A dip In time

  • The Süreyya Plajı at Maltepe, on Istanbul’s Asian shore of the Sea of Marmara, featured the iconic Temple of the Virgins

It is no longer quite the fashion to displayan apposite quote from Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in public foyers or on the façadesof government offices as borrowed approval for the activities within. So to see a quotation from the great man at the entrance to an ingenious exhibition at the Pera Museum is, if not a surprise, at least food for thought. However, given that nostalgia is the self-declared subject of the show, it is very much to the point. “Denize inmek, medeniyetin işaretidir,” runs the quotation, translated as “Reaching the sea is a sign of civilisation.” What this means is that becoming a coastal nation is preferable to being stuck in the highlands – and it was precisely the prevention of Turkey turning into a landlocked plateau after the First World War that helped prompt its War of Independence in the first place. However, a better translation in the context of this exhibition would be: “Happy are they who put on swimming cossies to take a dip.” Istanbul’s Seaside Leisure: Nostalgia from Sea Baths to Beaches documents the young Turkish Republic’s discovery that its largest city had clear blue water and public beaches to rival Nice or Bognor Regis. Instead of just looking at the water or gingerly slipping into the sea in the seclusion of an enclosed and gender-segregated wooden “sea bath”, Istanbul kicked off its shoes, put on a newfangled swimsuit and had a proper swim.

We are reminded that the very act of being able to enjoy its own glorious amenities took literally a revolution and (forgive the pun) a sea change in attitudes. “Getting undressed led Istanbul to lose all the superstitions and prejudices of its past,” writes the curator Zafer Toprak. And of course one of the dominant images of the era is of Atatürk himself posing for the cameras in a bathing costume. Unlike contemporary European rulers, he has his top half exposed. Even his deputy, Ismet İnönü, whose feet-first dives off the island of Heybeli were almost public events, wore a one-piece covering his midriff.Where Atatürk plunged, his people were keen to follow. The new Republicans took to the water like the proverbial duck. I remember from the 1960s my school friends taking the train along the Sea of Marmara to the public beaches at Florya. From the Pera exhibition I learned that the district took its name from the White Russian refugees who couldn’t quite pronounce “fülürye”, the word for the greenfinches whose song had once been the principal attraction. In time it became the Russian bathing belles themselves that drew the crowds. The rest, as they say, is social history.The exhibition is a painful reminder that Istanbul was for a time a city with its own summer playgrounds. The now congested neighbourhoods of Moda, Salacak and Caddebostan all had their beaches, clubs and music halls. As Istanbul grew from a million to more than 15 million, the natural shorelines were concreted over, then easily converted into motorised thoroughfares that in time led to new high-rise neighbourhoods. While the sea may be cleaner now than it was 20 years ago, there are still days when even water off the distant Princes Islands has an unpleasant whiff.What have we lost? “The land was the domain of authority; the sea, of freedom,” the exhibition tells us. Where is that freedom now?

Other Highlights from Cornucopia 57
  • Lenin’s éminence grise

    Prodigiously talented and duplicitous, Parvus Efendi was a larger-than-life writer, arms dealer, fixer and bon vivant. Norman Stone sizes up the grand capitalist who oiled the wheels of the Russian Revolution and ingratiated himself with the Young Turks

  • Happiness is pear-shaped

    Beloved of birds and bees, prized by Ottoman sultans and Bourbon kings, pears are a particular joy eaten ripe from the tree. But cooking coaxes the flavour out of even those mass-market varieties grown for a long shelf life and ripened in cold storage


  • The painter who vanished

    Born into a family of much-travelled artists, Joseph Schranz made his name in Ottoman Istanbul on the eve of the Crimean War with finely detailed, atmospheric panoramas of the Bosphorus. Admired by the Palace and by a new breed of intrepid tourist, he even trained a generation of Turkish artists to observe nature. Yet Schranz’s life in Turkey is an almost total mystery and his known works are tantalisingly rare


  • The Summer of Love

    With her discoveries at Cnidus she was the first female archaeologist to become a household name. But Aphrodite was the undoing of Iris Love. By Rupert Scott. New York portrait by Jürgen Frank


  • Waterworld: Tales From the Birdman

    The transformation of the Black Sea’s vast Kizilirmak Delta from lost cause to paradise regained is a miraculous reversal of fortunes. The ornithologist Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu recalls his early visits and introduces the dazzling birds of the delta, while the anthropologist Caterina Scaramelli pays homage to a way of life that can only benefit both man and nature. Photographs by Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu

  • Waterworld: Three Days That Saved the World

    Like many others, when I first visited the Kızılırmak Delta wetland conservation area, I felt as if I had personally just discovered it. It was the summer of 2012… Caterina Scaramelli on the Black Sea’s most precious delta



  • The Sleeping Beauty

    Time has stood still at the Kavafyan Konak, the oldest surviving mansion on the Bosphorus. Abandoned for 20 years in the village of Bebek, it is a rare example of the refinement and restraint of 18th-century Ottoman design. From a fresco of a formal garden – recalling the fashionable obsession with horticulture – to a trompel’oeil parasol rosette, original decorative details survive, decayed and faded but intact. Text and photographs by Burak Çetintaş

  • Riders of the Lost Paths: Seven Days in the Saddle

    The photographer Mark Cator shares his vivid diary and images of a ride across ancient Phrygia


Buy the issue
Issue 57, May 2018 Black Sea Miracle
£12.00 / $15.30 / 81.40 TL