Take a cab ride north across Istanbul's Galata bridge and you will find yourself in an area once known as the Wall Street of the Ottoman era.
From the Ottoman Central Bank to the buildings owned by the European Camondo family – a clan of Jewish financiers and philanthropists – the area has always been at the heart of Turkey's financial activities. Even today, the area spanning the Galata bridge is attracting the interest of investors, not just domestically, but also from overseas.
It is the area's monuments though that have often attracted most interest from foreign parties. During Byzantine times Galata was known as Pera, taken from the Greek phrase Peran en Sykais, literally meaning the “fig field on the other side.” It was also during this time that the Megalos Pyrgod (Great Tower) was built from which an iron chain could be raised in times of war to block entry to the Golden Horn, the inlet separating Galata from the old Constantinople.
When that tower burned down during the Fourth Crusade, the Genoese of Italy rebuilt it and today it is known as the Galata Tower. No-one is quite clear where the name Galata comes from, though suggestions range from the Italian word for “downward slope” to the Greek for “milk” owing to the area's use by shepherds in medieval times. Whatever the origin of the name, the cosmopolitan neighborhood is now one of the most impressive in the city, protected by the Monument Protection Authority of Istanbul (Anitur Kurulu).
Under the shadow of the Galata Tower, and nestled close to Ashkenazi Synagogue, is a block of apartments that has captured the attention of two US real estate investment firms.
Haci Ali Sokak No. 7 on the corner of Haci Ali Sokaka and Horoz Sokok is an apartment building probably constructed in the 1890s.
A “second degree” historical building, a designation attributed to it by the Protection Agency due to its age and significance, it was previously called Dursan Eshref Apartments and has passed through several hands. The apartment now, though, has just been acquired by a joint venture between New York-based Apollo Real Estate Advisors and Boston's Taurus Investment Holdings. Comprising six floors, totalling 2,000 square meters, the property has six commercial units as well as 15 residential apartments.
That Apollo and Taurus are targeting commercial and residential assets in Turkey is no surprise given the size of the population, the strong economy and the growing availability of mortgages in the country. And, Haci Ali Sokak No. 7 is not the only building in Galata that the joint venture has acquired.
The JV has also bought the Haci Mimi Complex, two newbuild developments linked by a common garden totalling around 2,400 square meters or 30 residential units. In addition to the Haci Mimi Complex, the joint venture has acquired the Hoca Ali Apartments located on a side street off the main thoroughfare of Galata.
According to the firms, the buildings will be invested in and sold off to owner occupiers and/or investors as rental income, proving once again that the former Wall Street of the Ottoman era is the investment playground of Turkey.