The square of the Kariye Museum (The Church of the Holy Savior in Chora) and the Pink Mansion tea garden have become a key attraction for journalists, writers, cartoonists and people occupied with politics, while many TV series have been set here since last year.
It is hard to tell why some places are so popular, and all we can do is say, “This place has a different vibe,” and move on. Kariye is that sort of place. Regular customers of the Pink Mansion tea garden in Kariye Square cannot explain why they love it here, they just say: “God knows why. This place is different. Well, you just don’t want to leave. It’s like a center of attraction.” The quiet atmosphere and non-central location must create some sort of mysterious effect.
The cool breeze blowing through the plane trees and the ever-present relaxing conversations may be some reasons that the number of customers has increased so much. Moreover, you may sit back and spend as much time as you want here. It almost seems like the garden is less concerned about making money than about customers’ pleasure, making this place a favorite locations for a calm summer night.
Kariye Square in İstanbul’s Edirnekapı quarter was a deserted place until four or five years ago. There was a hotel, a tea garden, a restaurant and a cemetery of saints here, which was a quiet place with a limited number of visitors. If you had sat in the Pink Mansion tea garden all day you may have only seen one or two groups of tourist visiting the museum, while a few residents of the neighborhood would pass by and one or two cats or dogs would be around. It was a great place to take a break or study back then, but now it has turned out to be a center of attraction for both domestic and foreign tourists.
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The reason foreign tourists love this place is apparent. The Kariye Museum is actually one of the oldest churches of the Byzantine period and was converted into a mosque after the conquest of İstanbul, making foreign visitors feel as if they were religious pilgrims. The paintings on the walls are quite powerful and Kariye is listed among the 30 museums to visit around the world in Patricia Schulz’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die.” The first place to visit in Turkey is Kariye, according to many Europeans and Americans who spend all their lives visiting museums. Therefore, the nearby Pink Mansion tea garden is filled with foreign tourists until 4 p.m. However, the customer profile changes in the evening hours.
Actually, evening customers consist of two groups of people. The first group includes residents of the neighborhood, old gentlemen, ladies and youngsters living in Kariye. In the past they did not bother to drop by the tea garden, but now they stop to drink a glass of tea on their way home from work. A few days ago we ran into a newly married couple, still in their wedding attire, and they told us that they came to the tea garden right after their marriage. I joked with a waiter named Hüseyin, asking him if they had started organizing weddings. “They live in Kariye and drop by here every day. They wanted to spend their happiest day here,” he replied. It is interesting that these newlyweds chose to drink a glass of tea at the tea garden in their neighborhood instead of going elsewhere.
Aunty Hatice, who is almost 70 years old, has been a resident of Kariye since the 1950s and is a true İstanbul lady. There used to be a two-storey mansion where the hotel is now and she moved into that mansion when she got married. Meeting Aunty Hatice is great but you really do not want the conversation to go much further because Aunty Hatice will start telling you in great detail about her family, from the lives of her children, their jobs and occupations to where they live and from their kids to her scapegrace sons-in-law. She tells you all of this in the old İstanbul accent, so good luck to you if you encounter her.
Nurhan and Mehmet İpek are the most stylish couple in Kariye. They meet their neighbors at the tea garden after dinner and start eating sunflower seeds. They eat so many sunflower seeds that the owner of the grocery store in the upper neighborhood is getting rich. There are almost two packages of sunflower seeds on every table.
The second group consists of conservative intellectuals, writers, cartoonists and journalists. In this group you may find people who read for hours. The Ertaş brothers have been running the Pink Mansion for 13 years and it has become a shelter for those who are tired of the hustle and bustle of the city. Company managers trying to make business contracts, corporation owners, media consultants and TV stars are all at the Pink Mansion. We frequently meet Serkan Keskin, the actor who plays İsmail in the TV series “Leyla and Mecnun” here, as he spends most of his time at the Pink Mansion tea garden over the summer. We should also note that he never takes off his black hat, probably to hide himself from his fans. He may be longing for a glass of tea without being bothered by them.
People who cannot live without their laptops, iPads and iPhones are also among the customers of the Pink Mansion. Renowned member of the media İsa Tatlıcan is one of them. He is a beloved and respected resident of the neighborhood and his house is very close to Kariye Square, so he comes to the Pink Mansion to smoke a water pipe when he is done with work. Since he knows other residents of Kariye, he meets them at the tea garden and sometimes orders a wrap for friends.
Beyond locals, people living in districts as far away as Bahçeşehir, Başakşehir and Beylikdüzü also come to Kariye in order to socialize. It is even likely that you will see visitors from Ankara. Late at night, black cars driven by private chauffeurs pull up in front of the museum’s garden. The chauffeur opens the door of the back seat and a gentleman gracefully steps out and heads to a quiet corner of the tea garden, where his friends are expecting him.
That is the situation in front of the Kariye Museum. We should also consider the back of the museum, which used to be a place for glue sniffers. After the Fatih Municipality cleaned it up and built a park there, it became a favorite location of families. Not everybody is allowed to spend time in this park, as a sign on its gate reads “Aileye mahsustur” (For families). It is generally housewives from the Çarşamba neighborhood of Fatih and their children who come to enjoy themselves here.
It has been rumored that a TV series will be shot in the wooden house facing the park. The rumors may prove to be true because a TV series called “Öyle Bir Geçer Zaman Ki” (Time Flies in Such a Way) was mostly shot in and around Kariye, which has also caused real estate prices to skyrocket. You may also come across wedding entourages, complete with photographers, here on the weekends.
It seems that Kariye has a different meaning for everyone. According to some it is a family park, while others perceive it as a hub for intellectuals and still others are just trying to earn their living in the streets around this place.