A Hundred Years Old, The Misir Apartments

What distinguishes Istanbul’s İstiklal Caddesi from all other avenues are its magnificent buildings, now ornate, now plain, now refurbished, now abandoned, but standing always shoulder to shoulder. Among them, the Mısır apartments now tell their own story.

I stand next to St. Antoine Church, between the Tünel and Galatasaray Lycée. Before you enter, lean back against the building opposite and survey me slowly from top to bottom. My Art Nouveau facade like that of the Botter Apartments on the Cadde-i Kebir and the Ressam Apartments on Su Terazisi Street. How about those papyrus leaf motifs at the top? And the turquoise tiled balcony that gleams like a blue bead?

Exactly a century has passed since I was built on the site of the former Trocadero Theater, one of Istanbul’s first concrete buildings. The construction, which started in 1905, was completed in the short space of 5-10 years. What luck! My architect, Hovsep Aznavuryan, must have been a great man.

Inevitably a person counts the years when he passes through a portal reminiscent of a humble giant. How many smiles, laughs and tears have permeated that wall in the intervening 100 years? The Mısır Apartments stand like a book whose cover has never been opened.

I was built to order as the winter mansion of the Khedive of Egypt, Abbas Halim Pasha, son of the Egyptian prince, Abdul Halim Pasha. Abbas Halim Pasha and his family used me as a mansion for many years. What days those were! Solemn meetings, lavish balls...

The residents were very happy. Just listen to them giving their address. They had a Mısır Apartments way of speaking, as if they were reciting poetry. This building will make anyone wax poetic! A principal source of the inhabitants’ contentment is the 35-year reign of the concierge Mehmet Getlet (aka “The Colonel”). But contentment does not equal peace and quiet.  According to the Colonel, the current clientele consists of young people. But in the old days...

Who all didn’t come and go here? Such change I underwent as the property of my new owners, the Ipar family.  From furrier Lazzaro Franco, light fixture dealer Karaoka and the dentists Onnik Kumruyan, Arşak Sürenyan and Sami Grünzberg to tailors Cemal, Nedret and Lütfiye and fashion designers Canan Yaka and her mother, Mualla Hanım… Thanks to them I was a popular venue with Istanbul’s high society for years. It pleased me. So much importance was placed on keeping me clean that my staircase was scrubbed down with soap and water three times a day.

Among my residents, albeit briefly, were novelist Mithat Cemal Kuntay and poet  Mehmet Akif Ersoy who penned the words to Turkey’s national anthem. In fact, I’m due to be turned into a museum any day now since Ersoy died here on my second floor on Sunday, December 27, 1936.
I stood vacant and neglected for a while when the İpars left Istanbul to settle in Brazil. But once those years were over fate smiled on me again. I changed hands and was restored and beautified.

“Never mind the elevator. Even if it was enclosed in an old-fashioned wrought-iron cage...  It was always the staircase.” says the building’s veteran concierge. “Those stairs are a technological miracle, a natural wonder” echoes Galeri Nev owner Haldun Dostoğlu. The lightness of the marble, the thickness of the balustrade, the endless spiral... Is there some secret to that staircase?

My staircase? Always solid enough to carry dozens of dashing figures and prominent personages as well as laughter, whispers and social unrest. It’s not just that the staircase harbors secrets, but that every single square inch is permeated with them!