Monday, August 17, 2015

Seeking Egypt in İstanbul -- a forgotten heritage

Seeking Egypt in İstanbul -- a forgotten heritage

Seeking Egypt in İstanbul -- a forgotten heritage
Emirgan Korusu (Photo: Sunday's Zaman, Mustafa Kirazlı)

Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Egypt may be at a low point right now but there was a time in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the effective rulers of Egypt felt so at home in the heart of the Ottoman Empire that they decorated what was then Constantinople (now Istanbul) with many fine buildings, some of which still survive today.
Egypt first became part of the expanding Ottoman Empire in 1517 when it was captured by Sultan Selim I. Sheer distance from the capital meant, however, that it always held on to a degree of autonomy. Then, in 1787, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt. Amongst the troops sent to drive him out again was one Mehmed Ali Paşa (1770-1849), the son of a merchant from Kavala in what is now Thracian Greece, hence the epithet “Kavalalı" by which his dynasty came to be known. By 1841, Mehmed Ali Paşa had made such a mark on Egypt that Sultan Abdülaziz agreed that his descendants should continue to rule it as governors.

It was not always an easy relationship since Mehmed Ali sometimes attempted to expand his sphere of influence, at one point marching an army right into the heart of Anatolia. On the other hand, he was a keen believer in all things Ottoman and did a lot to Turkify Egyptian culture, which had until then remained strongly Mamluk in feel. At the same time, some of his descendants took a particular shine to Constantinople, regularly abandoning the heat of the Nile Valley in summer for the relative cool of their homes on the shores of the Bosporus.

Kavalalı Mehmed Ali Paşa was succeeded by his grandson, Abbas Hilmi Paşa, who governed until 1854, and then by his son, Said Paşa, who ruled until 1863. Said Paşa's son, İsmail Paşa, increased the power of the dynasty until it became semi-independent; in 1867 he was given the title of khedive, which was most readily translated into English as viceroy. The high point of İsmail's period in power came in 1869 with the opening of the Suez Canal, but by then Egypt was virtually bankrupt, and in 1879, he was forced to abdicate in favor of his son, Tevfik Paşa. Things in Egypt went from bad to worse and from 1882 onwards the British became its effective rulers despite its continued theoretical subordination to the sultan via the khedive.

In 1892, Tevfik Paşa was succeeded as khedive by his son, Abbas Hilmi Paşa, who traveled to Constantinople to be invested as khedive by Sultan Abdülhamid II. In 1914, he was replaced in office by his uncle, Hüseyin Kamil Paşa, but from then onwards Egypt was completely under the control of the British, the 500-year-old link with Constantinople finally severed.

Dotted about İstanbul there are many reminders of the interlinked history of Egypt and the Ottoman Empire. The full story is told in “From the Shores of the Nile to the Bosphorus,” published by the İstanbul Research Institute.

Sakıp Sabancı Museum (Atlı Köşkü, Prenses İffet Hasan Köşkü)

Visitors to the Sakıp Sabancı Museum at Emirgan will find themselves unwittingly walking around a building that was commissioned by a member of the Kavalalı dynasty in the shape of Prince Mehmed Ali Hasan, who commissioned Italian architect Eduardo de Nari to build a new house on the site of his childhood home in 1925. The prince never got to live in it himself but instead allowed his party-loving aunt, Princess İffet Hasan, to move in. In 1951, the mansion was sold to Ömer Sabancı and was eventually converted into a museum.

Khedive's Villa (Hidiv Kasrı)

If you stand on the terrace of Sakıp Sabancı Museum and gaze across the Bosphorus you will see, rising out of the last remaining stretches of woodland, a tall, square tower. This is attached to the gorgeous Khedive's Villa, built for Abbas Hilmi Paşa in 1907 to replace an earlier palace (now lost) on the shores of the Bosporus at Çubuklu. A magnificent example of Neo-Renaissance-style architecture on the outside and Art Nouveau on the inside, it was designed by an architect whose name is uncertain. The most probable scenario is that Italian architect Delfo Seminati designed the annexes while Italian architect Antonio Lasciac was responsible for the main building.

Now converted into a restaurant in lovely grounds that are at their best during the Tulip Festival in late April, the villa still boasts Art Nouveau tiles in the bathrooms, wonderful marquetry and splendid metalwork.

