Home Turkey İstanbul The Pearls of the Bosphorus: the mansions and their stories

    The Pearls of the Bosphorus: the mansions and their stories

    The Bosphorus is home to beautiful historical mansions – yalılar – overlooking the sea in all their glory. Of the original 600 mansions, approximately 360 are still standing. With each one reflecting a particular era and architectural style, these yalılar are considered an important cultural heritage of Istanbul. To discover more about the Pearls of the Bosphorus, keep reading…

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    Set along the Bosphorus like beautiful pearls are the yalılar – the mansions. At one time, nearly 600 of these magnificent villas dotted the Anatolian and European shores; now there are approximately 360 villas, with  150 preserved in their original form. 

    The best known mansions dating from the Ottoman era include Dolmabahçe Palace, Çırağan Palace and the Adile Sultan Summer Palace, as well as Beylerbeyi Palace and Küçüksu Summer Palace. It should also be noted that many of these villas were designed by members of the Balyan family, who for five generations served as court architects for the Ottoman dynasties. 

    The Ottoman period mansions followed a certain system. The villas of state officials were ochre colored, while those owned by Muslims were light colored. Mansions built by non-Muslims were often painted gray.  

    The writer Abdulhak Şinası described the mansions as microcosms of the multicultural Ottoman empire, saying that “…the nanny was Circassian, the housekeeper a black lady, the servant Greek, the adopted Turk, the wet nurse a mixture, the lady housekeeper Thracian, the Ayvaz Armenian, the cook from Bolu, the boatman Turkish or Greek, the eunuch Abyssinian and the gardener Albanian.” 

    Today these stunning properties are among the world’s most expensive real estate. The Zeki Paşa Mansion, for instance, was one of the 10 most expensive homes for sale in 2019, with an asking price of TL 550 million – It has yet to find a buyer. Some of the mansions can be rented for private events, but others can be seen only from afar. To learn the stories behind these architectural jewels, keep reading…

    Mansions in the European side

    On the European side of the Bosphorus, Beşiktaş, Ortaköy, and Kuruçeşme were the districts mostly preferred by members of the Ottoman dynastic families. The grand viziers, viziers and council members built their villas in Bebek, while members of the Ilmiye (legal) class resided in Rumeli Fortress. Non-Muslims and European diplomats mainly lived in Arnavutköy, Yeniköy, Tarabya and Büyükdere.

    Particularly in Bebek, Sarıyer and Beşiktaş, the villas reflected a range of architectural approaches that can still be seen from Beşiktaş to Tarabya along the coast.

    Esma Sultan Yalısı’nın gece görünümü.

    Esma Sultan Mansion

    Adjacent to Ortaköy Mosque, the neoclassical-style Esma Sultan Mansion was designed by Sarkis Balyan. The surface area of ​​the two-story mansion is approximately 900 square meters and the garden is about 4,000 square meters. It was built as a wedding gift for Esma Sultan, the daughter of Sultan Abdulaziz, upon her marriage to Circassian Mehmet Paşa, one of the important statesmen of the period. After Esma Sultan’s death in 1899, Sultan Abdulaziz gave the mansion to her sister, Cemile Sultan.

    The property remained in the family until 1915, and in 1918 became a Greek school. From 1922, it was used as tobacco warehouse for some years. A fire in 1975 destroyed all but the façade. In 1999, the building was restored; while glass and steel were used, the original layout remained intact. It has been used as an event venue and cultural center since 2001.

    The Esma Sultan Mansion is one of the most popular destinations along the Bosphorus.

    Ortaköy Camii ve Esma Sultan Yalısı’nın görünümü.

    Yılanlı Mansion

    Yılanlı Mansion (Mansion of Snakes) is considered one of the most important classical Ottoman civil structures. It is located between Bebek and Rumeli Fortress, next to Aşiyan Park. The original mansion was wood and stone and featured exceptionally large rooms. It was damaged by a suspicious fire in 1964 but partly restored in 1989.

