There were Greek colony cities established in different times on the areas occupied by today's Istanbul. The oldest one was Chaldeon established in present site of Kadiköy in 7th BC, another one was Chrysopolis, exact location of which is not known, but is estimated as around today's Üsküdar and the third one was the Sykai which was the first nucleus of today's Galata. However; with the development of a metropolis, the name of which became Constantinople later on, these cities became suburbs of this metropolis.
It is known that there was an harbor in settlement region of Sykai which gained importance during the period of I. Constantine (324-337) surrounded by the city wall. When the districts of the city were rearranged during the period of II.Theodosius (408-450) the region of Sykai was included in the borders of the city. This settlement included a church, a forum, hamams and a theatre. Since Emperor Justinianus constructed new buildings and improved Sykai in 528, his name was given to this city which was sometimes called as Justinianai or Justinianopolis. Today, the most specific feature of this region is Galata Tower. It is known that the tower was constructed after Genoeses settled in this region. Genoeses who had a privileged region in the shores of Golden Horn in Istanbul already in the 12th century lost this region in favor of Venetians in 1204 during invasion by IV. Crusade and started to settle in Galata region as from the middle of the 13th century. Emperor VIII.Mikhael (1261-1282) who conquered Istanbul from Latin in 1261 and reestablished Byzantium administration, granted a lot of rights to Genoeses to establish trade guilds, palaces, public baths, bakeries, houses and shops and to make free trade. However, it was heard that Genoeses intended to revolt, they were expelled from Byzantium and they could obtain the permit to settle in Galata in 1267. But, Byzantium Emperor destroyed city walls standing there and left only a Byzantium garrison. Since there were no walls , it was not possible to defend Galata and rival Venetian fleet fired Genoese colony in Galata in 1296.
After this event; Genoese decided that they had to surround their town with city walls. However, Byzantium administration did not permit them to surround their town, prohibited construction of city walls and castles, but by a Ferman dated 1303 Byzantium administration specified the borders of priviliged region which is granted to Genoeses. Genoeses were definitely prohibited to build housesoutside this priviliged region and instructed to leave a line of empty field around this region. Genoeses who broke these prohibitions within time , made a trench along the borders of the region and have the heights of Byzantium houses to be free. And then they constructed stone, tall buildings alongside the borders with regular intervals. Making the use of important crisis which Byzantium Empire experienced, Genoeses inconnected the houses, which were in form of bastions, into each other with walls which means surrounding the region with city walls. Genoeses administrated this colony under a governor called podesta. This governor was also permanent representative of Genoeses in Byzantium Empire. However; as Byzantium Empire weakened, the colony of Genoeses strengthened, become rich and widened the borders.
During the conquest of Istanbul, Galata tried to be impartial by following the policy of an independent state. After overthrow of Byzantium, the administer of Galata signed an agreement with Fatih II. Mehmet and Ottoman Empire acknowledged the priviliges of Galata. Galata was included in the territory of Ottoman-Turkish state and the churches of San Paolo and San Domenico were converted into mosques. In this period Galata was administrated by a governor called voyvoda and some Greeks from Izmir were settled in this region. But since the 15th century, many European merchants had already settled there and the activities of Genoeses had been reduced.
In the 17th century Galata became an important commercial harbor-city due to the capitulations which were given to the Frenchmen by Kanuni. But after the French Revolution in the 18th century, Galata had lost its role in sea transport-trade and became mostly a commercial city with many khans, commercial buildings, offices of many stockbrokers, storages and shops. Especially in the second half of the 19th century there were many trade groups such as Levantines, Greeks, Armenians, Jewishes and also European merchants. The real trade sector was managed by all of them and so they were rich and affluent. In this period the whole west european life style and urban features were brought by the Europeans who work in the embassies, Levantines and domestic Christians. So Galata was at the top point with its magnificence of its environment and social life style in the 19th century.
In Galata, located in the shores of the Golden Horn, there had been a typical community which was different from the domestic people of Istanbul since the period of the Byzantium. This difference continued after the conquest of Istanbul by Fatih. It is analyzed in the sources dated 1476 that there were 535 muslim but; 592 greek, 332 european and 62 armenian houses and also 260 shops in Galata. So people , some of which came from the east regions and some of which originated from the West European, used to live together in spite of their different religions. In addition to that, by the international sea-trade activities in this region, its cosmopolitan condition was being continued. Among these foreigners muslim Ottomans used to live mostly in the west side of the region. Evliya Çelebi explains that there were 18 muslim, 70 greek, 3 european, 2 armenean quarter and a jewish quarter in Galata. He also notes that there were 3080 shops which belonged mostly to the Greeks and Jewishes. According to the approximate distribution of the population in 1700; Muslims used to live in the west and middle parts of Galata, in spite of that Greeks, Latines, Armeneans and Jewishes used to live in the east part.
