The sound of water in one of the Yedikule bostans

Article and link to the audio material on the Yeşilist website

http://www.yesilist.com/cms.php?id=1590

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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.