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x0x The Kasris of Istanbul

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  • Turkish Radio San Francisco
    x0x The Kasris of Istanbul In earlier centuries the area around Istanbul was heavily wooded and the water in the streams running into the Bosphorus pure and
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 22, 2000
      x0x The Kasris of Istanbul

      In earlier centuries the area around Istanbul was heavily wooded and the
      water in the streams running into the Bosphorus pure and crystal clear The
      kasris, as they are rather small in comparison with the palace complexes,
      tend to be overlooked by tourists; however, people actually residing in
      Istanbul enjoy visiting them because of their quiet and restful atmosphere


      According to the Oxford Turkish English Dictionary a kasr is a palace, a
      summer residence or a pavilion, and the kasris of Istanbul can be said to
      incorporate a little of all of these. Certainly grand enough to be
      miniature palaces, often used by the sultans for short periods in summer,
      and frequently employed as pleasure pavilions, the kasris also functioned
      sometimes as hunting lodges. A popular theme of miniature paintings of the
      16th century and onwards is that of hunting, with the sultan or the crown
      princes often depicted hunting deer and stag in the forest. The imperial
      estates of the sultans of Topkapi Palace were extensive and widespread,
      and most of them in terms of travel by horse or boat, were some
      considerable distance away from Topkapi Palace itself.

      Before the city of Constantinople was captured by the Turks, all the
      surrounding area had been occupied by them, and even in those days before
      the mid-15th century, many of the most beautiful places in this lovely
      area had been discovered, including the more remote spots. It was in the
      15th century that small wooden buildings were constructed in some of the
      choicest places for the sultan and his retinue to stay for short periods
      during the summer months. In those days the region all around the city was
      well-wooded, and must have been like paradise, with the waters of the
      Bosporus and the streams running into it being pure and crystal clear.
      Certainly many people recorded that the beauty spots favored were like
      gardens of Eden. Some were on the shores of the Bosporus, others were
      situated away from the shore, higher up on a hillside and with a wonderful
      view of the Bosporus.

      Sketches and engravings from the 15th century through to the later part of
      the 19th century show the development of these residences over that period
      of time. Even 500 years ago, in the long hot days of summer, the sultan
      would leave the confines of Topkapi Palace with his retainers and go off
      to one of these summer residences for a respite from affairs of state.
      Soon the small wooden structures were replaced by larger wooden
      structures, and these in turn were replaced by more impressive and grander
      wooden structures. Paintings of the shores of the Bosporus dating to the
      17th and 18th centuries show that in certain places along the shores were
      standing splendid palaces, which were on quite a grand scale.

      Leisure and Pleasure

      Obviously the sultan, even in that far-off time, felt the need for a break
      away from the stresses and strains of government. The palaces were also
      used as a base for hunting expeditions, as the estates surrounding them
      would be stocked with small game, and sometimes guests would be invited to
      join the hunting party. Sometimes visiting monarchs and heads of state
      would be invited to join the sultan at one of the kasris, and would be
      entertained there.

      In the 19th century in particular the picture changed, with many of the
      wooden palaces which had fallen into disrepair now being replaced by
      marble or stone structures, or a combination of both. These are the
      buildings that have endured up until today, and they have either been
      restored in the last few years, or are in the process of being restored.
      It was Sultan Abdulmecit in the early 19th century who had several of
      these summer residences built in stone, with the succeeding sultan,
      Abdulaziz, continuing this pattern. All the kasris are built in the styles
      that were in fashion in that era, and though often small, some of the
      rooms in them are very ornate.

      With the abolition of the sultanate in 1919, all palaces were placed under
      the jurisdiction of the Grand National Assembly or the Turkish Parliament.
      At varying times after this they were opened to the general public as
      museums. Kasris come into this category, and because there is such an
      overabundance of marvellous architectural sights in Istanbul to see from
      the past, the kasris occasionally tend to get overlooked. Many of them in
      fact are frequented by local citizens, as each one still tends to be an
      oasis of peace and quiet, though nowadays they are often surrounded by
      busy roads. Of course the former extensive imperial estates that once
      formed the grounds of these lovely places have long since been cut away to
      supply much-needed land for the building of roads and houses.

      Former kasris become recreation areas

      Today, in some of Istanbul's loveliest parks stand restored pavilions that
      were former summer residences, and have since been opened to the general
      public. Two of these buildings stand in Yildiz Park: the Sale (Chalet)
      Pavilion and the Malta Pavilion, but the latter is closed at present for
      redecorating. The Sari (Yellow) Pavilion stands in Emirgan Park further
      along the Bosporus shore on the way to the Black Sea, but is currently
      closed for restoration. All stand high up on wooded hillsides and have
      marvellous views of the Bosporus from their shaded terraces, and apart
      from the Sale Pavilion, which is used only for state official functions,
      are open to the general public to visit seven days a week. They both
      function as very upmarket tearooms, and are furnished with period 19th
      century furniture.