The mostly spoken language was Italian because of the majority of the merchants from the Mediterranean harbors. But all people could speak a little French, Italian, Greek and Turkish. There were many Levantines working in the civil services and Ottoman embassies in the european cities as translators. There were also a translation officee established in 1852 in Galata. These translators had a special posiition among the community because they usually used to translate in the commercial items. Due to the fact that the real trade center was the Galata Area , all of the commercial activities were gathered there. The traders , especially the moneychangers , were so affluent that they could lend money to the state. They got richer during the Industrial Revolution in the middle of the 19th century. In this period stockbrokers also gained an important position in the economic activities and they had a reputation calling as Galata's stockbrokers .
They were mostly Levantines and the richest group of Galata. When the gold and silver stocks of the Ottomans run out , the import could be continued due to the mediation of the Bank of Istanbul which was established by the stockbrokers. The first stock exchange activities started in the stock market which was founded in Havyar Khan in Galata in 1865 and the Ottoman Bank ,established by the stockbrokers of Galata and Paris in 1868, was the most essential financial source of this stock market. Greeks were also very successful in the stock exchange and managed most of the shops on the Voyvoda Street (today's the Street of Banks). Armeneans worked as stockbrokers too, but they mostly had specific positions in the administration. Jewish stockbrokers had also reputation in this sector. The most famous one of them was Avram Kamondo who financed the Ottoman Empire during and also after the Kirim War being a state sotckbroker.
Since the beginning, Galata has looked like a european city and be different from the other parts of Istanbul because of its physical environment. Everything with a european origin used to be put into practice firstly there in Galata. After the conquest of Istanbul also, this feature of being a part of a european city more than an ottoman city has continued.
The european feature of Galata can be noticed in the types of the buildings too. There were constructed religious buildings such as chuches, synagogues and also the first city municipality, theatre, embassies, hotels, restaurents, cafes, pubs and bazaars. The first residences were also similar to the ones in Paris, London and Vienna. After the destructive fires in Istanbul, the first stone buildings were built firstly in Galata. Residences were built very close to each other , therefore there were not so many trees. Apartment houses with many floors, row houses and huge residences with bright courts are the typical buildings of Galata.
When it comes to the historical buildings of Galata; the most important one is the Galata Tower. Galata Tower was built by Genoeses who settled in this region and strengthened their position in 14th and 15th centuries. Upon the conquest of Istanbul, this tower was first used as a prison and then as a warehouse for vessels. Galata Tower which was also used as a fire tower was damaged to a great extent by fires in the periods of III.Selim and II.Mahmut. Its conical head which was built of stone on its old wood head in 1858, was destroyed during a stosm in1875. The tower was restored in 1964 by the works of Istanbul Municipality by copying its original state in 1875 and opened to service with its present state in 1967. It is estimated that there was an open shed at the skirt of the tower completely surrounding the tower, and a courtyard which was connected to the city with big and small gateways. By construction works started in 1864, the courtyard, gateways and walls were destroyed and the trench were filled.
San Paolo and San Domenico Church : This building was built between 1323 and 1337. It was converted to a mosque by Fatih and known also as Arap Camii since spanish muslim arabs who were compelled to migrate from their country, were settled in an area near to this mosque. Although it underwent a lot of change, it still has some windows with sharp pointed arcades on the side of niche, at Gothic style, the divisions covered by vaults and previous belfry at the type of chuches of North Italy. Now, this belfry is the minaret.
St. Pierre et Paul : This church was built in this place by Genoeses in XV. Century and was given to Domenican priests in 1475 against St. Paul church which was converted into a mosque by the name of Arap camii. The church and its monastery adjacent burned two times in 1660 and 1731 and were rebuilt. Present building was repaired and gained its present situation by an Italian architect Fossetti between 1842 and 1843.
St. Pierre Khan : Saint Pierre Khan which was built by Comte de Saint Priest , Ambassador of French Kingdom in 1771, as a bank and dwelling house , is a sample of khans in european style in this region. In front side of it ; there are armorial bearings of French Kingdom and Saint-Priest and an inscription indicating that Poet André Chénier (1762-1794) was born in this building. Since this Khan was built after the birth of Chénier , maybe this inscription means that this poet was born in a building located in the same place previously.