Historical Gardens Inbetween Green and Grey

Visiting Yedikule Gardens have been an important experience for me as a person who was born and lived in Istanbul for 25 years. I have always been aware of the fact that Istanbul does not have an only city center and had been fragmented based on social and economic needs of certain decades. Nevertheless I had never taken my imagination to a point where agriculture might integrate itself to urban life. Apparently it did for decades and now this meaningful mixture is pushed to periphery of the city. My first impression with the gardens had been the absence of field cleaning. The bostans that are not cultivated anymore had been left to their own destiny which will be shaped by fast urbanization and by the needs of the growing population. Nevertheless the existence of the walls had made me feel the historical background and the ethos of the area. Therefore I strongly believe that it is important to start conducting our research by going through the historical photos. (You might find the photos I captured during our first visit to Yedikule Gardens below)

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Bostans 2014

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View from the Historic Walls 2014

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Bostans with Water Ways

Green and Grey

Green and Grey

 

This week I will be examining three photos captured by Sebah (1890), Artamanoff (1938) and myself (2014) in Yedikule Gardens. I would like to start by stating the identical points in these photos where evolution of a city couldn’t transform since the 19th century. By going through the identical points I will also be pointing out the main transformations which I believe will be important for understanding the socio-spatial position of bostans in the last decade. Paul J. Kaldjian had stated that the bostans which had provided city’s food and commercial network among the markets had been a part of Istanbul’s identity. For decades the gardeners of bostans were viewed as experts and held in high esteem in the society. Nevertheless with confiscatory urbanization, spatial-growth and modernization urban agriculture had scattered throughout the city, to the margins of the city. Locating bostans and the gardeners to the periphery had transformed frankly socio-spatial outlook of the area whereas some issues had survived until these days. The first common point that had occured to me is the mosque in these three pictures.

Sebah, 1890s.

Sebah, 1890s.

Artamonoff, February 1937

Artamonoff, February 1937

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

2014

2014

2014

2014

Since Yedikule Gardens had been an important market place and retail center for the city there had been habitations around the bostans as we might see in the photos provided by Sebah (1890) and Artamanoff (1938). In my estimation the mosque that had survived through the transformation of Istanbul might be a good example of habitation of certain social groups (such as gardeners) around the bostans. We might say that gardeners of bostans had located themselves around their bostans and structured their daily life according to their profession. Their habitation and profession had located in the same area where the mosque might demonstrate us their continuity and long existence in the area. Instead of working as seasonal gardeners they had organized a social position which used to be a high esteemed position among the society before the relentless urbanization. Nevertheless the demolition of bostans and their function in the urban city could not change the existence of the mosque as people around the bostans had continued to live in the same place. It seems to me that urban gardeners had structured an important social group which had lost its reputation by modernization.

Second important issue that had occurred to me is the emptiness of the field in these three pictures. Even if the cultivation of the soil had disappeared in time the fields had remained empty (which is rare in a fast growing city such as Istanbul). This situation might be explained by the existence of the antique walls. Nevertheless according to “cognizance of urban security” empty fields are a big danger for crime. A field that had been pushed to peripheral area and left alone without cultivation also seems as an area of crime and danger. In our visits to Yedikule Gardens, I would like to talk to residents about their perception of the field and marginalized territories in the city.

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Three Yedikules.

As a field trip for the course, we went Yedikule, to see the bostans that still exist and the areas that were bostans before. To make a comparison on what is changed and what remained, in a place where used to be a bostan, we took pictures. Having three other photos of the land from past, it became possible to capture somethings with different pictures from different times, around the same point, depicting the situation of green lands under the conditions of different Yedikules on relation to different Istanbuls.

Sebah, 1890s.

Sebah, 1890s.

The first one from 1890s is an Istanbul of late Ottoman Empire, in a setting where agricultural production still has its primary value. From the mosque and the houses around, it can be understood that there is a neighborhood. Of course, the bostans are occupying the hugest part of the picture. Also, aside from the bostans, the number of trees is considerably high in comparison to today. The photo gives an impression of an immeasurable land which seems to have no end.

Artamonoff, February, 1937.

Artamonoff, February, 1937.

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 and third ones are from 1930s, from the early times of Republic of Turkey when there is a shift happening from the imperial times and practices, changing the city life and people’s occupations. In Artamonoff, February, 1937 and Artamonoff, 1938, more houses can be seen than the bostans. The trees are still there. However, probably due to the the point of view or maybe the season being winter, the photo from 1937 looks drier. It is like the occupation of the settlements started to grow around the whole area. The limitlessness in the late 19th century photo seems to come down to the feeling of vastness.

