Private to Public: City Gardens of Constantinople and the Continuity of their Role in Socialization

It is impossible to know the entire history of a place because all we know is what has stood the test of time. More frustrating than that is what has stood the test of time has been wrapped, warped, and twisted by the perceptions, opinions and sometimes manipulation of history by its story tellers. This idea was eloquently shared in Raymond Williams’ book, The Country and the City, when he said, “a memory of a childhood can be said, persuasively, to have some permanent significance,” (Williams, 12). There exists a constant challenge for historians to see passed this “problem of perspective,” to render the truest core of the past.

But that isn’t exactly what I am doing here.

Constructing a historical narrative about the gardens of Constantinople is in many ways an open-ended question because even the sources from which we have chosen to examine admit there is far more to decrypt.  That being said, however, the primary sources, if they are an accurate and unbiased collection, show snapshots of city agriculture throughout the past millenium and a half. They have revealed to me an important pattern of city gardens that has been shared over time. The city gardens of Constantinople have migrated from a private to public institution, opening in inclusivity over time, while perpetually meeting socialization needs of  the city dwellers.

The gardens of constantinople began as private places owned by private entities in the Byzantine era. In Henry McGuire’s “Gardens and Parks in Constantinople,” the gardens that were kept in memory best by historians and artists were the grand gardens administered by the Church and Emperor. Gardens were also privately run by individuals and households. This is clear from the Geoponika, which states in its 12th chapter that gardens are essential for life and health, and should therefore be located close to the home (tl. Dalby, 247).  Despite the usage of “others” and “they” as sources for explanation of the different garden capabilities, the colloquial nature of the text is misleading. Meant for “the improvement of mankind,” the Geoponika was an elite text, further showing that the conversation of gardens and gardeners themselves was a private institution kept to the usage of the home. The Dioskorides show again this confusing mix of private and public, as there existed an alphabet key and several drawings to make the text seemingly accessible to the masses. But this gardening guidebook was intended for an aristocratic crowd and the finer Viennese copy was not a commonplace copy (ed. Littlewood, 204). In “Theodore Hyrtakenos’ Description of the Garden of St. Anna and the Byzantine Descriptions of Gardens,” the idea of a private, fortified garden was the subject of his writing (Mavrudi and Dolezal). St. Anna, locked in the rings of trees and vegetation, is the subject of a major Eden-like garden. This representation shows that contemporary usage and perception of gardens in 10th century Byzantium were for private usage, ushering intimate relations between individuals and nature.

Through the Typika of three centuries, the transition from private to public usage of the gardens is more pronounced. The Typika, charters from the monasteries and convents of Byzantium, serve as historical sources reporting on the day to day and seasonal life. From their descriptions we can draw deeper conclusions in regard to the private and public relations to gardens. The Monastery at St. Mamas, in the 12th century, completely banned women (unless they had specially privilege or standing) and guests of any sort. Even the gatekeeper was to be selective in giving to the poor, further making the monastery and its private garden a separate entity from the public sphere (tl. Bandy, ch. 13, 26, and 27).  In the 13th century Typika of the Convent at St. Lips, access to the grounds, and more specifically to the women in the convent, was limited to outside visitors (tl. Talbot, ch. 17). In this Typika there exists a detailed description of the lands that provide the self-sustaining ability of the convent. This characteristic shows again the exclusivity and privacy of the major city gardens at the time. By the 14th century, however, in the Typika of the convent at St. Kosmas, we see an important bridge between private and public gardens. The inner-workings of the convent were dependent on food no longer produced within church property, but instead from gardens outside the church. People providing the food from these gardens were a separate yet connected entity from the church, as they constitute a lower social class and symbol of poor public beings (tl. Talbot, ch. 4). Towards the end of Byzantium, the gardens written about started to become less confined as private institutions.

In the Typika of St. Mamas, however, there exists one quote that speaks to the private nature of the gardens yet also highlights the spirit of what gardening meant for the people of Constantinople. Those who worked on the gardens for the purpose of producing food were given the title “gardener” and their work was done separate and isolated from the monastery. The meaning of gardens being a tool for personal and household health is shown again. The gardeners were to produce food for the meals that the other monks ate, but they would invite the monks in for meal time in “the name of brotherhood,” so to show that food and agriculture served a social function (tl. Bandy, ch. 19). This concept is shown in different forms throughout the sources presented here.

