Last Updated on September 27, 2020
The former Greek neighborhood Fener and nearby the old Jewish quarter Balat, situated on the southern shore of Golden Horn, have very rich historical heritage and very popular tourist zone of Istanbul. Fener and Balat have become a touristic place with the recent contributions in the field of tourism.
The region is very famous with both locals and tourists. The main squares are quite colorful with touristy cafes and restaurants. At the same time, the region is crowded with antique shops. There is a UNESCO/EU project in the region to restore the many buildings together with Balat.
Fener (the Vatican of the Greeks)
Being a very impressive neighborhood, Fener offers a fantastic experience to its visitors with its authentic atmosphere including many interesting churches, Fener Greek Patriarchate, unusual architecture and splendor, Fener Greek High School for Boys, narrow streets and slopes with colorful cafes, restaurants and antique shops.
Fener has been a Greek district since the 16th century and the wealthy Greeks who lived there also came to important positions in the Ottoman period. The Greeks continued to live in Fener until the mid-20th century. Afterwards has been more resident by the poor immigrants from eastern Turkey.
Did you know that Fener is the “Vatican of the Greek Orthodoxy”? Fener houses the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Bulgarian Church of St. Stephen, which is one of few prefabricated cast iron churches in the world. The Fener Greek Patriarchate is still mother-church for Greek Orthodox Christianity worldwide.
Balat (an old Jewish quarter)
The neighborhood of Balat, which is adjacent to Fener, also fascinates visitors like Fener with its colorful cafes and restaurants, antique and vintage shops, traces of Jewish heritage, various synagogues and churches. Balat has been home to Greek-speaking Jews since the Byzantines. However, in the 15th century, the Sephardics who were exiled from Spain settled in Balat.
The Balat area also very rich with Byzantine heritage. Being an old Jewish quarter, it always have been a poor one than Fener. There are big number of Jewish population in Balat, so that you may find many synagogues and Jewish establishments, as well as some churches and mosques.
Things to Do & See
Fener and around
Fener center and the cafes area
The area between Yildirim street and Vodina street, close to the shores, is the most lively area of Fener. The authentic and colorful cafes and restaurants, left and right, welcome visitors who come to explore Fener and take a break after taking lots of photos. You can see the famous colorful gates when you climb the further uphill slope of the Camci Cesmesi street. Location Map >>
The Fener Greek Patriarchate & the St. George Church
The Fener Greek Patriarchate and the Patriarchal St. George Church are located in Fener on the banks of the Golden Horn and share the same courtyard. The Patriarchate is still mother-church for Greek Orthodox Christianity worldwide. St. George Church has many valuable objects and the 5th century throne is the most prominent one. Continue reading…
Fener Greek High School for Boys (Red Castle – Red School)
When you look at Fener from a distance, you surely will catch this building on first sight that stands out with its red silhouette and magnificent architecture, which most people say should be a church. In fact, this is the Fener Greek High School for Boys. Also known as the Red Castle or the Red School, it is also one of the favorite photograph taking places for visitors with its gorgeous structure, which is reached by crossing a long slope, and which makes you raise your head even when you come to its door.
The building was built with red bricks and building materials brought from France in 1881. In fact, the grandeur of the building proves how rich and important this area was at the time. Location Map >>
Fener Antik Mezat (Antiques Auction place)
Fener and Balat region is very famous for its antique shops and so there should be an antique auction place isn’t it? Located on the Vodina Street, the Fener Antik Mezat is a perfect place that attracts the attention of visitors with its auctions that start after 3 pm. in the afternoon and continue until 8 pm. in the evening. Here you can find a wide range of antiques at a reasonable price and purchase for your loved ones.
