Places out of time, time out of places Çukurcuma
Çukurcuma invites you to a journey out of time with a taste of authenticity, atmosphere of Istanbul's all historical time periods and liveliness.
There are special places that make you forget where, and even when, you are. You just can’t move from where you are standing, confused about the time you are living in: are you in the future? Or in the past? “Good old times street” -commonly known as Cukurcuma- invites you on a journey out of time with a taste of confusion, amusement, history and future at the same time. Lately there has been a continuous movement to multiple areas of Beyoglu. Asmalımescit, Galata and Tunel have become the place of attractions following the opening of new shops and cafes. The previous dense crowd that used to rush from the French Culture Center to Odakule and disappear suddenly is now heading to the Tunel region. Besides these popular meeting points, Cukurcuma is still carrying on the role of being the mature and humble child of this group. Similar to his brothers, he is also facing some changes as the time goes by, but time itself seems to be frozen here because of its modest atmosphere. We wanted to discover Cukurcuma for you.
Coffee shop of Iskeceli, Minyatur Deniz Eskisi and Cukurcuma Flea Market
A question mark appeared just at the moment when we entered Galatasaray, left, of the Hamam and rushing into the back streets. Where in God’s Sake was this Cukurcuma? Being confused, we headed to the Mukhtar of Cukurcuma. After a tiring and desperate search, asking an old shop owner, at last we discovered that Cukurcuma did not have a Mukhtar. In fact, the name Cukurcuma belonged to a street continuing from Pera before diving towards Tophane. Over time, the region in between Firuzaga, Galatasaray and Tophane started to be called Cukurcuma. As soon as we entered Cukurcuma Street just to the right the 16th century Cukurcuma Mosque - a masterpiece of Sinan the Architect - greeted us. Across from it is the 18th century Omer Aga Fountain and next to the fountain the coffee house of Iskeceli appeared. You will not find a more suitable place in the hellish hot weather of Istanbul's summer, to take some deep and cool breaths in the shade and to enjoy the beauty of the neighborhood. We went on walking down the street having declared of course that it was too early for a rest. Just on the right, Minyatur Deniz Eskisi attracted us. It has a very attractive shop window and the shop smells of the sea. Every type of naval antique objects like diving suits, telescopes, wooden crates and compasses are available here. Further on is the flea market. Here you can find hundreds-year-old wooden furniture, phones with magneto, tin toy cars and hand woven carpets. Shop owner Ali Bey has been in Cukurcuma for 10 years. “Time by time shops change here, ” he says and adds that the demand for antique goods is not as it used to be in the old days and he was not able to find antiques as easily as before. But of course, there are always some unique pieces which they save for collectors. He tells us that most of the well-known antique collectors often visited him, but he is stubborn about not declaring their names.
The best antique pieces used to come from Greek houses. “They wouldn’t waste even an old pin” says Ali Bey. But these houses are very rare now and most of the owners have already moved away. He is complaining about a drop in sales and not receiving good pieces over the last 3-4 years. We ask Ali Bey to tell us details about the flea market. “Nowadays it is not as popular as it used to be’’ he says. It was closed for a while and then three months ago it started again, but it never reached the previous number of customers. Since the rental prices are too high, the sellers that used to come from other suburbs do not come to the flea market any more. We start to go on the tour walking upwards from the flea market. Walking straight ahead, leaving the mosque in the suburb center behind, on the left hand side we see Galeri Artist Cukurcuma. This is one of the active art galleries in the area. Then we turn right. This is Alpatlar St. On the left there are the shops named Antiques and Serif Ozkılıc Antika & Dekorasyon. On the right there is a shop called Mustafa Rayıbek Antika. We are taking a look at the grinding machine and ancient ovens. Having some questions in our minds, we ring the doorbell, but unfortunately no one answers. Who said that the back street culture of Istanbul passed away? Going on our tour up the street we leave the famous Asri Tursucusu (Pickle Shop) on the right behind. Drawing a semicircle this way leads us to the busiest street of Cukurcuma. This street has the full concept from grocery stores to the greengroceries, from bakeries to coffee shops. Then two strange shops that differ with their look among others attract our attention. One is called Levanten and the other one is called Zaman Tuneli. We rush into Levanten. Shop owner Melih Gulay welcomes us. As soon as we enter the shop a variety of objects hanging down the shelves surround us. We are so confused to look at each side. This profession was inherited to Melih Gulay from his father and he has been running this business for 45 years. “What do you have in this shop?” we ask. Melih Bey he says he had everything. Plenty of ornaments, jewelry, centuries-old combination locks, beads in amber, a big collection of original miniatures. In Europe, antique shop owners are branched. Each of them separately sells different objects from mechanical goods to jewelry, from numismatics to Pop Art. “In Turkey it is not working that way,” says Melih Bey. Especially starting from 1999, coins and valuables are mostly sold. “It is unfortunately out of fashion now to hold an antique piece in your hand expressing your love and having joy from it,” he adds. In the long run, no new collectors have been educated and this will cause problems.
