Mahalle Diaries: Bakırköy

There is nothing remarkable about Bakırköy.

Sitting about half-way between Taksim and Atatürk Airport, it’s yet another former fishing village swallowed by the monstrous megalopolis that is Istanbul. I moved to Bakırköy upon arriving in Istanbul last summer due to the proximity of the suburb to my school – the prospect of being stuck in Istanbul’s notorious traffic with only screaming school children to look forward to didn’t entice me too much. While originally it was a marriage of convenience, I’ve slowly come to appreciate Bakırköy as a destination in it’s own right. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no Taksim or Sultanahmet, but Bakırköy does have its charms in its own unique way.

The main street oddly devoid of people after they decided to paint it rainbow, just ’cause.

With a ferry to Kadıköy, dolmuş to Taksim, metrobüs, metro and (in 2015) the Marmaray, one could be forgiven for thinking that the best thing about Bakırköy is how easy it is to get away from it. And for the first few months of living here, that’s exactly what I did. Bakırköy was where I slept and ate delicious two lira guveç pide, but not much else. I spent my weekdays at school, my evenings in Taksim or Sultanahmet, my weekends in Kadıköy. Bakırköy never even got a look in.

If you squint hard enough Bakırköy in the snow might even be…beautiful!

But slowly, that started to change. With winter setting in, Taksim started feeling further and further away, and our gaze turned inwards, towards house parties and the burgeoning local bar scene. I started to explore the area more, and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. The village roots are still there, if you look hard enough. There are still plenty of old wooden Ottoman houses to break up the monotony of the bland 1970s apartment blocks that dominate the area. The suburb is much greener than the concrete jungle of nearby Bahçelievler; I was lucky enough to even have a courtyard full of trees and birds directly outside our apartment.

Bakırköy’s proximity to the seaside meant I could spend the precious remaining daylight hours after school drinking çay and watching the ships sitting patiently waiting to be led through the Bosphorus. During the lingering autumn the Bakırkids (as we had christened ourselves) would spend lazy Sunday afternoons grilling fish and drinking beer by the shore of the Marmara. When the insanity of the city overwhelmed me, having the seaside five minutes walk from my apartment was a welcome escape.

I think approximately 92% of photos I take in Istanbul are of sunsets.

And then of course there’s the shopping. Bakırköy is home to a plethora of malls, two of which sit right next to each other despite housing almost exactly the same stores. Ebuzziya Caddesi, the main pedestrian street running from the Meydan to the seaside is full of boutiques and chain stores selling everything from hip fashion to the ugliest wedding dresses you have ever seen. North of the main square, there’s even a small collection of antique stores that rival anything in Cihangir. They say Turkey is the China of Europe, and it’s evident in Bakırköy. Especially if you have the luxury of not earning lira, everything is incredibly cheap.

Closer to the E-5 is the İncirli Pazar, one of Istanbul’s largest and arguably the best outdoor bazaar. Stretching for kilometres, it’s also one of the busiest. People come from all over Istanbul to get their fill of discount clothes, fake designer handbags, fresh fruit and vegetables and some of the kitschiest fashion you will ever stumble across. Want necklace made from Ataturk’s signature? This is the place to find it. Even if your tastes are a little more…discerning, the İncirli Pazar is worth it for the spectacle alone.

That shirt says ‘I hung you every night while you’re” I don’t even know where to begin with this.

When I first moved to Bakırköy, our local haunt was one of the numerous Meyhanes, which we affectionally dubbed ‘Man Bar’ as my housemates were the only female visitors the bar had ever had – so much so they built a female toilet just for them. Thankfully though there’s a bit more to the nightlife in Bakırköy. By the old rail line is Ray Sokak, home to the greatest concentration of bars in the area lucky enough to have an average age younger than 60. Beware though – being the upper-middle class suburb that it is, drinking in Bakırköy can be expensive. We stumbled across a live music venue on Ebuzziya Cadessi which would have been perfect had it not charged us 50 lira for two glasses of wine.

Did I mention that Bakırköy has flying horse statue fountains?

For many expats arriving in Istanbul the eternal question is to whether live close to the action in Taksim and spend 3 hours a day commuting, or live close to your workplace and risk losing your social life. Bakırköy is a happy medium. It’s easy to get to the centres but lively enough that your friends won’t continually make up excuses to avoid visiting you. I spent much of my time here talking Bakırköy down, but now that I’m leaving I’ve come to realise that perhaps it’s not so bad after all.

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