By Nick Augusteijn
Some people know Istanbul from a travel agency advertisement, a website or a newspaper. Others may have seen Istanbul in a movie or saw the city featured in a documentary. Still others know the city from hearsay. Some, on the other hand, know Istanbul from the works of Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk. What better way, then, to visit the city and explore the various neighborhoods, streets and locations Pamuk describes in his bestselling 2009 novel “The Museum of Innocence”? This piece will allow you to do just that.
Born in Istanbul in 1952, Pamuk is the acclaimed author of 13 books, nine of which have been translated into English. His work is translated into 60 languages and in 2006 he was awarded the highest distinction in literature: the Nobel Prize in Literature. In Pamuk’s 2005 semi-autobiographical “Istanbul, Memories and the City,” he writes the following: “Conrad, Nabokov, Naipaul – there are writers known for having managed to migrate between languages, cultures, countries, continents, even civilizations. Their imaginations were fed by exile, a nourishment drawn not through roots but through rootlessness; mine, however, requires that I stay in the same city, on the same street, in the same house, gazing at the same view. Istanbul’s fate is my fate: I am attached to this city because it has made me who I am.”
To be precise, Pamuk was referring to Şişli’s Nişantaşı neighborhood. There, on 53 Teşvikiye Avenue (formerly number 135), almost right across from the glamorous City’s shopping mall, you will find the Pamuk Apartments. It was common in the past that large, wealthy families would live together in mansions, as did the Pamuk family. When they rented theirs to a private primary school they had an apartment complex built that survives to this day. Above the entrance it reads “Pamuk Apt.” Naming your apartment was and is a common practice in Istanbul. You won’t even have to pay close attention in the city’s residential neighborhoods to notice all apartment buildings carry a name.
Nişantaşı is one of Istanbul’s affluent quarters; some would even call it posh. Sultan Abdülmecid I designated it in the nineteenth century. In this quarter you will find various boutiques and the flagship stores of the world’s most renowned designer labels. Located at a walking distance from the Istanbul’s famous Taksim Square, Nişantaşı makes for a nice little getaway from the hustle and bustle of Beyoğlu. Its small streets are home to a great many restaurants and bistros. It is also where you will find the splendid Teşvikiye Mosque, which looks remarkably different from many other mosques in the city. Built in during the 1850s, the mosque carries the distinct neo-baroque style that also influenced the architecture of the Ortaköy Mosque and the splendid Dolmabahçe Palace. Walking along or through Maçka Park is one of downtown Istanbul’s most scenic routes. It will take you all the way up to the aforementioned Dolmabahçe Palace on the Bosporus.
In love with 18-year-old Füsun
It is in the Nişantaşı where we’ll start to retrace the novel. The year is 1975 and the book’s main character, a wealthy, 30-year-old man by the name of Kemal, walks along Vali konağı Avenue. This is the avenue that follows Cumhuriyet Avenue, which runs north from Taksim Square. Kemal is only weeks away from the engagement party preceding his marriage to a perfect match, the equally affluent and lovely Sibel. However, at a small shop on the avenue, situated all but a few meters from the Vali konağı-Rumeli Avenue intersection, Kemal falls in love with a shop girl, the then 18-year-old Füsun. Over the next couple of weeks, they continue to meet at the Merhamet Apartments. The apartment is described as overlooking Teşvikiye Avenue. However, walking along the avenue you won’t find it. The apartment building is still there, but the name has been taken off. The building is situated a little down the road from the Pamuk Apartments, just before Teşvikiye Avenue and Bostan Street meet. At the entrance of the street you will find the famous Teşvikiye police station, which shares similar architectural features as the Teşvikiye Mosque across the street. Next to the police station stands a white marble obelisk, erected on orders of Sultan Abdülmecid I to mark the quarter’s end. Take a left at that crossing and head down Ihlamur Nişantaşı Street. At the corner of Ihlamur Nişantaşı Street and Prof. Dr. Orhan Ersek Street is where Füsun and her parents, the Keskins, supposedly lived.
Engagement party in Hilton hotel
With the engagement looming, hanging over their heads like the Sword of Damocles, Kemal is faced with a choice of either continuing his affair with Füsun and break off the engagement, or go ahead with it. However, such is the character of Kemal that he lacks the courage to confess to Sibel that he has fallen in love with Füsun. Not only that, he also fails to truly commit himself to Füsun, who has come to love Kemal in equal measure. And so it came to pass that the engagement party went ahead, which was held at the famous Istanbul Hilton. When it opened it 1954, it was the ultimate society event of the year, in hindsight probably even of the decade. It was unique for its design in those days, and was in fact the first modern luxury hotel built in the city as well as the first Hilton hotel outside the United States. By virtue of being the first such hotel, the project developers had wonderful tracts of land to choose from. The hotel is built on an unrivaled 50.000-square meters of prime downtown property, comprising a park, a swimming pool and tennis courts. The hotel is credited for having heralded the age of American cultural influence, which redefined the so-called modern identity of the affluent Westernized Istanbulites such as the Pamuk’s and other wealthy families, who would frequent the hotel bar and patisserie.