      The beautiful forests of Yildiz Park in particular are full of unusual and
      sometimes rare tree species. New trees presented to Greater Istanbul
      Municipality are grown here under close supervision, until their survival
      is ensured. Four hundred jacaranda trees were brought across from Pretoria
      in South Africa as a gift from Pretoria Municipality to Greater Istanbul
      Municipality in 1993, and it was in Yildiz Park that they were planted. If
      they are successful, the park will have the delicate lilac-coloured blooms
      of the jacaranda trees to add to the riot of colors that bursts forth in
      this park in springtime.

      On the opposite side of the Bosporus stands Hidiv Kasri, the former summer
      residence, or palace, of the Egyptian viceroy (khedive) who would often
      visit Istanbul. Also placed high up on a green wooded hillside which
      offers more magnificent views of the Bosporus, the ownership of this
      building fell away when the British did away with the title of viceroy in
      1914, and since the city could not arrive at an agreement over the
      management of the place, it was open daily as a delightful tearoom full of
      old-fashioned charm, but it is also currently closed for restoration.

      Other remarkable kasirs Down on the shore of the same side of the
      Bosporus, though much closer to the Anadolu Fortress, stands Kucuksu
      Kasri. Its name means "Small Water Pavilion" and refers to the area in
      which it stands. Nearby, as well as the aforementioned fortress, there are
      two large streams which run into the Bosporus at this point. One is the
      Goksu (Sky Water) stream, the other is the Kucuksu stream. This was a
      famous beauty spot for many years, and formerly was part of the imperial
      estates. Standing on the shore in solitary splendour is Kucuksu Kasri. In
      obvious need of restoration, it is currently undergoing a facelift and is
      not open to the public unfortunately, although if you have a special
      reason to visit it, you might apply for permission from the administration
      office at Dolmabahce Palace. Hopefully it will not be too long before this
      kasri reopens to the general public. At the moment however, it is a rather
      neglected-looking jewel box on the shore, with a meadow and trees behind

      Constructed in stone and marble, this building replaced former wooden
      pavilions. Designed by Nigokos Balyan, one of the famous family of
      architects who embellished so much of the city with beautiful buildings,
      this imperial residence consists of 10 rooms on three floors. The basement
      level was the service level used by staff, and includes kitchens, cellars
      and servants' quarters. The other two storeys each have a central hall,
      with two rooms flanking it on both sides. Never intended as a permanent
      residence, the sultan or the crown princes would visit it for a few days
      only, using it as a hunting lodge for small game in the area.

      Kucuksu Kasri has been restored several times already, but the often
      extreme weather of Istanbul means that the city's buildings require
      constant and regular attention. This attractive building has an ornate
      exterior design, and four entrances lead into the building. The present
      small-sized grounds are enclosed by white wrought iron railings, and a sea
      portal leads onto the water. The sultan would arrive by boat and pass
      through this portal. The main entrance to the small palace stands behind,
      and is reached by two graceful curved flights of marble steps, which are
      flanked by solid sculpted supports. Standing against the wall between the
      steps, there is an ornate marble pool with fountain, all sculpted in deep

      A number of valuable works of art are housed here. The ceilings are
      carved, gilded and painted. The furniture is western-influenced in style,
      and fabrics of upholstery and curtaining are in silk and were made in
      Hereke. The carpets are silk Hereke and very valuable. Everything is
      original and dates to the 19th century. The floors are in fine parquet and
      are renowned, as are the polychrome mantelpieces around the fireplaces.
      Crystal chandeliers hang from the ceilings, and there are some notable
      porcelains - especially vases. Prince Edward of Britain was one of the
      guests to be entertained to lunch here at this palace in the 19th century,
      by Sultan Abdulaziz.

      Nearer to Istanbul and standing on the European side of the Bosporus is
      the Ihlamur Kasri. This is not on the shore, but a little way behind.
      Ihlamur Kasri stands on ground at sea level, but with land rising up all
      around it, rather as if it were placed at the bottom of a basin. Coming to
      it from the busy surrounding streets, it is always a surprise to walk
      through the entrance of the surrounding high walls, and find yourself in a
      beautiful and peaceful green park. The setting is idyllic, and the noise
      of the traffic is drowned out by the high walls. The area of present-day
      Besiktas was a very popular one with the sultans, and the imperial estates
      covered all this region which is now so busy with traffic and houses.
      Yildiz Palace is high up on the hill nearby, and Dolmabahce Place stands
      on the shore close to this charming valley where Ihlamur Kasri is

      Sultan Abdulmecit, in the 19th century, had the former wooden pavilions
      that were standing here pulled down, and the present marble and stone
      palaces put up in their place. In the 19th century this would all have
      been part of the large imperial estates on which stood the other two
      palaces mentioned, as well as Ciragan Palace, also on the shore. Ihlamur
      means "Linden," and this valley was once famed for its linden trees, some
      of which still remain. In the peaceful grounds are some very old trees;
      the amazing number of varieties include linden trees, cypresses, magnolia
      trees and camelia bushes.