    According to legend, Sultan Mahmud II noticed the mansion during a Bosphorus tour. Interested in acquiring the cliffside property, he asked Mehmet Musahip Said Efendi about it. The Musahip, who also had an eye on the mansion, informed the Sultan that the cliffs – and thus the property – were infested by snakes. The Sultan opted not to purchase the property, which consequently became known as the Snake Mansion.

    Şerifler Mansion

    Located in Emirgan, the wooden Şerifler Mansion was designed by A. Ignace Meilling. Built between 1782 and 1785, it is considered the oldest mansion on the European side. It was rebuilt in the middle of the 19th century with Ottoman Baroque elements and later purchased by Mekke Şerifi Abdullah Paşa, who represented the Hijaz in the Ottoman Parliament. The property then became known as the Şerifler Mansion. The Pasha added an Iftariye Hall as well as a Bendegan building (staff quarters). 

    The Huber Palace, in Tarabya, is currently used as the Presidential Palace. The mansion’s name comes from one of its owners; Auguste Huber was a representative of the Germany-based Mauser and Krupp armament firms.

    While the mansion’s harem section collapsed in the 1940s, the rest of the property has been restored. It is now owned by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and connected to the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum.

    Emine Valide Paşa Mansion

    Located in Bebek, the seafront Emine Valide Paşa Mansion today serves as the Egyptian Consulate. Raimondo D’Aranco is the architect of this striking mansion. Built in 1902, the art nouveau style structure features numerous bay windows and terraces that overlook the Bosphorus.

    Emine Valide Paşa, whose father was the Viceroy of Egypt, was the only woman in the Ottoman Empire to be given the title of pasha. Allegedly Emine Valide Paşa intended to donate the mansion to the Republic of Turkey but changed her mind after official correspondence referred to her as “hanim” rather than “pasha”.  She instead donated the mansion to the Egyptian government, which completed a restoration of the property in 2011.

    Emine Valide Paşa Mansion - the Egyptian Consulate

    Ahmet Afif Paşa Mansion

    Built between 1900 and 1910 by Alexandre Vallaury, the Ahmet Afif Paşa Mansion is named after the property’s second owner, an Ottoman Chief of Staff.  Set on the Istinye-Yeniköy coastal road, the structure is dissimilar to many classical Bosphorus mansions, in that the harem and selamlık sections are under the same roof. Set on an area of 2,200 square meters, the four-story property is also prominent for its use of both eastern and western architectural motifs, such as onion domes and overhanging eaves. It has an elaborate seafront façade, but the street-facing structure is relatively modest.   

    When Afif Paşa died in 1920, the mansion passed to his son, who then sold it to Misbah Muhayyeş, the owner of the Pera Palas Hotel. Allegedly Agatha Christie, the famous crime writer who stayed at the Pera Palas, also visited the mansion. As well, the TRT TV series ‘Aşk-ı Memnu’, was filmed here.

    Huber Palace

    The Huber Palace, in Tarabya, is currently used as the Presidential Palace. Set on 34,000 square meters, the mansion itself covers 950 square meters. An intriguing characteristic of the mansion, which is predominately art nouveau style, is the combined use of Chinese, Indian, Iranian, Islamic, Ottoman and European motifs.

    The mansion’s name comes from one of its owners; Auguste Huber was a representative of the Germany-based Mauser and Krupp armament firms. Considered an important symbol of the German-Ottoman alliance that developed after 1880, the mansion was later transferred to Princess Kadriye and her husband Mahmut Hayri Paşa, and then donated to the Notre Dame de Sion School. In 1985, the property was allocated to the Presidency General Secretariat.

    Yusuf Ziya Paşa Mansion

    The 10-storey Yusuf Ziya Paşa Mansion, also known as Perili Köşk, is set on a 5,000 square meter property in Sarıyer with views of the Marmara and Black Seas.

