Istanbul / Fener Nights

Total
0
Shares

In 2017, with my life in ruins, I returned to Istanbul to take up a teaching position at the university. With the help of a colleague I rented a flat in Fener, a district of Istanbul I knew very little about.

She called her old landlord and asked if he had anything available and he said that we were in luck. A tenant had just moved out and we could swing by and have a look. When she pointed out where the place was on the map, all that I could tell was that I would be living close to the historic part of the city, a short bus ride up from the Halic metro stop.

My landlord was a short jovial man, constantly smiling and very proud of his newly restored greek house which was painted a deep eggshell blue. The house was divided into several studios occupied by various tenants – all of which were respectful and kind, he assured me. Instead of numbers, each flat had a theme which was indicated by what was painted on the front door. The Turkish architect above me lived in the lighthouse flat and the Syrian musician beneath me lived in the seagull flat and I was given the keys to the pomegranate flat.

My flat was tiny but cosy with wooden floors and ceiling. On the floor, there was a lovely woven red kilim and on the bed, satin turquoise cushions embroidered with a classic pomegranate pattern. There was also a small alcove with a bench and desk that looked out on the cobbled street below. Most importantly the flat had a good shower, a soft bed and a sturdy lock on the front door.

On my first morning in the flat, I was awoken by the pecking of a crow on the adjacent rooftop. At first, I wasn’t sure where I was. The bed – with its softness and warmth – swallowed me up like the arms of a lover. It was difficult to get up and there in the moments that I stared up at the ceiling all tucked in, I realised just how tired I was from the years I had spent trying to please someone was impossible to please.

For the first time in years, I was alone and it was quiet and I could breathe and move at my own pace. I got up, got dressed, made myself a cup of coffee and then I went out to explore this new neighbourhood of mine.

As I wandered through the streets of Fener, I discovered elegant stone houses, wooden mansions, walled gardens and Byzantine ruins in various states of renewal and decay. My curiosity was particularly drawn to the derelict houses of which there were many. Deep down inside I’ve always been drawn to liminal places.


Until the 20th century, Fener, named after the lighthouse that once stood here, was a predominantly affluent Greek neighbourhood. Since the 16th century, it had been inhabited by the Feneriotes who were under the protection of the Ottoman Empire and had gained their wealth through commerce and trade. This wealth was then funnelled back into the neighbourhood of Fener where they built magnificent homes and palaces. Most of these are now gone but a few remain, reminding those who live here and those who visit of its history. When the Greeks left, so did the money and since the 1950s, with the mass migration from the Black Sea region, these homes were taken up by those who could not afford their upkeep.

View of St. Mary of the Mongols

As autumn slipped into winter, my life settled into a rhythm of work and writing. Each weekday morning I awoke around 5 a.m. and while it was dark, I would make myself a cup of coffee and I would write in my journal, still half asleep. And then, as if rising up from deep within the ground, the call to prayer would begin to ricochet in the distance across the whole of Istanbul until our muezzin joined in at a more steady, reserved hypnotic pace.

The early morning sounds from my window.

These were the days I would wake up in the dark, leave for work in the dark and return home from work in the dark. The bus picked me up and dropped me off along the offshore highway. Coming home, once I braved the four-lane crossing and turned the corner on Yildirim Cd., I felt the noise of the world drop off behind me. Hardly seeing anyone else during this time, gave the impression that the neighbourhood was abandoned but not once was I afraid walking these streets with their ruins alone.

What I felt strongly was the absence of truly feeling anything at all. Instead, I felt myself healing, searching, questioning but not feeling. The trauma I had experienced living in an emotionally abusive marriage left a deep emptiness inside that I was now in no quick hurry to fill. The absence of feeling was comforting. The absence of him and all that he had done was comforting. I felt akin to the ruins – tall and determined to stand in the darkness without answers

What I realised during this time was that I was so much more than just my feelings. My whole life up till now had been shaped by feelings.


The weekend gave me a different impression of the neighbourhood as throngs of tourist invaded the district, eager to take selfies against the historic buildings made famous by local T.V. shows and to hang out at the newly opened cafes. In the warmer weather, the sun brought to life the vibrant colours of the neighbourhood and I took this opportunity to venture into further unknown territory but not alone.I had made a friend. A tall handsome man from Damascus who was willing to wander with me. He became my defacto chaperon as I pulled him into places I was told no woman should go alone. Together we explored the Theodosian walls, the side streets of Balat and Eminönü and when we were hungry we headed for the Arabic market in Fatih.

But at night my mind returned to the ruins. Often, as I walked the streets alone I would find children playing amongst them. Reinventing the spaces into fortresses or houses or whatever their imagination conjured. The ruins provide space for the observer to interpret them as she or he likes, to fill the void in-between with their imagination and their own meaning. And so I began to reimagine the ruins of my own life.

Ruins are difficult because they require the ability to process a reality that we spend our lives avoiding. They are what we don’t like to talk about. Like bones, they remind us of our own transience. They ask questions of us that are difficult to answer in the context of our imagined lives.

I, living in Fener, was no longer living that imagined life moved by feelings. My life now came down to my two hands and my mind working together to create a tangible, reality that was able to feed me and put a roof over my head. Whatever emotional feelings were knocking about in me were met with stoicism and mistrust.

Fener in the morning 🙂 – Photo taken on my way to work.

Some more photographs of my neighbourhood…

What’s the Most Important Lesson You Learned this Year?

I was reading a book by Patricia Bright this weekend and there was one thing she wrote that…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

You May Also Like

Our site uses cookies. Learn more about our use of cookies: Privacy Policy

Sign Up For Our Newsletter