Nestled in what was the first courtyard of Topkapi Palace, Gülhane is Istanbul’s oldest park, and a gathering place since it opened to the public in 1912. It was here that Atatürk showed the public the Latin alphabet for the first time, and more recently a place for weekend picnics and barbecues and free concerts by superstars like Ibrahim Tatlises (no accounting for taste). Recent years have seen a facelift: the scruffy zoo, aquarium and teahouses have gone — as have the vendors, barbecues and permission to walk on the grass. An ornamental bridge, fountain and museum have sprung up, with plans afoot to renovate the old barracks, but the park is still filled with families at weekends and courting couples on sneaky weekday afternoons. Tram to Gülhane.
1- Istanbul Islam Bilim ve Teknoloji Tarihi Müzesi (Istanbul Museum of History and Science in Islam.
I visited this museum when it first opened in July 2008, while they were still painting the ceilings. In a well laid-out exhibition covering several rooms (although, at the early stages lacking in English captions) this tells the story of Islamic scientists and astrologers who appeared to be at the forefront
of early intellectual discoveries. Exhibits include the first astrological instruments in the Islamic world, dating back to the 9th century, including spherical astrolobes to measure the distance between objects in the atmosphere. At the main entrance, don’t miss the recreation of a globe made by 14th-century Caliph al-Ma’mun with Baghdad at the center of the known world. It was interesting to learn about the first pioneers of calculus (it brought back memories of school math exams) and even the math of music, where the 13th century saw divisions of the octave in 17 unequal degrees. If you’ve seen your fair share of mosques, you’ll be interested to see the models and explanation of the science of the first skyscrapers — i.e. minarets. @1 hr. Gülhane Park. 0212 528 8065. Open daily, 9am–4.30pm. Tram: Gülhane.
2- Rose garden.
Gülhane translates as ‘rose house’ so it’s no coincidence that recent improvements include the rose garden outside the new museum. This historic park was originally made into a rose garden to allow the flowers’ scent to waft to the palace, and now thanks to the smartening up and removal of several ugly buildings, they seem to stand out so much better. An interesting wooden curved sculpture like a latticed dome sits between that and the museum, near to a miniature of Galata Tower (see p 11) (afavorite photo point) and plants from Northern Cyprus.
3- Gotlar Sütunu (Goth’s Column).
No, nothing to do with dressing in black. On the eastern edge of the park, look through the trees for this 15m-high marble column dating back to the third century. Although its history is uncertain, it may have derived its name from the Latin inscription at its base, ‘Fortune is restored to us because of victory over the Goths’, commemorating a 3rd-century Roman victory. For such an historic landmark, it’s a shame that there is no sign to explain its history (a complaint I have for all the parks). Close by are other remnants that reflect its historic past, like the squat column of stones topped with relief of a cross, plus a fenced-off area with broken pillars, walls and indications of a once-glorious past.
4- Alay Köşku.
Translating as Procession Pavilion, this was where the sultans would sneakily watch official processions opposite, especially the comings and goings outside the ornate entrance Sublime Porte(see bullet 5). In the case of Ibrahim I (nicknamed Ibrahim the Mad because of his eccentricities and excesses), sultan between 1640 and 1648, the pavilion was a perfect vantage point to aim his crossbow and threaten unsuspecting bystanders. These days, sporting a smart yellow-and-white painted façade with arched windows, it’s not possible to get much further than the main doorway, approached by steep path leading straight there, as the building now houses offices.
5- Sublime Porte.You probably passed this typically ornate rococo gateway when traveling up on the tram from Eminönü to Sultanahmet; its curvaceous roof dipping over the monogrammed marble gate, built in 1843, is hard to miss. Translating from the French to Bab-i Ali, this was the gateway to the political hub of the Ottoman Empire, its buildings containing the principal state departments, and
later the official residence of the grand viziers, high-ranking political advisors. These days the superb
rococo gate with armed police outside leads to the vilayet, the more pedestrian sounding provincial government departments.
6- Set Üstü Çay Bahçe.
The main reason locals come to the park is to dwell here over samvars of tea, so be prepared to wait for
a table, especially on summer evenings and weekends. Perched high at the edge of the park with
dramatic views of the Marmara sea and over to Asia, kids will love the burgers or stuffed jacket potatoes. Pricier than it used to be, but worth it. $.
7- Statue of Asik Veysel.
With surprisingly few statues and monuments in such an historic ark,my favorite is a charming
sculpture of musician Aşik Veysel (1894–1973), playing the saz (traditional stringed instrument). His
life was certainly marked with drama and sadness: Born in a field near Sivas as his mother returned
from milking the cows, he contracted smallpox and went blind as a child, his parents and his baby son
died, and his wife ran off with his brother’s servant. He was a superb saz player and found his niche writing folk songs about the inevitability of death. Wildly popular in Turkey as a poet and musician, he became the official state poet in 1965, died of leukemia in 1973 and is still revered today. New York rock musician Joe Satriani was so inspired by his saz playing on his recent trip to Istanbul, he dedicated the track ‘Asik Veysel’ on his 2008 album Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rockto him. Close by, yet a world away, is Turkey’s first statue of Atatürk, founder of the Turkish republic, dating back to 1928, cast in bronze by Austrian sculptor Heinrich Krippel. Want to know what the time is? Within the flowerbeds close to the path are two hands of a clock, which really do tell the time accurately!