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church (Iron Church, Aya Istefanos)
The Bulgarian Church (Aya Istefanos / Sveti Stefan), also known as the Iron Church, is located on the coast of the Golden Horn, close to the Fener district. The iron molds used in the structure were brought from Vienna in 1871 by ship. The church was built for the Bulgarian minority that left the Fener Greek Patriarchate. Location Map >>
Church of Our Lady of the Mongols (Bloody Church)
Located in Balat, it is a blessed church in the late 13th century and is also known as the Saint Mary of the Mongols. The most important feature of the church is that it was not converted into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire and was left to the worship of the Greek Orthodox community. Location Map >>
Balat and around
Balat market, vintage and antique shops area
When you go to the center of Balat, to the pretty small square where the Synagogue is, you will reach the impressive and authentic Cifit Bazaar, on the Leblebiciler Street. The Cifit name given to Jews during the Ottoman period. And the Bazaar took this name due tı the Jewish tradesmen that once have been in the area. You can find variety of pretty antique and vintage shops and mirror-selling shops here. There is also the Yanbol Synagogue and the famous Agora Tavern. Location Map >>
The Merdivenli (Stairs) Ramp and Historical Balat Houses
The Corbaci Cesmesi ramp, also known as the Merdivenli (Stair) ramp, is a very popular place where both locals and tourists are very much interested and have lots of photos taken. When you visit Balat, we recommend you to visit this restored area within the scope of UNESCO Cultural Heritage project. Location Map >>
Ferruh Kethuda Mosque
Ferruh Kethuda Mosque, built by Mimar Sinan (famous Ottoman architect) in 1562, is a very small mosque compared to Sinan’s other magnificent and great works. An interesting detail is that the mihrab of the mosque is decorated with tiles brought from the famous Tekfur Palace nearby. However, another interesting feature of the mosque is that it has a sundial in the backyard. Location Map >>
The Ahrida Synagogue in Balat is the oldest synagogue in Istanbul with its Baroque-style structure, and named after the town of Ohrid in Macedonia. Founded in the Byzantine era, the synagogue is still open for worship. The most noteworthy part of the synagogue is the Holy Chest, which is covered with magnificent tapestries. Location Map >>
Surp Hresdagabet Armenian Church
Dating back to the 16th century, the historical Hresdagabet Armenian Church, was rebuilt on a sacred spring in the 18th century. Hreshdagabet means “archangel” in Armenian. It is also called as “the Miracle Church”, due to a belief that it has a healing power for the patients attending the rite on the Day of the Saint. Location Map >>
Hazrat Jabir Mosque
Located in the Cember Street, the mosque takes the attraction of the visitors with its cute brick structure. This is an old church from the 9th century that was first named Aya Thekla. In 1490, it was converted into a mosque by Atik Mustafa Pasha. Later, it took the name of Hazrat Jabir, believed to be a holy man that have lived between 604-697. Location Map >>
The area of Fener between Yildirim and Vodina streets is full of authentic and colorful cafes and restaurants. In the same way you can find nice and lively cafes and restaurants in and around Balat market area.
Among the popular venues of Fener and Balat are the Perispri, that offers a very nice atmosphere in an antique and vintage environment, the Forno, famous for its buffet breakfast, Kofteci Arnavut, famous for its meatballs and desserts, and the famous Balat Pickleman.
In addition, the Agora Tavern, located in the Balat market area, is also one of the most famous and historical taverns of Istanbul. We recommend that you enjoy a dinner here.
Where to Stay?
As for accommodation; there are not much opportunities in the regions. You can only find couple of hotels. The Hotel Troya Balat, Balat House ve Fener Suit Apart Hotel are the popular mid-range hotels in the region at first sight.
How to best Explore Fener & Balat?
We highly recommend guided tours to best explore the Fener and Balat region. With guided tours you can learn the story of the region from the past and today, and have a detailed look the each detail and story of the sights. You won’t get lost and avoid possible tourist traps.
Here we only suggest the proven ways and top rated ones with travelers’ comments. You can feel free to book one of the below top selling tours.
Free cancellation up to 24 hours before activity starts
How to Get to There?
It is very easy to reach Fener and Balat that are located on the southern shore of the Golden Horn, from Eminonu towards Eyüp. Fener and Balat is about 5 km. from Eminonu, Karakoy or Eyup and we can say that you can also walk Fener and Balat from these neighborhood.
* Another practical way is to take the Metrobus at the Ayvansaray stop or Metro (M2 line) at Halic stop and then take a 15-minute walk along the coastal road or use the Public Buses going to Eminonu direction.
You may see the public bus routes and timetables as well as make a route/station search from the Istanbul Municipality Public Busses website. Also check the Istanbul Railway Network Map for the Tram stops and Istanbul Ferry Lines Map for ferries.