ARCHITECTURE / HISTORY / istanbulogy / March 30, 2016

Guest Blogger: Çağla Öztek on the Marble Mansion

Çağla Öztek, my fellow classmate at the university while I was studying Tour Guidance, is now my fellow tour guide. I got hold of this article when I was supposed to take a print-out and submit it to one of our lecturers on behalf of her. Being a veteran journalist and an editor, Çağla would not submit your standard student assignment. The moment I  finished reading it, I  asked for  the permission to feature it on the blog.


So here is this article, where her memories breathe life into one of the iconic buildings of Kadıköy, Mahmut Muhtar Pasha Mansion.





I first met her in 1982, when my family moved to Istanbul and I got transferred to the Kadıköy High School for Girls. She was standing head up high right in the middle of the school garden. I was a teenage girl and she was already old at the time. I was at the very beginning of a journey to become a woman and she was a lady of mature years. She taught me a lot… more than some teachers of mine…

Her 122 year-old marble body was strong. Her strength seemed to have been derived from life energy thousands of school girls, which has been flowing through her veins. Back then, we used to call her “the mansion”; sometimes it was the mother’s bosom for those who need to hide from the cruelty of the world and sometimes the accomplice for our pranks… Yet some decades later, I would learn her real name: “The Marble Mansion of Mahmut Muhtar Pasha”. And some more decades later, I would dig for her story…

Today the Marble Mansion, which lies between Moda Street and the seashore in Istanbul’s Kadıköy side, is commonly known as Mahmut Muhtar Pasha’s mansion. Her large garden decorated with old pine trees gives a fresh breath of air to the residents of the neighborhood. It was her former owner, Dimitri Velademi of Greek origin that sold her to Pasha’s wife, Princess Nimetullah Hanim in 1897. The documents show that her construction took ten years (1860-1870). It was the rise of Neoclassicism.



 *Courtesy of Çağla Öztek



The Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, and the excavations in Pompeii and Athens in the 19th century had already sparked off the Neoclassical movement in the Western intellectual environment. Art and culture of Classical Antiquity were the basic sources of inspiration for those who interpreted Romanticism and Gothic as “anti-modern”, and opposed the flamboyant and religious style of Baroque. Cities of England, France, Russia, and Germany were decorated with Hellenistic and Roman touches. Those were the days when the Ottoman Empire was experimenting with something new inside and outside its territory. The Edict of Gülhane of 1839  accelerated the reformation in administrative, legal, educational, and military areas, which also opened the intellectual and artistic environment to the Western winds. This led to the rise of masonry in architecture. Wooden material had a very bad reputation anyway for those who remembered the great fire disasters of Istanbul. However, stone was quite a new material, and required the import of new Western architects, who had already worked with it. So the architects such as Alexandre Vallaury, Raimondo D’Aronco  entered Istanbul from the wide opened Western gate of the Ottoman. Under their belt, they had Neoclassicism, Neo-baroque, Art Nouveau, and Eclectic styles that would lead to a synthesis of western and eastern patterns, and eventually to the First National Architectural Movement  at the very beginning of 20th century. For instance, Istanbul Archaeological Museums  by  the French architect Vallaury, built in 1891, is one of the most beautiful and magnificent examples of Neoclassical architecture in Istanbul. It looks like a huge temple of wisdom gathered by human beings throughout the history, which is very much in line with its function and its architectural background.

Even though the best representative buildings of Neoclassicism in Istanbul are monumental, there are also very nice surprises in residential architecture. Especially Pashas of the new Westernization wave seemed to be enchanted with Neoclassical lines. Mahmut Muhtar Pasha fitted in this category perfectly.





Mahmut Muhtar Pasha was born in 1866, at the Feneryolu mansion of his father, Gazi Ahmet Muhtar Pasha, who was an Ottoman general and a statesman. After his graduation from Galatasaray Sultani (high school), he received his military education at Harbiye (Military College). He finished his education in Metz, Germany as a lieutenant in 1888. He spoke French, German, Arabic, and English fluently and had works on mathematics written in these languages. This handsome and Western style educated man started his career in bureaucracy. Thanks to a perfect match with the daughter of Ismail Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt- Princess Nimetullah in 1897, there was nothing left to stop his rise: he was appointed as the Minister of Navy of his father’s cabinet.  However, during his ministry, an unfortunate incident took place. On behalf of the Ottoman Empire, he ordered two warships, called Sultan Osman and Reşadiye, from a British company, Times Iron Works, and paid 20,000 Pounds.  Yet, at the dawn of World War I, the British government refused to deliver these warships. This incidence resulted in the trial of Mahmut Muhtar Pasha at the court martial and his sentence to pay compensation (22,411 gold Liras). After the trial, he felt offended and left with his family for Alexandria, and lived there till his death in 1935.





Newly married couple, Mahmut Muhtar Pasha and his wife Nimetullah Hanim moved to the mansion that the rich Princess bought in 1897, with some other properties and shops in the neighborhood. All of their five kids were born under the roof of this three-floor marble beauty and played in the huge garden with a greenhouse, an ornamental pool, and a boatyard by the Marmara Sea.

Rumour has it that Nimetullah Hanim was a philanthropist lady; she was very well educated but authoritarian… She had two young companions called Selma and Yegane. They were so close and loyal to their lady that in the March 31st incidence   of 1909 when soldiers attacked the mansion, two girls shielded Nimetullah Hanim with their bodies to protect her. However, in 1911 the same girls were accused of stealing the lady’s jewelry and allegedly committed suicide by drinking mercuric chloride. As no one called the police, there is no official record on this case. The allegations that they were tortured to death and their soul couldn’t rest in peace are still up in the air.