Asri Turşucusu (Asri Pickle Shop)
What does a Turk do if his business runs well?
Tourists are also visiting these shops very often. The tourists, mostly prefer small pieces that they can put into their pockets and take to their countries. Previously they used to buy bigger items like antique knives and pistols, but after airline companies stop allowing passengers on plain with these objects their sales stopped. Melih Bey says that Cukurcuma itself is as old as Cukurcuma Mosque. Back then, it was the center of second hand shops. There was only accommodation in Pera and there was a big cemetery in the area around Harbiye and Taksim Square. Jews, Armenians, Greeks and Turks used to live together. Our conversation goes on and he makes such a wonderful joke that it makes us burst into laughter: If the business of a Jew runs well, he opens a new shop to enlarge his business; if an Armenian’s business runs well he replaces his cook with a better one, but what happens if a Turk’s business runs well? He changes his wife!”
A church bell on one side, a mosque on the other one
After having the last sips of our teas ordered from the coffee shop under the grapevine in front of the shop we were invited in by Melih Bey, we visit the next door shop. This is Zaman Tuneli ( Time Tunnel ). Here, strange objects from the 60s and 70s are sold. Shop owner Ilker Bey tells us that he has been in Cukurcuma for four years and he is selling various items like gas masks, scales that runs on 10 old kurus, tin biscuit boxes, iron hand mixers, portable televisions, handmade ornaments for refrigerators all at very reasonable prices. Ilker Bey decided to open this shop after having worked in advertisement sector and being an amateur collector when he wasn’t satisfied with his job. He has been an inhabitant of Cukurcuma for 3.5 years. “There is a very popular trade of second hand goods here in Cukurcuma, “he begins, “that has been running for 550 years. Pera is the closest suburb to Beyoglu. This is an authentic and mystical place and it is not easy to describe. On one side, I hear the church bell ringing, on the other side I hear the Ezan (Muslim call to prayer). Since Galatasaray is close to Cihangir, this way is commonly used. You can do shopping by meeting a lot of people here. This street is a kind of hidden one. The artists find this street more comfortable to wander and pass by’’ says Ilker Bey.
Vita goes, Ufo comes
When he opened his shop he was made fun of. He was considered strange, selling tin containers of margarine and tin boxes of coke in a famous street where fireplaces, braziers and tombacs were commonly sold. The business that runs here is of course, different from dealing with antiques. But for him an Ulker brand biscuit container box is more valuable than an antique piece somehow. Ilker Bey finds his group of customers more emotional than the others. He wanders in Istanbul and collects different objects. “It is our duty to run after the past. These objects are like my children. When someone buys one piece I believe that it will be loved by the customer as much as I loved it. Then a new child arrives. Vita goes, Ufo comes. But the main concept is always the same.” Ilker Bey thinks that he has brought a fresh breath to this street. They lately have made a special study with the poet Sunay Akın and opened a grocery store at Sunay Akın’s toy museum.
Faik Pasa Street
Magnificence of the past
We end our break in the Time Tunnel and we continue our tour. Just on the left side, we greet junkman Uncle Hızır. Just next to his shop, Faik Pasa Street starts. We learn that this name is inherited by the Italian journalist Francesco della Suda. Magnificent buildings surround both sides of the road. These old buildings were built in the last quarter of the 18th century. Its stone-carved ornaments are breathtaking. The buildings on the left side are more magnificent. We ask the reason for that. In the past, aristocrats used to live on the left and servants used to live on the right. The reason for a lack of adornment in the architectural structure of the buildings on the right is now clear. This side street is filled with ateliers. In number 4 we find A la Turca. It is full of antique carpets, Kilims and woven items. It is obvious that once upon a time this place lived better days when the shopping was dense, livelier and more colorful. Though Cukurcuma left these days behind, it still has an antique culture of 550 years. This route, with old buildings having their own characteristic architectural taste, shops full of unique objects, and historical side streets, it proves to be sui generis and will survive as it is.
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