The Puzzles of the Gardens from the 10th Century Onwards

In some cases, the more you learn about a topic, the more questions arise and the further from the truth it seems you become. The role of the bostans throughout history both fascinates and frustrates me for this very reason. Last week, we looked at a few photographs of a former Yedikule bostan in the Fatih neighborhood. In class, we discussed how the photographs we looked at painted a linear progression of this bostan from a fertile land to an abandoned area but that that wasn’t necessarily the case. What happened in between these snapshots? Are we to believe the area was unchanged and static in between the images? My guess is no. Continuing with the idea that spaces do not follow a linear progression in terms of function, last Thursday we visited the former Langa bostan (famous for its cucumbers) where it became apparent that the area went from being a land area, to one filled with water that became a central port, back to land whose alluvial soil made it the perfect place for a bostan. Part of the bostan has already been destroyed to build a metro station and another part will soon be destroyed to build a parking lot — the thought alone saddened me. The function of this space is in no way linear over the years, which leaves me wondering what function other garden sites have played throughout history. This past weekend, other students enrolled in the Harvard summer school program and I were fortunate enough to journey to Gallipoli and ancient Troy. While at Troy, I was greatly intrigued by a well I saw dating back to c. 300 BCE. My curiosity regarding this well, its function overtime, and what that says about the surrounding space continue to leave me with more questions than answers.

Aside from the living remnants and literary and pictorial sources describing the gardens, some surviving primary sources on gardens dating back to the 10th century AD with the publication of the Geoponika exist today to aid the study of gardens’ historical past. The Geoponika, a Byzantine Greek farming manual from the 10th century AD dedicated to Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, reveals the many influences and techniques of farming practices dating back to the 3rd century BC as well as the important role farming played not only for pragmatic purposes but also for medicinal, therapeutic, and leisurely ones (Dalby, Geoponika, 247). In Book 12, part 2, entitled “Making a vegetable garden,” Andrew Dalby translates Florentinus’ section as, “Gardening is essential to life. For health and convalescence a garden should be developed not at a distance from the house but in proximity to it, where it will give enjoyment to the eyes and pleasure to the sense of smell.”(Dalby, 247) Additionally, Dalby notes that Homer and Hesiod are quoted and language used primarily in the 3rd century BC appear in this text, showing the longstanding history and presence of gardens (Dalby, 13). The many authors cited in this text further reveal the great focus on gardens through history. However, as this was a text only members of the elite had access to, were there different practices others followed or are these the only ones? Two typikas, “Typikon of Athanasios Philanthropenos for the Monastery of St. Mamas in Constantinople” and “Typikon of Theodora Palaiologina for the Convent of Lips in Constantinople” from the 12th and 13th centuries, respectively, law books for monasteries, reveal the important role gardens played in providing food as much of the diet was fruits and vegetables. From this information, can we say most monasteries relied heavily on fruits and vegetables during these periods? Two surveys from 1455 and 1735 survive today which also reveal the presence of bostans in numerous quarters during these years. The 1735 survey tells us there were 344 bostans with 1,381 gardeners employed (“The Survey of the Bustans (Gardens) in Istanbul intramural from 1735”).

While these three sources make it clear that gardens were numerous when these sources were written and played an important role throughout history, they leave the reader with a number of new questions to ponder. What was the situation of gardens in between these periods? Do these documents tell the entire story during the periods they were written? These sources also leave me with many questions regarding the sources’ weight in the present. How should these documents influence our views on bostans and the preservation of them today versus how do they? These documents are clearly instrumental to the study of the agricultural past but what do they say about the present and the future? Is the historical presence and importance of gardens evidence enough for the preservation of them? Despite the many missing pieces of the puzzle, it is clear the importance of the gardens in history is truly immense and the primary sources discussed earlier further speak to that.

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Istanbul’s Agricultural Past: An Ekphrasis Revealed Across The Centuries

This week’s readings, particularly the primary source texts, provide a window into Istanbul’s agricultural past. Through the Typikons of the monastery of St. Mamas and the convents of Lips, Kosmas, and Damien, and in the surveys of both 1455 and 1735 – along with the highly detailed advice of the Geoponika farming handbook – we glean valuable data and context regarding the agricultural production of the day and the farming practices as well as the diet of Istanbul’s citizens.

