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Home » Istanbul 🇹🇷: Hand-Painted Signs from a Century Ago

Istanbul 🇹🇷: Hand-Painted Signs from a Century Ago

A hundred years ago, Istanbul was home to many neighborhoods where foreigners predominantly lived—Greeks and Armenians, French and Russians, Italians and Germans. Alongside mansions and architects’ names on buildings, less noticeable remnants of that era have also survived—hand-painted signs and advertisements. Today, we’ll tell you about a few such places.

These small details make a stroll through “European” Istanbul richer and more engaging. We are almost certain that even those who have visited Istanbul a dozen times (or live here) will find a reason to walk through familiar neighborhoods again and be surprised—”I’ve walked here a hundred times, but I’ve never noticed this sign.”

Thé Issacoulian: On the corner of the Sadikye Han building, three old inscriptions have survived. At the top is Turkish written in Arabic script, in the middle is Turkish written in the Armenian alphabet (one of the two words means “tea”), and at the bottom is “the” (tea) in French and “Issacoulian”—the surname of the company owner, an Armenian. The ground floor houses various establishments, while the other three floors of this massive building are abandoned.

Before 1928, the Turkish language was written not in Latin script but in Arabic or the Armenian alphabet. The latter was used more often because it was easier to learn. French was not only the language of the French residents in Istanbul but also the international language of the time, replacing English.

Helvetia: The Swiss beer hall Helvetia opened in this location in the 1930s. Today, a cafeteria with the same name operates here. Several German inscriptions have survived on the building: “Bierhalle. Spezerei. Handlung. Helvetia. Gabel Frühstück”—”Beer Hall. Delicacies. Shop. Switzerland. Second Breakfast.”

Fabrique de Meubles: The building has preserved four inscriptions in different languages: Turkish written in the Armenian alphabet (ՄԷՖՐՈՒՇԱԹ ՖԱՊՐԻՔԱՍԸ), Greek (ΕΡΓOΣTAXION ΕΠIΠΛΩN), and French (Fabrique et Depo de Meubles), all translating to “Furniture Factory.” The Alkibiades Loucrezis factory was located in this building, as indicated on the facade in both Greek and French. The furniture factory operated here until the 1930s, even after the deportation of Greeks—learn more about this house and factory.

Vapori: The inscriptions are inside a clothing store on the first floor. “En Batiment”—”ship” in French. “Dei Vapori”—for steamships and “Falso”—”false”—in Italian. This might have been a ticket office for steamship tickets. Nearby are the Italian and French embassies, hence the inscriptions in both languages.

Russian Trade“: The fifth floor of this building now houses the parish of the Russian Orthodox Church. After the 1917 revolution in Russia, White émigrés from Tsarist Russia settled in this part of Karaköy. This sign has survived from those times. There is also another sign, “Cafe Sevastopol,” in the same area.

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