- What’s On
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?
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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
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
The photographer Mark Cator shares his vivid diary and images of a ride across ancient Phrygia