Urban Parks in Late Ottoman Istanbul

By Mustafa Emir Küçük

People have used green spaces for recreational purposes throughout history, yet the concept of the park as a designed green space for people’s recreation in the middle of the city developed on an international scale in the nineteenth century. In Istanbul, the construction of urban parks was one of the many urban infrastructural projects in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This blog contribution focuses on Taksim, Tepebaşı, and Gülhane Gardens. Other urban parks in late-Ottoman Istanbul included Çamlıca (construction date 1870), Makrıköy (around 1890), Bebek (1908), Doğancılar (1913), and Sultanahmet (1913?). I have limited my study to only Taksim, Tepebaşı, and Gülhane gardens for two main reasons. Firstly, the Ottoman State Archive, newspapers, and novels written at that time refer to these three gardens. Although Çamlıca Garden, was very popular in Turkish novels at that time, there are few sources about it in the Ottoman Archives. Moreover, Çamlıca Garden lost its popularity rapidly. Secondly, memoirs and newspapers at that time compared and contrasted these three gardens. For example, Cemil Topuzlu, founder mayor of Gülhane Garden, explained the necessity of Gülhane Park by comparing Çamlıca, Taksim, and Tepebaşı Gardens.1

In Istanbul, public gardens known as mesire had existed for many years. Mesires were still used after the construction of urban parks, but the profile of visitors changed. For example, Ali Rıza Efendi, a journalist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, wrote that wealthy people and people who followed European fashion did not visit Kağıthane Garden, which was a mesire, anymore because they considered it to be an uncivilized place.2

Figure 1: Taksim Garden and its surrounding. (A) Taksim Barrack (B) Taksim Garden (C) Armenian Cemetery (D) Military Training Space (Talimhane) (E) Tram Route (Source: Cumhurbaşkanlığı Osmanlı Arşivi (the Presidency Ottoman Archives), BOA, HRT.h.0086/11)

In the context of Taksim and Tepebaşı Gardens, one of the reasons for the removal of cemeteries from the urban center and the construction of parks in areas previously occupied by these cemeteries was related to public health. Cemeteries in residential areas were considered one of the main sources of the spread of typhoid in the nineteenth century.3 The transformation of cemeteries into parks was not unique to the Ottoman Empire. For instance, in the nineteenth century, nearly a hundred graveyards were converted into public gardens or playgrounds in London.4 Moreover, walking in green spaces and the circulation of air in the city, according to the understanding of public health at that time, were considered to be necessary for a healthy society.5 In the context of the Ottoman Empire, Besim Ömer (Akalın), a Turkish physician and author, (1862 – 1940), described the city with organs of the human body. He associated streets with veins and sewers with intestine organs. He argued that cities, like a human, have their health: they could be ill or healthy. This situation inevitably affects the health of residents. Hence, the health conditions of the city are crucial for a healthy society. Within this context, Besim Ömer emphasized the worth of green spaces and trees, especially wide squares and public parks, in the city, which clean the air with leaves and the land with roots. He defined urban parks as the lungs of the city.6

Tepebaşı Garden, Italian Embassy, British Embassy, Tramway Route
Figure 2: A) Tepebaşı Garden, (B) Italian Embassy, (C) British Embassy (D) Tramway Route (Source: Huber Maps 1887-91, Hrt_005319/04, Istanbul Atatürk Library

Even though the use of words umumi (public) and belediye bahçesi (municipal garden) for garden names and the motivation of public health in building parks might be connected to the idea that a recreation space should be designed for all people rather than a specific group, park-goers, especially in Taksim and Tepebaşı Gardens, consisted of mostly wealthy people. Parks were enclosed with walls and only people who paid entrance fees could enter. The profile of park visitors can be followed in travels and memoirs. For example, according to Kesnin Bey’s travel writing on Istanbul, which was first published in 1888, the visitors of Tepebaşı Garden were mostly Turks, European residents, Jews, Greeks, and Armenians, and these visitors enjoyed opera while drinking beer.7 Moreover, Semih Mümtaz, son of a former mayor of Istanbul, Reşid Mümtaz Pasha8, mentioned Taksim and Tepebaşı gardens in his childhood memoirs.9 Like many children from the upper classes, Semih Mümtaz visited these gardens with his nanny. According to Semih Mümtaz’s narrative, people in these parks talked with friends, while consuming alcohol, and taking a walk in the garden.

Moreover, Muslim women were not allowed to enter Taksim and Tepebaşı Gardens due to ideas about morality and social control at that time. Gender segregation in public gardens, mesire, and parks was regulated by the state. The journal Women’s World (Kadınlar Dünyası) dated June 3, 1913, published an article, “Taksim Municipal Garden” (Taksim Belediye Bahçesi) to criticize the absence of Muslim women in Taksim Garden while men and non-Muslim women could benefit from the beauty of Taksim Garden for their enjoyment and health.10 Muslim women gained the right to enter the park when the Gülhane Garden was opened in 1913 (figure 3). Even though Enver Pasha, who was the War Minister and one of the leaders of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), the office of Shaykh al-Islām, and many conservative people were against the idea of letting Muslim women and men together into the park, Cemil Topuzlu, mayor of Istanbul and medical doctor, opened the Gülhane Garden for both men and women without any entrance fees by stressing the importance of parks for people’s health.11 Hence, the targeted visitor profile of Gülhane Garden, which was opened in 1913 in the time of the constitutional monarchy was changed to incorporate groups of people formerly excluded from parks, including Muslim women and the poor.

