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.

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