Current name: Istanbul

Descriptions ca 1922

Excerpts compiled from:


The men who first settled on the site in 657 B.C. were adventurous merchants from near Athens. The city was generally known as Byzantium from Byzas, the Greek navigator who led the first Greek colonists. Its real importance in history begins with the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great, who chose the Greek settlement on the Bosphorus as the spot where he intended to build the New Rome.The name, Constantinople, refers to Constantine the Great.


Constantinople has maintained a reputation as one of the great commercial ports of the world. It is and has been an international toll gate for shipping between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea areas.

Constantinople has three main divisions, Stamboul - on the peninsula washed by the waters of the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmora - Galata and Pera, on the European side of the Bosphorus, and Scutari on the Asian side, with suburban villages along the Bosphorus and along the street-car and railway lines, running out respectively from Pera and Stamboul and Scutari.

The Golden Horn, both on the Stamboul and the Galata side, handles the commerce.

The shipping agencies and banks, for the most part, are centered in Galata; the wholesale houses, in Stamboul.

Addresses may bear the name of the street. Often this is missing, especially in Stamboul. Instead the address may simply refer to the district, or to a Han - the latter corresponds to the American business term "building", as "Singer Building".

The chief place of recreation for men of all nations and all creeds is the coffe house.


No other city in the world presents such a baffling diversity as Constantinople. Language, religion, nationality, race, education, customs, and to a great extent, government, separate rather than unite people in Constantinople.

The inhabitants present a remarkable conglomeration of different races, various nationalities, divers languages, distinctive costumes, and conflicting faiths. Of its inhabitants, scarcely one-half are Turks, the rest are Greeks, Jews, Armenians, and Franks.

Three nationalities essentially have made Constantinople what it is today: Greeks, Armenians, and Turks. There is no other city in the world where so many Turks are at home. The same is true of both Greeks and Armenians. There are more Greeks in Constantinople than there are in Athens, Smyrna, or Salonica. There are more Armenians in Constantinople than there are in any other city.

Foreigners in Constantinople all too often act as if the people they find here, and not they themselves, with their Western customs and social traditions and cultural presuppositions, are "strange." It is easy to fail to appreciate the fact that people here have had a great complex past, in contrast with which the history of European and American culture is simple.

The very geography of the city stands for diversity. The Golden Horn and the Bosphorus divide the city into the three very distinct sections of Stamboul, Pera, and Scutari. Stamboul, on the site of ancient Byzantium, is the most populous and homogeneous section. The city Turk is most at home here. Pera, across the Golden Horn, maintains its traditions as the European quarter, while Scutari, on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus, gives the visitor a real glimpse of Anatolian life.


Aside from the Greek, Armenian, and Turkish inhabitants of the city, there are other very important though minor elements. Ever since the Spanish Inquisition thousands of Jews have made Constantinople their home. Their numbers are estimated to be between 30,000 and 100,000.

The Jews are for the most part poor and unprogressive, living at Haskeuy, Balat, Ortakeuy, and Kouzkounjouk, but there is a progressive and well-to-do element among them which has a real part in the commercial life of the city.

The Jewish community, like those of other faiths under Ottoman rule, was governed by a law called "Hahamhane-Nizamnamesi," established about seventy years ago. A new statute was drawn up after the Armistice in 1918, which will be discussed, and finally approved, by the Jewish Constituent Assembly, which held its first sitting May 1, 1921.

The Capitulations

The word capitulations belongs to mediaeval Latin and signifies treaties with the conditions given under small headings. In its modern use as applied to Turkey it simply means treaties. It is the treaties or capitulations which create for non-Turkish subjects the exceptional position which they possess in Turkey.

The first capitulation which France obtained was in 1535, from Solyman the Canonist (the Magnificent.) The dispositions of these contracts have become antiquated, the fundamental principles remain. Thus, three hundred years ago, the Sultans, by an act of munificence and of reason, anticipated the most ardent desires of civilized Europe, and proclaimed unlimited freedom of commerce.

