At last there need be nothing between you and the Bosphorus. Patricia Daunt tells the story of how two architects created the Sumahan on the Water, breathing new life into an old Ottoman spirit factory. Photographs by Jürgen Frank
The derelict 19th-century Ottoman spirit distillery at Çengelköy has been miraculously transformed from an industrial wasteland on the lower Asian shore of the Bosphorus into a tip-top 21st-century hotel, Sumahan on the Water, uniquely standing on its own private quay at the very water’s edge. The transformation is the realisation of a couple’s dream, achieved over two decades of painstaking negotiation with planning authorities and backers. Fitting perhaps, if small comfort to Nedret and Mark Butler, the architects whose dream it was, since the history of the Sumahan has always been complicated and romantic.
The original building dates from the reign of Mahmut II, when royal distilleries were well-constructed factory complexes built in local stone on prime sites. The distillery produced suma, or raw spirit, a clear, pungent liquid that can be made from almost any staple, from grain to grape – the Çengelköy factory used figs to distil its suma. On Mahmut II’s death in 1839, the waterside factory passed to his wife, the beautiful Bezm-i Alem Valide Sultan, mother of his two sons and successors, Abdülmecit I and Abdülaziz. She was renowned as a benefactress to the poor and to the women of Istanbul. She was vehemently teetotal, even destroying the palace’s precious collection of crystal drinking vessels…
Cornucopia recommends the Sumahan as the ideal Bosphorus base from which to explore Istanbul. Andrew Finkel writes: ‘The key pleasure is not being on top of the city but being able to get away. Once you enter the discreet front door, you enter a private universe tucked away in the side of the shore.’ For the best rates, you can now book rooms directly through the magazine. Visit www.cornucopiahotels.com