Egyptian Consulate (Valide Paşa Yalı, Hıdiva Sarayı)

Right beside the Bosporus at Bebek and visible from the Khedive's Villa is a huge mansion that had been built five years earlier for Abbas Hilmi's mother, Emine Hanım. Recently completely restored, it is İstanbul's finest example of Art Nouveau architecture, so it's a shame that its use as a consulate means that few people get to see the interior. You can, however, admire the typically curvaceous windows set into turrets from the road outside. Once again, its buildership is disputed with Raimondo d'Aronco and Antonio Lasciac in the frontline as probable but not certain architects.

Egyptian Apartment Block (Mısır Apartmanı)

Passed daily by thousands of visitors is a 19th-century mansion block on İstiklal Street, Mısır Apartmanı, that houses a super-trendy restaurant called 360, as well as many small art galleries. When Abbas Hilmi Paşa visited Constantinople in the winter, it was to this mansion -- designed in 1910 by Armenian architect Hovsep Aznavuryan -- which he would retreat. After his death it was divided into separate apartments but remained a very popular piece of real estate, home at different times to Mehmet Akif Ersoy, the man behind the Turkish national anthem; Hollywood actress Virginia Bruce, who was married to a Turk; and Atatürk's dentist.

Said Halim Paşa Yalısı (Aslan Yalı)

Beside the Bosporus at Yeniköy stands a fine reconstructed yalı (waterside mansion) designed by Petraki Adamanti in 1878 for Abdülhalim Paşa, a son of Mehmed Ali Paşa. It eventually became home to his own son, Said Halim Paşa (1864-1921), who served as grand vizier from 1913 to 1917 and was therefore partly responsible for the decision to take the Ottoman Empire into World War I on the German side. The yalı now serves as an upscale wedding and entertainments venue.

Emirgan Korusu (Emirgan Woods)

Sultan Abdülaziz had a love-hate relationship with İsmail Paşa, but eventually allowed him to end his exile from Egypt in Emirgan, where he constructed several waterside mansions, all since lost. Instead, we have the khedive to thank for the three pavilions -- Pembe (Pink), Beyaz (White) and Sarı (Yellow) Köşkleri -- that survive as café-restaurants in the woods just inland. All have been extensively restored or rebuilt.


The most prominent of the Egyptian rulers may have hankered after homes on the shores of the Bosporus (and may also have been responsible for many of the moonlight parties held on the water) but some of them also took a liking to Heybeliada, the second largest of the Princes' Islands. It was here between 1897 and 1899 that Aznavuryan designed the most overtly Egyptian of all the buildings paid for by the Kavalalı dynasty in the shape of Abbas Halim Paşa Köşkleri, a group of three separate structures in Egyptian Revival style that featured pylons modeled on those of Ancient Egypt and lotus-headed capitals. Sadly, the selamlık (area designated for men) was demolished in 1945, leaving only the gateposts adorned with lotuses that face onto Abbas Paşa Street. The wooden haremlik (area designated for women) and servants' quarters still survive in private hands, although they were designed in style that is more prosaic.

In 1911, Abbas Hilmi Paşa also paid for the renovation of the gate leading into the island's Muslim Cemetery. It still stands today, although there is nothing specifically Egyptian about the design.

Zeynep Kamıl Hastanesi (Zeynep Kamıl Hospital)

In Üsküdar, the hospital that still bears the name of the couple who founded it as the city's first private charitable institution is yet another reminder of the Kavalalı dynasty. Zeynep Hanım (1826-84) was a daughter of Mehmed Ali Paşa and married Yusuf Kamıl Paşa, who was briefly grand vizier to Sultan Abdülaziz in 1863. Together they founded the hospital in 1862, although it wasn't completed until 1882; their mausoleum can still be seen in the grounds today.

Also linked to the Kavalalı dynasty: Üsküdar Fenai Ali Efendi Tekke; Yenikapı Mevlevihanesi; Aksaray Oğlanlar Tekke; Beykoz Kasrı; Prenses Rukiye Halim Yalısı, Kanlıça; and the ruins of Büyük Halim Paşa Yalı (Süngerli Köşk), Baltalimanı.

Losses include Abbas Halim Paşa Köşkü at Yakacık, burnt down in 1993; Mustafa Fazıl Paşa Köşkü, demolished in 1942; Zeynep Kamıl Konağı, Beyazıt, burnt down in 1942; Prenses İffet Hasan Konaği, Gümüşsuyu, demolished after 1944; Büyük Halim Paşa Yalı (Zeynep Kamil Hanım Yalı), demolished in 1928; Hıdiv İsmail Paşa Yalı, Emirgan, demolished in 1927; and İbrahim Paşa Yalı, Emirgan, demolished.
Keywords: Egypt , Istanbul


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