- 16 Jan 2008 06:22
Balat is known as a Jewish quarter--with a small Armenian population-- dating back to the Byzantine period. Balat's winding streets provided a meeting ground for navigators, seafarers, street vendors and porters. Following the earthquake of 1894 and a series of fires that affected not only the neighbourhood but whole city of Istanbul, the social structure of Balat underwent significant changes: The wealthiest section of the inhabitants left the district and moved to Galata, which is the current location of the Jewish institutions including the Chief Rabbinate and major synagogues. The emigration followed and one fourth of the population of Balat left for Israel after its establishment. After this time, the Jewish population was reduced to a minority in Balat, and a new wave of immigrants arrived from the towns of the Black Sea region, especially from Kastamonu. After the 1960s, the economic situation of Jewish residents of Balat improved and moved to Sisli. The result was the transformation of the urban structure of Balat due to the heavy influx of newcomers, especially a further group of working class people who were attracted by job prospects and the rather low rent.
Today, Fener and Balat are squeezed between city walls dating from the Byzantine period and hills surrounding the region in the other directions. The districts are not attractive because of the low visibility of the district seen from the transit road and a lack of parking facilities.Balat is in the area of Golden Horn. Fener and Balat are designed according to a unique road plan where a continuing array of streets intersects one another at perpendicular angles. The urban structure of the district is rather peculiar and can be traced to the division of plots following the fires that damaged the districts. The architectural uniqueness of the districts can be traced from the religious buildings and the facades projecting a harmonious view because of the bow windows.