Atatürk In Istanbul

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a young man of eighteen when he first came to Istanbul. We take a close look here at the various spots in the city full of his memories.

It is 29 October 1938, the fifteenth anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey, but the founder and Great Leader is lying on his sick bed in the Dolmabahçe Palace, sad and frustrated that he cannot attend the festivities in Ankara. Suddenly the march they had sung on the way from Samsun to Merzifon when they’d been forced to walk after the car broke down begins to ring in his ears. “The mountaintop is veiled in mist, the silver stream flows without surcease, the sun rises now on the horizon, comrades, let us march on.” Realizing the sound is real and not a dream, he sits up in bed and looks out the window. Students from the Kuleli Military High School have gathered in the courtyard below Atatürk’s window and are singing marches, bringing the 29th October celebrations to the Father of the Nation’s bedside.

Mustafa Kemal was eighteen years old when he graduated from military high school in Manastır and came to Istanbul to study at the War College, and the college dormitory was his first home in the city. In 1912 when Salonica was occupied after the Balkan War, his mother Zübeyde Hanım and his sister Makbule came to Istanbul as well and settled in a building at No 76 Akaretler, where they would live until 1918. Mustafa Kemal would stay here too whenever he came to the city. The Akaretler Row Houses, the first mass housing project in the Ottoman Empire, had been commissioned to architect Sarkis Balyan by Sultan Abdülaziz in 1875. First used as living quarters for the palace eunuchs, the houses were later rented out. Recently restored, they serve as hotels, cafes, offices and shops today. The house rented by Atatürk meanwhile is going to be turned into a museum in the near future. It was here that Mustafa Kemal Pasha met the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and therefore, in a sense, here that the original foundations were laid for the Turkish Language Society that he would found later.

From 1915 onwards, until he moved to his house in Şişli, Mustafa Kemal was a frequent guest at the Pera Palas, the leading hotel of its time, on Meşrutiyet Caddesi in Tepebaşı. Especially during the occupation of Istanbul at the end of the First World War, Atatürk frequently stayed in Room 101 on the hotel’s first floor since his mother’s house in Akaretler was under surveillance by the occupying forces. He met here with his political associates to assess the situation in the country. Combining the comfort of an oriental palace’s mysterious athmosphere with the architecture of Alexandre Vallaury, the Pera Palas has always attracted Ottoman senior officers and foreigners living in Istanbul. Open for service since early 1895, the hotel’s Room 101 where Atatürk stayed was closed to guests in 1981 and converted into a museum. In the room are 32 personal items that belonged to Atatürk.

Towards the end of 1918 Mustafa Kemal moved to a three-story house in Şişli. Before moving he was a guest briefly at a house belonging to Salih Fatsa on Havva Sokak in Beyoğlu. It was here that the first seeds were sown for the national resistance movement he would eventually launch in Anatolia. After renting the three-story house of Madame Kasabian in Şişli, Atatürk brought his mother and sister here from Akaretler and gave them the third floor. He himself lived on the middle floor and used the room at the back overlooking the garden as his bedroom. The large living room was set aside for meetings, while his adjutant lived on the lower floor. During the dark days when Istanbul was under occupation by enemy forces, this house was a place of frequent meetings between Atatürk and his comrades. He lived here right up to 16 May 1919, the day he set out for Samsun. His mother and sister lived on in the house until 1922 when they moved to the new capital at Ankara.

Under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal the War of Liberation was won, the Republic of Turkey was founded and it was set about elevating to the level of modern civilization. Exactly nine years after his departure for Samsun, as he was greeting Istanbul from the decks of the yacht Ertuğrul in the summer of 1927, he recalled the words he had spoken to his adjutant while gazing at the enemy ships that crisscrossed the Bosphorus like a steel cage in November 1918: “They will go as they have come.” And so it went, the ships left as they had come, and a new state, the Republic of Turkey, arose out of the heart of Anatolia. When Atatürk came to Istanbul, he settled into the Dolmabahçe Palace, built in 1854, where he shut himself up for three months and penned his famous ‘Nutuk’, or Address to the Turkish Nation.

The Florya Pavilion, commissioned to architect Seyfi Arkan by the Istanbul Municipality in 1935, was designed to be a summer guesthouse. With extremely simple architecture and interior decoration, this pavilion was home to Atatürk during the summer of 1936. He went swimming at the local beach with the common people and sometimes even ventured out in a rowboat. During this period he also used the pavilion for political and scientific meetings. Prominent guests such as the English King Edward VII and his wife Mrs Simpson were entertained here as well.

The bedroom where Atatürk drew has last breath is immediately next to his study in the Dolmabahçe Palace. This room too is extremely sparsely furnished. A Turkish flag of embroidered silk, a gift of the Advanced Technical School for Girls, is spread over the bed. On the wall hangs a picture entitled the four seasons. Racked by disease in September 1938, Atatürk would fix his eyes on this painting and drift into reverie. “Let’s leave everything,” he would say to Afet Inan, the adopted daughter who never left his bedside, “and go there, to Salonica.” Not long after, in two months’ time, on 10 November he would indeed go, never to return, leaving behind a nation reborn and the foundations of the Turkish Republic.