QUARTERS OF ISTANBUL: GALATAIn its history of over 1500 years, Galata saw two empires; it hosted churches, synagogues, mosques, palaces, and banks; countless languages from Greek to Latin, Italian, Arabic, French and Turkish echoed in its streets for centuries. It is possible to see the traces of its long history and sociocultural richness even today.
Although it’s not exactly known where the word "Galata" came from, it’s thought to be originated from either "galaktus", meaning "milk", or from "calata" meaning "path with stairs" in Italian.
The region, where the Genoese lived in the Byzantium era, was autonomous and surrounded with walls. The most important structure remained from that era is the Galata Tower. It was built by the Genoese in1348. As told by the great Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi, Hezarfen Ahmed Çelebi started his historic flight from the Galata Tower, landing on Üsküdar on the Asian side after flying some time with the wings he had invented.
Another noteworthy building in Galata from the Genoese era is the Arap Mosque. Built as a Gothic church by the Dominican priests in 1325, the structure was turned into a mosque by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror following the conquest of Istanbul. The mosque came to be known as the Arap Mosque, after it was allocated to the Andalusian Arabs fled from the Spanish Inquisition in 1492.
The face of Galata was transformed gradually after the Ottomans had conquered Istanbul in 1453. The majority of the walls surrounding the area was demolished at the end of the 15th century. According to the records from 1455, 60% of the house owners in Galata were Genoese, while 35% were Greek. In a 1478-report, however, it could be seen that the Muslims constituted 1/3 of the population.
Thanks to the embassies opened, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, together with the newly-build churches, mosques and settlements; the borders of Galata expanded beyond the old walls, reaching to Tunel-Galatasaray area in the north, Kasımpaşa in the west and Tophane in the east.
Galata, which became the center of the Ottoman banking system from the 19th c. onwards, hosts numerous architectural works commissioned by the Jewish, Italian and French banking families, as well as the Azapkapı Sokollu Mehmed Pasha Mosque and Kılıç Ali Pasha Mosque, which are among the most important structures built by Sinan the Architect.