    The building of the mansion began in 1910; its first owner was Yusuf Ziya Paşa, the arch-master of Egyptian Hidiv Abbas Hilmi Paşa. However, with the advent of World War I in 1914 and the Ottoman Empire’s subsequent entry, the workers enlisted and the construction was left unfinished.  The mansion, with only the ground floor completed, started to be called Perili Köşk. It was restored between 1995-2000 and today serves as the Borusan Contemporary museum and the Company’s offices.

    Yusuf Ziya Paşa Mansion, also known as Perili Köşk

    Said Halim Paşa Mansion

    The Said Halim Paşa Mansion in Yeniköy is also known as Aslanli Mansion, because of the lion statues in front of it. Despite its plain exterior, the interior of the neoclassical mansion features ornate Arabesque-style elements. The property’s harem and selamlik sections are under the same roof and combine simplicity and elegance with empire style façades and windows.

    The building of the mansion began in 1910, however with the advent of World War I in 1914 and the Ottoman Empire’s subsequent entry, the construction was left unfinished.  The mansion, with only the ground floor completed, started to be called Perili Köşk.

    The mansion’s first owners were the Düzoğulları family; it was then purchased by the Aristarhis family, who demolished and rebuilt it. The next owner, Prince Abdülhalim Pasha, wanted a larger dwelling so, again, the mansion was rebuilt. Sait Halim Paşa was the last to own the property. After a fire in 1995, the mansion underwent major restorations, completed in 2002. Today it serves as an event venue.

    Hatice Sultan Mansion

    Of the six mansions that originally belonged to the Ottoman dynastic family, the Hatice Sultan Mansion in Ortaköy is the only one standing. Built by Ali Saib Paşa, the mansion was purchased by Abdulhamid II after the Pasha’s death and given as a wedding gift to Hatice Sultan, the daughter of Sultan Murad V. 

    The neoclassical structure has four floors, a hipped roof and narrow eaves. The wood exterior features ionic and eclectic elements, as well as wood embellishments on the upper and lower windows. The mansion was used as an orphans’ dormitory and primary school after 1924 and has served as the Istanbul Swimming Specialization Club since 1973.

    The floor of the Hatice Sultan Mansion was badly damaged during the building of the Bosphorus Bridge, but repaired with the help of concrete attributes in 1983.

    Muhsinzade Mehmet Paşa Mansion

    The Muhsinzade Mehmet Paşa Mansion was built in Kuruçeşme Square. It is named after the Grand Vizier Muhsinzade Mehmet Paşa, who commissioned it.

    Built on an area of approximately 3,600 square meters, the mansion features a 72-meter seafront façade.

    The mansion was eventually given to the Grand Vizier’s daughter, Rukiye Hanım, as a wedding gift, and remained the property of the family until 1920. At that point, having fallen into disrepair, it was  rented to a coal merchant as a warehouse. In 1935, it started to be used for sand storage. The heirs sold the land in 1980, and the mansion was restored; it is now the Les Ottoman Hotel.

    Şehzade Burhaneddin Efendi Mansion

    Believed to have been built in 1785, this wooden mansion in Yeniköy is named for Şehzade Burhaneddin, son of Abdulhamid II. With an area of approximately 3,500 square meters, it is one of the biggest mansions of the Bosphorus; it features four floors, including the basement, and a total of 64 rooms. The neo-baroque style structure has art nouveau elements. 

    The mansion was demolished by Şehzade Burhaneddin in 1912 and rebuilt. In 1923, it was purchased by Egyptian Ahmet İhsan Bey and became known as Mısırlı Mansion. In 1987, it was restored to its original form.

    View of Şehzade Burhanettin Efendi Mansion from the sea in Yeniköy.

    Mediha Sultan Mansion

    The Mediha Sultan Mansion was commissioned by Grand Vizier Mustafa Reşit Pasha in the middle of the 18th century and built by Karabet Amira Balyan and Sarkis Balyan.

    Spreading over an area of ​​1,600 square meters, the neo-classical structure has two floors, arched windows and an expansive courtyard, as well as a garden that includes a marble pedestal with secizer marble columns. There is also a pool. 

