Antique meets hip in the Cukurcuma neighborhood of Istanbul

by Selma Sevkli

Every morning I walk to work in Istanbul. During my half-hour walk, there are many shortcuts and variations to my walk, but my favorite always remains the same: Çukurcuma. The neighborhood’s history dates back to the 1200s and still has buildings from that period. Çukurcuma means ‘Hollow Friday’, a name acquired when Fatih Sultan Mehmed II came to this hollow to join the Friday prayers before he conquered Istanbul. Two famous hammams, Firuzaga and Aga Hamami were built in this area right after Constantinopolis became Istanbul in the 1400s.

Although its roots are historic, the neighborhood underwent a gentrification process so now bars and cafes mix with antique shops. Wandering in and out of Çukurcuma’s various stores and cafes, it is easy to get lost, but in fact this is the best way to discover any neighborhood and part of the fun of traveling anywhere unknown. As the area once was home to Armenian and Greek communities, the architecture still reflects that energy and diversity.

Located between the bohemian Cihangir and legendary Istiklal Street, at first glance it feels like you’re in grandma’s neighborhood with traditional grocery stores and tea houses. Then you make a turn and see a store with high-end fashion. Piquant graffiti stands out on the walls. Cats are not uncommon.  In fact, they are all well-fed by the residents of the neighborhood.

Some houses are renovated and quite pricey whereas others show their years with character. Most of the buildings are tall with staggered roofs, hovering bay windows, crumbling arched doors and interiors of exposed bricks.

The antique stores could keep you busy for hours. You’ll find furniture, old records, shoes, postcards, photos, books, jewelery, jackets, mirrors and many other objects, each with an unknown story.

When you get hungry wandering around, there are a few great places to eat. One of my recent favorites is Antakya Mutfagi with its delicious Mesopotamian appetizers.  Cukurcuma Koftecisi is a classic for meatball lovers. Ufak Tefek Seyler is a cute little cafe with pastries and hot drinks and has a tiny balcony.

Cukurcuma is a district that mixes East and West, modern and traditional. The cool thing here is an endless amount of something new (or old) to discover at some corner.

Side Streets of Istanbul

by Selma Sevkli

I live in Cihangir, Istanbul, which is a gentrified area, recently made popular among artists and actors as well as foreigners living in the city. Cihangir is located right behind the famous Istiklal which is an almost 2-kilometer-long pedestrian street full of food, people, cafes, bars, restaurants and theaters. As my work is at the end of Istiklal Street, I walk to work which takes about 30 minutes every day. I am a person who does not enjoy routine and gets bored easily. Luckily, Istiklal (we don’t add street at the end when mentioning it) has many side streets; some are dead ends, some connect with each other around the corner.

I try to take a different path every day and try to entertain myself by discovering a new cafe, going over old postcards at flea markets or simply analyzing street art.

Some of the graffiti on the streets is done by local artists and some are posted by activists.

It is very rare that you find profanity, even though there is often criticism.

Getting lost on the side streets of Istiklal is fun and always surprising. It is guaranteed that you will see a lazy cat at every corner who is fed by generous neighbors.

When you start thinking that you are stuck in the middle of the buildings without any sign of nature, a rare kind of tree could surprise you.

Here’s a suggested route: Go down Istiklal and turn left from Galatasaray High School, which is halfway down the street. Take a left and walk around Cukurcuma. Try some pickles at “Asri Tursucusu” which is a 99-year-old pickle store with more than 50 kinds of pickles. Go to your right and find “Cihangir Kahvesi” where all the journalists, actors and residents have their tea. Cross the street and walk around Cihangir; if you get hungry, try Susam Cafe which has a comprehensive menu and a great chef. If you are into seafood with affordable prices, Rodosto is your best bet.

Then make your way down to Tophane and feel free to wander in the antique/flea market stores. If it is still early, you could visit Istanbul Modern, the first contemporary art museum in Turkey, right by the sea. If it is late, go next door where all the shisha cafes are lined next to one another, open 24 hours. Apple flavor is a classic and my favorite; you may want to give it a try even though other attractive-sounding ones like watermelon or coconut could intrigue you.


