1790x0x Turkish delights welcome travellers
- Oct 22, 2011x0x Turkish delights welcome travellers
Three Istanbul hotels lovingly preserve their Ottoman past
BY LYNN LEVINE, OTTAWA CITIZEN
As the latest destination among trendsetters and globetrotters, Istanbul
has, in the past few years, exponentially increased the number of boutique
and designer hotels stocked with state-of-the art amenities, modern decor
and spa facilities. It seems that everywhere you look, MP3 docking
stations and flatscreen TVs abound.
But what if you're looking for a taste of the authentic?
Sadly, up until a few decades ago, taking the scorched-earth approach was
a property owner's answer to the idea of historic preservation. But now
the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction and visitors to the city
that hosted three great empires can eschew modern minimalism and opt
instead for Old World elegance.
One might say that the trend toward saving, rather than razing, Istanbul's
extraordinary treasures began with one visionary man: elik Gulersoy, who
in 1966 took the helm of the Turkish Touring and Automobile Club (TTOK),
Turkey's answer to the CAA.
The project that had the most impact on how Turks felt about their
architectural heritage was arguably the Yesil Ev, or Green House hotel,
which, when purchased by the TTOK in 1977, was one of hundreds of
crumbling Ottoman mansions in the city's historical bull's-eye - and
utterly derelict - neighbourhood of Sultanahmet. In its original
incarnation, the Yesil Ev served as the home of the Ottoman minister of
monopolies, a stately example of the marriage between European (mostly
French) influences and traditional Ottoman features such as cumba (bay
extensions or cantilevered overhangs) that were both decorative and
In a traditional Turkish house, all of the embellishment was focused
inside the home, while the exterior remained bland, protecting the family
from prying eyes. In place of the traditional, multipurpose oda (Turkish
for "room"), where pillows and cushions provided seating by day and
mattresses welcomed the weary at night, these "modern" Ottoman mansions
had bedrooms - and actual beds.
Under Gulersoy's leadership, the mansion was reconstructed, clapboard by
clapboard, into an exact replica. Inside you will find ornamental
brocades, decorative wallpaper, handmade carpets and - in the Pasha Suite
- gilded bedsteads and a marble hamam (Turkish steam bath). The building's
crowning feature, however, is the expansive garden courtyard, lushly
arranged around a glass-enclosed winter garden and a fountain carved of
pink porphyry (a type of Egyptian rock).
To be fair, later preservationists, as well as UNESCO, heavily criticized
the rebuilding, rather than the restoration, of these timber buildings.
But Gulersoy's vision set the ball in motion for a more sensitive
treatment of structures in disrepair. Prior to the Yesil Ev, concrete
blocks were the primary replacement mechanism for urban ruins.
As part of the Yesil Ev revival, the adjacent Cedid Mehmet Efendi Medrese
was also restored, now housing the Istanbul Handicrafts Centre, where
artists and craftsmen are supported in their quest to practise and
showcase previously dying Ottoman crafts such as miniature painting, ebru
(paper marbling), glass-blowing, book-binding and lacework.
TTOK's investment in the Yesil Ev paid off, so much so that the company
staged an encore the following year along the cobbled and picturesque
Sogukesme Sokak street. Sandwiched between the outer courtyard wall of
Topkapi Palace and the backside of the Hagia Sophia, Sogukesme Sokak
remained free of buildings for at least a century or two after the
conquest of the city.
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