Not every street in Istanbul is picturesque.
But there are many streets that tourists often overlook because they’re too busy looking for the main sites such as the Blue Mosque, Ayasofya and the Galata Tower.
Lucky me, I live here as an expat and can take my time exploring the winding, cobblestone streets as often as I want. There’s plenty to see if you are willing to look around with fresh eyes.
Over the weekend, we took the historic Tünel tram from Beyoğlu down to Karaköy (surprisingly hubby’s first time on the tram). We had to walk back uphill one block so we could get to our destination - Salt Galata located on the often missed Banklar Caddesi (also known as Voyvoda Cad.).
|Banklar Caddesi in Istanbul is fairly quiet on Sundays.|
At first glance, this street may not look like much, but look again at the imposing buildings and their grand architecture and you’ll notice they date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s when the Pera neighborhood was in its heyday. Most of these buildings once housed the city’s big banks, hence the street’s nickname.
|The front facade of the former Ottoman Bank, now home to Salt Galata.|
You’ll still find the Istanbul branch of the Turkish Republic Bank, the former Ottoman Bank, which now is home to Salt Galata, and a couple other banks such as HSBC and Vakifbank.
|Notice the old Ottoman sign above the HSBC nameplate.|
|The Turkish Republic Bank building on Banklar Caddesi.|
Before I talk about the main building here, look on the right-hand side of the street for some fancy, curvy steps that look out of place in this neighborhood.
|You can take the Kamondo Steps if you want to reach the Galata Tower.|
The Kamondo Steps, built in the 1880s, were paid for by a Jewish banking family to provide a shortcut for their children to get to school. I’ve walked up and down these steps, leading to the Galata Tower, many times and didn’t know their significance. Now, I know thanks to author Pat Yale of Istanbul: The Ultimate Guide and her website Turkey From The Inside.
After exploring Banklar Caddessi, we headed indoors to Salt Galata, a cultural institution, exhibit space and restaurant, that once housed the head office for the Ottoman Bank from 1892 to 1999, which was purchased by Garanti Bank. In 2009, the building was closed for restoration work and reopened in late 2011 as Salt Galata.
The large building, designed by French-Ottoman architect Alexandre Vallaury, was the first “modern bank” building of the period in Istanbul. The front façade, on Voyvoda Street and facing the western districts of Galata and Pera, reflected a neo-classical or neo-Renaissance style, consistent with most European bank buildings in the 19th century. However, the rear façade, looming over the backstreets of lower Galata and facing the Golden Horn, bore traces of neo-Orientalist style for which Vallaury had often shown great interest. This conscious contrast between the two facades spoke of the position of the bank between the East and West. Vallaury also designed the Pera Palas Hotel.
On the building’s lower level, you’ll find a permanent exhibit of the Ottoman Bank Museum which includes bank notes, banking documents, old photographs, customer files and personnel files. You can even wander through several of the old bank vaults and peruse banking documents. My banker husband was able to geek out in his elements!
|Jason checking out the thick customer files in the old bank vaults.|
Interestingly, a majority of the bank’s early customers were foreigners from France, Germany and Greece. Ottoman artist Osman Hamdi Bey also was a bank customer.
Though I may not have enjoyed the museum’s collection of pie charts and banking documents as much as my husband, I still did like learning about another piece of Istanbul’s infinite history. In particular, I liked looking at the old photographs and seeing the changes in fashion and the men’s mustaches.
|Looking at these photos you'd think a men were required to have mustaches in the early 1900s in Istanbul!|
After dorking around the banking exhibit, we headed upstairs for a late lunch at Ca’d’Oro. The restaurant’s second floor offers all-window seating and some great views over the Golden Horn to the Suleymaniye Mosque. The restaurant features an international-Mediterranean menu as well as breakfast in the mornings.
|Our view from Ca'd'Oro restaurant at Salt Galata.|
We decided to go with the homemade pasta menu options as well as some wine followed by dessert. There were only three or four tables while we were there so the service was fairly spotty, but we did have a table right by the window.
|Butternut squash ravioli with a sage-brown butter sauce - 20tl.|
|Homemade pasta with a rich lamb ragu - 25 tl - with a glass of Turkish rose wine.|
However, our pasta was arguably the best pasta I’ve ever had in Istanbul. Tender, al dente pasta with fresh, homemade sauces. My browned butter sauce was to die for and reminded me of pasta I’ve enjoyed back in NYC!
Last January, I enjoyed a girls’ lunch at Ca’d’Oro and remembered having some of the best international desserts I’ve ever eaten in Istanbul. I learned the pastry chef is either from France or Italy, but can’t remember which country. Anyway, I give high marks to the desserts as well, and that compliment doesn’t come lightly from this professional pastry chef!
|Sticky toffee pudding cake - yum!|
If you’re in Istanbul, take the time to stroll through some of the less touristy streets like this one. You never know what you may discover.
And remember to save room for dessert!