Celebrating a birthday in Istanbul


Break out the bunting and the balloons: it is time for a birthday party! In this case the birthday was of Istanbul‘s Tünel transit system, second oldest subway system in the world. The system is now 137 years old and, while it has seen a number of upgrades over the years, it is still more or less providing the same service as it did when it was put into service.

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The Tünel connects the waterfront of Galeta to the commercial district of Taksim up on the hill. The elevation difference isn’t huge – about 60 meters – but at the time the Tünel was built there was only one narrow road connecting the two areas handling around 40,000 pedestrians daily. Something better was needed and it was delivered in January 1875, with a tunnel built into the hill and trolley cars carrying passengers up and down the hill.

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The current iteration is only slightly different from the original. The original was two parallel tracks; the current version is a single track with a passing section in the middle of the run. Also, the original was (obviously) not powered by electricity. That was changed about 100 years into the life of the Tünel and the current system is electrified and climate controlled.

For the anniversary celebration the Tünel was decked out in ribbons and balloons. It was quite festive, though I was a day late for the actual party. And, while there are now many more roads connecting the two ends of the Tünel line, the funicular is still in business as part of the Istanbul mass transit network and it continues to carry folks up and down the hill every few minutes of the day.

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It is a quick ride and not particularly amazing, other than that it saves walking up the big hill and the history of the tunnel is pretty impressive. I make sure to give it a ride every time I’m in town. There is another, newer funicular on the other side of Taksim Square but it doesn’t have the same history as the Tünel.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

5 Comments

  1. Let me tell you, having spent a significant amount of time in Istanbul in the summer, one develops a great appreciation for not having to climb that hill all the time!

    1. There is a fare for the ride, about the same as the rest of the Istanbul transit system at a dollar or so, I believe.

      And I can definitely believe it is useful in the summer.

  2. The best part of riding the Tünel is looking at the walls of the tunnel as you zip by and the remarkably tiny tokens (at least they were tiny when I was in Istanbul in 2008).

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