Extract

The Great Yalı of Zeki Pasha

Built as a glittering prize, then closed through war and exile, this flamboyant survivor is one of the last of the great waterfront mansions of the Bosphorus. A dense cloak of creeper enhances the house’s aura of mystery and romance. Patricia Daunt returns to the Bosphorus to reveal the story of the brilliant Zeki Pasha, army reformer and gifted linguist, and his stylish summer retreat. Photographs by Jean Marie del Moral and Simon Upton

  • The staircase winds up from the marble hall, dominated by a neoclassical urn

When the house was built in 1895, it was denounced as unorthodox and astonishing. Other than the imperial summer palaces, which by the middle of the nineteenth century were all built dressed in stone, plaisances on the Bosphorus were still traditionally constructed of wood. Zeki Pasha’s yalı is uniquely built of reinforced carbon-dust brick blocks, sealed together with conventional cement mortar to resemble four towering walls of crazy paving.

These earthquake-resistent façades are symmetrically decorated with a profusion of Renaissance plaster mouldings, fixed around a medley of balconies and windows on all five storeys. An observatory is hidden behind a neoclassical balustrade on the roof. The late-nineteenth-century Europeanness of this surprising building is, however, contradicted by a pair of enchanting Ottoman porches with overhanging eaves, seemingly pinned onto the corners of the western facade. Double staircases run up to them from the garden. The paradox is contrived, even eccentric.

The man responsible for the flamboyant ensemble which was the envy of late-nineteenth-century Istanbul was Zeki Pasha, one of Abdülhamid II’s most trusted and able soldier-statesmen.

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