Balat, located in the Golden Horn, is famous for being associated with the presence of Jews in the city, presence this has contributed to the fame of Istanbul capital from diverse cultures and ethnic groups, with also the presence of Greeks, Kurds, Syrians, Armenians and consequently multi-religious, with the presence of Yezidis, Christian Orthodox, Catholic and all variants of Islam such as the Alevis, Sufi, etc… However, since the second world war this panorama has changed a lot, and the country is now largely dominated by Sunni Muslims.
Nowadays, in Balat is difficult to find traces of the Jewish presence, except by discrete a synagogue and by symbols carved in older stone buildings.
Despite of the state of degradation of many of the traditional houses built in wood with small balconies the level of first floor, Balat keep a certain charme and atmosphere. Along the main streets of the neighbourhood is possible to find many cafes, terraces and restaurants in a more modern and cosmopolitan style, as well as vintage stores more for tourists who wander around here. A sophistication that balances well with the traditional cafes, place of entertainment where men spend hours playing chess and cards, or sitting in chair at the street, drinking tea, which here is called chai, that is a common habit throughout the country.
But walked north along the Golden Horn, crossing the bridge Valid Sultan, comes to Ayvansaray, where the atmosphere is somewhat different, noting a poorer population, more curious and somewhat less accustomed to the presence of tourists. Following randomly by little streets, we were led by the shrill sound of music and voices in a indecipherable language. Until we reach a narrow street where several pieces of clothing from fur coats, towels, sweatshirts, underwear, dresses, skirts, socks, sheets… hang on a string that zigzag up the street. Across this strange drying of new clothes, you arrive at the center of all the action that spreads to nearby streets, where a group of women, fake blond hair and heavy gold jewellery, chanting words at the pace of the drums, in a laud and lively way.
Toke time to realize the reason for so much animation, but the way of dressing and atitude of these women, far away from the description and shyness of Muslim women, along with all the wealth of display material, pointed to the celebration of a marriage between the Roma community.
Friends, neighbours, family and onlookers formed an exclusively women’s group, around the bride, taking over of the narrow street, full of offerings that apart from hanging clothes, include shoes and bags, washing machine and detergent, dishes and pans, sheets and blankets… and even a carefully wrapped in gold paper toilet; hundreds of decorative objects forming a colourful and bright set dominated by fake gold color.
How to get there:
The best way to achieve Balat is by ferry, and you can catch a ferryboat which starts at Uksudar, the Asian city side and making routs across the Golden Horn to Eyup, which stops at various points as Karaköy, Eminonu, Cibali, Fener, Balat and Haskoy.
This is the best and cheapest ways to navigate through the channel without paying for the cruise ships and it costs the normal price of a ferry ride, about 2.15 TL for those with the Istanbul Kart.
From Eminonu bus terminal there are also several buses that roam the avenues by the sea and that make stop in Balal, such as 99A. Istanbul city buses have an electronic panel with the full itinerary, that indicates the next stop as all the following stops.
Likewise, the ferry or bus can reach the zone Ayvansaray.