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Nişantaşı is the smart end of the larger quarter of the Şişli, a district of half a million inhabitants that extends all the way from the avenue north of Taksim Square to the business districts of Levent. This was still heathland in the early 19th century, and its many neighbourhoods emerged in the explosion of development that began in the 1850s and has rarely drawn breath since.
Nişantaşı is both a very specific area around the a busy crossroads and now synonymous with a cluster of neighbourhoods, including Maçka, Teşvikiye, Harbiye, Pangaltı, Osmanbey and even Bomonti, all within walking distance of each other (the traffic is so jammed pack you have little choice). The name Nişantaşı (commemorative stone) comes from the obelisk at the gridlocked crossroads of Valikonagı Caddesi and Teşvikiye and Rumeli Caddesi.
Nişantaşı has its cultural attrractions: numerous galleries, the War Museum, the Cemal Reşit Rey concert hall, the attractive Neoclassical Teşvikiye Mosque, not to mention to a magnificent miniature palace, down in the Ihlamur valley, but it is not a place associated with sightseeing. For the visitor what it lacks for in sights, however, it definitely makes up for in food and shopping. This is where the well-heeled shopper meets the expense-account lunch.
Nişantaşı a short hop by metro or taxi from Taksim Square. Although these days many of the smart apartments on the four main drags – Valikonağı Caddesi, Rumeli Caddesi, Teşvikiye Caddesi and Abdi İpekçi Caddesi – house professionals and doctors’ practices , the grid of back streets and arcades – with their pastry shops, small restaurants and delicatessens – still caters to a discerning gentility, much of which moves out to summer houses traditionally on the Princes Islands and the Bosphorus, but now more commonly in Bodrum and Alaçatı on the Aegean.
Harbiye is where the street from Taksim Square, Cumhuriyet Caddesi, divides, left for Halaskargazi Caddesi, right for Valikonağı Caddesi. For many Nişantaşılı, life revolves around the gigantic American Hospital, further down Valikonağı Caddesi, hidden behind the old English High School, and the 19th-century Teşvikiye Camii. The epicentre of smart shopping is Maçka's Abdi İpekçi Caddesi – Istanbul’s Bond Street – which leads down to the new ultrasmart St Regis Hotel, overlooking a wooded park mercifully recognisable from sketches made in 1900.
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