Where is the oldest existing underground railway in the world? London, opening in 1863. Where’s the second oldest? I bet you would never guess Istanbul.
Tünel opened on January 17, 1875. It’s an underground funicular line that connects the districts of Beyoğlu at the top and Karaköy (Galata) at the bottom. The line runs 573m with two carriages running in opposite directions. A trip takes about 90 seconds either way.
The Tünel funicular line was the idea of Eugène-Henri Gavand, a French engineer visiting Constantinople for tourism purposes in 1867. He was shocked at the amount of people walking up and down the stairs at Yüksek Kaldırım and dreamed of an underground funicular railway to help ease the problem. With the banking industry dominating Karaköy and the embassies and commerce at the top in Beyoğlu, the need for more efficient transportation was becoming a necessity. Gavand returned to Constantinople in February 1868 to pitch his idea to the Ottoman government. His plan was approved in June 1869, but several factors including war in France delayed financing and construction for two years until July 1871. Construction was completed in December 1874.
The original carriages were wooden and had separate compartments for men and women. They were also separated into two classes. One was used for people and the other for goods and animals. The wooden carriages were used until 1971 when they were replaced with electrified steel carriages.
Tünel is not nearly as important to the Istanbul transportation system as it used to be, but a ride through the brick lined tunnel is a nostalgic journey into the past.