It might not look it in pictures, but the hill from Karaköy to the Beyoğlu district, past Galata, is quite steep. I walked it several times during my trip, and phew! I enjoyed the climb, but I understood why my guide suggested taking the Tünel up to Galata after we disembarked from our ferry in Karaköy. Galata was to be our last stop for the day—and our time together. I was not eager to part with my guide (she was so sweet!), but I was happy to see yet another interesting thing before we did.
So what is this Tünel?
According to numerous sources (including my guide), the Tünel is the world's shortest and second-oldest underground train. (London's was first in 1863.) Its story goes like this:
In the mid-19th century, the Ottoman Empire was open to international trade, and many Europeans began to settle in the then-capital. Many of them lived in the up-and-coming Beyoğlu (then called Pera) neighborhood at the top of the hill while working in offices beside the Golden Horn. When the French engineer Eugène-Henri Gavand came to join them in 1867, he was surprised to see so many people trekking up and down the hill every day. Wouldn't a funicular make the trip easier?
Gavand returned to France to work on a design, and in June 1869, he presented it to Sultan Abdelaziz. The sultan approved the project, but it was delayed due to the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. Construction resumed and after the war, and the Tünel was finally opened to the public on January 17, 1875.
At that time, the train consisted of a steam-powered engine and two wooden cars—one for passengers, and one for goods, livestock, and carriages. The tunnel itself was lit with gas lamps, as there was no electricity at that time.
Gavand's design (1876) and the entrance to the Tünel in Beyoğlu in 1902 (left) and 2005 (right). (Images from Funimag.)
Since then, the lines have been closed for modernization a few times. Electricity was installed in 1910, and from 1968-1971, engineers replaced the steam-powered engine with an electric one and the lacquer-covered wooden cars with metal cars. In 2009, the cars were replaced with newer ones yet again.
Even still, it's pretty cool that this train has been in operation for almost 150 years. Currently, it transports about 12,000 people the 573 meters between Karaköy and Beyoğlu every day. It was certainly crowded when my guide and I took it, and it definitely made the trip up the hill much easier. Good thinking, Gavand!
Getting on the train in Karaköy.
Sources: Istanbul Trails, Introducing Istanbul, wikipedia, Turkey Tour Organizer