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In the spirit’s wake

Breathing new life into an Ottoman spirit factory

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

  • A fishing boat chugs past the Sumahan. Every ground-floor suite in the hotel has access the waterside terrace and its own fireplace

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

To read the full article, purchase Issue 34

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Issue 34, 2005 Ottoman Kaftans
£50.00 / $64.89 / €59.48
Other Highlights from Cornucopia 34
  • Power Dressing

    For boldness, colour and virtuosity nothing can compare with the golden age of the Ottoman kaftan. After months of conservation work to ensure that they could travel safely, the Topkapı lent the Sackler dozens of its mesmerising royal kaftans.

  • Land of a Thousand Mansions

    A 40-page celebration of the architectural heritage of the Eastern Black Sea Mountains

  • Painting his way into history

    The dashing Abdülmecit Efendi was the last member of the Ottoman dynasty to hold court on the Bosphorus. This enlightened, sophisticated man with a passion for painting, son of a Sultan and cousin of the last Sultan, spent two brief years as Caliph. But in 1924, the caliphate was abolished and Abdülmecid left the city his family had captured five hundred years earlier for exile in France. His paintings, abandoned in the very studio of his house on Çamlıca Hill where he had created them, are a remarkable pictorial legacy of the last days of empire. By Philip Mansel. Photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg

  • And Where Shall We Begin?

    Maureen Freely looks back on the life of the architectural historian Godfrey Goodwin, who died aged 84.

  • Championed by the cavalry

    Correct trimming of the stem is the vital first step. Instead of chopping off the hard stem caps, one should trim it into a cone shape, so that the pod then looks like a sharpened pencil and the juices remain trapped inside.
    More cookery features

Buy the issue
Issue 34, 2005 Ottoman Kaftans
£50.00 / $64.89 / 2,145.22 TL
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