x0x Through the eyes of a Levantine Pera
- [See more at: http://www.levantine.plus.com/testi35.htm ]
x0x Through the eyes of a Levantine Pera
By RIZA KIRAC
One of Istanbul's most colorful quarters, every corner
of Pera has a different story to tell, and Giovanni
Scognamillo knows them all.
Giovanni Scognamillo is a Levantine who was born in
Pera, has a memory associated with its every street and
building, and never once in his life ever thought of
leaving. Known in Turkey for his works of literature,
his book on the history of cinema and countless books
on Beyoglu, he is, in short, a symbol of the quarter.
Soon his latest, `Beyoglu Writings', is going to appear
in Turkish, a collection, once again, of writings on
BeyoGlu together with a chronology and a bibliography.
We took a spring stroll with Giovanni Scognamillo,
whose name is synonymous with Beyoglu, and his
assistant, Nalan Soylemez, through the streets of this
quarter, once known as Pera.
ISTANBUL'S WINDOW ON THE WEST
"Starting from the mid-19th century, every street name
in Beyoglu has a story to tell," says Scognamillo. "But
many of them have been changed today. Street names more
or less tell their own stories. For example, the street
we know as Kallavi Street today was actually called
Ravani Street. The Buyuk Londra Oteli stands at the
corner with Tepebasi. Before it became a hotel it was
the residence of the Ravani family, after whom the
street was also named." The Venetians and Geneose had a
big hand in the formation of Pera.
First they settled in the Galata area. Then the
embassies went up along today's Istiklal Avenue between
Galatasaray and the Tunel (a short underground
funicular operating between the lower end of the avenue
and the district of Karakoy on the Golden Horn). The
Europeans regarded Beyoglu not as an entertainment
district but a residential area, considering the
quarter and and its environs a suitable place to
"Beyoglu is a Levantine center," continues Scognamillo,
"but to me there was always something perverse about
it, even though I'm a Levantine myself. It was a sort a
free zone, inside the Ottoman empire but having no
connection with it. From the second half of the 19th
century onwards, everything that couldn't be found in
other parts of Istanbul, in the cultural sense
especially, could, for better or worse, be found in
Beyoglu. In other words, it was a window open to the
THE FORMER ELHAMRA CINEMA
As a boy, Scognamillo sold tickets at the famous
Elhamra Cinema, where his father was manager for a
time. His love of the cinema would never leave him, and
the books he has written are a virtual declaration of
his love for this art form.
We're caught in a shower on our way to the Elhamra
Arcade. As we sip tea and coffee there, Scognamillo
tells us how Ataturk once watched a film at the cinema.
Today there is no cinema in the Elhamra Arcade, the old
cinema having been reduced to ashes in a fire seven
Scognamillo says that people of different races and
religions always treated each other with respect in the
Pera of his childhood. "The thirties were the years of
my childhood. Living between two cultures was always an
advantage, never a liability. Today's Beyoglu did not
spring out of nowhere; it bears certain traces of the
past. If we consider Beyoglu a center of art, culture
and entertainment today, it's because that's what it
is. It still preserves that identity. The Christians
celebrated when the Muslims had a holiday, and vice
versa. There was togetherness."
CENTER OF ART AND CULTURE
As a Levantine, Giovanni Scognamillo insists that he
lives on one of the most beautiful avenues in the
world. True, there are famous avenues in other cities.
But which of them is a place where art, culture,
entertainment and fashion have always been so closely
It would probably be no exaggeration to say that
Beyoglu in this sense is one of the most unique places
in the world.
"Beyoglu has always been a cosmopolitan place," says
Scognamillo, adding, "There are two forms of life in
Beyoglu: one, living and residing in Beyoglu, the
other, coming to Beyoglu from another part of the city
on weekends. In the old days of course, people didn't
parade around Beyoglu in worn-out clothes. Suits and
ties were the rule then.
Today's people too come to the avenue decked out in the
NOTHING YOU COULDN'T BUY IN THE ARCADES
Another important feature of Beyoglu is that the arcade
culture in Turkey first appeared here. When we began
exploring the arcades with Scognamillo, he peered into
all the shop windows with the curiosity of a child, as
if he was seeing them for the first time despite all
his memories. He examined the toys, the knicknacks, the
silver jewelry.He explains how construction of the
first arcades began on the Grand Rue de Pera (now
Istiklal Caddesi) in the 1850s.
"The Suriye Arcade, today's Avrupa Pasaji, was known in
the old days as the Mirrored Arcade, and the Flower
Arcade (Cicek Pasaji) was one of the most important
places in terms of social and economic development.
Every arcade had its own unique personality. The Hazzo
Pulo Arcade was as it is today; it was where you went
if you were looking for a needle, or to have a broken
toy or an umbrella repaired."
The emergence of the arcades was without doubt a sign
of developing economic relations in Beyoglu. Tailors,
florists, haberdashers and milliners, booksellers
dealing in books from different countries, and shops
selling cosmetics carried on a constant trade in the
arcades, which were of course also venues for the
cinema, the theatre and other cultural activities.
A DIFFERENT SORT OF FREEDOM ON ISTIKLAL
With its irresistible 'aura', Beyoglu would soon become
a regular haunt for visitors, as well as a popular
place of residence.
Without doubt this is an extraordinary place, different
from Istanbul's other quarters. But where does this
extraordinariness come from? From the lifestyle? From
the ethnic diversity of the locals? The things that
bind Giovanni Scognamillo to Beyoglu are none other
than these. Scognamillo sums it up like this: "There's
nothing mystical about Beyoglu's attractiveness. A
person feels more free on Istiklal Avenue. You can find
entertainment in the style and variety you want in
Beyoglu. And all those features were there in Beyoglu
right from the start."