Kedi is Turkish for cat, and they aren’t at all coy in Istanbul. Although the featured cat sat in a little plot of garden in the cemetery in the Sulemaniye mosque in Istanbul, the words which popped into my mind reminded me of the district of Kadıköy, which is on the other side of the Bosphorus. Köy is Turkish for village, but Kadıköy is not named after cats. The folk etymology is that it means the village of the judge (kadi in Turkish is cognate to the Hindi and Persian kazi). I understand that it is considered more likely that the name comes from the ancient Greek name for the area, Chalcedon. Taking over an older Greek name into Turkish is not unusual, since Istanbul comes from the Greek phrase stim poli (meaning the city) which was used to refer to Constantinople.
We met this cat near Tophane in the Karaköy district of Istanbul. The word hane in Turkish is the cognate of the word khana in Hindi, so Tophane becomes top khana, which is literally, cannon place, and therefore means armoury. It is named after a 15th century factory of cannons and cannonballs, and has not survived until today. The cat must have mistaken us for someone else, since it stood at attention while we walked past. “Do we need to salute him?” The Family asked. It wasn’t necessary. It is a singular honour for a cat to give you a standing ovation, so I took a photo.
Parts of Karaköy seem to be in terminal decline. The Family and I walked through back streets of these “old, poor, historic neighbourhoods”, as the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk calls them in his memoirs entitled “Istanbul”. The large number of tourists gave me an opportunity for ambush photography: the photographing of people who are being photographed by others. Where tourists thinned out, the walls became dense with graffiti. Plaster was falling off the walls of some of these buildings, revealing weathered brick. This is the area downhill from the Galata tower.
The outline of the 14th century tower, a tall grey cylinder topped by a darker cone, is so clear and visible that I got used to orienting myself by it. I don’t suppose that there is any trace left here of the Genoese colony which built the tower, since the whole area became a fashionable district during the 18th century. Most of the crumbling buildings in these back streets are likely to be from the 19th century. I should really locate a street by street architectural guide to Istanbul when I go back there.
Istiklal Caddesi. This was the name which I would always think of as essential to Istanbul before I came here. Topkapi palace, Hagia Sophia, the Sulemaniye Mosque, were also-rans in my imagination. My imagination was full of what Nerval, Gautier, and Pamuk had written about Freedom Street. When I first climbed up from the Cihangir district to Istiklal Caddesi, it was everything that I’d hoped for: elegant shops and cafes as well as the charming decay of one of the world’s oldest global cities.
The street is full of elegant buildings slowly decaying, brought alive today by the vibrant street art that you see in the slideshow above. It was dead at noon on a Monday, and came alive slowly as the day progressed. Istanbul is a party town, and this area is not a bad place to be in.