Contemporary Art in Istanbul

by Selma Sevkli

So you are in Istanbul and have visited all the important sights like Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Basilica Cistern. They are all on the “must-see” list along with the Archeological Museum, Dolmabahce Palace, City Museum, Press Museum, etc. If you have more time for some contemporary Istanbul, here are a few suggestions, especially for those into modern art. These are all private museums, mostly pioneered by prestigious families of Turkey, such as Koc, Sabanci and Eczacibasi.

Sabanci Museum

Located in one of Istanbul’s oldest neighborhoods on the Bosphorus, Emirgan, the museum presents a multipurpose museological environment with concerts, conferences and conservation units. It has a rich permanent collection, temporary exhibitions (such as that of Pablo Picasso’s or Rodin’s works) that attract many people nationwide and internationally. It was built in the 19th century as a Horse Mansion, used by some consulates as well and was bought by the Sabanci Family in 1950 and transformed  to a museum in 1998.


The permanent collection presents many pieces from Ottoman calligraphy, which is a 500-year-old specific calligraphy art. The collection includes rare manuscript copies of the Qur’an, official documents such as decrees and grants of appointment, privilege and income and individual inscriptions. Exclusive pieces of early Turkish Republic and late Ottoman Empire (1850-1950) can be found in the painting collection. Archaeological and stone works can be found in this collection as well as decorative arts and furniture. Check the website for temporary exhibitions

Address: Sak?p Sabanc? Cad. No:42 Emirgan 34467
Phone: (212) 277 22 00

Open daily between 10:00-18:00 except Mondays.



Pera Museum

Originally constructed by architect Achille Manousos in 1893, the museum opened in 2005 by the initiative of another dynasty of business people, the Koc family. The permanent exhibition includes Anatolian Weights and Measures, Kutahya Tiles and Ceramics and Oriental Paintings. One of the most famous paintings in the museum is of Osman Hamdi’s “The Tortoise Trainer” (Kaplumbaga Terbiyecisi in Turkish).

"Göksu Sefas?" (Enjoyment of Göksu Creek) - from Wikipedia Commons

Do not forget to check out the auditorium as there is always something interesting going on. There is an activity space for visitors, a nice cafe and a gift shop. They organize educational art workshops for children:

Address: Me?rutiyet Caddesi No.65 34443 Tepeba?? – Beyo?lu

Phone: (212) 334 99 00

Open daily between 12:00-18:00 except Mondays.



Salt Museum

Previously the Ottoman Bank Museum, it was recently transformed to a comprehensive multilevel art place with 15,000 square meters of space. It is the largest cultural foundation in Turkey by size. A variety of permanent and temporary exhibitions can be found in the museum, from paintings to experimental art, films to literature. Salt is a multidisciplinary museum that everyone can find something to enjoy, be stimulated by, or question. The museum has two locations fifteen minutes apart by foot, one in Galata and the other in Beyoglu. Both are free of charge to visit.

Salt Beyoglu Address: Istiklal Caddesi No:136 Beyo?lu 34430

Phone: (212) 377 42 00

Salt Galata Address: Bankalar Caddesi No: 11Karaköy 34420

Phone: (212) 334 22 00

Both open Tuesday-Saturday 12.00-20.00, Sunday 10.30-18.00



Borusan Contemporary

The only one of its kind, a “museum-in-an-office” concept. The building functions as the office of the holding company during the week, and as a museum on the weekends. It is possible to see a variety of the art collection in the museum. Single artist and group exhibitions are displayed in the Haunted Mansion part. Educational programs and academic discussion sessions are regularly organized. Children’s workshops can be checked out at

Address: Baltaliman? Hisar Street, Perili Kö?k No:5, 34470
Rumelihisar?, Sariyer, Istanbul, Turkey

Phone: (212) 393 52 00
Open Saturdays and Sundays between 10 am- 8 pm


Istanbul Modern 

Opened  in December 2004 with the initiative of the Eczacibasi family, this is the first Modern Arts museum in Istanbul. It is located at the renovated old docks of the Karaköy district facing Topkapi Palace. Istanbul modern has a rich library, exhibitions, photo gallery, sculpture courtyard, movie theater, cafe and souvenir shop. The permanent collection is called “New Works, New Horizons”  and it presents the evolution of modern and contemporary Turkish art from its earliest stage to the present day and features the most prominent artists and works in Turkey. The text to the side of each piece discuss the social, cultural, economic, and political dynamics of this development.

istanbul Modern from Wikipedia Commons

Address: Meclis-i Mebusan Caddesi Liman Isletmeleri Sahasi Antrepo No:4 Tophane / Karakoy

Phone: (212) 334 73 00
Open daily between 10:00-18:00 except Mondays.



