Its past is evident and in full sight for everyone to see. From the UNESCO old part of Istanbul holding major and important landmarks like the former church of the Hagia Sophia to the narrow Cicek Pasaji (Flower passage) where migrant Russian women sold flowers.
However the old Yali mansions of the Bosporus strait of water hold secrets that will never be told. As the summer residences of rich and famous citizens of the Ottoman Empire, anybody would be forgiven for assuming, that behind their closed doors, history saw incidents of double-dealing, romance and intense struggles for power. Much like a modern day soap opera!
620 Yali mansions sit on the shores of the Bosporus, alongside castles and old Ottoman palaces. Along with the properties of the Princes Islands, they form part of Istanbul’s elite property market, with some of them listed as the most expensive properties in the world.
Anyone with plans to fake an interest in buying a Yali mansion so they can view the interior should think again. Owners will only market their properties with the most prestigious agents and potential buyers are screened for verification of their wealth and status in society.
Occasionally, owners will demand that anonymity while selling the property in Istanbul is guaranteed for fears that news of their property sale will spark rumours of diminishing wealth. Whilst other owners refuse to sign broker agreements and enlist 4 or 5 agents to garner interest without an idea of the price that the owner wants to receive. The final agreement is private between the seller and buyer.
Such is the mystique and mystery of the Yali mansion world; it sparks more interest than ever before, most from the common working man.
Prominent Yali Mansions of Istanbul
Zeki Pasha YalisiBuilt in 1895, this mansion defied the tradition of building Yali mansions purely from wood. Using the now conventional bricks and mortar, it is probably the reason for its marvellous intact state when compared to other old Yali mansions, which have now fallen into disrepair. In 2011, the mansion gained notoriety when it was listed for sale at 115 million dollars.
The Hekimbasi YalisiIts size is a massive 1330 square metres yet from the outside the Hekimbasi Yali does not portray a grand appearance. Sitting at the side of the Bosporus Bridge it has remained in the same family, who now rent it out for weddings, concerts and events. Built by Salih Efendi, a physician for the Ottoman sultans, the most impressive part is the excellently maintained gardens showing off a grand collection of rare flowers and plants.
Erbilgin YalisiAnother Yali that made headlines news is Erbiligen when in 2009; Forbes listed it as the 5th most expensive house in the world, on sale for 100,000,000 Euros. Archive records show it was registered in 1887 and has had many prominent owners including the family of the brother-in-arms to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. Covering 3,630 square metres, the property has its own Turkish bath, sauna and swimming pool. When it went on sale, there was immense interest from wealthy Arab businessmen, eager to get into the elite scene of Istanbul.
Bahriyeli Sedat Bey YalisiBuilt in a Neo-Baroque style, little is known about this mansion. Constructed by Mustafa Resit Pasa, it is also called Magnolia Yali because of its flowering gardens and trees. It is located in an area known as Anadoluhisari that is one of the most beautiful regions of the Bosporus.
Koprulu Amcazade Huseyin YalisiIronically this mansion doesn’t attract admiration from visitors and tourists. Its appearance is drab and worn, and upon first glance, anyone would be forgiven for thinking it could collapse into the Bosporus at any given moment. Yet, it is one of the oldest Yali mansions built in 1669 by Amcazde Huseiyn Pasa, a grand vizier to the Ottoman sultans during the second half of the 17th century.
Edip Efendi YalisiThis Yali sits on the narrow Kandilli point of the Bosporus, therefore water currents are strong. Its exterior appearance is not grand or eye-catching yet rumours exist that the interior consists of beautiful European decor. Named after an officer of the Ottoman Empire, ownership has changed hands numerous times but it has always stayed within the elite branch of Istanbul society life.
The Ahmet Fethi Pasa YalisiCurrent owners of this mansion are the elite Uzan family but in the past, famous guests visiting the mansion have also included Agatha Christie, who visited Istanbul at that time to write her novel “Murder on the Orient Express.” Once again designed in a Neo-Baroque style, the architect of this property also designed the historical Pera Palas. Oldest records of the property go back to 1815.
While most of us can only dream about seeing the inside of these properties, the exterior can be seen on daily ferry cruises or Bosporus tours that disembark every day from the Eminonu. Next time you are in Istanbul, be sure to keep an eye out for the magnificent Yali mansions of the Bosporus.
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