The Gardens at Yedikule

[1] Earth-movers demolishing the gardens
near Yedikule. July 2013
In the midst of the now weeks-long protests in Turkey ultimately sparked by the potential destruction of Gezi Park, activists are now bringing attention to another possible casualty of heavy-handed development policies: the gardens near Yedikule (Yedikule Bostanları). According to some recent news stories, Istanbul officials have confirmed plans to clear out the orchards and vegetable gardens near the Ottoman fortress as part of a wider effort to create a landscaped park along part of the Theodosian land walls. A farmer renting one of the gardens was told to evacuate, and by July 8 earth-movers had begun to tear up the area. [1] Mock-ups of the proposed "recreation" project, posted on the Fatih municipality website, suggest that the park, which will span from the towers of Yedikule to the gateway at Topkapı, will probably resemble something like the concrete-and-grass sprawl now outside the Theodosian walls at Edirnekapı and surrounding the new Panorama 1453 museum. [2]

[2] The park surrounding the hugely popular 1453
 Panorama Museum, outside of the gate at Edirnekapı. 
At this point, the casual observer might wonder to themselves: "What's the big deal? The gardens will not be replaced with a parking lot and a shopping mall, the plan is to create another green space." The central issue at the heart of the demolition of the Yedikule gardens is the fact that these seemingly-insignificant vegetable patches represent a very tenuous link to Istanbul's urban history--a tradition of land usage that spans the Byzantine, Ottoman and modern periods. Not many other places in the city can boast that kind of provenance. When we traditionally talk about a "historical monument," our comfort zone is to think of a tangible structure of brick and mortar, but the agricultural activity around the land walls of the old city, what UNESCO would term "intangible cultural heritage," could also be considered a monument in its own right, just as significant and deserving of protection as the Kariye Museum, or the towers of Yedikule themselves. 

[3] Cristoforo Buondelmonti, Constantinople,
15th century.
The area under question, seen in Image 1 and the Google Map below, is a series of orchards and gardens that are located due north of the Yedikule fortress, running along the inside of the historic land walls. As laid out by the archaeologist Alessandra Ricci, the agricultural production both inside and outside the land walls dates at least to the Byzantine period, with a 6th-century treatise advising which plants to grow in a particular season (greens like endive, cabbage, mustard, and rabe were recommended, eggplant and legumes not so much). Another scholar estimates that at that time, there was a total of about 13 square kilometers of orchards and gardens surrounding the Theodosian walls, with the lower parts of the defense towers being used by local farmers for their agricultural equipment. To put this in perspective, the municipality has announced that the Yedikule project is part of a wider initiative to create a park along the walls of about 9 square kilometers. In a 2004-05 study, Ricci and a group of students investigated the orchards and gardens tucked next to the land walls today, and she tentatively argues that this agricultural activity represents a rare continuous tradition of land management unique to this area. Here we will try to make a modest effort to bridge the gap and look at the gardens outside of Yedikule throughout the Ottoman period. 

[4] Photograph of the Land Walls near the gate at
Topkapı. Abdülhamid Photograph Albums, sent to
the Library of Congress in 1893-4. 
We'll start with a city view drawn by the Florentine monk Cristoforo Buondelmonti in the early to mid-15th century. [3] The land and sea walls surrounding the city are clearly seen in the bottom half of the image. Although Buondelmonti does not really note vegetation, he does indicate dense habitation in places such as the Galata quarter or the neighborhood around the Blachernae palace (on the other end of the land wall, where they meet the Golden Horn). The area near what would become the Yedikule fortress (constructed by Mehmed II shortly after the conquest, named for its seven towers), in the bottom-left corner of the image, is practically blank, suggesting a large open space near the towers that presumably was cultivated. In the 16th century, our old friend Matrakçi Nasuh shows in his view of Istanbul some greenery near Yedikule, but in this manuscript it is somewhat difficult to determine if one or two trees is intended to denote an actual garden space on the ground or rather served as a more general testament to the verdant nature of the city, almost unimaginable now in today's bustling metropolis. Moving ahead to the mid-19th-century city view that was the subject of our last post, Kaldis is more clear about the presence of agricultural activity, with a vegetable garden and trees clearly visible in the bottom-left corner where the Yedikule fortress was located. Finally, we turn to some late 19th-century photographs taken around the same area. The first [4], an image from the Abdülhamid II photograph collection sent to the Library of Congress, shows the precinct outside of the land walls near the Topkapı gate. What is notable is the foreground of the picture, where there appears to be neat rows of plants, evidence of cultivation not at all unlike what you can see now in the same place. In the second [5] photograph, a postcard of the exterior of the Yedikule fortress, but apparently more from the south or western side, nevertheless gives us an idea of the orchards interspersed with the gardens near the monument. It is precisely these types of green spaces that are currently under threat.

[5] Photographic postcard outside of the Yedikule
fortress. Late 19th-early 20th century.

On top of the historical significance of these gardens, they are also a sustainable system that provides jobs and fresh local produce to the city's markets. And why expend so much time and effort to create yet another astroturf park, when there does not seem to be any current plans in the works to further conserve and improve the visibility of the Yedikule fortress itself? Easily being one of the most fascinating  monuments in Istanbul, Yedikule has been neglected for a long time. Currently, there is almost no educational signage on the site to help a visitor understand what they are looking at. And the various cells and passageways built into the towers themselves, which are truly impressive structures, are navigated by some *very* rickety metal bridges that are not for the faint of heart. And one of the most interesting features of the monument, the Byzantine "Golden Gate" that was later absorbed into Mehmed II's fortress, is made inaccessible by a metal fence and a very irate dog. That is to say, at the moment there appears to be a general lack of concern on the part of the municipality for the cultural heritage around the land walls, whether it be "tangible" or no. 

RICCI, Alessandra. "Intangible Cultural Heritage in Istanbul: the Case of the Land Wall`s Byzantine Orchards." in the published proceedings of the 3. Ulusararasi Tarihi Yarımada Sempozyumu (Istanbul, 2008): 66-67.


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