Uçar, July, 2014.

Uçar, July, 2014.

Uçar, July, 2014.

Uçar, July, 2014.

The fourth one, taken in 2014, belongs to a more globalized, modernized Istanbul and its needs. There is no bostan at all. There is only the dry land with the houses. Some trees are still there. One of the last set of settlements as a building complex, that can be seen in a fifth picture is surrounded with walls due to probably security reasons. That is like marking the line between nature and concrete. The funny thing for me was to see the trees planted between the barbed wire and the houses. It is also the barbed wire in between the natural land and the planted trees that is likely for the sake of avoiding the settlers at the lower levels seeing only the wires as a view while looking through their windows. Furthermore, the land is now limited with the limits of a modern city. From the ground, it is unlikely to see anything beyond -if not a long tree- if there is a building in front of you. And looking from top of the walls, only feeling is the feeling of a city and it is possible to locate some important places from that height.

After we talked about the one big constant being the city walls in all the photographs, I also realized, they were built in 5th century, and up until 20th century, they contributed to the “immeasurable” or “vast” outlook of the city. Only at the time when people built things that made the walls cannot be seen, city stated to look more intense but smaller.

Istanbul’s bostans that were sustainably farmed to maximize harvests had gardeners that were experts but also had their guilds.[1] While we were walking around the area with second and third generation farmers who once owned a land and now lost some of it and facing to lose more, it is not seem to be an organization as guilds that would protect them or give some community spirit to the situation, within the bostancıs, at least. Considering their one of the biggest problems as the uncertainty of their situation due to on-going projects considered for their lands or their changes in the value of their products’ in the market, the organization thing becomes more significant.

According to Kaldjian, views perceiving Istanbul’s bostans as archaic, with no place in a modern world city, capable of producing little more than a nostalgia, is shallow and suggest a limited appreciation of creative community building and smack of misplaced elitism.[3] Moreover, looking at the photographs, there is an obvious loss of green area with an ongoing settlement expansion. Having said that, my main question here is; can a modern city and nature exist together or nature should be adjusted to the modern without reminding its non-modern timeless feature; but also since every case is unique, what can be the case for Istanbul, a city of bostans and gardens from the first place?

 

 

[1] Paul J. Kaldjian, “Istanbul’s Bostans: A Millenium of Market Gardens”, Geographical Review, Vol.94, No.3, People Places and Gardens (Jul.2004), 285 and Gülru Necipoğlu, “ The Suburban Landscape of Sixteenth-Century Istanbul as a Mirror of Classical Ottoman Garden Culture”, in Theory and Design of Gardens in the Time of the Great Muslim Empires, ed. A. Petruccioli, E.J. (Brill, 1997), 44.

[2] These issues are debated in the articles, on the situation especially after 1990s, by Paul J. Kaldjian, “Istanbul’s Bostans: A Millenium of Market Gardens”, Geographical Review, Vol.94, No.3, People Places and Gardens (Jul.2004), pp. 284-304, on the comsumer city idea by C. R. Whittaker, “The Consumer City Revisited: The Vicus and the City”, Journal of Roman Archaeology” 3,(1990), pp. 110-118 and also especially for the Ottoman Case and its relation to current issues by Aleksandar Shopov & Ayhan Han, “Yedikule Market Gardens and the New Istanbul Topographies: Expansion of Agricultural Land in Ottoman Istanbul in the Seventeenth Century”, pp. 1-14.

[3] Paul J. Kaldjian, “Istanbul’s Bostans: A Millenium of Market Gardens”, Geographical Review, Vol.94, No.3, People Places and Gardens (Jul.2004), 300.

Change and Continuity in Yedikule

Change and continuity. Those two words epitomize both the community of Yedikule and the story that is modern Istanbul. If a picture tells a thousand words, then these four images of the same Yedikule bostan and the community that surrounds it – taken at intervals over a 125-year period – captures at one glance the extraordinary changes that have overtaken this historic city in recent decades. Istanbul’s bostans have largely fallen victim to the engine of Istanbul’s economic success: a globalized economy, many major construction projects, rising land values, and an increasingly urbanized population no longer interested in farming as an occupation all have contributed to the demise of the bostans that were once such a distinctive feature of this city. However, Istanbul is a city featuring elements of timelessness and continuity as well as change, and these photos capture that element as well. While the ancient city wall continues to stand in surprisingly good condition, the bostans have largely disappeared from these photos and the Istanbul landscape as a whole. However, there is still some space for their return – literally and metaphorically – provided that the case for their continuing social and economic value is made and accepted.