In the survey of Istanbul of 1455 (Inalcik), we are provided an evaluation of the city, broken down quarter-by-quarter. We learn the number and size of its houses and the identity, professions, and religious profiles of the inhabitants. Interspersed with this detail are references to other structures from which we can glean information about the city’s agricultural production. For example, the survey contains references to the city’s gardens, vineries, stables, storehouses, mills, and wells, including their placement within certain quarters or neighborhoods. Some quarters or districts had little or no agricultural activity to speak of. Others, particularly those housing the city’s many monasteries, were clearly successful centers of food production. For instance, we learn that Quarter Balat II housed two gardens along with a citizen named “Ripotos,” identified as a gardener (Inalcik, 306-98); that Quarter Bab-i-I Edirne housed the evidently productive Monastery of Prohermez, which counted among its holdings three storehouses, and a vinery  (313); that Quarter Top-Yikigi was home to two mills and a garden (327-335), and that Quarter Alti-Mermer had a garden, a mill, and a well (347-350).  Quarter Kastel Hirige featured a monastery with four storehouses, stables, and two vineries (352); the Ayos Athanos monastery held a vinery and a storehouse (357), and Quarter Isa-Kermesi housed a factory for making linseed oil (358).       

The 1735 survey of the bostans of Istanbul, covering the neighborhoods of “Great Langa,” Kucuk, Yedikule, Ynibahce, and Cukurbostans, documents the continuing, indeed growing, prevalence of agricultural production in Istanbul. For example, we learn that there were 1,381 gardeners resident in the city, the vast majority of them Christians, tending over 344 individual bostans (1735 Survey of the Bustans) – not insignificant figures, particularly when compared to the greatly diminished numbers of the present day.

In the Typicons documenting life in the city’s monasteries and convents, we can glean further information about the food production and consumption of Istanbul’s population. First, we learn that the Convent of Lips employed a steward to oversee its various land holdings; the steward’s salary consisted of gold and “100 annonikoi modioi” each of wheat and barley, and “100 measures of wine” (Thomas & Hero, 1272). The Convent’s “Inventory of Property” provides an accounting of its vast agricultural holdings including many thousands of modioi of “arable land,” vineyards, gardens, and mills (1279-1281). The document goes on to provide a detailed recitation of the diet allowed the nuns, specifying “fish, cheese and legumes” on non-fast days; legumes, vegetables and “seasonal shellfish” on Mondays; and other days on which only “vegetables and legumes” were permitted (1258; 1275). The Typicon for the Monastery of St. Mamas provides an even more detailed prescribed diet of the monks, even specifying the manner in which such food should be prepared, to wit: “…two of three cooked dishes containing olive oil” or a meal “… composed of “legumes soaked in water and perhaps some raw vegetables and fruits” (Thomas & Hero, 1006). Clearly, the inhabitants enjoyed a varied if highly regulated diet.

Perhaps the most illuminating document to provide insights into the nature of farming in 10th century Istanbul is the Byzantine Greek farming manual Geoponika. From Book 12 we learn exactly what crops Istanbul’s residents were growing and consuming: beets, lettuce, cabbage, melons, turnips, mint, celery, leeks and onions, garlic, artichokes, mushrooms, and asparagus. We also learn the best soil for cultivation – non-clayey and “not too rough” – as well as how manure (the best being ash and pigeon dung) can be used to work Istanbul’s “clayey” soil and how the region’s sandy soil should be used to grow asparagus (Dalby, 248). Among the manual’s encyclopedic recommendations for addressing seemingly every conceivable cultivation, pest, and medicinal issue are a number of hygienic properties ascribed to certain plants – an emphasis on personal hygiene being central to the lives of city dwellers living in close proximity to one another. For example, rocket is described as being useful in cleaning up facial blemishes; it also “helps with smelly armpits” (261).

Book 12 also highlights the importance of gardens in proximity to the house, noting the gardens provide pleasure to the senses of sight and smell. The existence of texts like Geoponika and The Vienna Dioskorides highlights the important role of agriculture: “the extent to which people believed in the power of plants, and in the ability of men and women to harness that power” (Brubaker, 213).  

Finally, the examples of Ottoman historical literature included in the readings – for example, Hyrtakenos’ description of the garden of St. Anna, capturing the “science and art” of Byzantine gardening (Dolezal and Mavroudi, 115-118; 140-148) – provide further evidence of the importance of land cultivation in Istanbul history and culture. In addition, literature like Hyrtakenos’ Description of the Garden of St. Anna highlights another aspect about gardens that is frequently neglected: the spiritual feeling a garden can induce. While many sources on bostans focus on the production aspects of urban farming, Hyrtakenos’ detailed prose reminds us that gardens also possess authentic aesthetic qualities, and that the emotions evoked from merely being in the presence of nature’s beauty can be just as valuable as a garden’s tangibles products.    

These texts, while not necessarily set down for the purpose of telling the story of agriculture, nonetheless provide myriad clues to the agricultural heritage of Istanbul. They serve as an ekphrasis – a graphic, dramatic description of the city’s powerful agricultural past. 

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).

 

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.

 

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.

 

Screen shot 2014-07-07 at 6.31.21 AM

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.

