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FACES OF ISTANBUL
2002 / MARCH

For nearly a century they have been silently looking at us. They have seen everything that has happened in this city over that time without themselves being noticed by any but the most observant. Most of us are not even aware of their existence, despite having passed by them and looked in their direction so many times. Yet masks and caryatids adorn the façades of many Istanbul buildings, and once having seen their photographs you will be astonished not to have noticed them before. From the mid-19th century until the early 20th century was a time of strong Western influence on Ottoman architecture, and large numbers of masonry buildings with façade decorations in the form of human faces and statues dating from this period can be seen in Istanbul, particularly in the districts of Beyoðlu and Galata. Both these districts have changed little in architectural terms over the intervening century. Although sculpture depicting human figures was traditionally frowned upon, its widespread use as architectural decoration in this period attracted no adverse reaction.

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FACES OF ISTANBUL
2002 / MARCH

This may be attributed to the fact that Beyoðlu and Galata were originally Genoese and Venetian settlements in Byzantine times, and remained the home of Istanbul's European and Levantine communities during the Ottoman centuries. Hence they were the most westernised and cosmopolitan areas of the city. The architecture of this period has been described as Façade Architecture, on account of the extensive use of masks, statues, floriate carving, columns and other decorative elements. The palaces and grand houses built from the mid-19th century onwards by the sultans and statesmen were highly westernised in style, above all where their decoration was concerned, and when designing other buildings architects followed this trend. The façades of the era reflect the desire of the owners for elaborate display. The faces and figures perform no architectural function, but exist only to narrate diverse stories

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FACES OF ISTANBUL
2002 / MARCH
Among them we find mythological faces resembling Medusa, but fortunately unable to turn us into stone at a glance, and Zeus with long rippling hair and beard. Others tell contemporary stories about the buildings themselves, as in the case of the clown's face on the façade of the Halep Arcade, which once housed Pera Circus. Over the entrance to the Orient Bank building in Karaköy designed in 1890 by the French architect Alexandre Vallaury is the face of a Roman soldier seeming to stand guard over the bank.. The most fascinating and tragic of these façade stories is that of the women of ancient Caria, after whom the term caryatid derives. These female figures in draped costume were used in ancient architecture to support entablatures of temples and other buildings, and seem to carry their entire weight on their shoulders. When the Carians took the part of the Persians, the Greeks slaughtered all the Carian men and took the women captive, marching them through the streets in their traditional costumes.
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FACES OF ISTANBUL
2002 / MARCH

Caryatids symbolise the humiliation they suffered, and serve as a lasting memorial to their fate. So next time you are walking the streets of Istanbul, look up from the shop window fronts at street level to the neo-classical caryatids, and let them remind you of those tragic women of two and a half thousand years ago.

* Dr. Hakan Gülsün is an art historian and Ömer Kokal is a photographer and freelance writer

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