During the nineteenth century the Ottoman Government took the position that the Capitulations ought to be abolished. Their continuance was regarded as an insult to Ottoman sovereignty.

One of the first acts of Turkey as the World War developed in 19 14 was to declare all the Capitulations void.

The Capitulations which had been in force from and before the conquest of Constantinople (1453), were added to and enlarged as time went on. The most important and fundamental were those given to France in 1535 A.D. These still exist, and have furnished the foundation upon which all European nations have made subsequent treaties with the Porte.

Most of the late treaties contain what is known as the "most favored na- tion" clause, under which they obtain all that has been granted to other nations. There is thus a substantial agreement among the Western nations as to the rights they have obtained and enjoy.

Under the Capitulations foreigners who reside in Turkey are by a fiction of law regarded as dwelling in their own country and subject and amenable to its laws. Under this arrangement the subjects of each for- eign country are formed into separate communities or colonies, in which they are governed by officials of their own choosing from their own number.

There are thus set up in the non-Moslem section of the population little states in which all communal matters are settled according to the laws and customs of the people forming the community

These communities have their own courts, judges, and juries, and in many instances their local schools and churches.

In 1914 an attempt was made to abolish the Capitulations. This step called out a unanimous protest on the part of the foreign Powers who objected to this act, taken as it was without their consent. The Treaty of Sevres restored the Capitulations to their former force, though it looks to an eventual establishment of such a regime as will supersede and render unnecessary the peculiar status granted to foreigners by the Capitulations.

Interallied Control

The Interallied Control is in the hands of the High Commissioners of Great Britain, France, and Italy.

There are two complete forces of police - the native police, who have control of all the native peoples of the country; and the Interallied Police

There are two courts: Native courts, over which the Interallied Police have absolutely no control. In these only Turkish subjects are tried; and Interallied police courts, in which foreign subjects are tried.

Military service

The provision authorizing the military service of Christians was first decreed in 1839 but did not go into actual effect till 1909.

The inhabitants of the capital were not subject to military conscription until recent years.

Native Jews in Constantinople have been drafted for war as Ottoman subjects.


French is the international language throughout the Near East. The acquirement of French is essential for all who expect to enter a commercial or professional career. A large proportion of the edu- cated people of the city speak French as a second tongue. The French language is also an important study in the programs of schools of all nationalities.

Descriptions from 1897:

"Galata, the business section, lies along the shore; Pera, the European residence-quarter, occupies the summit of the hill... The Moslem district is chiefly situated on and near Seraglio Point, and is still called distinctively "Stamboul." This is to thousands of Mohammedans the City of the Faithful, as Pera is the City of the Infidel, into which European section of Constantinople many conservative Moslems have never deigned to set foot"

"Central" Constantinople was basically divided into a Moslem section and a non-Moslem section. The Golden Horn (Corne d'or) separated the Moslem section, "Stamboul", from the European section variously known as Galata, Pera, and Beyoglu. Both of these sections are actually in Europe. The Bosporus separates Europe from Asia. The nomenclature of the European section gets a little confusing as the names in many cases were used interchangeably and in other cases more specific designations were given.

The "European" section is hilly and runs from the Galata Bridge to the top of the hill at Taksim Square.

Most of the non-Muslim population of Constantinople lived in this part of town.


Galata was a walled Genoese city until the 19th century. The Galata tower was a lookout point on the northernmost boundary. The tower is a major land mark on the city skyline and a focal point of the European section.


Pera is sometimes used to indicate all of the European section of the city at other times it seems to refer to the specific area north of the Galata Tower. In a 1893 Scribner's article there is mention of "the busy quarters of Galata, or of Pera above."

At another point in the same article there is reference to: "both cities, Pera and Stamboul."

Note: "Stamboul" was the Moslem quarter of central Constantinople and encompassed the area south of the Galata Bridge.


By the mid 1800s the Galata/Pera area was not large enough for the non-Muslim population that lived there so the Galata walls were torn down and the neighborhood was enlarged. Elegant hotels and apartments were build on the Grand Rue de Pera. The area then became known as Beyoglu. Beyoglu encompassed the old Galata/Pera. Taxim was a sub-section of Beyoglu.

