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The Mirrored Pavilion

Aynalıkavak Kasrı

Surrounded by an abandoned industrial wasteland on the Golden Horn, the Aynalıkavak Kasrı is a gem of the 18th-century Tulip Period

  • The audience hall of the Aynalıkavak Kasrı, photographed by Fritz von der Schulenburg
  • The Composition Room with its classic divans. Selim III was deeply musical and shut himself away for months in the palace, then a complex of many kiosks

Warehouses, dry docks and the beating of hammers are what the northern side of the Golden Horn was all about. In the 19th century the shore became one giant naval shipyard. So it is something of a miracle that up on the hill where Mehmed the Conqueror planted 12,000 cypress trees beyond the old cemeteries, hidden away in one of Istanbul’s least prepossessing neighbourhoods, is a walled garden surrounding a dream of a kiosk – a favourite of many sultans.

Aynalıkavak was conceived as an imperial pleasure palace, and has been associated with happy times in the lives of successive sultans. A historian once ranked it fourth in the rollcall of Ottoman palaces, but today few visitors call at Aynalıkavak Kasrı, literally the Pavilion of he Mirrored Poplar, as the kiosk is known. Thirty-foot walls separate it from the now abandoned naval docks and a scruffy neighbourhood of apartments and workshops. But in 2011, after decades under restoration, it was unlocked. Its garden is a little more kempt, if less romantic, than of old. Gone are the wilderness and the nesting woodcock that would fly out in alarm if anyone approached.

The palace is a good reason to hop off the boat at Hasköy, next to the Koç Museum, with its quietly smart restaurants (the other reason to venture here). You could walk from the boat station, but taxis and the Hasköy–Kasımpaşa dolmuş ply the route at speed, and it is just a 10-minute cab ride from Beyoğlu.

The late garden historian John Drake was passionate about the palace. The Getty-funded report he helped to produce wrote of the vineyards and gardens of the Byzantine emperors, of Mehmed the Conqueror’s shipyard, and of houw the hillside leading up to the Okmeydan, the famous archery ground, became ‘the Shipyard Imperial Gardens’ when Mehmed ordered the creation of a series of kioks and embellishments. Annexes, courtyards, halls, hamams and fountains continued to be added along the shore until it must have looked strikingly similar to the Topkapı Palace.

At the start of the 17th century, Ahmed I, builder of the Blue Mosque, asked for a kiosk to be readied there, as he liked to pass this way on his walk to Eyüp. In 1614 he ordered a flower garden to be created. His viziers made him gifts of rare bulbs… In 1647 Sultan Ibrahim, who became a little too attached to his harem, had the high harem walls pulled down for a better view of the Golden Horn and decreed that no boats should pass – a law that was overturned with a week as impracticable. His son Mehmet IV, ‘the Hunter’, who was not easily tempted back to Istanbul, spent two years rebuilding the palace after a narrow escape from fire in 1677…

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Issue 50, Autumn 2013 Istanbul Unwrapped: The Sultan’s City
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Other Highlights from Cornucopia 50
  • Horn of Plenty

    It is a joy to explore. New universities, a new museum, and a growing band of new aficionados who have invested modest means in old houses, have created a wonderful sense of optimism. But the ancient waterfront is in the eye of the storm, with many quarters due to be bulldozed and the threat of a hideous new marina. Enjoy it while you can

  • Full Steam Ahead

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  • Stony Heart of Empire

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  • Everything the heart desires

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  • A City of Secret Gardens

    When David Wheeler set out to satisfy his craving to explore Turkish gardens, he was guided by a diverse cast of committed Istanbul citizens. What he discovered were myriad horticultural havens, from Byzantine market gardens to Ottoman cemeteries – many of them under imminent threat.
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  • Austerity and awe

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  • Terrifying Beauty

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  • Decked in Splendour

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  • Bean vivant

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  • Byzantium’s Legacy

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  • From Palace to Bazaar

    Take in the Topkapı, where the sultans held sway in secluded grandeur. Saunter round Sultanahmet and the Hippodrome: make the most of the mosques, monuments and museums. Get the buzz of the bazaar: where to snap up covetable collectables and cheerful bargains

  • Urns to yearn for

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  • Magic Movements

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  • A devilishly fine juicer

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  • The Best of a Classy Bunch

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Good places to stay
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