Santral Istanbul Energy and Arts Museum

Known as Silahtaraga Electric Plant, the building used to be the electric power plant of Istanbul. Built by Hungarians in 1914 at the tip of the Golden Horn, it produced energy for Istanbul from the Ottoman period until 1983, but then it was shut down because it wasn’t effective anymore in competing with modern technology. The grounds were taken by Istanbul Bilgi University in 2004 and transformed into a university campus, restoring the power plant as well. Santralistanbul was opened as an electric museum displaying industrial power machines and modern art exhibitions in September 2007. Perfect museum to visit with children as it has many interactive tools to demonstrate how energy works and transforms. For current exhibitions:

Santral?stanbul energy museum from Wikipedia Commons

Address: Eski Silahtara?a Elektrik Santrali, Kaz?m Karabekir cad. no1 Eyüp (Free Bilgi University shuttle could be taken from Taksim Square in front of AKM, every 30 minutes)

Phone: (212) 311 50 00.Open daily between 10:00-22:00 except Mondays.

Turkish Coffee

by Selma Sevkli

A good turkish coffee by Maria Rosaria Sannino

My favorite break at work on a busy afternoon involves a nice cup of strong Turkish coffee. One of my colleagues asks if we would like some, and it is rare that anybody refuses. We take turns and volunteer to make it for everyone. When it is not in the office but at a friend’s house or a cafe, we take our time and read each other’s fortunes from the coffee cup. This coffee cup reading involves inspiration and creativity, as well as experience. We do not completely believe what is said but we do not completely ignore it either.  As the traditional saying suggests: “Don’t believe the cup but do not ignore it”.  There are some fortune tellers who could be professional readers in a cafe.  Or it could be a friend’s grandma, who is exceptionally successful at it. In any case, they really can tell something about you without knowing you at all, and predict some of the future.

Turkish coffee was introduced to Istanbul in the 15th century during the Ottoman period. The Turks discovered a new method of making the coffee in a special coffee pot called a “cezve”. It was welcomed by the society very quickly and became popular. Soon after, coffee houses opened all over the country where poetry was read, chess and backgammon were played, and discussions about politics and literature were held. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Turkish coffee shaped the social life along with tea since those times.

It is not drunk early in the morning, but after breakfast. Its importance is even reflected in the language: We call breakfast “kahvalti” which means “before coffee”.  So we eat our delicious breakfast simply to avoid drinking the coffee on an empty stomach!

So many aspects of social life are still related to Turkish coffee. It is the most important component of the “kiz isteme” ritual in which a boy’s family visits a girl’s family to get permission for their wedding. Salt is added to groom’s coffee instead of sugar to see his reaction. The groom should not complain or make faces in order to get the father’s permission to marry. Half serious, half joke, this ritual still continues in most parts of Turkey.

As the coffee has an important role in the culture, the way it is brewed and served are critically important. The fanciest way to serve it is in a porcelain coffee cup instilled in a copper holder, with water in a small clear glass and a piece of Turkish delight on a nice tray.

Image byy Tema ( or GFDL (

It is said that Turkish coffee tastes best when cooked in a copper cezve.

Image by Fmucar via Wikipedia creative commons

Making it is pretty simple and practical but requires serious attention to details for the best results.

Here are the proper steps:

1- Put a teaspoon full of Turkish ground coffee in a coffee pot (cezve).
2- Pour one Turkish coffee cup of water in it.
3- Add sugar according to taste. It could be plain, one sugar cube for mild or two cubes for sweet.
4- Put the coffee pot on the lowest flame possible and stir every 30 seconds until it starts rising.
5- Turn off the fire and do not let it boil as that would kill the foam. (You can tell by the thickness of the foam if the coffee is good or not.)
6- Pour the coffee very slowly into the coffee cup to save the foam.
7- Enjoy with a friend’s company and try to read the fortune afterwards.

For fortunetelling from the coffee cup, the cup should be placed upside down on the plate. A ring could be put on to relate the person and to cool it quickly. One should wait until it is completely cold which takes about 10 minutes.

Turkish coffee is the only coffee in the world that you can tell the fortune from as it is the only one served with the grounds at the bottom.

