Istanbul wakes up to a new day. The Bosphorus peers through the mist and says good day to a magical morning. The waterside residences lining the Bosphorus are still fast asleep. Perhaps it is the tiredness of old age preventing them from waking up to the bird—announced morning. This fairy—tale beauty and the shadows falling on the water contain a history going way back in time. The judas trees, those harbingers of spring, urge a sunny April morning into being just as they have done for centuries.
As this tanker goes on its way without even breaking the city’s silence and glides past the castles on either side of the Bosphorus the sun plays games of light on the windows of houses and waterside residences reminding their inhabitants that a new day has begun and life makes a slow start to the day. In this post we are going to describe the history of the old waterside residences lining the Bosphorus. Both the buildings themselves and the lives that were lived behind their walls.
As we sail past them in cruise boats our minds dwell on the people who lived amid all this beauty and what they experienced. Everyone wonders who built these imposing homes, how many years they have stood there and how they survived, and indeed whether they survived or were doomed to destruction. Life along the Bosphorus goes back many centuries, but the histories of these imposing homes date back about 400 years.
According to the records contained in the ledgers of the Bostancıbaşı (the commanding officer of the sultan’s bodyguard) at one time there were about 2,000 of these waterside residences, construction of which began in the Tulip Era — that is, the reign of Ahmed III. Unfortunately only seventy of them have survived.
The shores of the Bosphorus had a lifestyle all of their own in the 19th century and the surviving witnesses of this lifestyle are the waterside residences that remain. Of course, these stately homes were lived in by the upper classes of the Ottoman Empire. They included palaces belonging to daughters of sultans and other members of the royal family there were fine residences occupied by pashas, foreign ambassadors and the bankers of Galata at Tarabya and we also see exquisite examples of this architecture in the palaces of the viceroys of Egypt.
These were the stately homes of the Ottoman elite and an integral whole was formed not only by the buildings themselves, but also by the lives that were lived inside them, the way of life, music and culture of these households and their relations with neighbouring households. We can safely say that this way of life. accounted for much of the Istanbul culture of the 19th century. Without doubt it was also an example of westernisation.
There are a number of legends concerning the origins of the world “Bosphorus” which means “way of the ox”. The formation of this strait dates back to very ancient times. The Black Sea was a freshwater lake way back in the Ice Age and the Bosphorus a valley formed by a geological fault line depression. When the glaciers melted about seventy centuries ago, the level of the Mediterranean rose its waters overflowing into what is now Marmara and running towards the Black Sea to from the Bosphorus.
There were settlements along the Bosphorus in Byzantine times as well. Most of them were small fishing villages. As the Bosphorus led to the city a number of armies encamped on its shores. Ottoman settlements along the Bosphorus began in the 14th century after the Ottomans had conquered its Asian side. Sultan Yıldırım Bayezid built Anadolu Castle in order to gain control of the Bosphorus.
Then, with the building of Boğazkesen Castle, today known as Rumeli Castle or Rumelihisarı at the narrowest point of the strait by Sultan Mehmed II in 1452 control was gained of the Bosphorus, which was also a major towards the conquest of Istanbul. The Bosphorus occupied an important place in the social life of the Ottomans. Its waterside residences, promenades and gardens, the moonlight boat trips on its waters and fabulous entertainments were all famous. And this influenced literature, music, entertainment and other aspects of cultural life as well.
Abdülhak Şinasi Hisar had the following to say about those times: “How can one possibly describe an era, a lifetime, a season, even a single day in the waterside residences of the Bosphorus — it is like describing a rose which one has been shown without being permitted to smell it.”
The Bosphorus burgeoned and became beautiful in the hands of the Turks with their waterside residences and palaces lined up on either side it like a string of pearls. There are two types of waterside residence. One type developed within the framework of Turkish tradition and one under European influence. There is no relationship in terms of style between them, no relationship at all between a building like the Sait Halim Pasha Residence on the one hand and the Saffet Pasha Residence the council chamber of which has collapsed, on the other.
However, there may be resemblances as far as internal decoration is concerned because they were all built in the same period, and were influenced by trends in Europe. The Turks of course preferred a two—storey house without a tower it had a large central hall with doors opening onto the waterfront and into the back garden as well. These were two distinct types of building perhaps they were built by the same builders and craftsmen, but their architectural concepts were completely different.
The other type had towers and belvederes, its ornamentation, staircases and landings, etc. were of a different type. There is a distinct typology to our waterside residences. It could be defined as the Istanbul extension and westernisation of a type of house with a covered court which developed in Asia Minor, and also as the final version of its type.
The habit of writing diaries and memoirs, etc. was not widespread in Ottoman times so most of the information we have gained comes from accounts written by the second and third generations of these families accounts which are of course coloured by sentiment and fond memories. According to what we have learnt from these accounts, the times at which the journey to these waterside residences which were used mainly as summer residences, and the journey back to the city depended on the Sultan.