As the family never returned to Istanbul, the successors sold all furnishings of the mansion -including the amazing horse sculpture and the deer sculpture in the garden- in an auction. The building was expropriated by the state for 1,5 million Liras and transferred to the Ministry of Education in 1956.



 * Photo credit: Bir aile Üç Asır, İş Bankası Publishing 



During the educational period of the mansion, the main building was used mostly for administrative purposes of Kadikoy High School for Girls. Fear of “being called to the principal’s office” was never as traumatic as expected, thanks to the building’s enchanting aura. By the way, her old and wise posture taught every girl more than any warning statement of the principal. Her book-scented library on the third floor, where servants were used to live, was a rare one with a beautiful panoramic view of the Marmara Sea and the lower Bosphorus. At the dark and spooky basement, student clubs were full of life. All of her body was dedicated to the students -to the young girls who were preparing to write their own unique stories. This kind of female energy would help her to keep standing up against all odds, in the near future…





Unfortunately, as a result of the Izmit earthquake in 1999, the mansion and the main school building were seriously damaged. The latter was renovated but as the budget was not enough, the mansion was left to its fate. Betül Demirağ, one of the principals of the school, personally tried to find funds from the Sabanci family, who decorated the garden of their Emirgan mansion with the famous horse sculpture acquired at the auction in 1956, but unfortunately got rejected. Today, the Marble Mansion is, sadly deserted but certainly proudly and quietly standing in the middle of the Kadikoy High School’s garden and waiting for her savior; for someone who will give her a kiss of life, and a fund  for  renovation.


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The marble lady always hosted quite a large number of guests. The mansion and her 16-decare garden hidden behind high stonewalls, was big enough to keep the system working without any problems. She was born for it.

She has three openings to the external world. The one at the Moda Street is a big, double-wing, iron door decorated with anaglyphic MM (Initials of Mahmut Muhtar Pasha) with two smaller iron doors at both sides. Another one is on the Mühürdar side, flanked by two columns. The third gate was used to access the sea, with a small boatyard for Pasha’s transfer by boat to his office in Beyazıt.

In the garden there was a separate building for selamlik- male section of the Ottoman house, a kitchen, rooms for the staff, stables, a greenhouse, a coach house, depots and as there was no city electricity in Istanbul, a generator… Namely, everything required to sustain the ordinary life of a Pasha. But the most famous item of this garden was a sculpture. At the Mühürdar entrance of the garden, a bronze Arab horse reared up with pride on a marble pedestal. A very realistic work of Louis Doumas casted in Paris in 1864 is now living in the garden of Sakıp Sabancı Museum in Emirgan.  Another famous sculpture is a deer one, which decorates the entrance of Taksim Divan Hotel. During the auction, the sculptures seem to have caused a conflict between Hacı Ömer Sabancı and Vehbi Koç, the present owners of the horse and the deer.



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* Courtesy of Çağla Öztek


Once, visitors who entered the Mühürdar selamlik gate and face this beauty, were amazed with the main gate of the mansion. This monumental, propylaeum like entrance led by large marble stairs and decorated with four marble columns carrying a balcony, is almost whispering to the newcomers’ ear that they are about to enter a Hellenistic temple. The gate on the east, the harem, overlooks the Moda Street, whereas the gate on the west, the Pasha overlooks the seashore.

Double-winged, solid wooden door of the main entrance is opening to a hall, the first segment of intimacy. Straight ahead, anti-dust, stained glasses of Murano illuminate the space as a whole. On the left, there is Pasha’s office, which was used by principals of Kadıköy High school for a long time. In the room, a 4-meter high, gold-foiled crystal mirror above an Italian marble fireplace makes the space larger and fantastic. On the right side of the hall, there is the music room, which is quite unusual for the period. There were ornaments on the ceiling and walls of the room, gold and silk-foiled corniches, silk satin board, on which musical instruments were embroidered, and medallions of Western musicians like Mozart, Liszt were attached. All were glamorous but very few left now. During the educational period this was the office of vice-principal, who was also a very talented music teacher, beloved by many of us.

Stairs going up to the second floor have decorative marble balustrades that were eroded by her previous inhabitants and students. Similarly, wide oak parquets of this floor seemed tired of crowds, and lead to the Nimetullah Hanim’s room with a wonderful view of the Marmara Sea. About 4-meter high room doors are double-winged and made of French oak, fir tree and hornbeam composition. Smith hinges, brass, crystal and ceramic door handles were other signs of wealth of the good old days.

Today, she is still standing there, albeit on the edge of oblivion in the middle of hundreds of young men and women. And if I know her well, as her body is terribly damaged, she is probably worried about endangering her young guests… not her self…


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 * Courtesy of Çağla Öztek 

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If you are craving to read more of her articles in Turkish, (and some in English), here is the link to her blog: Kendim ettim kendim buldum

If you are looking for a guide to explore Kadıköy, email her at [email protected]

If you are a carnivorous in search of a place in Çeşme, stop by her place Gölgeli  or in Foça, Taşköy Modalı.

If you are curious about her photography, follow her on her instagram account;  caglaoztek



Tags:  1st national architectural movement İş Bankası Publishing Çağla Öztek classical antiquity education great fires of Istanbul guest blogger high school Istanbul Archaeological Museums Kadıköy Khedive of Egypt Mahmut Muhtar Pasha Mansion moda neo classicism ottoman heritage pasha families Raimondo D'aronco reformation period Sakıp Sabancı Museum sculptures the British westernization

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