Istanbul’s Changing Landscape

Most immediately obvious in deciphering the change over time of the Yedikule gardens is the substantial increase in commercial and residential development. Between the end of the nineteenth century and today the community green space and operational bostans have noticeably shrunk. This reduction of urban farming in favor of an increase in commercial and residential infrastructure has significant implications for the cultural, social, and economic development of Istanbul.

Location of Yedikule bostans on a map of Istanbul

Located along the southern end of the fifth century Theodosian walls of ancient Constantinople, the bostans of Yedikule have operated for centuries as urban farms that supplied the city’s neighborhoods with fresh produce. As modern Istanbul erupted, urban developers have failed to recognize the immeasurable yet ambiguous advantages bostans contribute. In addition to food security, Paul Kaldjian notes that urban agriculture “minimizes the city’s reach into the countryside, increases the city’s self-reliance and sustainability, and reduces negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts on both urban and rural areas” (Kaldjian, 2004). Despite these benefits, however, developers in favor of Western style modernization marginalize bostans in order to create larger supermarkets, master planned parks and recreation facilities, and apartment buildings.

Sebah 1890s

Sebah 1890s

This series of photos illustrates the change over time of the Yedikule gardens that have historically complicated the traditional image of the consumer city identified by C.R. Whittaker (Whittaker, 1990). This photo from the 1890s depicts a lush, fecund landscape that features, in addition to many bostans, plenty of various types of trees and smaller bushes, and open, grassy areas. This flora extends in every direction, disregards the ancient wall, and weaves itself between the homes and mosques of the neighborhood. The landscape also follows the texture of the region. The hills and valleys are apparent, and the farms largely operate on appropriate levels, with the buildings filling in unobtrusively.


Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection, RV53, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C.

Artamonoff, 1938.

Artamonoff, 1938.

Robert L. Van Nice Collection, 2012.0013.0031, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C.


The second two photos, taken in 1937 and 1938, respectively, are a shocking comparison to Sebah’s. Using the wall to orient oneself, it is obvious that number of bostans and green spaces have been significantly reduced. While a number of farms are still apparent, the intermingling of the natural landscape has virtually disappeared. The texture of the land has also been flattened. The only means of determining depth lies in the trees along the horizon. Houses and living spaces have encroached onto territory that was occupied by gardens and open areas less than 50 years earlier. The later picture below looks slightly greener due to the change in seasons. The second photo also shows similar trends in the reduction of green space on the western side of the wall.

Mika, July 2014

Today’s photo depicts complete destruction of the gardens to the East of the wall in favor of new apartment buildings and concrete buildings. The truly disappointing image shows land that has been left to decay as the space lingers in legal limbo waiting for city officials to either develop or return the land to its gardeners. While some kind of flora and vegetation extends north along the wall, it hardly provides respite from the vast urban sprawl. Although the perspective is lower than that of the preceding photographs, the buildings and houses seem to extend infinitely northward. Skyscrapers in the distance mark the landscape as a modern city. Changes in altitude may be noted by considering the rising buildings to the east.

Istanbul’s dwindling historic green space, as depicted in these photos, is being destroyed by the consumer-oriented ideology of economic progress and development. Historically, the relationship between local bostans, their gardeners, and the neighborhoods they occupy has defied simplistic models of the consumer city. The artificial installation of modern development on top of the landscape is a disservice to the community. Supporting the natural generation of local produce and community green spaces instead will cultivate the unique culture and history of Istanbul.


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