Neighborhoods of Istanbul – Kuzguncuk
/ By Josh
Kuzguncuk is one of those neighborhoods that can be easily overlooked by guidebooks. This is mostly because there aren’t many real sights with deep history or impressive architecture to draw crowds of tourists. Instead of grand mosques, or ancient palaces Kuzguncuk has beautiful, turn of the century houses, quaint restaurants and cafes serving great coffee and plenty of nostalgia. And it brings locals by the hundreds every weekend.
The neighborhood of Kuzguncuk was settled long before the arrival and conquest of the Turks and was known by a few different names. The name Kuzguncuk, meaning ‘Little Raven’ comes from the religious leader Kuzgun Baba (Raven Father).
While Kuzguncuk is certainly a historic neighborhood, almost every building dates from the 1800’s or later. The Greek Orthodox church of Hagios Panteleimon was built on the site of another ruined church that had been built in the 550’s, around the same time as the Hagia Sophia.
A story from the history of Kuzguncuk that encapsulates the character of the place comes from the 1950’s when relations between the majority Turkish population and the minorities were infamously poor. When anti-Greek riots broke out around the country, mobs were ransacking minority owned property and when a mob came to Kuzguncuk they found their way blocked by the Turks of Kuzguncuk protecting their Greek and Jewish neighbors. Even though the minority population has dwindled over the decades Kuzguncuk is still known for its openness and as a place where you can hear the adhan (Islamic call to prayer), church bells, and the recitation of Jewish prayers at one of the local synagogues.
Kuzguncuk today has been referred to as “Istanbul’s unspoiled neighborhood” and listed as “one of Istanbul’s top 5 lovable neighborhoods” mostly because time seems to have passed this place by. The neighborhood is almost something of a village, cut off from the rest of the city with the green of a large public park, a forested military property, and a graveyard surrounding it on three sides, while the waters of the Bosphorus make up the western edge.
In Kuzguncuk the buildings are beautifully preserved century-old homes, the cobbled streets are lined with massive plain trees, and all the markets, bakeries, chocolatiers, and cafes are local without a chain to be seen. Shops are full of nostalgia, art, and food. This is a great place to try Turkish homestyle foods such as manti or dolma.
Just Beyond Kuzguncuk:
Nakkaştepe Jewish Cemetery
The Nakkaştepe Jewish Cemetery is a testament to the deep connection between the Jewish community and Kuzguncuk. While most of the graves date from much later the oldest Jewish graves found here date from the 14th century. The size of this massive cemetery is due in part to the fact that the Jewish population was not allowed to bury their dead in the cemeteries around Balat and so they turned to the hillside above Kuzguncuk. Whether in person or in written testimony you’ll hear Kuzguncuk referred to as a “second Jerusalem” by the descendants of the Jews who were kicked out of Spain and settled in various neighborhoods around Istanbul.
Abdülmecid Efendi Mansion
The Abdülmecid Efendi Mansion, though not properly in Kuzguncuk is fairly close by on the hilltop at the high end of the little valley. Built by Ismail Paşa between 1880-1895 this mansion is now used as a modern art gallery.
Unfortunately, there is no public transit from Kuzguncuk to the mansion. If you’re willing to walk it is just under 1.5 km’s away. Otherwise there is a taxi stand at the bottom end of Kuzguncuk near to the waterfront.
How To Get There
Kuzguncuk is just north of Üsküdar along the water on Istanbul’s Asian side. From Üsküdar there are a number of different bus options. Take either the 15, 15b, 15c, 15e, 15h, 15k, 15kç, 15m, or 15n from in front of Mihrimah Sultan Mosque or the Marmaray metro entrance and get of at the stop named Kuzguncuk.
Where To Stay
There are no hotels in Kuzguncuk and the hotels in Üsküdar aren’t great, but, as Kuzguncuk is fairly easy to access with public transit, Kadıköy or much of the European side of the city is still a good option.
The people of Kuzguncuk know how to celebrate! If you’re in Istanbul during a holiday (even some that aren’t usually celebrated in Turkey) then Kuzguncuk fills with people, the street is hung with banners, and musicians fill the air with music.
Have any tips or info to add? Spot any mistakes? We’d love to hear about it.