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The Waterside Residences of the Bosphorus

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We wonder, could there be any other city in the world that you yearn for while actually living in it? Istanbul is such a city, while walking in Beyoğlu you may yearn for the Historic Peninsula. While sipping a glass of tea in Pierre Loti, you may feel like going to the Bosphorus or taking a trip by steamship to the Princes Islands. Could there be any other city in the world that you yearn for while actually living in it?

When a lacy layer of snow covers the ground, your mind turns to the judas trees of spring when the judas trees are in bloom, you long for a trip on the Bosphorus in the moonlight. This city has hope to give everybody, hopes big and small for people from all classes of society. Poets and writers write their finest lines full of love and passion for Istanbul. Flowers bloom differently by the Bosphorus, bird fly differently.

The Bosphorus has its own bird species. The Bosphorus shearwater performs its dance with the waves 24 hours a day traveling from one end of the strait to the other. Yeniköy is the area on the European side where most waterside residences are situated. The coast is adorned with beautiful houses of this type, some old and some new. At one time the homes of the famous lined the coast at Rumelihisarı. However they were demolished to make way for the first coast road between 1938 and 1941.

Among the homes which escaped the demolition is a striking building known as the Oduncubaşı residence — which, as its name suggest, belonged to the person responsible for supplying the royal household with firewood. This fine house has virtually become a seaside pavilion with the constant widening of the coast road behind it. It is about 200 years old and is one of the most beautiful water wide residences of its period. As well as being a place with fine waterside residences, at one time Rumelihisarı was also an attractive village with a separate neighbourhood inside the castle walls.

The neighbourhood life of that period is reflected in photographs but it ceased to exist when the old houses were demolished and turned into a green area inside the castle walls. As we pass under Fatih Sultan Mehmed Bridge, our eyes light on the residence of Mustafa Zeki Pasha (or Tophane Müşiri Zeki Pasha), who, as his title suggests, was in charge of the Cannon Factory. The house, designed by the architect Vallaury, was built of stone so that it would not share the fate of so many of the wooden houses in the city destroyed by fire.

This house is striking because of its fine stonework and solid appearance. Zeki Pasha was trusted greatly by Sultan Abdul Hamid II, for many years he was in charge of the Cannon Factory and was also commander of the military academies. His uniform was adorned with many medals. We can see a short section of the old coast road in front of the house. This road, which now serves as an assembly area for the gulls, is also the point at which the Bosphorus current flows most powerfully.

In the years when people travelled mainly in caiques even the strongest oarsmen could not overcome the power of the current. Young, strongly—built men known as “back—ups” stood ready to catch ropes thrown from the caiques and, pulling on the ropes, enabled the caiques to continue their journeys. As we continue our journey, we pass in front of a number of smaller waterside residences some of which are more or less in mint condition and some of which have lost their most important features in the course of restoration.

Unfortunately at this point our eyes are drawn to some modern flats built to replace old waterside residences defeated by the vagaries of time or destroyed by fire. The error of implementations of this kind will be realised and a move will be made by protection organisations for permission to build only if the new structure resembles the old one.

The most noteworthy stately home at Baltalimanı is the Mustafa Reşit Pasha residence. Thought to have been built by Garabet and Sarkis, member of the famous Balyan family, this residence is in fact a royal palace. Some doubts exists about the architect. We consider it was built by the Fossati Brothers but there are a number of references to Sarkis Balyan in some sources. But whoever it was built by, it is an edifice of excellent quality and a fine example of neo—classical architecture.

Mustafa Reşit Pasha residence
Photo Source: Nermin Taylan

The royal pavilion and Turkish bath in the garden, which at one time occupied a much larger area that it does now, collapsed due to neglect. When the pool, which was of skeleton construction also collapsed its lovely fountain was placed in the other pool. On the side facing the road, the building’s ornate angle braces and its impressive entrance flanked by columns attract the attention of passers by.

Baltalimanı Palace, with its large, column—lined rooms, its porphyry marble fireplaces surmounted by crystal mirrors, the dazzling ornamentation on its ceilings and its parquet floors which unfortunately have been removed, was unquestionably one of the most beautiful buildings of the Bosphorus. Even in its first years it had an under — floor central heating system an open—air swimming pool and a covered seawater swimming pool.

Its first owner was Mustafa Reşit Pasha, grand vizier of Sultan Abdulmecit I and a statesman who favoured westernisation. Mustafa Reşit, known as the pasha who read the Gülhane Edict, served sis times as grand vizier. He also served as foreign minister. During this time he signed five international agreements in this waterside palace, the most important of which was the Baltalimanı Agreement granting special trading rights to Britain.

Subsequently the palace was purchased from Mustafa Reşit Pasha by the royal household because it was needed as a wedding present for Fatma Sultan, daughter of Sultan Abdulmecit. The most interesting aspect of this is that Fatma Sultan was to marry Mustafa Reşit Pasha’s son, Ali Galip Bey. Thus, the building would remain in the same family, but this time as a royal palace. However, the marriage did not last long, for Ali Galip Bey died in an accident at sea and Fatma Sultan remarried, her husband this time being Nuri Pasha.

Her second marriage was also doomed to an unfortunate end when Nuri Pasha was accused of being involved in the plot to remove Sultan Abdülaziz from the throne his fall from favour resulted in a trial and he was then exiled to Tail in Saudi Arabia, where he died. Fatma Sultan died shortly after her husband and the palace was abandoned and neglected for many years. Then Mediha Sultan, sister of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, expressed a wish to take up residence there and the palace returned to its former glory.

Media Sultan was married to Grand Vizier Ferit Pasha. Ferit Pasha was in Europe when the Great Military Assault took palace. Informed of the victory of republican forces in Anatolia, he hurriedly returned to Istanbul, packed his bags and fled the country from this palace. After the declaration of the Republic, buildings previously owned by the royal family were nationalised and turned into public institutions such as schools, museums and hospitals. The Mustafa Reşit Pasha palace was used first by the Fishing Institute and was then converted into a bone diseases hospital.

Of course, turning this fine waterside residence into a hospital was not the best decision in terms of function. A hospital building imposes specific demands in terms of function and use. As the palace had been planned for purely residential purposes a number of very obvious changes were made to the building, resulting in serious deformation. For example, one thing which remains in my mind is a drinking fountain beneath an arch in one of the large rooms in the building it was adorned with a painted mythological composition similar to those in many buildings in Europe.

That picture is no longer there, it has been completely removed. The fountain stands alone, looking as if its surface has been scrubbed off. As a result of recent restoration work, parts of the original surface have been revealed it is obvious that the mythological compositions have been badly damaged. The beautiful marble lunette of the carved stone fountain has disappeared. Of course, it is indisputably laudable to make a building lived in by two grand viziers of the Ottoman Empire available for public use.

However, when viewed in terms of the historic events which took place within its walls it could be considered that this former residence would be better used as a history museum or palace of culture. The most concrete proof of the damage caused to the building by using it as a hospital is the sight of this ugly vent piping. Buildings endowed with new functions in society could not be built in a short space of time, for the early years of the Republic were ones of financial difficulty.

Most of the former palaces were turned into schools hospitals and conference centres. The rooms in these palaces were extremely large, which is why the Republican period attempted to make maximum use of them. Of course, the buildings were damaged in the process, but there was no other solution after all, it was a better fate than destruction by fire at least the buildings were in use, they didn’t crumble away and were regularly repaired and maintained.

See also
Zarif Mustafa Pasha Residence
The cities of Istanbul before 1453

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