Füsun and Kemal will dance only once, during which – drunkenly – he musters up the courage to share his true feelings for her, and he promises to be with her after the engagement party. His gesture, however, is too little too late, and she disappears from his life. Ravaged by his broken heart and unable to get over his love for this shop girl, he sees no other option than to finally confess to his fiancée all that has happened between him and Füsun. Sibel and Kemal won’t see each other again for 31 years. Kemal continues to pay his daily visits to the Merhamet Apartments in an attempt to find solace, peace and some form of redemption.
Through a friend he finally finds a way to get in touch with Füsun. By means of a letter she agrees to meet with him at her parent’s new address: Çukurcuma’s Dalgıç Street, the location of the Museum of Innocence. Dalgıç Street is a very tiny street off the beaten track. It can be a bit of a hassle to find, but the house should be easy to spot as it is entirely renovated and painted dark red. The renovation was carried out as a part of plans to actually open a Museum of Innocence. The museum was scheduled to open in 2010 to coincide with Istanbul being the European capital of Culture that year. However, for a variety of reasons the museum’s opening was delayed. In 2012, the museum finally opened its doors to the public.
Çukurcuma is an interesting neighborhood, too. It is a bit run down here and there, but that rather suits the area, as it is home to a great many antique shops. For the next seven years Kemal and his chauffeur would drive down from Nişantaşı to the hills of Çukurcuma to visit Füsun and her parents, all the while hoping to get closer to her. His persistence, in the end, pays off, although Kemal’s patience will be tested to the limit, as it is only after nine years that they find themselves in each other’s arms again.
The two lovers subsequently meet at the famous Inci Patisserie to make plans for their future. Little do they know that their future is about to take an unexpected turn. In the same vein, the future of the renowned patisserie nowadays hangs in the balance as its fortunes rest on a court’s decision in its attempt to fend off the onslaught of modernity. Opened in 1944, Inci introduced Istanbul to the profiterole, which has become a favorite dessert among Istanbulites since. Very little has changed in the store since it opened in the 1940s. It is housed in one of Istiklal Avenue’s many grand old buildings, which in recent years have been renovated one by one. The 136-year-old building is a design by Alexandre Vallaury, the famous French-Ottoman architect who is also responsible for the Pera Palace Hotel and the headquarters of the Imperial Ottoman Bank. Many locals fear that the building, which over the years has become increasingly dilapidated, will suffer the same fate as the equally grand building next to it; gutted, renovated and turned into a shopping mall (the Demirören Mall). Its pristine white exterior facings make it look more like a prop from a movie set as opposed a building with a proud history.
Most of the shops neighboring Inci have had to vacate the building as it, too, is scheduled for the shopping mall treatment. Inci, however, is not going down without a fight and resists the decision in court. The legendary 1924 Emek Cinema, for many years the best-loved place to watch movies Istanbul, unfortunately, did not survive. It had to close its doors in 2010. It is in the Emek Cinema that Kemal and Füsun would go and see movies during their idle years. The Atlas Cinema is another location frequented by the book’s main characters. Luckily, this cinema has survived. So, too, has the Fitaş Palace Cinema, although it has lost most of its former glory.
The Museum of Innocence
I will not disclose how the story ends, for it would be too much of a spoiler of a book that deserves to be read. The Museum of Innocence has been compared by critics to classics such as Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” and Lev Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” and who am I to disagree with that? The book is as enjoyable to read as the various present-day locations are interesting. What is all the more convenient is that the book contains a small map, detailing the exact location of the Museum of Innocence. Hence, with the book in hand you may find it. Locating the street and the house may not be easy, but finding it is as rewarding as finishing the book’s 83(!) chapters. Furthermore, bringing along the book will get you into the museum for free, as each novel contains a ticket to the museum. It is a place where reality and fiction meet in unexpected ways.
Marc Guillet published a booklet with four self-guided walks.
You don’t have to download all of them at the same time.
The first focuses on Fatih including the ultra-conservative Çarşamba area and its Wednesday market as well as the more familiar Fatih Cami and the woefully under-visited, mosaic-filled Pammakaristos Church. The second takes a look at what’s hidden down the backstreets on either side of the Galata Bridge, while the third focuses on the often-overlooked mosques of Üsküdar with a detour into Kuzguncuk, almost unknown to tourists. The fourth homes in on Kadıköy and Moda.
You can order your copy of Walking in Istanbul by Marc Guilllet via the Enjoy Istanbul website
Or direct from http://www.odyssee-reisgidsen.nl/magento/wandelen-en-fietsen/wal.html?___store=en&___from_store=nl
Order your walks online here