Eminönü is a former district of Istanbul in Turkey, currently a quarter of Fatih, the province’s capital district. This is the heart of the walled city of Constantine, the focus of a history of incredible richness. Eminönü covers roughly the area on which the ancient Byzantium was built. The Galata Bridge crosses the Golden Horn into Eminönü and the mouth of the Bosphorus opens into the Marmara Sea. Up on the hill stands Topkapı Palace, the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii) and Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya). It was a part of the Fatih district until 1928, which covered the whole peninsular area (the old Stamboul) within the Roman city walls – that area which was formerly the Byzantine capital Constantinople. Since the resident population of Eminönü is low today, it rejoined the capital district Fatih in 2009.
The Golden Horn was a natural port, particularly the Eminönü/Sirkeci shore, which being on a peninsula was also eminently defensible. It was this location that led to the foundation of Byzantium, and from here that the city grew, with the oldest neighborhoods being the port districts along the Golden Horn. In the 12th century, the Byzantine port was also occupied by merchants from Venice, Amalfi, Genoa and Pisa, who eventually acquired their own wharfs and waterfront districts.
In the Byzantine period, the modern area of Eminönü included the districts of Neórion (after the harbor located there), Akrópolis, Kynégion, Arcadianae/Arkadianaí, ta Hormísdou, Amantíou, Caenopolis/Kainópolis (“New City”), ta Kanikleíou, ta Narsoú, ta Kaisaríou, Artopoleía (the “bakeries”), Argyroprateía (the “silver vendors”), Chalkoprateía (the “bronze vendors”), ta Olybríou, Constantinianae/Konstantinianaí, ta Amastrianón, Eugeníou, Pérama (“Crossing”, the place where the ferry to Galata sailed), Zeúgma, Stauríon, Vlánga, Heptáskalon.
The Golden Horn was still a thriving port in Ottoman times, occupied by importers, warehousemen, sailors and traders of every description, the centre of trade in the city, a labyrinth of narrow streets, workshops and markets leading uphill to Topkapı Palace, the Ottoman capital.
The name of the quarter, Eminönü, reflects its place in history. Translated from Turkish to English it roughly means ‘in front of justice’. Emin meaning ‘justice’, önü meaning ‘in front of’. The name most probably came from the Ottoman courts and customs houses on the docks; “Emin” was the title of an Ottoman customs official.
The nature of the place was changed by the industrial age; the Galata Bridge was built across the Golden Horn; steamships arrived, then electricity, then the railway and the Istanbul terminal of the Orient Express was naturally sited at Sirkeci Station. The sea walls still surrounded the city, and the sea gates of the port of Eminönü were the point of entry for goods, and for people. Eminönü was part of the Fatih district until 1928. It then became independent until 2009, when it was incorporated again within Fatih.
In the wake of the huge railway station, other grand stone buildings were also built in the late Ottoman period. Among these were the Main Post Office and some commercial buildings like Istanbul 4th Vakıf Han. In the early days of the Republic of Turkey, Eminönü was renovated extensively; the big square was opened up in front of Yeni Mosque by clearing out the tollbooths at the end of the Galata Bridge; the Spice bazaar was restored; the fish market was cleared off the shore of the Golden Horn and a road opened up to the new bridge at Unkapanı.
By the 1950s, the area was continuously clogged up with traffic, which was eased somewhat by the construction of the large coastal road around the point and all the way out to Istanbul airport.
Although the government has moved to Ankara and Istanbul has expanded to become an enormous city with the centre of business in huge shiny buildings elsewhere, Eminönü is still buzzing with activity. It has the busiest ferry crossings for the Bosphorus and for the Marmara Sea, the only car ferry across the Bosphorus and the only mainline railway terminus (where trains can be caught to Eastern Thrace (Trakya) and Europe). People keep streaming into the area on boats, buses, trains and the light metro from Aksaray.
During the daytime the area is packed with merchants and their customers, hordes of shoppers and many tourists. Add to this a number of key government buildings including the governor’s office and the main campus of Istanbul University in Beyazıt.
At night it is a quiet place. There is some housing in Eminönü but most of the buildings are offices, shops and workshops, and if one does happen to be there in the evening the contrast with the daytime is eerie and somewhat menacing. Every day roughly two million people work in or pass through Eminönü, but the district has only 30,000 residents. The people that do live in Eminönü are mainly working class and conservative.