A Pasaj in Time

Ever want to time travel? I do. Not for sinister reasons like making myself insanely wealthy by choosing the right lottery numbers or even more noble ones like preventing some of history’s great tragedies. I’d be too afraid accidentally re-write my very existence out of time and space. I would simply like to travel back as an observer, gaze at the people, get a taste of the air, sample a glass of the wine, listen to the sounds, feel the textures of another era. Short of building a time machine, however, there are places you can go where you can gaze backward through time.

One of them is the Suriye Pasaji at the Tünel end of Beyoglu. This place is magic. It has a cavernous atrium. Open walkways. The office of a daily Greek newspaper. A fur shop, and even a vast basement vintage shop to outfit you for your passage backward in time. There are some tenants that don’t really seem to fit, like the Sultanahmet Köftecisi — but if they help pay the rent and allow this building to remain in the here and now, then their presence is probably worth it. Upstairs are studios and creative suites, lawyers offices. And maybe even a seedy night spot.

This is a building with a soul. How many lives have imprinted themselves in this space, even if only in echoes … countless, I’d imagine. Just think of the daily traffic beneath the grand atrium, the cigarettes smoked on the vertiginous walkways, the conversations, the whispered desires, the intrigues both personal and political.

The stone above the entrance says 1908—the year the 3rd Army Corps of Salonica marched on Constantinople, the Young Turk Revolution, when the Ottoman Parliament’s 30 year suspension was put to an end and a new ruling elite was established. The beginning of the end of the Empire.

The enchantment of this building is that it’s something of a self-contained world. Stepping in off Istiklal Caddesi or one of the side streets, there’s an abrupt change. Outside sound seems to disappear. You’re gulped back into the past. Perhaps it’s the effect of the atrium, which draws sound, air and your eye upward into the aether of diffused light.

They don’t make buildings like this anymore. And that’s a shame, because this space is truly special. It’s just the sort of place I hoped to discover more of in Istanbul.

Historic, atmospheric and more than passing strange, Suriye Pasaji is an Istanbul treasure that shouldn’t be lost to the world or converted into a crass shopping mall. There has been some movement to protect this tangible piece of history, and anybody interested in finding out more can visit the Facebook page set up by a group dedicated to its preservation.

If you should happen to have any intelligence on this building, its history or past tenants, personal or otherwise, or know someone who does, please contact me. I would love to do some follow-up stories.