Image by Jeff Kubina via Wikipedia commons

If you want to buy some to take back home, Mehmet Efendi is the best brand around for more than a century that can be found in any store.

Do not forget to specify that you want Turkish coffee when ordering, as even we locals call it Turkish coffee instead of just coffee.

Afiyet Olsun! (Bon appetit)

Selma Sevkli is a cultural orientation trainer for refugees and a freelance writer living in Istanbul.  We met Selma through Couch Surfing and hosted her and a friend in Bali, Indonesia.  Besides writing, she is also inspecting, photographing and recruiting apartments for us.  

A Guide to Turkish Hammam and its Rituals

Lebarbier Bagno turco

by Selma Sevkli

I spent a lot of time in hammams when I was a kid. Since my grandmother’s best friend ran the hammam (Kosklu Hamam, Kumkapi) next door, we would go there every day after breakfast at summertime. It was pretty and and peaceful. We were not going there just to take baths but also to socialize. Women would come and chat all day long as well as washing up and relaxing. I never questioned why people take baths together or why it was hot inside or why there were only women. I just took everything for granted and enjoyed myself.

Years passed and I grew up; not many locals go to hammams anymore, not as often anyway. It became almost like a special occasion for us that we do only a few times a year. I still love it and I appreciate it more. Going to a hammam with friends; having cold drinks; chatting while being washed; relaxing while hearing the echo in the hammam, and watching the light coming through little holes in the roof make the experience so unique.  It takes you away from the daily life with all its stress.

Hammams have been significant for Turkish culture for centuries as they held many social occasions. Previously, women would go to the hammam to check the single girls out and then tell their sons. Similarly, single girls would go to hammams with their mothers and hang out with their potential mother-in laws. All the women would bring traditional cuisine there to enjoy and that would serve as a test for the brides-to-be.

After the marriage was decided then it was time for the “bride hammam”.  The bride’s friends and relatives would come together with musicians and food, dance and eat in the hammam. The bride would be washed three times in the middle to purify before the wedding ceremony. It was also common to take newborn babies to the hammam after 40 days to be washed in the middle. Likewise, many people would go to the hammam when a wish was fulfilled, or when a promise was kept.

Typical setting of Turkish Bath or Hammam in Cairo

Here’s how it works:

The body and skin are cleaned and purified from toxins, the blood circulation increases, the immune system is stimulated so that the physical and mental systems are supported by the hammam. Going to hammam has its own rituals; knowing what to do saves energy and makes the experience more worthwhile. (Many hammams that tourists go to have both men’s and women’s sides open during the day and evening. Some local hammams serve women during the day and men in the evening.)

Feel free to take your own shampoo, soap, towel, etc. to the hammam. If you do not have those, they will be given to you. When you get to the hammam, you decide if you want to get a traditional Turkish bath in which someone washes you a bit harshly (kind of like a massage with a lot of foam), a “self-wash”  or some kind of ‘modern’ massage that are becoming popular in  fancy hammams. You will get your kese (a small pouch type of cloth to wash), a pestemal (traditional cotton body wrap) and soap if you like.

Then you go to the dressing room area where you take off your clothes and wrap your body with the pestemal. Now you are ready to get into the hot area which has a heated marble platform in the middle. This area is called “sicaklik” (heat) and has many “kurna”s (bathing basins) and halves (private bathing cubicles).

The first thing to do is to let your body perspire. Lay down on the hot marble and start watching light coming in from the holes of the hammam’s dome. When you get too hot (more than half an hour could be too long as it would be 35-45 degrees centigrade), you could go to one of the basins and pour some water on yourself. If you chose to be washed by a “tellak”, she/he (same sex as you) comes and tells you to lay down. He/she will give you an exfoliating scrub which at the end surprises many people by the amount of dead skin and dirt coming out of the body. It is truly purifying. After the bath another attendant will wash you by the one of the basins, including hair wash if you like.

After the washing session, you may wish to stay and relax while enjoying a cold drink as many people do. And leave whenever you want, there is no time limit in hammams. In some hammams there is a “sogukluk” section at the end where they give you the dry pestemal and you cool off. After you leave the bathing section you could still spend time in the dressing area where some people chat and have drinks. After 2-3 hours you are as good as new, clean and relaxed.