Screen shot 2014-07-07 at 6.35.13 AM

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

Gardens between Worlds

At first glance, the Yedikule Gardens appear to be a sparse collection of private farms trapped amid the dawn of the days of Constantinople and the booming gentrification of modern Istanbul. These bostans, or vegetable-producing gardens made for the markets, are situated along the edges of encroaching apartment complexes and mall plazas while aligning the sides of historic Byzantine walls and Ottoman water wells. As generational families of farmers work to maintain these endangered spaces of vegetation, one would be keen to notice the symbolism in Istanbul’s ongoing struggle between tradition and progress.

The Yedikule gardens exist as more than a valuable source of local food production. To some, “The work of the gardeners is holy work” (Kaldjian 2004, 287). Just as industrial terrain is a part of city expansion, agricultural land should also play such a role. These are the lands that allow humanity “to fully comprehend [a] city’s economy and urban change” (Shopov and Han 2013, 35). Though seemingly out of place with their ancient water wells and hanging laundry drying in the Mediterranean wind, the atmosphere of Yedikule preserve a period of Istanbul too precious to be left only to esoteric textbooks on gardening and agriculture.

In the 1890s, the photographer Sebah took a photograph of the Yedikule gardens showing the precursor to what would today be the invasion of modernization.

Sebah, 1890s

Sebah, 1890s

In his piece, the Byzantine walls run through bostans on both sides, accompanied by mosques in the distance. To the right most edge, the first living lodges are seen. Meanwhile, the main body of the photograph illustrates the abundance of flora still thriving near and far. As of the late nineteenth century, Yedikule appeared lush and lively, with trees in the distance aligning the horizon while plots of land show signs of being tended and cared.

Onto a photograph of the same region in February 1937 from the Artamonoff Collection, one immediately notices the drastic replacement of vegetation with houses.

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.

 

Much of the gardens within the walls have been replaced with the construction of concrete homes on gravel and cement. The same trees that once stretched across perpendicularly to the walls are now scant compared to the planted trees of residential homes. For the wall itself, there are now breaks and eroded segments, but its presence persists even against encroaching housing complexes. The changes in the vegetation are thus contrasted by the striking continuity of the Byzantine-Ottoman ramparts. While once farmed-on land is now lived-on land, the same wall still sweeps over the area of Yedikule.

A year later in the summer of 1938, another photograph from the same collection illustrates the contrast between the still standing Byzantine walls and the vast neighborhood of two-storied houses with deciduous trees.

Artamonoff, Summer 1938

Artamonoff, Summer 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 housing districts have now crept so close to the walls that they are almost touching the very bricks that once guarded the ancient city. The whole area resembles a scene out of an anachronistic film, pairing thousand-year-old walls with a neighborhood of the twenty-first century. Notably, a paved road in the foreground can be distinguished that is not prevalent in the earlier photographs. This remarkable difference depicts just how fast urbanization occurred within a little over a year compared to the second image.

Fast forward to today, and one could perceive a certain sense of sadness coupled with urgency in the region.

Michael Luo, July 2014

Michael Luo, July 2014

Tanker trucks encircle the few remaining wells in order to supply water for the pubic including hamams. One side of the walls could be mistaken for a developing American suburb while the other side displays the surviving fresh tava of spinach, mint, and even corn. If one were daring enough to climb and observe atop the walls, a turn of the head reveals almost two worlds converging against each other. To the left is a hopeful sign of growth, both literal in agriculture and symbolic in livelihood, and to the right is an uncertain desolation. No bostans remain on the right, and it seems all land has been reserved for more urban construction. Will apartments and malls be born out of this destruction? Will they also take over what greenery remains on the other side of the walls? These are the questions left to be answered but ironically, it is the fortifications that have endured, albeit with some damage and need of repair, while the once-protected interior gardens have given way to rising urban sprawl.

The truth of the matter is that people need places to live, and a city needs space to grow. However, a greater truth is that historic cultures and traditions should never be neglected for the sake of potential profit and growth. Istanbul is a thriving example of bridging the past with the present, and Yedikule is a prime model for that challenge. Perhaps one day, humanity could find a way to resolve this conflict of culture versus expansion in which social traditions may carry on peacefully alongside progress.

Kaldjian, P. Istanbul’s Bostans: a Millennium of Market Gardens. Geographical Review      94(3), 2004, 284-304.

Shopov, Aleksandar and Ayhan Han. Osmanlı Istanbul’unda Kent Içi  Tarımsal Toprak      Kullanımı ve Dönüsümleri: Yedikule Bostanları, Toplumsal  Tarih, 236, August 2013,      34– 38. (English translation)

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.

Yedikule_bostans
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.

Yedikule_bostans

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.

IMG_2977
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.