    Abdulhamid II gifted the mansion to his sister, Mediha Sultan, in 1887; it subsequently became known as the Damat Ferit Paşa Mansion, after Mediha Sultan’s second husband.  

    Also known as the Damatkıran Palace, the mansion witnessed tragic events in the last period of the Ottoman Empire. It was empty and idle for many years during the Republican period and transferred to the Ministry of Health in 1943. In the 2000s, the property underwent a comprehensive restoration and today serves as Baltalimanı Hospital.

    Zeki Paşa Mansion

    The Zeki Paşa Mansion, ranked among the 10 most expensive houses in the world, is located in Rumeli Fortress, just below the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge. It is named for Mustafa Zeki Paşa (also known as Tophane Müşiri Zeki Paşa or Filinta Mustafa), who was among Abdulhamid II’s most trusted statesman and soldiers.

    Built in the second half of the 19th century by architect Alexandre Vallaury, the baroque-style mansion resembles a castle rather than a villa.  Entered via the garden or the sea, the mansion  features a 4,000-square-meter garden with a marble fountain and a marble pool. 

    Since 1981, the heirs have offered the mansion for sale several times. While it remains unsold, it is still considered one of the most expensive homes in the world.

    Mansions on the Anatolian Side

    On the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus, most of the mansions are located in Kanlıca, Beykoz, Anadolu Hisarı and Beylerbeyi. These belonged mainly to non-Muslims: clergy and scholars were deployed in Beylerbeyi, and Christians and Jews in Kuzguncuk. 

    Like the mansions on the European side, the Anatolian-side structures reveal a diverse range of architectural and period styles.

    View of Beylerbeyi Mosque and the mansions next to it from the Bosphorus.

    Çürüksulu Mansion

    Set on a street perpendicular to the Salacak coast, this structure is also known as the Çürüksulu Ahmet Paşa Mansion. It is only technically a mansion now, due to a road established in the 1960s. Built by the Nailçızade family, the property was purchased in 1890 by Çürüksulu Ahmet Paşa, who transformed it into a typical 19th-century Bosphorus mansion with some arrangements.

    The mansion’s most famous owner to date is Belkıs Hanım, the daughter of Ahmet Paşa. Belkıs Hanım, renowned for her parties and a wide circle of European guests, remained in the mansion until 1968. During her residence, the mansion was acquired by Muharrem Nuri Birgi, who restored it.  The wood facade was preserved and repainted in its original reddish ochre color.

    Ahmet Mithat Efendi Mansion

    Located in Beykoz Yalıköy, this mansion was built in the 19th century. It is believed to have been purchased in 1892 by Mithat Efendi, a prominent writer of the Tanzimat period, and acquired its name at that time.

    Emine Valide Paşa, whose father was the Viceroy of Egypt, was the only woman in the Ottoman Empire to be given the title of pasha.

    Mithat Efendi demolished the original structure and rebuilt a neo-classical villa, adding expansive balconies. He lived here until his death in 1912, and his heirs continued to reside in the home.

    Ahmet Fethi Paşa Mansion

    Although it is not known exactly when and by whom the Ahmet Fethi Paşa Mansion – also known as the Pink Mansion – was built, it is believed to have been built in the 18th century and it was most definitely owned by Ahmet Fethi Paşa from the beginning of the 19th century. It is located between Üsküdar and Kuzguncuk.

    Ahmet Fethi Paşa, born in 1801, was a successful diplomat and soldier. Following a series of rapid promotions, he married Atiye Sultan, the sister of Sultan Abdülmecid, in 1840.

    Ahmet Fethi Paşa restored the mansion; featuring bricks in addition to stone on stone foundations, the structure accurately reflects the characteristics of Ottoman civil architecture. The Pasha also focused on finding the most precious works from all over the world, decorating the home so beautifully that he was given the task of furnishing Dolmabahçe Palace by the Sultan. The mansion, which survived a serious fire in 1922-23, was restored in 1973.

