After our wonderful lunch, we got back on our bus and traveled back towards the old city. We stopped in Balat, the Jewish ghetto neighborhood in the Fatih district, which is on the western bank of the Golden Horn. It began to rain when we got out to walk around so our gracious guides bought us umbrellas and we roamed the streets in the softly pattering rain.
Our guides explained that when the Jewish ghetto neighborhood was first formed a very long time ago, it was a major banking district. We walked from this neighborhood into the Rum neighborhood next to it, Fener. From history, we know that there was an ebb and flow to the population of Istanbul. These two neighborhoods have actually been empty on occasion. Most recently, the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey emptied out these neighborhoods, essentially turning them into a ghost town. Of course, currently they are full of people.
Trevor expressed disappointment that it was raining because normally the tour would get to meet locals, see children playing and people happily spending time outdoors. For me, it was a lucky coincidence that the rain kept the streets mostly empty. My book takes place in 1938 when the neighborhoods would have been empty and I took tons of pictures! The location is actually quite perfect for some key scenes in the book and I went picture crazy with my iphone.
Trevor led us through the rain-slicked streets to what is known as The Red Castle in the Rum neighborhood. It is actually a school established in 1454 exclusively for the Rum community of Istanbul. Trevor told us the story that the Rums were the only citizens who cooperated with the Ottomans when they took over Istanbul and were rewarded with a guarantee from the rulers that they would always have this school. Apparently, it was such an important provision that they made sure the school’s continued support was included Treaty of Lausanne after WWI. I have to admit, I have not found anything about the school online to back up this story, but it is fascinating to think about. Here is the school on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phanar_Greek_Orthodox_College. We were able to get exclusive access to go inside the gate and walk around its courtyard. The building is breathtakingly lovely and the view from the high steps in the courtyard is fantastic.
Another unexpected highlight came just after we left the school. Trevor explained the streets we were traveling along were used to film important scenes in the movie Taken 2. We stopped and took pictures at a gate where Liam Neeson filmed scenes killing some bad guys! Silly, I know, but I just love Liam Neeson.