Typical setting of Turkish Bath or Hammam in Cairo

Here are a few options for hammams in Istanbul.  Note that most of the great hammams were built by the architect Sinan:

Cemberlitas Hammami: My favorite hammam in Istanbul, was built by the architect Sinan in 1584.  Dressing area is covered with 18-meter-wide domes.  ”Sicaklik” (the hot room) has a cornered formation consisting of 12 columns. There are domed cubicle spaces on the corners. These cubicle spaces have been separated by couplet-written marble separators. The marble-covered floor has been decorated with colored stones. It is one of the best, cleanest and most well-maintained Hammams of Istanbul. English-speaking staff. Discount applied to tourists with international student ID. Credit cards accepted.

Phone: 0090 212 520 18 50 / 0090 212 520 15 33
Hours:  between 6:00 a.m and 12:00 p.m and has sections for both men and women.

Suleymaniye Hammami: Built in 1577 by Mimar Sinan. It attracts attention with its beauty and width. Mimar Sinan used to take baths in Suleymaniye Hammam often, which was very close to his house. The cubicle spaces that were used by him are still protected. The hammam was inaugurated by Sultan Suleiman (Suleiman the Magnificent). After the ceremony, Suleiman entered the hammam for bathing.

Phone: 0090 212 520 34 10

Cagaloglu Hammami: Built in 1741, the entrance has a marble door. The men’s section has a Baroque-style fountain pool, and the dressing area is spacious and bright.  Above the entrance door, there is an original inscription with a verse from the Quran. You enter through the marble door to the building (with a different style from early Ottoman hammams). The staff speaks  English. There is a restaurant-bar at the entrance of the men’s section. Reservation required for dinner. Credit cards accepted.

Phone: 0090 212 522 24 24/ 0090 212 512 85 53
Hours: For women between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m..  For men between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.

Galatasaray Hammami: Built in 1715 in Beyoglu. In 1965, the women’s section was added to the hammam, and the renovation work led to changes in the original style. This well-maintained and beautiful Turkish bath is located in Beyoglu District. It is adjacent to the Sultan’s School Galatasaray Lice (Lycée de Galatasaray). The hammam had been used by school students for many years. A long time ago it was a hammam that locals would go to to get rid of their hangovers after drinking in Beyoglu; now it is mostly visited by tourists.

Phone: 0090 212 252 42 42
Hours: For women between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m..  For men between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.

Buyuk Hamam (The Grand Hammam): Built by Mimar Sinan in 1533. It is located in Kasimpasa where tourists usually do not visit. This hammam has more local attendees compared to the  others. It was built in 1533 by Mimar Sinan together with the mosque that is located just next to the hammam. There are spacious and bright changing places in both the women’s and men’s sections. There is a large and modern swimming pool in the hammam. This pool is only for men and requiresan  extra fee.

Phone: 0090 212 253 42 29
Hours: For women between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. For men between 6:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m.

Cinili Hamam (the Tiled Hammam): Built in 1548 by Mimar Sinan in Üsküdar (Asian side). The hammam has maintained its original structure until today. Both men’s and women’s sections of the hammam have the same architectural style. The hammam’s entrance is spacious and there is a bright, domed changing section. The dome height of the men’s section is 18.5 meters. There is a fountain pool in this section. This pool is made of a single piece of marble and thought to be a present given by the King of Iran. There are hexagonal tiles on the doors of the cubicle spaces and there are two lines of inscriptions under each tile.

Phone: 0090 212 631 88 83
Hours: For women between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. For men between 6:30 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.

The Aga Hammami: Located on Beyoglu Istiklal Street. It was built by Yakup Aga in 1562 (with the aim of bringing revenue to the lighthouse in Anatolian Side’s Fenerbahce district). The hammam has been through a lot of renovations and lost the original structure yet it’s still beautiful. It is one of the few hammams of Istanbul that is open 24 hours. For this reason, it is a haunt for well-known persons of Istanbul’s night life.

Phone: 0090 212 249 50 27
Hours: For men 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. For women between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. (every day except Sundays)

Selma Sevkli is a cultural orientation trainer for refugees and a freelance writer living in Istanbul.  We met Selma through Couch Surfing and hosted her and a friend in Bali, Indonesia.  Besides writing, she is also inspecting, photographing and recruiting apartments for us.  As an Istanbul native and resident, she has a great eye for finding the best apartments.