    Mabeyinci Faik Bey Mansion

    Located on Yalıboyu Street between Beylerbeyi and Üsküdar, this mansion was built by Mabeyinci Faik Bey in 1890.

    Mabeyinci Faik Bey was one of the most influential and trusted statesmen during the Abdulhamid II period. Faik Bey, a graduate of Galatasaray High School, was interested in art and philosophy; the regular salons held at the mansion featured the era’s most prominent intellectuals and artists. 

    The structure features double towers on the north and south corners – an unusual characteristic in Ottoman architecture.

    Sadullah Paşa Mansion

    Believed to have been built in the late 18th century, the ochre-colored Sadullah Paşa Mansion is among the best preserved wooden buildings in Çengelköy. Its first known owner was Mehmet Ağa, who served the chief officer (darüssaade agasi) of the Ottoman palace.

    However, the mansion is named for Sadullah Paşa, who became the sole owner in 1872. Sadullah Paşa’s support for Sultan Murat V led to his exile – he served as the ambassador to Berlin and then Vienna. Sadullah Paşa committed suicide after 14 years abroad, but his family continued to live in the compound until 1917

    While the mansion’s exterior is fairly typical of traditional Turkish mansion architecture, the interiors feature baroque elements. The selamlık area was demolished; the harem area is intact. Rooms in the home open into a large domed hall. The upper rooms in the mansion were expanded with angled consoles, to offer Bosphorus and garden views.

    Mahmut Nedim Paşa Mansion

    Located in Üsküdar Vaniköy, the Mahmut Nedim Paşa Mansion was built in 1850 by Mahmut Nedim Paşa, who served as the ambassador to Vienna. 

    The property belonged to Selim Sabit Efendi, Mahmut Nedim Paşa’s grandfather; the Pasha demolished the original home and purchased additional land in order to build a bigger mansion.  

    Combining eclectic style with traditional Ottoman architecture, the mansion features 13 rooms and 2 halls. It has a Baghdadi plastered wood exterior, and a dramatic pyramid-shaped tower above the harem section, making it unique among the Bosphorus mansions. Sold in 2004, the property has undergone extensive restorations.

    Count Ostrorog Mansion

    There is no precise information on when the Count Ostrorog Mansion, in Kandilli, was built, although it is believed to date from the early 19th century. Count Ostrorog, who purchased the property in 1904, was a scientist and university professor known for his work on Islamic Law. He was invited to the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s, where he served as a legal and vice consultant at the Ministry of Justice. He also received the title of Legal Advisor to the Ottoman Empire.

    The story of Yedi Sekiz Hasan Paşa is interesting: allegedly he was illiterate and used the Arabic numbers for 7 and 8 as his signature, connecting them with a dash.

    Despite featuring neo-classical elements, the Count Ostrorog Mansion lacks a clear style. The harem and selamlik sections of the mansion appear to be a combination of two different buildings; the plan and façade of the mansion are a local style and the interiors have a strong European influence in line with the fashion of French buildings in the 19th century. In fact, the Count Ostrorog Mansion made headlines in several French newspapers of the era as ‘Europe on the Bosphorus’.

    Count Ostrorog Mansion in Kandilli.

    Abud Efendi Mansion

    Believed to have been built in the mid-19th-century, the Abud Efendi Mansion, in Kandilli, was designed by Garabed Balyan. In 1900, it was bought by Abud Efendi, a silk and leather merchant.  

    With 18 rooms and two grand halls, the two-story wooden mansion resembles the Dolmabahçe Palace, featuring a monolithic embossed crest and gilded ornaments in its decor. The mansion underwent extensive repairs between 1985-1989.  As a location for an important TV series, it has become an attraction for Middle Eastern tourists.

    Cypriot Mansion

    Also known as the Kıbrıslı Mehmet Paşa Mansion or Black Vizier Mansion, the Cypriot Mansion is in Kandilli and features a 64-meter façade overlooking the Bosphorus. 