 

Sebah, 1890s

When we look at Sebah’s photograph of Yedikule from the 1890s, we see an area characterized by greenery. This is not the open, largely barren landscape we see today. Rather, Yedikule is lush and forested – cultivated fields are interspersed with dense tree cover. An imposing line of cypress trees – like an advancing army – appears in the distance. Aside from the historic city wall, the land is largely undisturbed by human structures – a few modest houses can be seen, mostly to the left of the wall, and the spire of a mosque appears in the distance. However, though indicating the presence of a community, these buildings are secondary players in the scene depicted – here, nature and farming predominate. Although the colorless photo is old and grainy, the lushness, vitality, and abundance of the land is palpable, as is the respect and reverence it is accorded.

 

Artamonoff, 1937

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

Unknown, 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.

 

Turning to the photographs from 1937 and 1938, we see the same land almost fifty years later, though it might take a moment to realize it. The once largely rural, arboreal vista is no more. Artamonoff’s photograph, taken in February when the earth is barren and the trees skeletal, highlights the disappearance of the tree cover and general foliage, but the observation holds true for the summertime 1938 photograph as well. The supremacy of nature that characterized the 1890s landscape has been transformed by the late 1930s into a landscape of cultivated plots contained by a growing urban presence. Most of the trees have been replaced by houses, and the land that appears here has been tamed into smaller, controlled plots. The once-mighty army of cypress trees on the far hill has been significantly thinned, though it still stands. However, while the landscape has changed, the continued presence of the bostan fields, and the evident care in their cultivation, is testament to the continued importance of farming to the Yedikule community, despite the encroaching development. And although more buildings have been constructed, the “sacred space” for the gardens between those buildings and the city walls so prominently featured in Sabah’s photograph has been maintained.

 

Silber, 2014

Silber, 2014

Fast-forward to 2014, where I stand on the same ancient city walls featured in Sebah’s photo looking out onto… what, exactly? It is not immediately clear. Aleksandar walks us through a guided-meditation description of the once lively garden that occupied the space before us only a year earlier, but it is difficult to imagine that anything once grew here – even the weeds seem to be having a difficult time surviving in the dehydrated soil. A dense colony of buildings has now managed to extend its presence nearly to the edge of the wall, and there is not a garden in sight. Looking out onto this arid urban wasteland, one wonders: what will become of this former bostan? Will the results of the city’s development plan – detailed on a billboard located somewhere on the lot – be able to replicate and/or surpass the vibrancy of the former farming community?

The myriad social and economic benefits of the bostans exist both in tangibles and intangibles. In terms of tangibles, the bostans provide a local and affordable food source in an increasingly expensive city where food costs can consume 30-40% of an average family’s income. They also provide a model of local sustainability countering the global agri-business model of the mass, long-distance transport of food – with the concurrent nutritional and ecological repercussions. In terms of intangibles, there is the value of preserving active green spaces in city planning (as opposed to inanimate, passive green spaces), the loss of community that surrounded local food production and the parallel economy of neighborhood food sharing that resulted, and the loss of a historic institution that marked Istanbul as being unique among other big cities (how many other large cities grew sufficient produce within its city limits to supply a noteworthy portion of the vegetal needs of its population until the mid-1950s?)

The changes to the landscape I have identified in comparing my 2014 photo to the photos of previous years are not shocking. It is not uncommon for cities to change, and while change is not a perfectly linear process, patterns and trends – such as a general shift away from the prevalence of agriculture – can be observed. However, what is shocking about the differences observed in Yedikule over the years that we have seen photographed is the fact that the vast transformation of this landscape has occurred largely in recent years, when the assault against the bostan began in earnest. That an Istanbul institution that survived for centuries could be largely destroyed in such a short period of time reveals how quickly history can be erased. And it also reveals just how quickly the defenders of the bostans will need to move if they want to save them.

 

A Place of Tranquility to a Place of Uncertainty: The Bostans of Yedikule

Last week, we visited an area of the city where urban farming had seen better days. The gardens of Istanbul have been an integral part of the city for centuries, facing their greatest challenges and undergoing their most profound transformations in recent years. Although the size, location, demographics and even crops being produced have changed over time for these gardens, the role of the state has had the greatest impact. Today, the overhauling of gardens in the city, owned and maintained by generations of families, has been the move by municipal authorities who feel there can be more beneficial options of the land. These projects, however, for stability and political reasons have not begun to reach completion and the “gardens” in some areas like Yedikule have been left in desolation. Although there were plenty of bostans still growing and producing at rates comparable to the past, there was an immediate feeling that things in essence were not the same when I stood and looked out at the emptiness that once was a productive city garden.