The Ottoman Era saw a complete change in city gardens as they became far more public entities. This is clear by the involvement of the state and the making of official records, begun by Mehmet II and his official survey of the city’s subjects in 1455. The role of the state in categorizing and organizing these gardens shows that the authority of the land was no longer monitored by private institutions or households, but instead by the Sultanate itself. In her article about the public spaces of Istanbul, Shirine Hamadeh concludes that the gardens of the city became centers for vibrant public life in an era known by historians as the Tulip Period (Hamadeh, 300).

Throughout the change over time from private to public nature of the city gardens, there lies continuity in the gardens’ role in socialization of the city people. From the early guidebooks on agriculture and the various medicinal uses of the garden’s products, there exists a notion that the men and women who counted on the gardens for health also counted on them for social needs. In the Geoponika, it is outlined that the plant rocket serves to combat body odor (tl. Dalby, 259). There would only be a remedy like this if there was a need, which seems to be the case with the growing socialization of the Byzantine society. The rise of coffeehouses paralleled with the phenomenon of urbanization revolutionized the social scene of Ottoman Constantinople. Individuals were socializing at degrees previously unmatched and there grew a greater inclusive nature about the city. This was in the time when public gardens began to flourish. Gardens in this sense also served social needs as being the forum for discussion, courtship, and basic human interaction beginning in the 15th century.

The relationship of man and nature is a very unique one. In the early city gardens of Constantinople, there existed a mystical and revered spirit of the  gardens as they embodied the idea of man’s conquest of nature (ed. Littlewood, 115). Overtime, the skills of gardening became specialized and there arose a separate term and occupation for “gardeners” (tl. Bandy, ch. 9). Finally, gardens were transformed to be conquered by humans once again, but in a completely different context, while still embodying the socialization of the era. Today, we see man against nature repeatedly. The fine line between symbiosis and disruption, unfortunately, has only blurred over time, and today, we find ourselves questioning our relationship with gardens as being one of fruitful ends or ultimately destructive outcomes.

Agricultural Pasts

When looking at history, agriculture is something not always closely studied. For the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, agricultural data reveals intricate details about the society that existed in both rural and urban areas. Through close analyses of agriculture, one can ascertain a significant part of a city’s past. The production of foodstuffs, the livelihoods of the producers, and the relationships between planters and buyers showcase the importance of the farming community on a civilization.

For a historical jewel like Istanbul, the agricultural past illustrates the production and consumption of the city. Looking at Geoponika Book 12, a tenth century Byzantine agricultural guide, one could learn much about Istanbul’s horticulture. The monthly descriptions of what would be planted are indicative of the people’s diet during those seasons. This allows modern scholars to extrapolate which plants would have thrived and consequently, how climate and crops were coupled during those times. Further, the individual sections on specific vegetation point to the careful examination of their full uses, including for medicine and healing as well as for cuisine and nutrition. This is exemplified in mint being “deemed to be of no use” while radishes “when eaten with honey [,]…cure coughs” (Owen 1805, 118, 121).

Another source that offers intriguing insights into the agricultural life of the past are surveys. Although city surveys are not intended only for agricultural history, their data depicts the complex connections between what are perceived as urban and rural life within a city. In Inalcik’s translation of Mehmed II’s 1455 survey of Istanbul, the fact that a house is located next to a church and contains a vinery suggests the possible reputation of the house as a farm on the church’s land and producing for the church (Inalcik 2012, 348).

Meanwhile, an examination of life within a church also illuminates aspects of agricultural life. In the Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents, it is stated that the monks would use “a diet of dry food and water as a punishment for repeat offenders” who did not participate in the “services of the canonical hours or vigils” (Thomas, Hero 2000, 978).

Moreover, documents that point to the uses of herbs in turn highlight how society perceived the role of medicine in society. For instance, “the early Byzantine centuries provide many examples of aristocratic women whose Christian good works, it is claimed, included caring for the sick” (Littlewood, Maguire, Wlschke-Bulmahn 2002, 212). Thus, women were seen as the caretakers who tended to the vegetation relevant for therapeutic uses.

