First settled in the Byzantine era, Istanbul’s ancient financial center is undergoing a 21st century renaissance as the city’s chicest retail quarter
Foreigners have been attracted to Galata ever since the 13th century, when the area was colonized by Genoese settlers. Greeks, Italians, and Jewish merchants followed, establishing trading houses and banks along its cobblestone streets. But the 20th century brought decline to the old quarter, with wealthy residents abandoning it for Istanbul’s tonier neighborhoods, and minorities quitting the city altogether during the political tensions of the 1950s and 1960s. Galata’s bustle turned to bust, and the ornate buildings along its narrow streets grew increasingly dilapidated. The last few years, however, have seen its fortunes revive, with up-and-coming designers and artists seeking lower rents and more space than they could find in established style centers like Ni?anta?i and Bebek. They found what they were looking for around the medieval Galata Tower, completed by the Genoese in 1348 just to the north of the Golden Horn.
Visitors wanting to immerse themselves in what is now one of the coolest neighborhoods in Istanbul should drop their bags at the Georges Hotel (24 Serdar-? Ekrem Sokak; 90-212/244-2423; georgeshotel.com; doubles from US$215), a 20-room bolt-hole on Serdar-i Ekrem, the cobbled street that has emerged as Galata’s main shopping strip. Occupying a late-ottoman apartment building, the hotel also provides a good between-boutiques pit stop in its lobby-level Le Fumoir restaurant and bar.
Right next door, Turkey’s reigning fashion designer Arzu Kaprol (No.22, KamondoApt.; 90-212/252-7571; arzukaprol.net) purveys her highly constructed couture and prêt-à-porter collections that rely heavily on texture and pleating. Continue up the street toward Galata Tower to find Bahar Korçan (No. 9; 90-212/243-7320; baharkorcan.org), another well-established designer to have set up shop in the area. Korçan makes quirky, colorful clothing in a wide range of fabrics, typically using layers of gauze to create a sense of whimsy. From here, head across Galip Dede street and around the west side of the tower for something more traditionally Turkish: the tasseled towels, cozy bathrobes, and homemade juniper or honey-almond soaps at Hammam Ltd (1C Kule Ç?kmaz? Sokak; 90-212/245-7075; hammam.com.tr).