Kuzguncuk is a neighborhood located in Üsküdar district on the Asian side of Istanbul. This settlement between Üsküdar, Paşalimanı, and Beylerbeyi was developed in a valley opening to the Bosphorus.Kuzguncuk is one of the many modest communities along the Bosphorus that plays a vital role in Istanbul’s history in exclusivity and cohesive coexistence between many different cultures and religions. For centuries, Kuzguncuk was home to a mix of Jews, Greeks, Armenians, and Turks. Evidence of the coexistence can still be seen today with synagogues, churches, and mosques, all built side by side in this quaint neighborhood.
Kuzguncuk means “little raven” in Turkish and is admired as a traditional neighborhood where old-fashioned values still exist today. Small shopkeepers continue to serve customers providing a personal connection. The main street, Icadive Street, is where you will find butcher shops, bakeries, boutiques, several cafes, and restaurants.
SYNAGOGUE, CHURHES, MOSQUE
Beth Ya’akov Synagogue was initially built as a summer service synagogue in 1878 and where worship services are still conducted today. Although many members have relocated to other areas of greater Istanbul, they still attend worship services and other special occasions and religious celebrations.
Nakkastepe Jewish Cemetery is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Kuzguncuk as well as all of Istanbul. Gravestones are written in Hebrew and Ladino languages and date back to the 15th and 16th centuries.
The Armenian Surp Krikor Lusavoriç Church is one of the many churches in Kuzguncuk, which was built in 1861. It is one of the few Armenian Churches with a more artistic and architectural design. Most of the Istanbul Armenian churches lack character because of the strict building rules set by the State under the Ottoman Empire.
Church of Hagios Panteleimon was built in 1831, known as one of the oldest churches still in use today. In 1911 a domed bell tower was added, giving it a unique architectural style.
The Üryanizade Mosque, which was initially built as a masjid, a small prayer room in 1860, is located right along the Bosphorus River. Today, the mosque is famous for its wooden minaret. The mosque’s garden is an exceptional place to get away from the city’s noise and take an inner journey – for contemplation, reflection, and consideration.
A famous historical wooden mansion, Abdülmecid Efendi Köşk, which was given to him by his cousin Sultan Abdülhamit II, is in Kuzguncuk—believed to have built initially as a hunting lodge in the 1800s by Egyptians.
Cemil Molla Mansion was built in 1886 by Cemil Molla, who served as a Minister of Justice and Head of the Council of State, being the first mansions with a photo studio, heating, and telephone installation. It is a fascinating Ottoman architectural design home still standing on the hillside along the Bosphorus.
Marko Pasha Mansion is a four-story masonry building built on the slopes along the Bosphorus River. Marko Pasha, whose real name is Apostol, became a medical doctor. In 1871 he became the Minister of Medicine. Today Marko Pasha Mansion is now Kuzguncuk Primary School.
WHAT TO EAT
Kuzguncuk offers many dining venues that are sure to satisfy your appetite. Each café provides a unique menu with several choices of entrees. The best option is to try eating a Turkish breakfast which is more like brunch. Kuzguncuk makes for an excellent place to enjoy lunch while admiring the whimsical street of people and nature.
Everything in the Historical Kuzguncuk Bakery (Tarihi Kuzguncuk Firni) looks delicious, but I must recommend that you try the Coconut Macaroons. I think they are the largest macaroons I have ever seen, and oh, they are so yummy! I heard the ice cream is amazing too.
The popular TV series Ekmek Teknesi was filmed in Kuzguncuk, during 1980s at the famous bakery called Ekmek Teknesi. The bakery is still in operation today and offers a variety of warm fresh baked goods.
Kuzguncuk has become a coffee lovers’ paradise as it is home to numerous coffee houses with different concepts. Many offer beautiful gardens as a relaxing place to enjoy drinking your coffee or tea. I find the adorable setups outside the shop perfect for a place to take a break and people watch.
Near the Bostan Café is the Botanical Gardens of Kuzguncuk. This 16,445 square meter garden was given to the General Directorate of Foundation by the Greek Ispiro Sore, naming it after his son, Ilya’s Garden. It is a community garden where you will find various vegetables planted and grown by the locals and shared with all who live in the area. At the time of our visit locals were working the soil, preparing it for planting.
A LOVE FOR BOOKS
I love to visit and roam through a bookstore. Located on the corner is the charming Nail Bookstore & Café (Nail Kitabevi & Café) designed by the famous American architect brothers, Nikoghos and Karapet Balyan in the 19th century baroque and rococo style. The two-story bookshop has an extensive collection of books on art, architecture, history, literature, and so much more. Grab a coffee or tea and take your pick on the second floor of one of the bay windows, with a picturesque view and enjoy a good read.
What attracts so many tourists to this area is the beautiful nostalgic side by side colorful homes. Most are 2-3 floors, with gardens, each having ornate doors and windows. As you walk the streets, you can’t help but be drawn to them, and if you have a camera, you’ll be busy taking pictures. Many visitors enjoy taking selfies as it is an excellent place for Instagram shots.
Kuzguncuk has attracted artists for years and now has become home to many art galleries and studios. Here you will find antique shops as well as several eclectic shops for your shopping pleasure.
HOW TO GET THERE
From the European side of Istanbul, you can get take the boat ferry from Beşiktaş pier to Üsküdar, which takes about 15-25 minutes. From here, you can walk in the direction to Beylerbeyi or take a minibus to Kuzguncuk.
Those going from the Anatolian side should first prefer the buses going to Üsküdar. In this case, the destination is the Line and Station search tab of the IETT site. If you drive, parking can be challenging, but there are a few areas where you can pay to park.
Kuzguncuk is one of those places with such a unique ambiance and atmosphere based on where it is located. I feel like this place is straight out of a fairy tale book. You will find many things to discover in the neighborhood with friendly shopkeepers, beautiful houses, historical sites, and lovely cafes.
Enjoy your travels! Please read my blogs about other exciting places in Turkey and around the world at Traveling Lens Photography.
Inshallah (God willing!)