The covered passages may not be the most obvious points of interest of Istanbul, but to me they are an integral part of the city’s unique charm. They were all built in the European district of Pera (now Beyoğlu), with most opening to its main street, known as the Grande Rue de Péra (now İstiklal Avenue). They constitute an interesting counterpart of the more famous arcades of Paris.
The portfolio contains 11 well-preserved historical passages of Istanbul. These are not all the arcades on İstiklal Avenue. Some stood in ruins and were closed off (hopefully for renovation) all the times that I have been to Istanbul, some I have no photos about, and some I have not been able to find.
I took most photos in November and December 2015 and some in November 2018.
You will find the locations of all the mentioned passages on this map:
1. Passage Oriental / Pasaj Markiz
This arcade opened its doors in 1840 as Passage Oriental. It was home to Café Lebon, the first and the most famous pastry shop on the Grande Rue, later known as Markiz Pastanesi. The Lebon was designed by Alexandre Vallaury. Only the Art Nouveau wall panels representing the seasons and the painted glass of the store entrance on the right are left of the original interior.
2. Hazzopulo Pasajı
This arcade was built for the Greek Hatsopoulos banking family. It opened on April 15, 1871, and was later frequented by the Young Turks. This arcade leads to one of İstiklal Caddesi’s few remaining traditional tea gardens, which is perfect for spending time with friends and playing tavla.
3. Avrupa Pasajı
The Arcade of Europe was built in 1874 on the site of the Jardin des Fleurs hotel and theatre, which had been burned down in the Great Pera Fire of 1870. It was originally known as Aynalı Pasaj (Mirrored Arcade), because of the 22 mirrors of the ground floor. It is decorated with classical female statues and covered by a glass ceiling.
4. Cité de Pera / Çiçek Pasajı
On the site of this arcade stood, before the Great Pera Fire of 1870, the Naum Theatre, favoured by Sultans Abdülaziz I and Abdülhamid II. The local Greek banker and benefactor Christakis Zografos (see the Zografeion Lyceum) bought the land right after, and in 1876, a Parisian-style arcade opened here, designed by Cleanthy Zanno, an Italian architect. It contained 25 very chic stores and above these 18 luxurious apartments.
The passage got its current name from the White Russian refugees who ended up selling flowers here. Later it became one of the raciest drinking places in all of Istanbul.
5. Atlas Pasajı
This arcade was built in 1877 for an Armenian Catholic banker named Agop Köçeoğlu. It hosts the famous Atlas Cinema and the Küçük Sahne Theatre.
6. Halep Pasajı
This passage was built in 1885 by a Syrian Christian from Aleppo. In its rear part, there was the Variety Circus Theatre. Now it is known for its cinemas.
7. Cité Roumelie / Rumeli Pasajı
This building was commissioned by Ottoman statesman Ragıp Sarıca Pasha, who built two other passages in the area: the Anadolu Pasajı and the Afrika Pasajı. In some articles in Turkish available online it is mentioned that if Sultan Abdul Hamid II had not been deposed during the Young Turk Revolution in 1909, Ragıp Pasha would have built passages bearing the names of all the continents of the world. I did not quite understand if it was his serious intention or just a joke by his contemporaries.
It is not known when exactly the structure was built and who were the architects. The most precise dating that I could find is 1894-1897. The building may be the work of the Armenian architects Aram and Isac Caracach, who also designed Ragıp Pasha’s winter residence just some metres away as well as the Ferah Apartmanı a bit further (both wonderful Art Nouveau buildings). Some have mentioned August Jasmund, the architect of the Sirkeci Railway Station, while others have suggested that the building was designed by Italian architects.
It has been said that Cité Roumelie was the tallest building on the Grande Rue at the time of its construction. It contained between 50 and 60 apartments, which were accessed by five stairways from the passage on the ground floor. Apart from the Grande Rue, where the impressive richly ornamented entrance has survived, the passage opened to two other streets. It contained 30 stores and workplaces, such as a bakery, a jeweller, a tailor and a clinic. In the 1960s it was famous for the stamps being sold here. The first Hacı Abdullah Restaurant in Beyoğlu was opened here as well.
8. Aznavur Pasajı
This arcade was built in 1900 on the site of two famous cafes. It was born as a block of luxury apartments with a private courtyard, which was later opened at both ends to allow pedestrians in. The architect was Armenian Hovsep Aznavur, who also designed the Mısır Apartmanı opposite to it on the Grande Rue. The wrought iron of its narrow façade bears trace of Art Nouveau.
9. Suriye Pasajı
The Passage of Syria was built in 1900-1908 as three separate buildings, which were later joined to form an arcade. The owners were a Syrian family headed by Hasan Halbuni Pasha, the first Muslim to head to the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce. The architect was Dimitros Vasiliadis. The first cinema in Turkey, Santral Sineması, was located here.
10. El Hamra Pasajı
This eclectic building was built in 1920-1922 for a businessman named Şerif Adapazar on the plot of land where there had stood the Crystal Theatre. It has a remarkably wide corridor leading to the shops, which is why it is called an arcade.
11. Passage Petits-Champs
This arcade opens to Meşrutiyet Caddesi, formerly Rue des Petits-Champs, which got its name from a cemetery located on the slopes of the hill of Tepebaşı.