      In the center of the grounds is an attractive ornamental pool with white
      wrought-iron standard lamps of the 19th century placed on the surrounding
      lawns, evoking an era from the past. Today, wooden benches have been
      placed near the pool for visitors to sit and gaze into it. Sculptured
      lions in stone are also placed on the lawns around the pool. Ihlamur Kasri
      consists of two buildings: The Mabeyn Kosku (Ceremonial Pavilion) and the
      Maiyet Kosku (Court Pavilion). Again the work of the architect Nigokos
      Balyan, both are very ornate. They were last restored between 1976 and

      The Mabeyn Kosku was the sultan's residence, and it included the audience
      chamber and a small music room cum study. At the moment an exhibition of
      old photographs, showing Ihlamur Kasri as it was years ago, is being shown
      inside on the ground floor. One impressive room in this very ornate
      pavilion, has many almost floor to ceiling mirrors of Venetian crystal in
      it, their gilded frames sculpted in deep relief. Ceilings are carved,
      gilded and often painted in soft pastel shades, and are incredibly ornate.

      The rich fabrics of curtains are framed by heavily sculpted cornices which
      blend into the decorated walls. Mantelpieces are polychrome and surround
      old-fashioned grates and fireplaces. Even the interior doorknobs attached
      to the gilt-edged doors are ornate and intricately decorated. Two
      staircases are wooden and unremarkable. The bathroom and toilet areas
      boast fan-shaped faucets in brass and a very ornate marble bowl.

      The Maiyet Kosku was the building in which the sultan's retinue would
      stay. This is nearly as grand as the sultan's residence, with its high
      carved and gilded ceilings, crystal chandeliers and rich silk fabrics. As
      in the other palaces, all the fabrics were made in Hereke. In one or two
      of the rooms, carved wooden shutters and three quarter-length curtains
      part way down the windows, are very Turkish, as opposed to the mainly
      western style apparent in these buildings and their furnishings, which are
      mainly original and from the 19th century. A cafe operates in this
      building in winter, serving light refreshments. In summer, an open-air
      cafe opens at one end of the lovely and well-kept gardens. This small
      palace is well worth taking the trouble to visit.

      The Maslak Kasri is in the present-day area of Maslak, but is situated
      higher up on a hillside. This summer palace however has panoramic views
      that reach as far as the entrance to the Black Sea, at the point where the
      Bosporus enters it. The present building is believed to have been built in
      the 19th century, during the reign of Sultan Abdulaziz, though as in the
      case of the other kasris mentioned, there were small palaces and pavilions
      here long before that time. Maslak Kasri is a classic and distinctive
      example of 19th century Ottoman architecture, and some of the roof detail
      is of great interest. The furnishings and decoration of this kasri are
      more elegant and graceful, being not quite as ornate as the previous two
      kasris mentioned. Apparently this kasri was where the sultans came to
      rest, and to be peaceful and quiet.

      The last of the kasris to be mentioned here is the Aynalikavak Kasri. This
      is situated on the shore of the Golden Horn, in an area which was once
      part of the imperial shipyards. The imperial estates here were extremely
      extensive, spreading from the Golden Horn as far as the Okmeydan area and
      Kasimpasha. This building was once part of the splendid Aynalikavak
      Palace, which stood on the shores of the Golden Horn 300 years ago.

      The present building is thought to have been built originally during the
      reign of Sultan Ahmet III (1703-1730), restored later by Sultan Selim III,
      and altered and restored afterwards by Sultan Mahmut II (1808-1839),
      giving it its present appearance. It is the last surviving example of the
      architecture of this period. Standing on a slope, it is two-storeyed on
      its shore facade and one-storeyed on its rear facade. An audience chamber
      in this kasri is decorated with unusual inscription friezes and has
      painted moulded windows on the walls; an unusual decorative feature for
      this period. Sultan Selim III's tugra is another main decorative feature.
      Other features include Ottoman braziers, lanterns and the like. A very
      famous miniature painting, showing entertainers performing for the
      imperial court in front of this kasri, has recently been made into a
      poster and is now on sale.

      Sultan Selim III was a fine composer, and most of his music was composed
      here. Because of this, a Turkish Music Research Center is now to be
      established in Aynalikavak Kasri. As mentioned before, Kucuksu Kasri will
      remain closed until restorations have been completed, and Sale Kosku is
      kept for the use of official functions only. All the other palaces and
      pavilions mentioned here, except those noted above, are open to the
      general public, and these smaller imperial palaces are well worth seeking
      out and taking the time to visit and explore.

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