Ottoman Gardens
15th century 1940s
Nurhan Atasoy;
Seyit Ali Kahraman


At the junction of the Kağıthane and Alibey valleys, the Kağıthane grounds, which exemplify Istanbul tastes in recreation, had an important place in the way of life of both the court and the people. The Kağıthane valley attracted people with its large plane trees and the many colorful flowers, including tulip gardens and Judas trees, which ornamented the green meadows. In particular, people came here to celebrate Hıdrellez (May 6). During the summer months, they erected tents and stayed for days, weeks, and even months. As many as five or six thousand tents were pitched here. An army of tradesmen worked here all summer to supply the needs of the crowd.

Evliya Çelebi describes the tulip gardens as follows: The tulip by the name of Kağıthane grows here. Those who come here at tulip time go into ecstasies. The İmrahor Köşk is a decorated wooden pavilion on the grassy shore of the Kağıthane River. The horses of the Ottoman sultans graze there and the master of the horse lives there. Few places in the world are like this for strolling around, with its many enormous plane trees. Nowhere else can be found such herbs, clover, couch-grass, or greensward (Seyahatnâmesi, 1:145a).

In relating the events of 1719, Silahdar Fındıklılı Mehmed Ağa gives an example of the type of entertainment here: The grand vizier gave a feast at Kağıthane to which he invited the sultan. After the meal he gave games in his honor during which they watched the game of cirit, both on foot and on horseback, wrestling matches, and horse races (Nusretnâme, 2:385).

In his History, Cevdet Paşa describes the entertainments at Kağıthane during the reign of Ahmed III:

Flowerbeds made of various kinds of marble were filled with colorful tulips, which were illuminated at night with candles. Candles were also attached to the backs of tortoises who were then set free to wander around the tulip gardens at the Çırağan. Every year, İbrahim Paşa invited the sultan and princes to his seaside mansion called Çırağan at Besiktaş where he would organize a çırağan festival that went on for weeks.

About sixty palaces and gardens were built at Kağıthane, which were shared out among the high officials. Sadabad Kasrı was equipped with waterfalls and adorned with lights. Although such an imposing place was necessary to demonstrate to foreigners the splendor of the state, the extravagance of Kağıthane exceeded all bounds. The ever-increasing varieties of tulip became a great source of revenue for poets who wrote occasional verses on the roses and tulips there. Tulip bulbs, already expensive, reached the point where one tulip bulb was sold for 500 gold pieces. The disappointment of those who were unable to buy tulips caused fixed prices to be set for each variety of tulip and it was forbidden to sell even the best-loved tulip for more than one kuruş. The Istanbul courts kept a record of these fixed prices. Nevertheless, this was the most splendid time in the history of Istanbul for entertainments and enjoyment. However, the system of government became corrupt and the state came to a standstill so that later generations paid the price of this drunken folly. (Tarihinden seçmeler, 36)

The brightest period for Kağıthane was in 1720, during the “Lale Devri” (Tulip Period) of Ahmed III, a period when palaces, pavilions, and wonderful gardens were built there and in the surrounding neighborhood.

The course of the river was changed by Nevşehirli İbrahim Paşa, grand vizier and son-in-law of Ahmed III. A straight canal 28 meters wide and 1,100 meters long was cut in the Kağıthane River and ran from the bridge in front of the police station as far as Çadır Köşkü. This was later known as Cetvel-i Sim, “the silver canal.” From two dams built there, the river flowed in waterfalls out into this canal which ran in front of the palace. The water lapped the walls of the palace and collected in a large pool from which it flowed on naturally. In order to control the amount and flow of the water, underground corridors and other elements were installed. In addition, marble channels were made in the large pool and decorated with sinuous carvings in the shape of fish, and waterworks were created which allowed cascades of water to flow from one marble container to another; bridges and landing-place were also constructed. The level of the water was controlled by means of vents with sliding doors at the sides of the canal. Excess water could be released into side channels or the water could flow as freely as desired. Yirmisekiz Mehmed Çelebi Paşa, who had been an ambassador in Paris, gave an account on his return of what he had seen there and brought many plans back with him. This influenced the European style of the waterside palace of Sadabad, though adapted to Ottoman taste, as well as many mansions and palaces for high-ranking officials. These followed the tradition of the Doğu Bahçesi in seeming to have been arranged for water-play. In front of the palace were planted the French king’s gift of forty orange trees. Many splendid feasts were celebrated here but all these pleasures came to a violent end during the Patrona Halil rebellion, when everything was razed to the ground after a three-day-long rampage.

During the reigns of Ahmed III and Mahmud I, from 1722 to 1745, the place was newly forested; the documents concerning this, which state that the area was planted with lime, ash, and elm trees, reflect the efforts made to beautify it. A document from 1721–1722 discusses the beauty of the garden and its arrangement of flowerbeds. It tells how four hundred and fifty lime, elm, ash, and chestnut trees from the Yörüş Nahiyesi mountains were pulled up by the roots and brought to the coast, from where they were dispatched by ship to be planted in the garden. Another document of 1722 is a written imperial order for the forwarding of five hundred lime, elm, and ash trees from the environs of Izmit and Şile to beautify the gardens of Sadabad. The roots of these were to be packed so well that the soil would be retained. Although after the destruction of Sadabad Mahmud I did not immediately try to rebuild it, the forestation continued.

Selim II had Sadabad Kasrı rebuilt in stone. Between 1803 and 1810 it was repaired by Mahmud II, who changed its name to Çağlayan Kasrı. Abdülaziz was also interested in the place and in 1862 he had Mahmud II’s palace torn down and built one in the European style. The mosque here was renovated between 1863 and 1864, but was pulled down in 1940 and replaced by Military Engineering School.


The text for this entry is adapted from Nurhan Atasoy, Garden for the Sultan, 276–84.



  • Travel Account, 17th century