Karabali Garden

Ottoman Gardens
Nurhan Atasoy;
Seyit Ali Kahraman


This garden is supposed to have been situated in Kabataş in the neighborhood of Fındıklı, which was known to be an area of vineyards and market gardens. Today little is known about this imperial garden. Karabali was a statesman known to have held high office who undertook many duties from the end of the reign of Süleyman I up to the reign of Murad III.

A document from the reign of Süleyman I, dated 1564, mentions repairs to the water-system and sewers. One of the gardens mentioned in a document concerning repairs and the purchase of equipment for the sultan's private garden and other gardens is Karabali Bahçesi.

The Austrian Ambassador who followed Stephan Gerlach, a priest named Salomon Schweigger, lived here from 1578 to 1581, and found the opportunity to bribe the gardeners to let him see the garden. He wrote a description of what he saw as well as drawing a plan of the garden (Newe Reyssbeschreibung, 125–27). The plan and the information he gives shows Persian influence in the way the garden area is divided into four by two diagonals transecting each other (çahar-bağ, chahārbāgh) and is the only known Ottoman garden of this kind. Schweigger says that Selim II was very fond of this garden. It had two regular rows of cypresses planted around the perimeter wall and tall cypresses with small rosemary bushes around them on each side of the intersections. There were flowers and herbs planted in square beds, as well as fruit trees in each of the four sections which were divided by roads wide enough for three horses to go side-by-side. Schweigger also talks of there being wooden pavilions in one of the sections. One of these was a windowless garden-pavilion in an open space, which had a swimming pool with a fountain-pool in front of it, measuring 20 square feet. He adds that not far from this garden-pavilion there was another latticed and tiled pavilion. The writer informs us that this was a place where Selim II ate and drank with his attendants. In Schweigger's sketch a red-roofed building is seen on the left of the sea gate; this must be the gardener's apartment.

In a description of Istanbul in 1588, among the important gardens of the period, Karabali has a place among the important gardens of the period even though the details of it are vague.

Although his real job was that of apothecary, Reinhold Lubenau had a post at the Austrian Embassy from 1587 to 1588 and he visited many of the imperial gardens along the Bosphorus. He also gives details of Karabali Garden, repeating what Schweigger says but mentioning that he also saw a painting depicting the victory of Yavuz Sultan Selim (Selim I) over the Persian Shah Ismail at Çaldıran in 1514 (Beschreibung der Reisen, 2.1:2–3, 8–9). Commenting on a trip along the Bosphorus, he says that both shores of the strait were covered with an abundance of colorful flowers. There were palaces and pavilions in elegant Turkish style, consisting of gardens planted with the most beautiful tulips. He states that these palaces and gardens situated on the slopes of beautiful mountains and hills belonged to paşas and high officials.

Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq, who lived in Istanbul from 1554 to 1562 and who took many flowers from Turkey back to Europe, introducing the tulip there, records his observations in his letters. Like many other travelers, he took trips along the Bosphorus and gained permission to visit some of the mansions there. He mentions seeing on a folding door in one of these a painting by an expert hand of the famous battle between Yavuz Sultan Selim and Shah Ismail of Persia (Life and Letters, 1:129). He explains the reason for making this garden in the Persian style and why it had only a limited influence. As Gülrü Necipoğlu points out in her article, the type of garden of which Karabali Bahçesi was an example never became popular and therefore this design was not followed in other Ottoman gardens.


The text for this entry is adapted from Nurhan Atasoy, Garden for the Sultan, 275–76.



  • Travel Account, 16th century