Pera (Beyoglu, Bey Oghlu, Peran en Sykais)
Further up the hill from the dirty dockside streets of Galata, wider paved avenues and a better class of shops and houses spring up from the steep slopes. These streets are the outskirts of Pera, the aristocratic quarter of European life in Constantinople. Most of the buildings of Pera could blend into any small town in Italy without a trace of exoticism, save for the lattices covering their windows in place of glass panes. Pedestrians wear European fashions and the shops sell wares from Paris, London, and Vienna. Only the multitude of languages spoken in the streets and the signs written in five or more alphabets evidence the quarter’s unique position as a cosmopolitan crossroads to the world.
A city fire in 1831 swept Pera clean of its oldest buildings, leaving room for their replacements built in a modern European fashion. Most of Pera’s population comfortably lives in handsome wooden houses with bay windows and balconies. Stone walls close off their small private gardens, invisible to pedestrians in the street. Recently arrived travelers live in the hotels and boarding houses always busy with soldiers, tradesmen, and visiting families. The mansions of ambassadors, men of business, and Levantine financiers near the hill’s summit give their inhabitants a spectacular view of Stambul’s beautiful vista across the Golden Horn.
As the Ottoman Empire’s ability to check the expansions of the Russian and British Empires shrinks, Constantinople’s political importance grows. Every great nation of Europe built consulates and embassies in Pera representing their country’s international interests and their citizens in the Ottoman Empire. Dragomans busily travel from consulate to consulate carrying messages and lead the visitors in their care on excursions to the city’s sights.
In the west, the large cemetery, the Petite Champs de Morts, and a smaller public garden similarly called the Petite Champs mark the border between Pera and the naval facilities of Kassim Pasha. Fragments of ancient walls and modern stonework separate Pera from Galata in the south. The wall’s gates close at sunset, but the guards let anyone through for a small bribe. The streets of Pera are very steep, and few carriages dare the hill’s incline.
Galata and Pera were known collectively by the Byzantine Greeks as “Peran en Sykais”, “the fig orchard across the way”, for the numerous orchards covering the steep hills on the other side of the Golden Horn. Derived from this Greek phrase, Pera is the quarter’s traditional name, but the Turks have their own name for the quarter, Beyoglu or “Son of a Bey”. The identity of the titular son of a Bey is unknown but was likely a Venetian diplomat in the 1500s. Although most of Pera’s inhabitants use its traditional name, the Turks exclusive refer to the quarter as Beyoglu.
Since the early 1200s, the quarter has belonged to foreigners capitalizing on the city’s importance as a major trading port. Merchants from Italy gained a foothold in Pera during the reign of the Holy Roman Empire. They gained prestige and power until Pera officially became a Genoese colony. After fleeing the quarter following the invading Ottoman army’s victory in 1453, the Genoese quickly returned and commenced their lucrative trade with the Turks, although they lost their former self-governance. After the King of France and Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent commenced political relations between their governments, Pera gained a French population which now overshadows the quarter’s Italian community in influence if not number. Pera’s French and Italian communities exclusively follow the Roman Aluminat religion. Their patronage ensures the survival of the quarter’s monasteries and churches in the heart of the Ottoman Empire. The wealthiest Levantines, Greeks, French, Italians, Armenians, Austrians and English live in close community. Due to the proximity of Sultan Abdulmejid’s new palace in Beshiktash, a few highly placed officials of the Ottoman government also reside in Pera.