Have you ever felt it?! When you find a place you didn’t know existed before, you hadn’t imagined it, you weren’t expecting it, you are the only one there and it wraps you up in the soul of a city like a blanket in the cold night… Every traveller craves this feeling.
And I found that sort of place in Istanbul. In fact I found it several times. I found it in the colorful streets and coffee shops of Balat neighborhood. I found it in the freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. I found it in the Turkish delights I thought I didn’t like and gave another chance. I found it in the smile of the child I took to the shops and bought sweets for. I found it in the silhouette of mosques at sunrise. And then I found it in this secret place: the “Rooftop of Istanbul”. (That is exactly the name that it appears on the map app I use.)
In a courtyard, like many others, there was a staircase leading to private crammed apartments. But at the top of the stairs I realized that it wasn’t a dead end, the balcony actually contoured the building, leading to a rooftop with a privileged view of the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus river, an undetermined number of mosques and the iconic Galata Tower.
This rooftop was too good to be empty. I would have expected tourists queuing to get a photo taken on top of the dome, but there was no one but me. Was I even allowed to be here?! Was it really a secret rooftop or was it forbidden?!
As I hurry to capture it in photos, an old man comes out of one of the sort of sheds behind me and sits on a rock not far from where I stood. I was ready to hear “you can’t be here” but instead his wrinkly face opened up with the warmest smile as he proceeded to light up his cigarette. I was welcomed.
And there I stood being evolved by the reminiscent echoes of the city life hustle. Cats came walking playfully around my legs and seagulls came flying to feed on left overs a local threw away.
Over an hour had passed until a German couple arrived. They also happened to stumble upon this place and just like me, they walked up unsure if they could actually be here. We exchanged some words and the feeling was mutual: we all felt lucky.
As the sun made it’s way down, I started to wonder who would live in the flat at the top end of the terrace, when Harun walked out of it. I was pretty sure he listened to my thoughts because this middle age Turkish man just invited us in with his arms as wide open as his smile. We followed him without hesitation and were shown around his newly renovated house. Except it wasn’t his house, it was his new project: a Cultural Center called Kubbe Istanbul, that had only opened 2 weeks ago. Harun was visibly proud of his project and he hopes to provide a peaceful place where visitors can exchange stories and books and create art and enjoy music, while enjoying the view and sipping on Turkish tea.
We came to find out that due to increased popularity and lack of safety measures, the Government has closed some rooftops to public; as per rumors a tourist fell and died following a jumping photo. So there is only one thing Harun asks: respect! Visitors must leave the rooftop as they find it, not to do jumping photos and to keep the noise down, respect his neighbors and the historical old building we are standing on.
For the following hour Harun made us feel warm and cozy with Turkish tea, chatting away, sitting on pillows on the wood floor, stroking the laziest cat I have ever met, while watching the sky change color as the sun disappeared. What a blissful golden hour!
So go on, pay a visit to Harun and send him my love.
P.S. The access to the now famous Büyük Valide Han rooftop is closed. The rooftop I stumble upon is the back of the building and the views are equally impressive!