Additionally, Sisli's central location to other important areas of Istanbul adds to its desirability.
In the 'gecekondu' districts life is harder, while some neighbourhoods remain very attractive indeed - (see section on individual neighbourhoods below).
Business and shopping
Being a central area well-served with public-transport and other infrastructure Sisli is a center of trade and shopping. The main road through Sisli up to the skyscrapers of Mecidiyeköy, Gayrettepe, Levent and beyond is now lined with office blocks. Europe's largest and the world's second largest (urban-area) shopping mall, Cevahir Istanbul, is situated here. Due to Sisli's middle-class past and the enduring quality of some neighbourhoods the area is home to many upmarket shops mainly in the stylish and charming Nisantasi area. Parking is an enduring problem, especially in the narrow side-streets.
People also come to Sisli for schooling; this city-centre area has some well-known high schools and a great number of dersane (preparatory courses for the annual university entrance exams), evening and weekend schools where people come to cram for university or high school entrance examinations, or to learn English.
There are many well-established cafes and restaurants, including fast-food for the students and shoppers.
- known as Tatavla in the Ottoman period, the area was home to a Greek and later Armenian community. The district had mostly wooden houses until it was destroyed by a huge fire in 1929, and then rebuilt in narrow streets of stone and later concrete buildings, lined with cafés, patisseries and shops. This is a cosmopolitan district with a long history, and has been home to a great many singers, artists, and actors. There are a number of attractive old apartment buildings, but most of those which have been built since the 1960s are ugly and crammed together. After 1964/1965, the Greek community mostly left the area, but some remain and the Greek school and churches are still active. Recently the district, like many other historic neighbourhoods in Istanbul, is being revitalized with mass restoration projects, in which historic buildings are repaired and painted, while the "modern" (characterless) concrete façades are being restyled in line with the historic architectural characteristics of each of these neighbourhoods.
- a busy high-class shopping district for stylish bronzed ladies talking on mobile phones while driving expensive SUVs. Pretty, narrow streets of 19th and early-20th century buildings housing the most expensive boutiques, parfumeries, art galleries and cafes. Some of these buildings are architectural masterpieces; one of them, the historic Maçka Palas, houses Istanbul's Gucci and Armani stores as well as Armani Café. There are a number of well-known schools here too, including some buildings of Marmara University and Isik Lisesi. The American Hospital, one of the city's best hospitals, is also located here. Parking is a problem and so is petty crime. Nisantasi also has many stylish pubs and restaurants. Abdi Ipekçi Street, Turkey's most expensive street in terms of lease prices, is located here.
- uphill from Besiktas, near the shops and restaurants of Nisantasi, and a similarly old-established smart area with many classic European-style buildings, Tesvikiye is one of the most attractive residential neighbourhoods in Istanbul. Since the 19th century, Tesvikiye has been home to many writers (including journalist Abdi Ipekçi, who was assassinated here in 1979), politicians and a great number of prominent business families and still holds a well-established middle-class, including some descendants of Levantine and Jewish familes that built many of the beautiful stone apartment buildings of Tesvikiye in the Ottoman period. Prominent buildings include the Milli Reasürans building (this one does not have an ornate 19th century stonework façade but is one of Istanbul's best examples of modernism) and the ornate neo-Baroque Tesvikiye Mosque, built by Sultan Abdulhamid II, who established the neighbourhood by building this mosque and the nearby historic Tesvikiye Police Station, encouraging citizens of Istanbul to settle in this new district (hence the name Tesvikiye which means encouragement in Turkish.) Among the shops of Tesvikiye lies Gerekli Seyler, Turkey's specialist importer of fantasy and gaming publications including Star Wars, Marvel and Wizards of the Coast.
- Business and shopping district north of Sisli; Istanbul's main market for computer equipment. Narrow streets of tall office buildings. A major intersection and bus terminal underneath a huge flyover, very noisy. Home of Galatasaray football club's Ali Sami Yen Stadium. The Profilo Shopping Center, cinema and bowling alley is here, its food court a popular eatery in the area. Mecidiyeköy Antikacilar Çarsisi (Mecidiyeköy Antiques Bazaar), a large multi-storey building with dozens of antiques shops (the largest of its kind in Istanbul) is located between Mecidiyeköy and Kustepe.
- north of Sisli, home to some large hospitals. This was the archery practice ground of the Ottoman armies (which is the meaning of its name in Turkish), and an Ottoman mosque was built here. Later the land was planted with fruit trees, and in the 1960s turned over to developers for building as the city expanded. Darülaceze, the Ottoman-period orphanage, is here, built in 1896.
- a gecekondu (illegally built) district of poor housing traditionally occupied by the Roma community and recent migrants from the countryside. Bilgi University has a campus here.
The mayor of Sisli is the active and charismatic Mustafa Sarigül, an established presence on the Turkish centre-left, now with the CHP Republican People's Party. Under the slogan 'Smiling Happy Sisli' he is working to get the once glamorous area smartened up again, and certainly Nisantasi is very smart indeed, although he is struggling to ensure car parking here and everywhere else in Sisli. He is on the board of Galatasaray football club, whose Ali Sami Yem stadium is in the Sisli neighbourhood of Mecidiyeköy. During New Year celebrations, he parades in an open-topped bus dressed as Santa Claus.
Places of interest
- Istanbul's military museum, which houses the cannon used by Sultan Mehmed II in his conquest of Constantinople.
- Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of modern Turkey, also once lived here. His house, where Atatürk reportedly made his plans for the modern republic, is now a museum.
- Sisli Mosque - the prominent 1940s mosque on the main road in the centre of the district. This is a major landmark, built in classic Ottoman style.
- Ali Sam Yen stadium - home of Galatasaray Football Club