tunel istanbul

2017 marks the Tünel’s 142nd year in service.



During the 19th century on the northern shore of the Golden Horn, Karaköy (originally Galata), was traditionally the quarter where craftsmen, foreign merchants resided and was the center of trading. Today this area is known for the famous Galata Tower and it’s narrow steep streets that are somewhat impractical to climb. Up on the hill from the shore, Beyoğlu (originally Pera) was known at the city’s European quarter, Istiklal Street was lined with foreign embassies (the majority still residing here today), and filled with their ambassador’s mansions, European traders and travelers.

In 1867 French engineer Eugene-Henry Gavand visited Istanbul and was shocked by the amount of people traveling up and down from the sea level to the top of the hill. It’s estimated that on average 50,000 people walked up and down this steep, narrow passageway daily with goods and animals. (Note, the passageway’s name was Yüksekkaldırım, which literally translates to High Sidewalk. It has an inclination of 24% and was only 6 meters wide.) Taken aback, seeing that this road was not ideal for pedestrians or transportation he was determined to find a solution to make the trip easier for pedestrians.





On June 30, 1871 construction began on a short, one-stop underground funicular system, the Tünel. Designed to overcome the steep hill, tram-like vehicles were attached by cables to move along rails through a pulley system, as the cars leave from the lower station and upper station at the same time, the ascending car counterbalances the descending car.

Originally operating by steam, cars operated on the same track without changing lanes and were pulled by separate cables. Two wooden two-car trains were lit by oil lamps, the cars were separated by classes and the journey lasted 2.5 minutes. One car was reserved for passengers with class separation (wood vs. cushion seat) and the other car was used to transport goods, animals and carts. I read that at first passengers were afraid of traveling underground, so the first cars carried foods and livestock.

In 1971 the Tünel was converted to electric and the rail was transformed into one line, with a meeting point in the middle of the line. There are now two metal two-car trains 16 meters long, no separation of class and a traveling time of 90 seconds. The tunnel is 574 meters long, elevation between the stations is 51 meters, and the maximum capacity per trip is 170 passengers.

Since its service began on January 17, 1875, the Tünel is both the first underground funicular and the second oldest unground railway, after London.


boarding the tunel

Boarding the train from Beyoğlu, the upper station.



During this time it was a turning point for Istanbul’s public transportation because development was underway for a Train, Tram and Tünel. Beyoğlu (Pera) especially was becoming a destination for foreigners and upon the completion of the Orient Express (1890) many grand hotels were constructed to host its passengers including the famed Pera Palace. Built in 1892 and still one of the most famous hotels in Istanbul today, the Pera Palace Hotel has played host to visitors from all over the world including Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock.


tunel station

Exiting the train at Karaköy, the lower station.



Today the Tünel is still the shortest and easiest way to make the long haul up or down the steep hill between Karaköy and Beyoğlu. Such a short trip may seem pointless, but a quick 90-second trip will sure beat the steep 15 minute (at least) trek that you’d endure.

Either enter from the lower station in Karaköy across from the Galata Bridge or enter the upper station in Beyoğlu at the end of Istiklal Street, on the opposite end from Taksim Square, just follow the Nostalgic Taksim-Tünel Tram. You pay with Istanbul’s public transportation card, an istanbulkart.