Hence, agricultural records disclose much about a city that may be too easily overlooked. While the sources analyzed may have been written for data collecting purposes, historians can link quantitative factors to qualitative understandings about society and life in agricultural Istanbul.

Brubaker, Leslie. The Vienna Dioskorides and Anicia Juliana, in Byzantine Garden Culture ed., Anthony Littlewood, Henry Maguire and Joachim Wolschke – Bulmahn, 189-214.

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/5111268/Harvard%20summer%20school%20readings/week%204/Geoponika_Book%2012.pdf.

Inalcık, Halil. 2012 . The Survey of Istanbul 1455: The Text, English Translation, Analysis of the Text, Documents. İstanbul, Turkey: Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 2012, preface, introduction and  pp. 295- 368.

(Twelfth century) Typikon of Athanasios Philanthropenos for the Monastery of St. Mamas in Constantinople (trans. Anastasius Bandy).

 

One day in Yedikule Orchards

This was our first visit to Yedikule district in the scope of the summer course entitled City and Agriculture: Studying and Preserving the Historic Gardens of Istanbul. I have been living in Istanbul since I was born and almost once a week I pass through the Yedikule gate with unawareness the spectacular historical gardens of Istanbul which are located behind the walls. I was occasionally encountering the sold fresh vegetables on the table in front of garden. This was my first time to come into the door and meet the gardeners. Despite the hot weather of Istanbul, we began the discussion our texts under the shadow of grapevine.

Uçar, 2014

Our readings were too deductive for me. The topic was new and there were a lot to discover. For instance, Kaldjian noted that Istanbul’s early masters of vegetable production were Greeks and Armenians in the seventeenth century Bulgarians by inheriting the skills, gardens and opportunities superseded Greeks then Albanian migrants came to Istanbul learned trade and dominate the field that is understood from the 1883 map of Istanbul which the many garden names derive from Greek or Albanian. In the 1990s Albanians and Bulgarians sold and left their bostans thus Cidelis who came after WWII and worked on the land inherited these gardens and became the chief gardeners in the region.
On the other hand before the course I supposed that Istanbul was one of the big city and also capital of the Ottoman Empire had been always consumed and imported the vegetables and fruits from the near provinces. However, the data asserts contrary. Historical map of Istanbul from 1883 indicates there are 102 recorded bostans within the old city and they were enough productive to satisfy the city’s fruit and vegetable needs such as spinach, lettuce, black cabbage.

Uçar, 2014

Furthermore, there is a critical question needs to be posed that where we get such detailed information about orchards. The kefil defters gave us data about the sizes, nationality of owners and employers of the garden. In early eighteenth century Istanbul had come cross with the migration flow and state let these people trading under the condition of a guarantor which confirmed the man’s honesty. These records have been kept in the name of guarantee notebooks and left set of information to us.
Interestingly, even Yedikule covers small part of the region the techniques for irrigations change field to field. For instance, Yedikule-Silivrikapı agricultural lands are deprived of canal irrigation therefore lands were watered by underground waters collected the wells and probably in the high regions the deepness of the wells were increasing.

Uçar, 2014
Finally, when we looked at the photographs taken by Artamonoff in 1937 and 1938 and by Sebah in 1890s Yedikule is less forested and densely built now. The gardeners worried about the losing their land which has been cultivating by their elders. This uncertainty also affects the production. If gardeners know that they will stay there for a long years, they would build greenhouse and seed in a large amount.

Uçar, 2014

In conclusion, today there is a clash between gardeners and municipality about the future of Yedikule orchards. Already decreased number of historical gardens of Yedikule is wanted to become parking area for vehicles. Marmaray subway line is too close the area and it is obvious that parking area is required but why municipality so insist on the transformation of the gardens. Approximately 500 meters away Yedikule gate there has been an animal shelter and it is also so close the Marmaray and I believe that alternative to the historical orchards this shelter which smells badly could be transformed multi-level parking garage and thus both gardens and gardeners could be preserved. The duty of state bodies should be preservation the cultural heritage sites not to destroy them.

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)

image_4

Bostans 2014

image_10

View from the Historic Walls 2014

image_2

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.

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.

Screen shot 2014-07-07 at 6.33.17 AM

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

Screen shot 2014-07-07 at 6.35.13 AM

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