Rosenthal, July 2014

Rosenthal, July 2014

In the picture above, you can see the state of one of these gardens today. Just a few years ago, this entire area was full of green and the families that rented the land from the municipality were free to make their living the best way they, and their neighbors, knew how. In his article, Paul Kaldjian explains the gradual sprawl of the city gardens over time, further out from the center of the metropolis (Kaldjian, 287). When compared to the photographs of this land almost 80 years ago by Nicholas V. Artamonoff, (pictured below), you can see that along with the green agricultural production, there was also a sense of a settled and tight-knit community in the area. Houses were aligned near the gardens on which several families would work side by side. There was a sense of community present from the agricultural neighborhoods that existed along the city walls. In contrast today, there is little settlement in this area and the homes that do exist are, on the surface, in poor condition, and the community is not bond together by the green carpet that once existed.

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Artamonoff, 1937     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

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

Artomanoff, 1938

Over a hundred years ago, this area was captured in another photo by a man with the name Sebah (pictured below). Here, there is less of a sense of neighborhood and settlement around separate land plots and instead, greater stretches of land, all designated for production of crops. You can see from the photo that the agriculture is not nearly as interrupted by houses and roads as it is in the Artamonoff photographs. This was likely during a time before urbanization further inwards began pushing out to the walls and beyond and absorbing the plotted fields of crops for settlement. In the last century, urbanization revolutionized nearly every modern city into the size and power they are today. In the last few years, for the first time ever, the world’s population was settled more in cities than in urban settings (Kafadar, class 7/3/2014). The growth in population density, coupled with the increase in importation of cheaper, mass-produced agriculture into the city, has lowered the necessity for the urban gardens. Therefore, the city has further undermined the role of the gardens over time by making them smaller and smaller to accommodate the increasing levels of settlement. This can been seen when one compares the photos over time and notice the settlement patterns around the gardens that have changed in their degree of importance and role in the city.

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Sebah, 1890

If farmed regularly, one bostan can host 15 to 20 different crops and be able to feed hundreds of people (Kaldjian, 293). This yield, along with the amount of bostans that exist (or would exist without recent destruction by the state) helps to debunk the many myths about these gardens that they are “marginal, inefficient, and unhygienic” (Kaldjian, 287). When looking out at these empty lands associated with the “gardens” today, these descriptive factors are not hard to believe. It is ironic that the very reason for destroying these gardens, because they aren’t productive enough, is causing the problem to only become worse.

Standing on the ancient walls of the city, it is impossible to not think about what the land below once looked like and functioned as. Although we have the convenience of seeing the land several centuries back from photographs and artistic representations, the origins and beginning histories of these lands are still being deciphered. In his article, “Garden and Parks in Constantinople,” Henry McGuire did his best to make an accurate depiction of the gardens by thoroughly researching four ancient gardens by comparing a variety of interpretations of the land throughout the centuries. Aretai, he concluded, was full of wildlife across a wide ground full of pastures and wooded areas, described as “delightful” by visitors (McGuire, 255). Another garden, the Philopation, was an imperial garden, which was full of places to relax and maintained by the ruling body at the time (McGuire, 252). In both cases, the gardens served a role of providing serenity and relaxation. McGuire goes on to confirm in his analysis of the 4th century perspectives on these gardens as being more appreciative of the areas primarily as a separate sphere of tranquility than a space of production (McGuire, 262). The idea that this physical space can cause a pysiological reaction is significant. The grounds were not just designed for production and economy, they were meant to create a feeling and be a place seperated from everyday life. In her article, “The Suburban Landscape of Sixteenth-Century Istanbul as a Mirror of Classical Ottoman Garden Culture,” Gulru Necipolgu explained that these gardens were a place to host friends and enjoy conversation with one another (Necipolgu, 33). Here we see a larger role the gardens played in society. From the photographs and the location of houses to one another and the gardens shows in the last 100 years a waning and waxing of a sense of community around the agriculture. Today, there is little to compare and I think it’s safe to assume the sense of community bound by the gardens is barren. Interesting to note, also, is the change in the role of the state and the gardens. Centuries ago, they were more or less patrons of these green spaces, today, they are quite the antithesis.