Residents travelled in caiques which lined up and departed in order of precedence, that is, according to the rank of their owners. The needs of the owners of these fine homes were catered for by traders bringing provisions to their private waterfronts in caiques. Due to the difficulty of accessing these homes by road, the dead also had to be transported in the same way. In other words the Bosphorus was used in the same way as the roads of today. Lamartine, who was greatly enamoured of the Bosphorus, had the following to say:
“The Bosphorus is like a street of water thirty kilometers in length, lined on both sides with exquisite villas. Believe me, if you had the good fortune to live in one of them it would never occur to you to leave…”
We start our journey in time here, in one of the waterside residences described with such envy by Lamartine — the Zarif Mustafa Pasha residence. The Zarif Mustafa Pasha residence is thought to have been built in the late 18th century. The records in the ledgers of the Chief of the Sultan’s Bodyguard state that it was owned by a person named Berberbaşı Mustafa Ağazade Bey — the title preceding his name suggests that he was berber to the royal household.
We learn that the house was purchased in the early 1800’s by Kani Bey, who was responsible for the making of coffee in the court of Mahmud II. Then, in 1848 ownership of this stately home was transferred to Zarif Mustafa Pasha whose name it still bears. The house remained in the hands of the same family until 1992 Mediha Kocataş, a granddaughter of the family was kind enough to receive us and share her memories, in spite of being confined to her bed by the effects of poliomyelitis and difficulty in breathing…
“My parent’s families have lived in Istanbul for centuries, ever since the reign of Yıldırım Bayezid. I was born in 1936, their marriage being a match between two waterside residences the Kocataş residence and my mother’s home at Anadolu Hisarı on the Asian side. I lived there until it was sold. I used to sleep in a room overlooking the sea. The shutters were always closed in the afternoon. I will never forget the how the light filtering through the shutters from the sea made a pattern on the ceiling and walls.”
The Zarif Mustafa Pasha residence was originally three times its present size. Apart from the men’s quarters which you can see now, there were the women’s quarters (Harem) a summerhouse and a boathouse, gardens, a conservatory and stables. The summerhouse and boathouse were subsequently sold and are now a separate residence. Its owner, Rabia Çapa, has witnessed events taking place in the Zarif Mustafa Pasha residence over the years.
“I bought this house in 1965. It was the first waterside residence in this area to be sold. At that time the owners of this house, that is, the Zarif Pasha family, introduced me to some of their other neighbours. Everyone invited me over to tea and to morning coffee. I encountered the little dishes and spoons for sweetmeats referred to in the novels for the first time in Belkıs Abud’s house. The house next door was lovely. I witnessed the best examples of the old way of life with its extended family — where the old loved the young and the young respected the old in the house next door.”
This waterside residence was built circa 1700 and it is one of the oldest of the Bosphorus residences. Its location on the Asian side, right opposite Rumeli Castle, endows it with a distinct character of its own. The original Zarif Mustafa Pasha residence was three times the size of the present house. There is quite a long story attached to the women’s quarters, which are no longer in existence.
By the time of the Balkan War it was unused and troops were billeted there and of course the building suffered considerable damage. Troops were billeted again during the First World War and the structure connecting the two parts of the house was demolished to reduce the risk of fire. Thus, the men’s and women’s quarters became two separate residences. An accident which took place subsequently destroyed the women’s quarters completely.
A ship ran aground here in the 1960’s. It was a Greek ship. The earth it displaced destroyed a small house next door and the collapse of that house caused the other part of house to collapse. Quite a lot of people died. The family were also going though hard times financially — so they demolished the women’s quarters which became part of the garden. This part of the garden is where the women’s quarters used to be. There is a sacred spring at the end of the garden. The garden is full of fond memories for Mediha Kocataş…
“The sea looked wonderful when it rained. Each drop seemed to fall separately, forming its own ripples. The smell of the garden was indescribable, I always described it as a mixture of ozone and earthenware jugs. I yearned for that smell when I was in Ankara. There were beautiful trees in the garden, I remember their smell the smell of the fig tree. Do you know how wonderful trees can smell particularly fig trees? Nobody can appreciate these things any more. And when we looked out of the window we could see fish going in and out under the stones on the sea bed, the water was so crystal—clear.”
Just like these memories of the past, certain parts of the house and grounds have also remained in the past. One of these was the large wood which used to be next to the house. When the coast road was built this wood became separated from the grounds the cold coach remaining inside the grounds.
That road was used by phaetons coming to the house, it ran as far as Köprülü. There was a bell, which was rung by the people at Köprülü when one of their phaetons wanted to pass — when this happened our phaeton was pulled into the yard because the road was too narrow for two vehicles to pass. Apart from that, everybody else arrived in caiques.
