City and Agriculture: Studying and Preserving the Historic Gardens of Istanbul

Course Introduction:

The topic of urban farming has become popular in recent years because it offers city inhabitants the opportunity to enjoy quiet green spaces, acquire fresh produce, and reconnect with the natural world.Many cities in the US and Europe have established neighborhood gardens in which residents are able to cultivate and enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, and small neighborhood markets have arisen to offer locally grown produce within heavily urban areas. But is the concept of urban farming really such a new phenomenon? Historically, urban gardens across the world have played an essential role in daily city life, as well as feeding large populations during desperate periods of famine and economic collapse.
During an eight-year siege and blockade in the 14th century, for example, the vegetable gardens of Istanbul helped sustain the city’s residential population. Incredibly, a portion of the centuries- old vegetable gardens in Istanbul survive to this day, although they are being destroyed at an astonishing rate by recent construction projects. The last of the city’s historic vegetable gardens, located along the ancient city walls in the neighborhood of Yedikule, are under serious threat after 1,600 years of vegetable and fruit production. This summer course is designed to educate students from diverse academic backgrounds (e.g., history, biology, environmental studies,
public policy, heritage management, archaeology) about the context and history of urban farming practices in Istanbul and to provide hands-on experience in documenting and studying these gardens through an innovative multidisciplinary research approach.
This course has three primary themes in its instruction, each of which contains an experiential learning component: historical research, scientific analysis, and heritage preservation. First, students will be presented with a historical overview of urban farming in Istanbul and the ways in which local gardens and markets have contributed to the economic livelihood of the city over the centuries. Students will access and analyze original Ottoman documents to locate historic gardens and learn about the traditions and communities associated with bostan cultivation.
We will visit other gardens outside the city walls as a tool for comparison. Environmental and archaeological instructors will then provide students with the background knowledge to participate in ongoing scientific studies of the Yedikule gardens, including botanical and soil projects, as well as GIS mapping of extant garden spaces and features. The third portion of the course will focus on garden preservation efforts within the city through both national and international heritage management practices, biosphere protection, and intangible cultural heritage claims.
In addition to weekly reading responses and participation in all activities and discussions, students will conduct fieldwork and library research resulting in an original research paper focusing on one of the three themes of the course (history, science, and preservation). Students should expect to complete this course with a greater understanding of the rich agricultural history of Istanbul, the methods and techniques used to study historic gardens, and the ongoing efforts of historians, archaeologists, and environmentalists to protect green spaces within an urban setting.

Course Schedule: (Instructor-led activities and fieldtrips are noted in italics) Week of: Weekly Theme: Lecture Overview & Activities:

Week 1 –

June 30th An Introduction to Urban
Farming and Istanbul’s Gardens (A. Sopov) – Course introduction and overview of
urban farming practices (why, where, and when?)
– Istanbul’s unique history of urban farming through the ages
– Visit to Yedikule Gardens to tour the gardens and meet with gardeners.

Week 2 –

July 7 Investigating the History
of Istanbul’s Vegetable Gardens and
Orchards (A. Sopov) – Introduction to utilizing historical
sources and primary documents
– Overview of the sources useful to understanding the history of urban farming in Istanbul (Theodosian Edict, Geoponika, Ottoman records, etc.)
– Istanbul’s agricultural economy through the ages: trade, local production, and neighborhood markets
– Viewing of Ottoman documents including the Bayram Paşa garden records.

Week 3 –

July 14 The Geographical Setting
of the Yedikule Gardens: A GIS Approach (E. Weaverdyck)
– Using GIS (Geographic Information
Systems) to ground-truth existing maps of the gardens and create detailed new maps of terraces,
crop locations, Ottoman wells, and irrigation practices
– Importance to understanding and recording past and present use of garden areas
– Participate in the pedestrian survey and mapping of the garden area using GPS and GIS technologies.

Week 4 –

July 21 Science – Garden Crops through the
Ages: the Archaeobotany of Istanbul
(C. White) – The study of preserved seeds,
wood fragments, and phytoliths from antiquity – recovery, analysis, and interpretation
– Interviews with modern gardeners, village elders, and use of agricultural texts to document changes and continuity in garden crops over time
– Lost garden crops of Istanbul:
Yedikule lettuce, Çengelköy cucumbers, Arnavutköy strawberries
– Using a digital microscope to record and identify the modern garden crops of Yedikule.

— BREAK – Week of July 28th —

Week 5 – August 4th

Istanbul’s Urban Gardens within a City of Progress: The Case of Yedikule (A. Sopov and S. Kafadar)
– Documenting the loss of urban
gardens and orchards within Istanbul’s city limits and surrounding areas
– Potential causes and policies contributing to rapid urban growth
– Discussion of the proposed construction project for Yedikule and other urban gardens
– Fieldtrips to the destroyed gardens of Kuzguncuk and Çengelköy.

Week 6 – August 11th

Cultural Heritage
Management and the Preservation of Historic Agricultural Areas (M. Ostovich)
Wrap-up and Student Presentations
(A. Sopov) – Introduction to international and
national heritage preservation policy
– UNESCO world heritage status and the Theodosian city walls
– Urban farming and arguments for intangible cultural heritage
– Student research day/fieldtrips for final projects
– Concluding comments: the future of
urban farming
– Final student papers and in-class presentations due
– The class will enjoy a Yedikule Garden Dinner made from locally grown produce


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s