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In Istanbul’s Private Retreats of the Sultans, Time Stands Still


Inside one in all the elegant pavilions known in Istanbul as a kasir, the clamor and chaos of huge city life recedes. The noise of automobile horns and shouting vendors is replaced by near silence. Listen rigorously for the imagined whisper of silk rustling within the breeze or the echo of a once vital conversation abruptly curtailed. In these discreet and complicated structures and summer palaces, built just for the sultans, time stands still. Ostensibly intended as private retreats away from the formality of the courts at Topkapı and Dolmabahçe palaces, in point of fact kasir were places to scheme and plot. Each is a snapshot of a selected moment in history and an intimate and enticing slice of Ottoman life.

In these exquisite kasir scattered around Istanbul, sultans could fantasize they were absolute masters of the Ottoman universe, shielded from upheaval and attempts to foment political discontent of their courts and territories. Today, these kasir exist as greater than just historical monuments manufactured from wood, stone and tile. They reflect the majesty and splendor, mystery and intrigue of a once mighty empire that held the world in thrall for greater than 600 years. Listed below are three.

It’s easy to walk straight past Hünkar Kasri in Eminönü on the Haliç (Golden Horn). Austere exterior partitions and an unassuming entry give nothing away. The kasir is a component of the Yeni Camii (Recent Mosque) complex Sultan Murat III ordered built on the request of his favorite concubine, Safiye Sultan, within the sixteenth century. Then as now Eminönü was a industrial center however it was a multicultural neighborhood largely inhabited by non-Muslims. Safiye Sultan desired to Islamicize the world by constructing a mosque. The primary stones were laid around 1597, but work stopped shortly afterward.

It began again in 1661 by order of Valide Turhan Sultan, the mother of Sultan Mehmet IV, who had been brought into the palace as a slave and eventually became the chief consort of 1 sultan, and mother of the subsequent. As Valide Sultan, she oversaw the completion of the entire complex, which contained not only a mosque, but additionally a college, public fountains, a market and a tomb. It’s considered the primary such complex ordered built by a lady. It opened in 1663 and was supposedly designed as a spot to rest before or after prayers, or on special religious days.

The primary room on the suitable after the entranceway is believed to have been the chamber of the Valide Sultan. Note the masonry windowsills, each worn down on the left hand side. It’s said the ladies of the court would lean on them and gaze wistfully on the activity outside. Provided that Turhan was the one Valide Sultan ever to have the legal right to assist run the Ottoman Empire, it feels like mere fancy. More likely she wore down the frames planning her son’s next political move.

Small because it is, the constructing has an Escher-like quality in the best way shapes, resembling rectangular door frames repeated along a brief hallway, give the effect of a much larger space. All of the partitions and the eyvan, the domed space off the central hall, are covered in rare and exquisite Iznik tiles from the seventeenth century, specially created for this constructing. It’s worthwhile just standing quietly for a while in each of the rooms because there’s more color and movement within the tile work than might be absorbed in an informal glance.

Hünkar Kasri is now used as an art gallery, open Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to five p.m. yr round. Entry is free.

Nestled in a valley a brief taxi ride inland from Beşiktaş wharf on the European shores of the Bosporus, İhlamur Kasri was built on land originally used as a haşbahçe, an imperial garden. It was a part of a hunting ground established by Sultan Ahmed III within the seventeenth century and stretched so far as Yıldız Palace farther up the strait. Even now, moss-covered stones carved with the archery records of varied sultans lie half-hidden within the grounds.

One in every of these was Sultan Abdülmecid I. Between 1848 and 1855 he had Nigoğos Balyan, the architect who designed the Dolmabahçe Palace along with his father, Garabet Amira Balyan, construct the Meraşım Köşkü (Ceremonial Pavilion) and Harem Köşkü (also called the Maiyet Köşkü, or Retinue Pavilion) that together form İhlamur Kasrı. The buildings and the gardens were laid out in response to Islamic principles, an important being the location of the pavilions in spots providing the very best view of their surroundings. At the identical time, these structures had to look to mix in with the gardens, as in the event that they were a part of nature. To realize this they were melded into the terrain utilizing terraces, embankments and watercourses which are still maintained today.

Although İhlamur Kasri was mainly intended as a spot for the sultan and his family to loosen up, the small but grand Meraşım Köşkü was used to entertain influential diplomatic guests. Tours happen with a minimum of three people. There’s no explanatory text on the partitions, however the decoration speaks for itself. The front doors open right into a small vestibule flanked by two reception rooms. The décor is French in style, with hand-painted ceramic surrounds on the fireplaces, stucco partitions embellished to seem like marble, and gilt-covered pelmets hung with heavy brocade curtains. All of the rooms are crammed with original furniture, but unlike the mirror-image designs of the rooms in Dolmabahçe Palace, one room has a barrel ceiling ornamented with gilded moldings while the opposite has delicately painted floral designs dancing overhead.

Before leaving, have a glass of tea on the Harem Köşkü, the opposite pavilion within the grounds. It’s home to a Beltur café, owned and operated by the Istanbul Municipality Council. Open 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., it serves quite a lot of hot beverages and snacks. Prices range between 10 and 35 Turkish lira (about 55 cents to about $2). On this calm oasis, despite being surrounded by high rise buildings, it’s easy to assume the sultan’s children running through the trees in pursuit of game.

İhlamur is open to visitors day-after-day except Monday. Entry to the pavilion is 40 Turkish lira, which incorporates the garden; the garden only is 10 Turkish lira.

By the top of the nineteenth century, the might of the Ottoman Empire was on the wane, yet foreign dynasties still looked toward Turkey after they needed a robust ally. Hidiv Kasri, in Beykoz on the Asian side of Istanbul, was built by the Egyptians with this in mind.

When Abbas Hilmi II became the Egyptian khedive, or viceroy, in 1892, he decided to work with relatively than against the Ottomans. He hoped to undermine the British, who had occupied Egypt and Sudan since 1882, by fostering a spirit of cooperation with the Turks. His plan was to wine and dine the Ottomans and seduce them to do Egypt’s bidding.

He commissioned a famous architect to construct Hidiv Kasri as a chic summer residence within the Art Nouveau style, either one in all the Italian architects Delfo Seminati or Raimondo D’Arcono, or possibly even the Slovenian court architect Antonio Lasciac; it’s not clear which one. To complicate things further, the Egyptian Princess Cavidan Hanim, originally the Hungarian Countess May Torok von Szendro, who was Abbas Hilmi II’s unofficial and secret second wife on the time, claims she drew up the layout of the rooms, the ultimate interior design and the plantings of the palace gardens. The constructing was accomplished in 1907, and it’s still uncertain exactly whose creative mind was behind the finished work.

Regardless of the truth, the constructing is a curious mixture of on-trend European design and Arabic architectural characteristics reworked for Ottoman sensibilities. Marble fountains grace internal courtyards and a curved dining room features Art Deco inspired ceiling lights that transport diners into the plot of an Agatha Christie novel. Minimalist in design, the poolside terrace wouldn’t look misplaced in a recent five star hotel. The constructing now serves as a restaurant and cafe.

Hidiv Kasri, situated at the highest of a hill, is most easily reached by taxi from Kanlica wharf for around 30 Turkish lira. It’s open seven days every week from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and serves a menu the sultans can be happy with, sans alcohol. Enjoy a luxurious Turkish breakfast or dine on cold and hot meat or vegetable meze resembling artichokes cooked in olive oil, followed by kuzu lokum, tender slices of lamb cooked to perfection.

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