    Built in the last quarter of the 18th century, İzzet Mehmet Paşa was recorded as the first owner of the mansion in 1840. Mehmet Paşa, a respected statesman who served as a grand vizier to three sultans and the Russian embassy, lived in the property until his death in 1871.

    The Kıbrıslı Mehmet Paşa Mansion is one of the oldest examples of the coastal palace typology, which consists of triple halls (harem, selamlık, middle temple). The outer walls of the 21-room mansion are covered with pine, and the inner walls are finished with lath and plaster.

    After a fire in the southern portion, the mansion underwent a comprehensive restoration in 1975. It was built of concrete and brick while preserving its external appearance.

    Bahriyeli Sadat Bey Mansion

    Also known as Magnolia Mansion due to the magnolias in its garden, the Bahriyeli Sedat Bey Mansion is in Anadoluhisarı, Beykoz. It was built by Mustafa Reşit Paşa in the early 1900s.

    The neo-baroque style mansion features two sections, a two-story harem and selamlik, and a symmetrical structure with rows of windows and a balcony on a third floor. The wood roof has wide eaves. Not only is it in excellent condition, due to a comprehensive restoration, but the building is pleasing to the eye, with classical and symmetrical lines.

    Zarif Mustafa Paşa Mansion

    The Zarif Mustafa Paşa Mansion, in Anadoluhisarı, Beykoz, is believed to have been built by Berberbaşı Mustafa Ağa in 1820. The mansion was owned by Zarif Mustafa Paşa in 1848 and remained in the family’s ownership until 1992.

    One of the largest of the Bosphorus mansions at the time of its construction, the property consisted of a harem, a selamlık, a moonlight house, a boathouse, and gardens, conservatories and barns. Some of it was destroyed in 1918-19, and the harem section, which was hit by a ship in 1971, did not survive; it is known that there were baroque ornaments and wooden coverings in the destroyed harem section. Today, the existing structure has 400 square meters of usage area.

    The neo-classical style mansion is painted yellow and has two floors. A central hall plan extends outdoors with a section of triangular consoles on the sea side.

    Zarif Mustafa Paşa Mansion located in Anadoluhisarı, Beykoz.

    Amcazade Hüseyin Paşa Mansion

    Built in 1699 for Amcazade Hüseyin Paşa, this mansion, in Anadoluhisarı, is the oldest one on the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus. Today, only the divanhane from the selamlık section remains.

    The structure was also known as the Köprülü Mansion after its builder, the Red Mansion for its color, and the Direkli Mansion, due to the fact that the sofa, which is in danger of collapsing over time, is attached with poles.

    As one of the last remaining examples of classical Turkish civil architecture and decorative art, it is one of the most important structures on the Bosphorus.

    The harem section, which housed immigrants from the Balkans after the 1893 Ottoman-Russian War, was severely damaged during this period and completely destroyed in a fire that followed.

    Efforts to initiate the restoration of the Amcazade Hüseyin Paşa Mansion are ongoing.

    Seven Eight (Yedi Sekiz) Hasan Paşa Mansion

    The Yedi Sekiz Hasan Paşa Mansion, in Beykoz Çubuklu, was built by Asaf Paşa in 1870.

    The story of Yedi Sekiz Hasan Paşa is interesting: allegedly he was illiterate and used the Arabic numbers for 7 and 8 as his signature, connecting them with a dash. He was born in the Black Sea region and came to Istanbul for his military service; he also fought in the Crimean War. He remained in the military, rising in rank. During a raid to overthrow the Sultan, Yedi Sekiz killed the rebel leader Ali Suavi. Subsequently, Yedi Sekiz was promoted to general. He also joined the Beşiktaş Guard and became a Müşir (counselor of state).  

    Made of wood and painted ochre red, the Yedi Sekiz Hasan Paşa Mansion has three floors. The cantilever or bay window, which runs from the second floor towards the sea, is a typical feature in Ottoman mansion architecture. Restored in 2009, this mansion is considered a landmark among those on the Bosphorus.

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