Büyükdere: An Erstwhile Cosmopolitan Enclave on Bosporus

Büyükdere, the most northerly borough of Istanbul, is one of the historic neighborhoods on the European side of the Bosporus. It is famous for its beautiful promenade, wooden houses, cafes and fish restaurants. As most of the settlements on the upper Bosporus, Büyükdere had long been a cosmopolitan enclave. After a French ambassador had obtained the Sultan’s permission for the settlement of foreigners in this area, the bay of Büyükdere and the nearby Belgrade Forest was discovered by the embassies and their entourage in the second half of the 18th century. The ethno-confessional make-up of the emerging settlements in the “no man’s land” on the periphery of the city was characterized by its diversity. By 1800, two-thirds of the roughly 200 registered residences between Tarabya, Büyükdere and Sarıyer belonged to Greeks, Armenians, and Jews, while the remainder was equally split between Muslims and Europeans/Levantines.

When Istanbul was first divided into fourteen municipal districts in 1857, the largest district was that of Büyükdere, covering the whole of the Upper Bosporus. With its healthy climate and picturesque secluded location, Büyükdere became the first quarter of Istanbul to have a developed tourist industry with a large number of hotels and pensions. Prior to WWI, more than 1,000 passengers arrived at Büyükdere by boat per day. An “English Inn” was opened by a British-educated Greek, an influential pasha of Armenian origin established a Polo club, and the famed Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, after performing at the Sultan’s court, was welcomed to play at the residence of the Franchini Family at Büyükdere. Even a grand vizier had his summer residence in what is now the Fuat Paşa Hotel. The first American chargé d’affaires to Istanbul, however, had to relocate from Büyükdere due to a reportedly shabby salary.

Büyükdere’s image as a cosmopolitan enclave on the Bosporus came to end after the foundation of Turkish Republic. Emigration to Greece and elsewhere followed by internal migration from the Black Sea region and Eastern Anatolia has reduced Büyükdere’s non-Muslim communities to only a few dozen Greeks and Armenians. However, two Armenian, one Latin, and one Greek church as opposed to only one mosque still bear testimony to the settlement’s former ethno-confessional make-up. While most of Büyükdere’s Greeks left for Athens and Thessaloniki after September 1955, now, a half-century later, five families reportedly still remain. The local Agios Paraskevi Greek Orthodox church still holds regular masses for a small congregation which includes regular visitors from other quarters of Istanbul, usually from the central district of Şişli and with a past connection with Büyükdere.

While before 1955 Büyükdere counted approximately 800 residents, migration from Anatolia in the 1970s and 1980s had the population swell to about 14,000 at present. The uncontrolled growth of Istanbul eventually made the previously remote suburb a part of the urban metropolitan area. In the last years also a steady process of gentrification has started. At the office of the local muhtar the attraction of Büyükdere is explained with that people claim it to be, next to Arnavutköy, the “only original place left on the Bosporus”.

Meet the author


Onur Inal was born in Izmir, Turkey in 1979. He studied Political Science and International Relations at Yeditepe University. Onur has an M.A from Koç University's Anatolian Civilizations and Cultural Heritage Management program. He is currently a Ph.D. student in the History Department of the University of Arizona.

Onur is one of the founders of Sırtçantalılar, a group of budget travelers in Turkey. In addition to his cultural history book about the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul, Pera'dan Beyoğlu'na, he has written articles about travel, history, and culinary culture for various newspapers and magazines in Turkey.