Although these ancient cities didn’t face the modern changes that exist today, such as the growing dichotomy of rural and urban life and economy (Whittaker, 116), there is a profound loss of care and appreciation for these green spaces and what they are capable of producing for our cities today. With the unpredictable and frankly unreliable plans of the municipality, tenants of the farms today face a constant threat that their land will also be taken over. Aleksandar, our guide through the gardens, shared with us a story about a cherry tree he planted five years ago in the Yedikule bostans. A tree, necessitating several years to reach its full production potential, require more certainty in investment than an annual crop. Just last year, Alex’s tree was taken down along with the acreage we don’t see today. The uncertainty of the municipality’s plans poses an enormous challenge to the owners who have to make investments and year-long plans for their crops in the ever changing market of agriculture. It is quite a cruel process to have long-term plans pulled out from under one’s feet, and unfortunately, that has been the pattern with some urban gardens in Istanbul today.

Yedikule Gardens from the 1890s to Present Day as seen through Photographs

What is truly fascinating and surprising to me upon close examination of the images of Yedikule Gardens, the gardens that sit near the intersection of the Theodosian walls and the Marmara Sea in the Fatih neighborhood, are the similarities in the images of the region taken in the 1890s, February 1937, 1938, and today in July of 2014 (see below for images). In all the photos, the Theodosian Walls and the surrounding structures, built around the 5th century by the Romans to protect the city, are present. From the images, it is as if the part of the Theodosian Walls that border the Yedikule garden are meant to protect the garden. Perhaps this is due to the contrast in size of the tall walls to the large, lower expanse of ground with much shorter houses beyond. The relative strength in height of the walls is not only meant to keep intruders out of the city but also to keep intruders away from anything near the walls. Interestingly, the Yedikule gardens lie on the side outside the Theodosian Walls but the power of the wall still seems to be threatening outsiders from approaching. Or is the outsider in this case the inner city of Istanbul? It is as if the Theodosian Walls are meant to protect aspects of the city of Istanbul from itself as the beautiful antiquity of the Walls denotes a preservation of history, which the Yedikule gardens embody, and which the city’s desire to develop the area into a modern recreational area does not. Not only do activists fight to keep the gardens alive and prevent the city from destroying the gardens but the loud, inanimate Walls do too.

While the images appear quite similar to me, a few differences can be detected. A difference in the landscape of the area can be seen when comparing one photo to the next. The multitude of trees present in the 1890s image is invisible in the 1937 and the 1938 ones, paving the way for garden space. Current images of the area show the abandoned and uncared for former gardens standing right between the same Walls and houses (with some developments) as if begging the question of why everything surrounding the gardens has been preserved while the continuation of the gardens is in question today.

It is clear that gardens have been present throughout Istanbul’s history beginning in the Byzantine period and during the Ottoman Empire. As Aleksandar Shopov and Ayhan Han write in their paper “Yedikule Market Gardens and the New Istanbul Topographies: Expansion of Agricultural Land in Ottoman Istanbul in the Seventeenth Century,” according to one document from 1735, 344 gardens existed with 1381 people employed within Istanbul (Shopov, Aleksandar and Ayhan Han, “Yedikule Market Gardens and the New Istanbul Topographies: Expansion of Agricultural Land in Ottoman Istanbul in the Seventeenth Century,” 3). While mentions of the Yedikule Gardens from certain time periods are lacking as Shopov and Han write, the Yedikule Gardens carry Istanbul’s history of gardens in one of the few gardens still remaining (Ibid, 3-4). In Henry Maguire’s essay “Gardens and Parks in Constantinople,” he speaks of the strong presence of gardens throughout the Byzantine empire evidenced through many writings despite the lack of them still standing (Maguire, Henry, “Gardens and Parks in Constantinople.”). And in Gulru Necipoglu’s piece “The Suburban Landscape of Sixteenth-Century Istanbul as a Mirror of Classical Ottoman Garden Culture,” he speaks of the great role gardens played as spaces not only of economic growth but of leisure, relaxation, and enjoyment (Necipoglu, Gülru, “The Suburban Landscape of Sixteenth-Century Istanbul as a Mirror of Classical Ottoman Garden Culture”). Thus, when looking at the images of the Yedikule gardens overtime, the tall Walls seem to reinforce the importance of the Yedikule Gardens as a space of great history and antiquity.

 

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Sebah, 1890s

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Artamanoff, February 1937

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

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Artamanoff, 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.

yedkule 1

Rosenthal, July 2014

Rosenthal, July 2014

Rosenthal, July 2014

Rosenthal, July 2014

Rosenthal, July 2014