Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | August 6, 2010

molly’s cafe: camekan sokak, a short history

molly's cafe

Camekan Sokak is the name of the street that Molly’s Café is on. A few months ago I wrote a short piece for a magazine about this street in exchange for some free advertising. In the process I asked one of my customers who grew up here about the changes this street had gone through. The magazine was not so interested in that (they wanted information about the shops), but recently I found my notes and am sharing what I learned with you, my dear readers.

camekan sokak as a film set

Camekan means shop window or the dressing room of a hammam. Since there are no hammams around here, I am guessing that perhaps at a previous time this street was lined with shops. In the late 1800s it probably went through a building boom for a couple of reasons– in 1894 there was a huge earthquake in Istanbul and also at that time the residents were probably fairly prosperous. Most of the buildings on this street date from the 1890s or so. If you look at the names of the buildings in this area, you can see that many of them are Greek or Jewish, as those were the main residents then.

Forty or fifty years ago this street was occupied by high society Jewish and Greek people. The women were very hanim efendi, which means real ladies. The men had moustaches and wore top hats. It was a very rich and classy area.

However, little by little the area changed. Some Jews moved to Israel and many Greeks left, particularly after the anti Greek riots in the mid 50s. About 25 years ago the street had deteriorated to the point where there were tramps huddled around bonfires on the street and hooligans were selling guns and drugs, with the police waiting on the corner for their cut.

tramp

Twenty years ago the squatters moved in. Some of them were PKK terrorists, according to my informant. Some were poor Arabs on their way to Europe Some were Armenians from the east of Turkey on their way to France. In fact, my former landlord (I lived in the building next door to my café a few years ago) told me that when his father bought the flat 30 years ago 60 Assyrians were living in the flat. Ok, it is a big flat (200 m square), but 60 people?! They must have been stacked up. By then in general the quality of people living in this part of town was quite low and they did not like the Greeks and Jews, so more of them moved out of the country or to other areas of the city. In 1984 there was an attack on the big synagogue near here, which scared even more Jews into leaving. In 2003 there was a bomb outside that synagogue, but by then it was pretty much a fortress and nobody inside it was hurt, though a lot of Turks outside were killed or injured.

These days on the corner of my street, below the café, there is a building housing a restaurant called Konak. My informant actually grew up in that building. He told me that in those days, 20 or 30 years ago, that building housed a small umbrella factory, run by a man called Jako. There was also a box maker and a place that made work gloves.

seamans hospital

Across the street from the present Konak is the former Seamens Hospital, built by the British in 1904. Until some years ago it was a general hospital but now it is an eye hospital. I have heard that the Koc Holding group has bought the hospital and will turn it into a hotel, which would be fabulous.

old post office, new mosque, old cafe

Across the corner from that is a small mosque. It looks old, but it was actually built just a few years ago. There had been a mosque there, but it burned down many years ago. For decades it was an empty lot where boys played futbol and other games. I noticed that some of the stone blocks used in the mosque are actually Byzantine, as there is the familiar peacock pattern in them.  There is a legend that there was a tunnel from the Galata Tower to this mosque, but so far there has been no proof of it.  Also on the corner, right beside my café, is what used to the the British post office. As you can figure out, this area was occupied by the Brits in the early 1900s when Istanbul was basically occupied by foreign powers waiting for “the sick man of Europe” (the Ottoman empire) to finally expire so they could cut it up into little pieces for themselves. For some years the building housed a printer and a carpentry ship, but at present the building is used for a film production company.

Along the street today you can see a few shops and workshops that make lamps and plexiglass or neon advertising. They are slowly moving out, partly because of the influx of cheap Chinese goods and partly because the city wants them to move to an industrial area far from here. It used to be that lamps were all made by hand here, but that is happening less and less. In Galata as a whole, there used to be 2000 lampmakers but now there are only 200.

And today? This street, which most people did not dare to walk on a few years ago, has become cool. Two new boutiques are due to open in the next week to add to the other shops. From here, I am adding what I wrote for the magazine (somewhat edited).

On the corner near the entrance to the tower is Glorious. It has gone through some changes in the past five years, opening as a carpet shop, expanding, and now selling ceramic ware and unique felt pieces such as hats and whimsical dolls. Next door to Glorious a new boutique is about to open.

Moving on, we find Otantik, a sweet tiny place that offers good Turkish tea and coffee and nargile, among other things. Yildirim Bey has been running Otantik for nine years. His place is small, but it is easy to sit for a long time just looking at the authentic items he has used to decorate it. Next to Otantik we see Paris Texas, which offers boutique dresses, shoes, and jewellery. Their pieces are generally one of a kind. On the corner, we find Lale, which has also been in business for five years. They sell handmade items made by themselves or others and in fact were some of the first to sell the oya (tatted or crocheted) pieces that are now everywhere.

Back to the beginning of the street, across from Glorious, we find artENA, which is one of the older places on the street. It has been open for about five years, selling handmade clothing and accessories. Next to it is Pia, a new shop that sells tourist stuff– ceramic bowls, susam boots, dresses, etc. Next to it is Second Chance. There you can find fabulous and fun retro and vintage outfits. Turn the corner and there is a new bath shop, Lalay. Next door is Adam ve Havva, opened last year. It is full of more ethnic pieces– shalvar, handmade shoes and boots, and of course scarves and other things. Across the street is Lastik Pabuc. It specializes in athletic shoes, sneakers, and fun plastic shoes, as well as t-shirts, sunglasses, and even motorcycle helmets.

A little down the street and across from a reklamci is Simay Bulbul’s workshop, up two floors.  Across from Molly’s Café is another new boutique, set to open next month.

So there is Camekan Sokak for the past one hundred years or so. I hope you stop by in the near present!

Advertisements

Responses

  1. We will be coming to stay in this street in newly renovated apartments in late October. Thank you for the history of this street. I will now be more mindful of its history as I peruse the shops, visiting a place called Molly’s Cafe.

    Halil
    (London)

    • halil, you will enjoy staying in this area, i am sure. i am glad you liked the history and i look forward to seeing you in molly’s cafe 🙂

  2. Very interesting to read all about Camekan Sokak. Looking forward to visiting your cafe when I’m next in Istanbul. Best wishes, Peter


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: