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.

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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.

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Rosenthal, July 2014

Rosenthal, July 2014

Rosenthal, July 2014

Rosenthal, July 2014

Rosenthal, July 2014

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.

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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.

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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.