This road was used for a special purpose during the War of National Independence. The weapons were concealed here during the War of National Independence. Money was collected, thus both financial and military aid was provided for the troops in Anatolia by this household. It is stated in books that this waterside residence is neo—classical in mood and remains faithful to the spirit of the traditional Turkish house.
At the same time it conjures up the empire style in terms of its angle braces, gabled roof and window moldings. The house has undergone a number of major repairs and changes in its time. While some parts of it have been preserved in their original state, others have been modified. One of the most interesting features of this house is the Turkish Bath and the old road running through its garden. Below, there is also an area containing a pool filled with seawater.
It was there that the ladies bathed in the old days so that they would not be seen by men from outside. The fact that the pool was inside the house endowed it with an entirely separate value. Another feature of this stately home is the hall running right through the house from front to back; one set of doors opened onto the waterfront and the other opened into the garden enabling its occupants to enjoy both views at the same time.
Thus, a constant current of air blew through the house, ventilating it and enabling the family to live there without being overcome by the heat throughout the hot, humid summers. In the olden days these trellis—covered windows overlooking the stairs connecting the reception rooms on the ground and upper floors enabled the ladies of the household to take a discreet peep at whoever was visiting the house.
The Turkish Bath, which is one of the most beautiful parts of this stately home is in two sections — namely the cold room and the bath itself. The exquisite nature of the ornamentation on the marble is the first things to draw one’s attention. It has a marble basin and a cold room. There is also a tub which can be filled with water. In the old days the owners of the house would bathe — ladies first, then the gentlemen — followed by the servants.
Indeed, waterside residences sheltered two or three generations under the same roof. And when the servants are included, one can imagine how crowded these homes must have been. As one of the first owners of the Zarif Mustafa Pasha residence was chief coffee—maker to the royal household naturally it has a special room with a coffee range all of its own. The most interesting room in the house must surely be the so—called “fruit room” or 18th century room with its fascinating decorations.
The old sea bathing pool referred to earlier by Demet Sabancı was under the ground floor drawing room. During restoration work on the house the pool was covered over with glass, producing a beautiful and unusual effect. It is true that they all bathed in the sea. The families were able to bathe in the sea without being seen by anyone else. The way of life in this stately home, where in the early days the ladies of the household watched visitors through trellised windows, has changed considerably in the course of time. Its present owner is a working woman who represents her country at international meetings…
“We had foreign guests quite recently. Our Association of Businesswomen organized a symposium for businesswomen from all over the world and we had a gala dinner in this house. They were extremely happy to see that old Ottoman homes in Turkey can be restored and lived in under today’s conditions. They left with many fond memories.”
This is how the Zarif Mustafa Pasha residence looks today and this is its position in the city’s social life. However, there is a story attached to the stages through which it went before achieving its present appearance. Let us listen to one of the former owners of the house.
“After the heyday of the house, financial difficulties arose when my mother was a child. One day it rained torrentially and water poured through the many leaks in the roof. The wooden floors were covered with linoleum, and so much water accumulated it was like a swimming pool. My mother’s sister-in-law brought as many pots, pans, buckets and bowls as she could find plastic, copper, aluminum, there were seventeen of them in one room and I will never forget the sound of water dripping into them. It was like a different kind of music.
There came a time when the house was desperately in need of repair. There was no help available and the people living in the house could not afford to have it repaired. One day my uncle’s son came over to talk to us: If we want the house to survive, if we want to save it, we will have to sell it, otherwise it will just crumble away.”
While the family had virtually reached consensus over this problem, yet another ship ran aground, striking the house. This made the decision to sell unavoidable. In 1990 the wheel of a city lines steamship which had set sail from Anadoluhisarı jammed and the ship crashed first into a yacht and then into the Zarif Mustafa Pasha residence. It is thought that one billion lira’s worth of damage was done to the house. A case was filed, but it dragged on for years without a verdict.
The former owner says:
“That trial went on for years. The value of money declined, and the money we were awarded was insufficient for repairs. So we sold the house. The other members of the family were very sad, for it held many memories for them. I felt the same, but all good things come to an end. This is a lesson we learn from life. The person who bought the house restored it and made it as it is today. It was a good thing because it means the house will survive, and that’s wonderful. Just think, its history goes back 250 to 300 years It was a lovely memory.”
Indeed, shadows fell on the water. We have told you the story of the Zarif Mustafa Pasha residence, one of the finest mansions of the Bosphorus. The Zarif Mustafa Pasha residence, as one of the fortunate stately homes adorning the Bosphorus will survive with all its exquisite grace for many years and will continue to play its role of passing culture down from one generation to the next. In this post will continue to recount the story of the shadows which fell on the water, we look forward to seeing you next post.