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Spring begins in Emirgan
2002 / FEBRUARY

Plane trees and Judas trees herald the coming of spring in Istanbul. As soon as it is warm enough to sit outside, the city's inhabitants fill the old-fashioned street cafés beneath the spreading planes. Do the sunbeams still gleam as joyfully in these pleasant spots as in İbrahim Çallı's painting entitled Emirgan? That is the question I set out to answer one spring morning, buoyant with the energy of that invigorating season. In Emirgan the deep blue of the Bosphorus forms a backdrop to the famous plane trees and the beautiful Emirgan Park, where I looked forward to walking through the woods listening to the birds, and climbing the steep cobbled paths leading to the pavilions painted yellow, green, ice blue and pale pink.

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Spring begins in Emirgan
2002 / FEBRUARY

In spring the Judas blossom paints swathes of magenta across the park, which stretches between Baltalimanı and İstinye. Walking along towards the park, I passed the magnificent waterfront mansion that was once the home of Mustafa Reşit Paşa, architect of the 1839 Reforms. This pink painted mansion now houses the Özdemir Sabancı Orthopaedic Hospital. Beyond it appeared the charming Emirgan Ferry Quay building, constructed in 1851 when the first steamships began to provide ferry services up and down the Bosphorus. Today ferry boats depart from here for Kanlıca, and I promised myself to round off my excursion with a trip to the other side of the strait.

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Spring begins in Emirgan
2002 / FEBRUARY
Further on I came to another waterfront mansion, Şerifler Yalı, which was built in the 17th century and is one of the oldest buildings in Emirgan. It was purchased in 1908 by Şerif Abdullah Paşa, representative of the Hejaz in the Ottoman parliament. The mansion, with its magnificent painted decoration on walls and ceilings, is in the process of restoration by the Ministry of Culture. Next door is Emirgan Mosque built by Abdülhamid I (1774-1789) and the fountain built for his wife Hümaşah Kadın. This fountain stands right by Emirgan's famous Plane Tree Café, where I ordered a glass of tea, and in the shade of the plane trees gazed out at the Bosphorus. This café was a favourite haunt of writers and intellectuals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and gave its name to a literary magazine. In his poem Tea Time in Emirgan, the Turkish poet Atilla İlhan writes, 'The loneliness of tea beneath the planes stretches from Emirgan into the distance.'
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Spring begins in Emirgan
2002 / FEBRUARY

In Byzantine times the whole area was covered with cypress trees and known as Kyparades or Cypress Forest. It remained uninhabited in the Ottoman period until the mid-16th century, when the land here was granted to the nişancı or lord chancellor Feridun Bey, and became known as Feridun Bey Park. In 1635 Murad IV (1623-1640) presented the estate to Emirgûneoğlu Tahmasb Kulu Han of Iran who surrendered the fortress of Revan without a struggle and accompanied the sultan back to Istanbul. The name Feridun Bey Park was changed to Emirgûne, which in time became corrupted to Emirgan. Sultan Murad is said to have often attended gatherings here, sometimes in disguise. The 17th century writer, Eremya Çelebi, writes of the exceptional beauty of Emirgûneoğlu's gardens and pavilion, and of the boating and drinking parties he held. Perhaps the pursuit of pleasure which we associate with the later Tulip Era in the early 18th century had its origins in Emirgan. Following the death of Murad IV,

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Spring begins in Emirgan
2002 / FEBRUARY
Emirgûneoğlu's star faded, and his park had a succession of different eminent owners until the reign of Abdülhamid I, when a village was established here and the park lands distributed to the inhabitants. This sultan built the mosque in memory of his son Mehmed and Mehmed's mother Hümaşah Kadın, with a complex of fountain, hamam and shops, and had the customs office in Rumelihisar moved here. During the reign of Selim III (1789-1807) the village continued to grow, and in the mid-19th century Sultan Abdülmecid (1839-1861) had a horologe room built next to the mosque.
Emirgan is closely associated with the tulip, and a special garden was established in Emirgan Park in the 1960s to revive the city's tradition of tulip cultivation. So leaving the café I set off for the park to see this carpet of brilliantly coloured blooms. On my way I passed Sakıp Sabancı Museum, immediately recognisable by the famous statue of a horse in the garden.
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Spring begins in Emirgan
2002 / FEBRUARY

This new museum, due to open in June, is the home of a magnificent collection of Ottoman calligraphy covering over five centuries, and 19th and 20th century Turkish painting.
More than 120 different species of both common and rare trees and shrubs grow in the 472,000 square metres of Emirgan Park, including such exotica as the daimio oak, maidenhair, coast redwood, Colorado white fir, feijoa (F. sellowiana) and cinnamomum. As I walked through the trees and past the three pavilions built by Khedive of Egypt İsmail Paşa, I also saw in my mind's eye the dreamy black eyes of Türkan Şoray, the jaunty jog of Hülya Koçyiğit, and the beguiling elegance of Kartal Tibet. They and other film stars must know Emirgan Park like the back of their hands, since the park was a favourite location for Turkish film makers for decades. Thanks to those romantic old films, charming in their naivety, the park is inextricably associated with love and passion.

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Spring begins in Emirgan
2002 / FEBRUARY

'On every side the plum trees were bedecked in white bridal array, and the peach trees in pink bridesmaiedy garb. As the delicate petals wafted over my head and the birds sung their joyous celebration of spring, I wandered past the ponds and across the lawns. Suddenly I found myself in Boyacıköy, the village on the far side of the park named Dyers Village after a family of cloth dyers from western Thrace who settled here during the reign of Selim III. At the foot of a hill I could see the Greek Orthodox church, its doors open and pigeons pecking in the courtyard. The church was built in 1834 and repaired in 1925. Two streets further up is an Armenian church, dating from around the same time. Then I strolled back to Emirgan and seated myself in the café to check once again that the sunbeams were gleaming with the same cheerful exuberanc.

* Aycan Saroğlu is a freelance writer

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