Fossati’s Panorama

When These Four Engravings, Drawn From The Imperial Gate Minaret Of The Hagia Sophia, Are Placed Side By Side, A Panoramic Of Istanbul Emerges.

Panoramic views of a house, a museum or a town are popular today, and easy to produce thanks to advanced camera technology. But in the past it wasn’t so easy. This panorama, made by the 19th century Italian architect Gaspare Fossati, consists of four engravings that constitute a panoramic view of Istanbul from the Hagia’s Sophia Imperial Gate minaret.

The Education Ministry building (also where the Darü’l-Fünun, or University, was founded), which was lost in a fire in the early 20th century, is clearly visible at the far left. Immediately to the right of it is the Brick Minaret, the Hagia Sophia’s oldest standing minaret, built by Sultan Bayezid II, while the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is depicted directly behind it. This engraving has special importance as the first known view of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque from this angle.

Here we have an extensive Istanbul landscape with the east facade of the Hagia Sophia depicted in detail in the foreground and the twin minarets, thought to have been erected during the reign of Selim II, in the background (one of the minarets is claimed to date to the period of Murad III). The first bridge connecting Karaköy and Eminönü is apparent in the background with its two humps, which distinguish it from those built later. Immediately behind it the Hayratiye Bridge between Unkapanı and Azapkapı is discernible.

On the right is the Imperial Gate, the crown portal of Topkapı Palace, and the pavilion above it. Unfortunately this pavilion, which was built over the gate, was destroyed by a fire in the 19th century and did not survive to our day. Immediately behind the gate, the First Courtyard of Topkapı Palace is visible. The two-story building immediately to the right of the courtyard is the defterdarlık, or revenue office, which was also lost in a fire in 1863. The building adjacent to the defterdarlık and extending to the end of the courtyard is the Has Fırın or Sultan’s Private Bakery, built by Sultan Ahmed I. The building conspicuous for its domed appearance among the oldest Byzantine churches on the left of the courtyard is the Hagia Eirene. This building inside the confines of Topkapı Palace was allocated to the Cebeci Ocağı, or Armorers Corps, following the Turkish conquest of the city and used as a weapons depot. In the 19th century as well it served as an antique weapons depot and museum and in that sense can be regarded as the first museum in the history of Turkey.

One of the first structures to attract attention here is the small yet equally elegant Fountain of Ahmed III, whose roof is clearly visible with its five tiny domes. Apart from this, the most important feature of this engraving are the city walls, which are clearly perceptible running all the way down to the shore. To discuss these walls, however, the other engravings in the panorama also need to be examined.

Yet another outstanding aspect of the panorama is Soğukçeşme Street, which can be seen from one end to the other in the second and third engravings. This street, which stands out for its wooden houses that lean against Topkapı Palace, is named for the cold fountain that was built here by Ahmed III. This street, wedged between the Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace, survives today as one of the best-preserved examples of Ottoman secular architecture and is waiting to welcome you.

During this comprehensive restoration, completed in two years by some eight hundred workmen, Gaspare Fossati made detailed drawings of the Hagia Sophia both before and after, which he published in London in 1852.

Born in the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, Gaspare Fossati came to Istanbul in 1837 to restore Tsarist Russia’s embassy building in Istanbul, which had been reduced to ashes in a fire that broke out in Beyoğlu in 1831.