- What’s On
The Hekimbaşı is one of the very few wooden yalıs still in the original family’s ownership, and it showed until, tragically, it was struck by a cargo ship on April 7, 2018. Meticulously painted in the proper ox-blood red aşıboya paint (to the old recipe), nothing has been done to embroider it. When the shutters were closed, it was just another jewel box waiting to be discovered. The owners of the Hekimbaşı Salih Efendi Yalı had managed to keep the house in immaculate condition by allowing wedding functions and the like in the garden. They also staged small concerts and allow specialist groups to visit the house.
Freya Stark used to stay in the Hekimbaş Salih Efendi Yalı. Her description of the house in her Sketch of Turkish History (1965) appears in Cornucopia 10. It begins:
‘Beyond Sultan Beyazit’s Asiatic fortress and with the towers of Rumeli Hisar across the water, I find a welcome among friends in an old house at the water’s edge. The bell rings from the tarmac road above, where owls at night sometimes sit on the long connecting wire and awaken the inhabitants; and easy steps lead down to a little patio, to the front door and the highway of water. Sun and salt and wet winters have bleached the pinewood walls almost to whiteness, but they are solid enough, and so are the inner beams of Anatolian oak. From this hospitable door, the family pours out with easy, faithful welcome, the servants come smiling to kiss the guest’s hand and touch it to their foreheads; life is flowing from its antiquated pattern into the modern changes, and novelties and traditions weave the charm.’
Until recently most yalıs on the Bosphorus were closed for the winter. Once the October winds began to whip the leaves off the trees, owners returned to the city, leaving guardians to close the shutters, let loose the guard dogs and await the spring. The descendants of the Hekimbaşı Salih Efendi Yalı still follow this tradition. When I visited their yalı in January, the family had driven up from the Asian shore of the Sea of Marmara. They had expected me to arrive by car from the European side of the Bosphorus. In fact I surprised them by appearing from the sea, as most visitors would have done in the heyday of the house. With the exhilaration of a trespasser, I skirted the gnarled trees, crossed a paved courtyard and eventually found an open door. Sensing, rather than hearing, movement above me, I climbed the stairs curving to the drawing room floor.