Beyoglu was very Europeanized. French was the predominant language. There were communities of French, Italians, Russians, Germans, English, Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Hungarians, and Poles, each with their embassies, schools, churches, etc..

Grande Rue de Pera was the major street in the European section. It became the present day Istikal Caddesi. The elegant hotels and mansions that lined the street are now gone; mostly replaced by dull post war WWII renovations.

Note: A major problem with identifying some locations in Constantinople is a reflection of the international status of the city. The names are variously in Turkish, French, German, English, etc.

Two bridges, the Galata Bridge and the old bridge, connected the two "cities" of Stambul and Beyoglu (Galata & Pera).

The Galata Bridge is the more famous of the two. Originally built in 1845 the Galata Bridge was rebuilt between 1910 and 1912. The present bridge dates to 1992.

Credit: from

More about Galata:

Galata is on the European side of Istanbul both geographically and culturally.

In 1860 the area inside the Genoese walls was not large enough for Galata. So, the walls were destroyed and Galata was enlarged and Istiklal Street (of today) and "Grand Rue de Pera", called by Levantines, became a luxury district. First, there were foreign embassies and churches. Then, big houses, luxury apartments, shopping centers, and entertainment and art centers were built on Istiklal Street. Residential houses followed this. The people called this area "Beyoglu" which was an enlarged Galata called "Pera" by Levantines.

In a short period the infrastructure problems of the new district were solved. Streets were covered by rocks, sewage systems were enlarged, electricity, water, and natural gas networks were laid down, and trams pulled by horses were put into service for public transportation. Most important of all, the third oldest metro of the world was opened in Galata.

Galata was a finance center with its bankers and stock exchange. Its harbor was one of the busiest harbors of Europe. The Grand Rue de Pera or Cadde-i Kebir became a shopping center second only to the Grand Bazaar. The imported European goods were bought not only by Levantines but also by western sympathisers. It was also an entertainment center with its cafes, theaters, bars, opera houses, restaurants, and pastry shops. Ottomans liked the way of living in Pera so much. So, Galata became a kind of school for Ottoman politicians who sympathised with the western way of life. Because the Ottoman people were learning how to eat, drink, dress, entertain, and talk like westerners from the Levantines and Europeans in Beyoglu.

Galata was a cosmopolis. Mainly French, but also almost all other European languages were spoken there. Italians, Germans, French, British, Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Hungarians, Poles, and Russians had their own communities. Each community had its own places of worship, not only based on its religion but also based on its different sects. Therefore, many churches and synagogues of different groups were located close to each other.

There were also many foreign education centers in Galata; French, British, Italians, Germans, and Austrians opened high schools in Galata. The rich and noble muslim families, along with the Levantines and minorities, sent their children to those schools. Most of the Ottoman and Turkish scholars were educated in those schools.

Galata was always different. It did not even share the same faith with other districts of Istanbul. While Istanbul was in poverty and political chaos during the Balkan War, Galata was experiencing its golden age. The spoils of World War I flowed to Galata. Beyoglu was revived by the arrival of White Russians who escaped from the October Revolution of Russia. Its entertainment life was always good. This place was the primary entertainment center for the foreign forces while Istanbul was under occupation. But after the war, during the first years of the republic, the gorgeous Pera of Levantines slowly declined.

In the late 80's and 90's Galata district became an important cultural center again for the people of Istanbul and foreigners. There are beautiful old houses and buildings, cafes, restaurants, local markets and colorful atmosphere. Today Galata is known as the district of Jews and foreigners who live in Istanbul.

Sources and References

Great photos - look again:


Constantinople 1914

Constantinople 1914 - National Geographic
Constantinople 1897

Constantinople 1922


This family history project started September 2009.
All photos and documents belong to the author and are © Daniel Abraham, except for maps and where indicated.
This is a work in progress. Please contact me if you have any more information to contribute.

Last Modified: Thursday, October 5, 2017