Turkish women touring in Gülhane Park
Figure 3: Turkish women touring in Gülhane Park, (Source: the Atatürk Library (in Istanbul), Krt.013296.)      

Further Readings

Boyar, Ebru and Kate Fleet, eds. A Social History of Ottoman Istanbul, Cambridge:  Cambridge University Pres, 2010.

Çelik, Zeynep. The Remaking of Istanbul: portrait of an Ottoman city in the nineteenth century. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1986

Demirakın, N. Işık. “Expropriation as a modernizing tool in the nineteenth century Ottoman Empire: the case of cemeteries in Beyoğlu,” International Journal of Turkish Studies, 18.1 /2 (2012).

Emily Wakild. “Naturalizing Modernity: Urban Parks, Public Gardens and Drainage Projects in Porfirian Mexico City”, Mexican Studies / Estudios Mexicanos, Vol.23 No.1, (University of California Press Journals, Winter 2007).

Gölünü, Beril. “From Graveyards to the ‘People’s Gardens’; the Making of Public Leisure Space in Istanbul” in Commoning the City: Empirical Perspectives on Urban Ecology, Economics and Ethics, eds. by Derya Özkan and Güldem Baykal Büyüksaraç, (London: Routledge, 2020).

Hopkins, Richard Stephen. “Engineering Nature: Public Greenspaces in Nineteenth-Century Paris(PhD Diss., Arizona State University, 2008),

Schenker, Heath Massey. Melodramatic Landscapes: Urban Parks in the Nineteenth Century, (Virginia: University of Virginia Press, 2009),

Şenyurt, Oya. “Arşiv Belgeleri Işığında Osmanlı’nın Son Dönemlerinde ‘Gezinti’nin Mekânları ve Millet Bahçeleri” Mimarlık ve Yaşam Dergisi, 3 (2), 2018.

Theotokas, Yorgos. Leonis: Istanbul Hatırası 1914 – 1922, (İstanbul: Can Yayınları, 2008).

Topuzlu, Cemil. İstibdat – Meşrutiyet – Cumhuriyet Devirlerinde 80 Yıllık Hatıralarım, Istanbul: Güven Basımevi, 1951.

Uşaklıgil, Halid Ziya. Kırk Yıl, İstanbul: Özgür Yayınları, 2008 (The first publication in 1936).

Yalçın, Hüseyin Cahit. Hayâl İçinde, (Ankara: Orion Kitabevi, 2012). (The first publication in 1901).


Mustafa Emir Küçük graduated from the History Department at Boğaziçi University in 2016. He obtained an MA degree from the Ataturk Institute for Modern Turkish History, Bogazici University in 2019. He is currently a Ph.D. student in the same institute. 


Citation: Mustafa Emir Küçük, Urban Parks in Late Ottoman Istanbul, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 07.09.2021, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/29943


  1. Cemil Topuzlu, İstibdat – Meşrutiyet – Cumhuriyet Devirlerinde 80 Yıllık Hatıralarım, (İstanbul: Güven Basımevi, 1951), 111. []
  2. Balıkhane Nazırı Ali Rıza Efendi, Bir Zamanlar İstanbul, edit. Niyazi Ahmet Banoğlu, (İstanbul, Tercüman, 1970), 207. []
  3. Nuran Yıldırım: “Salgın Afetlerinde İstanbul”, in Afetlerin Gölgesinde İstanbul. Ed. Said Öztürk, (İstanbul: İstanbul Kültür AŞ., 2010), 139. []
  4. Peter Thorsheim, “The Corpse in the Garden: Burial, Health, and the Environment in Nineteenth-Century London”, in Environmental History, Vol. 16, No.1 (January 2011), 38. []
  5. Richard Sennett, Flesh and stone: the Body and the City in Western Civilization, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996), 255-262. []
  6. Besim Ömer, Nevsâl-i afiyet, salname-i tıbbî, (İstanbul: 1322 H /1906), 238 – 243. []
  7. Kesnin Bey, The Evil of the East or Truth about Turkey, (London: Forgotten Books, 2015) first publication in 1888, 286. []
  8. İsmail Dervişoğlu, “Ahmet Semih Mümtaz’ın Hayatı ve Hatıralarına Dair” in Ahmet Semih Mümtaz, Eski İstanbul Konakları, (İstanbul: Kurtuba Kitap, 2011), 7-8. []
  9. Semih Mümtz S., Tarihimizde Hayal Olmuş Hakikatler, (İstanbul: Hilmi Kitabevi, 1948), 195 – 197. []
  10. Editorial, “Taksim Belediye Bahçesi,” in Kadınlar Dünyası no:142 (27 Cemaziyelahir 1331 AH / 3 June 1913), 2. []
  11. Cemil Topuzlu, İstibdat – Meşrutiyet – Cumhuriyet Devirlerinde 80 Yıllık Hatıralarım, (İstanbul: Güven Basımevi, 1951), 111. []

Max Weber Stiftung

The Max Weber Foundation promotes global research, focused on the areas of social sciences, cultural studies and the humanities. Our research is conducted at ten institutes in various countries across the globe with different and independent fields of focus. Through our globally operating institutes, we are able to contribute to the communication and networking between Germany and our host countries or regions. By promoting academic dialogue and merging academic and non-academic employees from several countries with different cultural backgrounds, the Max Weber Foundation is able to strengthen the internationalization of research.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search