Surrounded by Byzantine city walls from the 5th century AD to the
west, the Golden Horn to the north, Fener and Balat districts are
located on the historic peninsula of Istanbul. Once a focal point
of the social and cultural lives of Greeks, Armenians and Jews, the
Fener and Balat districts are presently inhabited by a mostly Muslim
population that immigrated from other cities and rural areas.
Today, Fener and Balat districts look like dilapidated areas and face
the danger of total ruin. Some buildings are already in ruins and
about 20% of the construction is in poor condition. Out of the 1401
lots on the selected perimeter, there are 102 unoccupied lots (7%),
68 vacant buildings (5.4%) and 124 partially empty ones (9.7%). One
of the reasons for this impoverishment is the move of naval industry
from the Golden Horn to Tuzla. After then, the social and economic
condition of the inhabitants worsened as well as the situation of
the buildings. Due to low rents, Fener and Balat districts continue
to hold a key position in the adaptation to the urban environment
of a population that is poor and lacking the economic resources to
carry out the necessary repair and maintenance of the architectural
Many of the residents have no access to proper urban services. Sanitary
equipment and health services are cruelly lacking and tuberculosis
and hepatitis B are frequent among children. In winter, heavy seasonal
rains and poor drainage cause flooding. The population’s standard
of education is extremely low; almost a fifth of the women (1998 and
2004 socio-economic surveys) are illiterate and many children drop
out of school or attend only intermittently after the age of 12.
Because of the location of the Greek Patriarchate and the Orthodox
Church, Fener was dominantly a Greek neighbourhood since the Byzantine
period. In the 17th century, Fener became the residence of upper classes
and the bourgeoisie with its hewn stone buildings and richly ornamented
house facades. During the Ottoman period, an important segment of
Greeks who lived in Fener, who were well-educated and fluent in several
languages, held high government positions as interpreters or diplomats.
During the 18th century, the majority of new constructions were made
of stone or wood; and aristocratic Greek families started to build
villas around the Patriarchate.
However, the settlement structure changed in the 19th century: Prominent
families of Fener left the neighbourhood and moved to villages along
the Bosphorus, such as Tarabya, Kurucesme and Arnavutkoy. Only officials,
artisans and small traders were left behind and they moved to the
unique row houses of the district. They started to build on the plots
reclaimed from the fire. Until the 1960s, Fener preserved its identity
as a Greek neighbourhood. With the first wave of immigrants to the
bourgeois neighbourhoods of Istanbul (the Prince’s Islands, Kadikoy
and Siţli) at the end of the 19th century, the population structure
started to change radically. After a second wave, when the Greeks
left Istanbul in large numbers in the 1960s. The deterioration of
the characteristic seashore as a result of industrialization had an
impact on Fener as well. Following the 1960s, new inhabitants arriving
from the Black Sea region started to settle in the area in large numbers.
This coastal area underwent some very important physical changes in
recent decades. A large number of the 18th century stone buildings
in Fener and the buildings along the Golden Horn including the Balat
Dock were demolished with bulldozers as part of a wide ranging program
directed by the Mayor between 1984 and 1987. This project left intact
only the city walls on the coast and a few historic buildings outside
Efforts to transform these areas into parks or other public space
could not be achieved. The parks on the seashore are cut from the
neighbourhood by a road with heavy traffic and inhabitants still need
public or green space.
Balat is known as a Jewish quarter--with a small Armenian population--
dating back to the Byzantine period. Balat's winding streets provided
a meeting ground for navigators, seafarers, street vendors and porters.
Following the earthquake of 1894 and a series of fires that affected
not only the neighbourhood but whole city of Istanbul, the social
structure of Balat underwent significant changes: The wealthiest section
of the inhabitants left the district and moved to Galata, which is
the current location of the Jewish institutions including the Chief
Rabbinate and major synagogues. The emigration followed and one fourth
of the population of Balat left for Israel after its establishment.
After this time, the Jewish population was reduced to a minority in
Balat, and a new wave of immigrants arrived from the towns of the
Black Sea region, especially from Kastamonu. After the 1960s, the
economic situation of Jewish residents of Balat improved and moved
to Siţli. The result was the transformation of the urban structure
of Balat due to the heavy influx of newcomers, especially a further
group of working class people who were attracted by job prospects
and the rather low rent.
Urban and Architectural Characteristics of
Today, Fener and Balat are squeezed between city walls dating from
the Byzantine period and hills surrounding the region in the other
directions. The districts are not attractive because of the low visibility
of the district seen from the transit road and a lack of parking facilities.
Fener and Balat are designed according to a unique road plan where
a continuing array of streets intersects one another at perpendicular
angles. The urban structure of the district is rather peculiar and
can be traced to the division of plots following the fires that damaged
the districts. The architectural uniqueness of the districts can be
traced from the religious buildings and the facades projecting a harmonious
view because of the bow windows.
The height of buildings in the districts varies between one and four
storeys Over half of the buildings date to the pre-1930 period and
give the district its characteristic atmosphere. Following these buildings
in order of importance are those built between 1930 and 1950, which
continue this architectural characteristics but at the same time reflect
the interesting features of the time period.