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The Jewel Box

The Muharrem Nuri Birgi yalı in Salacak

The Çuruksulu Mehmet Pasha Yalı once saw diplomatic service as the home of the ambassador Muharrem Nuri Birgi. Successively remodelled in the past, today it is beautifully preserved, its restrained exterior and spacious interior evincing the classical age of Ottoman style, and its clifftop position providing timeless views. It is a house of memories, where only Freya Stark was permitted breakfast in bed, and where before Nuri Bey’s time the beautiful Belkıs Hanım held court in a cloud of pink gauze. Patricia Daunt explores. Photographs by Simon Upton

  • The hall opens into an alcove with low divans. It was known as 'Beykoz' in Nuri Birgi's day. Then, the vişne vodka was as legendary as the view, the Persian calligraphy and the Turkish Beykoz opaline vessels that gave the room its name

A late-18th-century yalı stands on the cliff above Salacak, the headland sandwiched between the ancient harbour of Chrysopolis, ‘City of Gold’, present-day Üsküdar, and Chalcedon, ‘City of the Blind’, present-day Kadıköy. It is a jewel box of a house, as exquisite in shape as it is in proportion. Its wooden frames is painted in the tradition dark pigment of aşıboya, the colour reserved for the most privileged of the Ottoman sultan’s Turkish subjects.

The yalı could not have belonged to anyone but the late Muharrem Nuri Birgi, so infused is it with his personality. He was one of those distinguished Turkish diplomats educated as Ottomans. After the Second World War he was ambassador to London, then to Nato. His art de vivre, impeccable taste, acerbic wit and remarkable erudition were bywords in Europe and America. From 1970 much of his talent and energy was devoted to the restoration and adornment of the yalı. Now owned by his friends Selahattin and Ayşe Beyazit, it is kept just as Nuri Bey left it.

From its dramatic site, the yalı looks over the confluence of the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara to the hilly promontary of Sarayburnu on which the Topkapı Palace was built.

The house is now a private home belonging Selahattin and Ayşe Beyazıt, who preserved both house and garden almost exactly as Nuri Birgi left it three decades ago. However, it is understood that the yalı is now for sale. Its garden, proportions, and view of the sunset over Golden Horn and the Topkapı Palace surely make it the jewel in the crown of Bosphorus yalıs. We sincerely hope that the new owners will preserve this treasure as the Beyazıts have so faithfully done for three decades.

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Issue 7, 1994/95 The Great Walls of Istanbul
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Issue 7, 1994/95 The Great Walls of Istanbul
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