Istanbul part 4: all the colors of Balat

In my last article on Istanbul I will talk about Balat, which is supposed to be the most colorful neighborhood in the entire city. But, I think Balat goes much further than that. Yes, there are millions of tourists every year who go to Balat to take their pictures out there and then upload them to social networks. It seemed so exaggerated what some were doing that in addition to taking a couple of normal photos with my friends, I also made others making “model” faces. I like to mock people (myself too) and I have no remedy, as usual. Here I leave you the exaggerated photos and those colorful things that make the neighborhood so attractive to a tourist.
You can see that there are very touristy parts with many cafes and nice little restaurants with terraces full of tourists. Tourist, tourist and a bit more of tourist 😉 Those sites are more expensive than usual, precisely because they are located near or within those colorful streets where all the influencers spend half of the day waiting for their turn to take photos. And we are in the middle, a bit laughing at them, a bit taking photos.
Well, I am, of course, exaggerating,  you don’t wait half of the day. It’s about 20 minutes maximum maybe, but if you want a photo in which no one else comes out, then you will have to come at dawn, or simply settle for more people in your photo, and that’s it, it’s not the end of the world, go to drink Turkish coffee and everything will be nicer. That coffee I definitely don’t share with anyone. 
Balat is also known to tourists as the “multicultural” neighborhood of Istanbul. Indeed, it’s a part of the city where in a few kilometers you can find an Armenian church, a Bulgarian Orthodox temple, a synagogue, a Greek Orthodox cathedral,… I suppose you know that Turkey is a country with a large Muslim majority, what makes Balat even more interesting. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that, traditionally, since the time when Istanbul was Constantinople, the seat of the ecumenical patriarch is located in that city. That means that basically, the center of all the orthodox religion (which is within what we call Christianity, for those who have doubts about it) is precisely in Istanbul. In other words, Balat is a gem for lovers of culture and history. Below I leave the photos of the religious temples:
Bulgarian Church of St. Stephen:    
Armenian church :
Synagogue – since you have to ask for a special document that certifies that you can enter, then we stayed outside and I could only take the photo of the door with writings in Hebrew.  
Of course, all this doesn’t reflect so much the actual situation of Balat. I would say, and if one day you visit Balat and spend at least one day there, walking and strolling there and not so much posing for the photos, you will realize that it’s a kind of a neighborhood that we could call “traditional”, and clearly there is nothing wrong with that, but it’s not what one expected after reading so many multi-culti things about Balat, right? Of course there are Christians who live in Balat, that is more than evident, when I was going to choose a place to have a coffee while waiting for my friends, I was surprised with several cafes that were decorated with the Christmas tree and also had several religious icons, photos of the saints, Jesus and the Virgin. I leave the photo.   
But, they are not a majority in that part of the city. If you go up a little bit (it’s a part in several hills I think, because you have to go up quite a lot and constantly) you will see that there are many Turkish flags on the street, in the cars too, there are children playing football on the streets, there are many women with tchador (one traditional muslim garment, black, covering the whole body but exposing the entire face, but not the hair), there are cafes exclusively for men, there are many mosques, there are many shops for traditional garments for both women and men. And above all, there are no tourists. Being the synonym of a multicultural neighborhood, I would say that this is a great confusion caused by those superficial tourists (I know you may get offended, but it’s the truth) that they have neither the desire nor the time to investigate further, to go further. Why, if you can just go to the tourist part of Balat, say oh how nice that there is so much diversity, so many colors, have a breakfast, lunch, or coffee that is quite expensive and westernized and tgen you leave, because there are so many other tourist places waiting to be photographed, documented and sent to our friends or shared on the social media so that everyone will be envious of us. The Balat that I knew is different: yes, it’s tolerant so that if you are walking in western clothes through the traditional part, nobody is going to say anything, nobody is going to look ugly at you and make you feel bad, which I thank a thousand times because in the European capitals things are very but very different. But also, I would say that it’s the most traditional neighborhood I visited in all of Istanbul. If you don’t believe me, go there, but you will have to look a little more than those facades of so many colors. And I swear to you that I now consider Balat prettier than before, because tourists don’t get to take away the soul, it’s still a neighborhood where normal people live, with not so high incomes, but they live with their own perspective of their city and its neighborhood, quite different from that of tourists. Hopefully and they never lose that essence, whether we like it or not.
Small Turkish vocabulary :

Hello – Merhaba

How are you ? – Nasılsın ?

Thanks – Teşekkürler

Check, please.  – Hesap lütfen

Aiport – havalimanı

Water  – su

Where is…? – …nerede?

So cute! – çok tatlı!

What’s the time? – Saat kaç?

Yes – evet

No – Hayır

So beautiful! – çok güzel!

Author: Antonija Dikovic

Antonija Diković, Master´s degree in Spanish literature and translation studies in French Interest : travels, foreign languages

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