GULHANE PARK

Nestled in the heart of the Old City is Gülhane Park which is rarely visited by visitors. A pleasant stroll, between the walls of Topkapi Palace and the rear of Hagia Sophia, along the cobbled street, Söğütçeşme Sokağı, filled with lovingly restored pastel coloured, Ottoman houses brings the visitor to the park. Situated high above the point where the Bosporus and the Golden Horn meet the Sea of Marmara the people of Istanbul sit in the  Setüstü Çay Bahçesi, the Top Terrace Tea Garden, to admire the magnificent view that was once the preserve of the Ottoman Sultans. The park reaches its zenith in April with the annual Tulip Festival. As the short lived flowers fade the air is filled with the scent of the hundreds of roses which burst into flower. As the days grow shorter the green leaves take on a melancholy veil as they change to a dramatic kalidescope of brown hues. In winter the frost covered  tree trunks glisten in the sparkling sun. It is a place where children play whilst their parents sit nibbling nuts and sunflower seeds, the shells of which are strewn along the paths. Inside the park is a historic statue, two monuments and two museums.

From the Setüstü, following the perimeter path of the park counterclockwise and downhill to the exit on the Bosporus side at Sarayburnu, Seraglio Point, one comes to the first statue ever built of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, gazing across the water towards Kadıköy and the site of the original settlement of Chalcedon, founded by the Megarans. It was erected three years after the founding of the Turkish Republic, in 1926. The statue is the work of Austrian sculptor Heinrich Krippel.

The Alay Köşkü, Parade Pavillion, is located at the top of a ramp at the side of the entrance gate. Today the pavilion named after Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, 1901-62, one of Turkey's most revered writers, houses a small literature museum and library  Built into the walls the small pavillion was where the Sultan would watch the festivals and parades. Its origins go back to the time of Fatih Sultan Mehmet II, but the current building was constructed  in 1819 by Mahmud II. The Festival of Guild of Furriers is described by  Evliya Çelebi, the 17thC writer and traveller: “the furs of sable, ermine, marten, red squirrel and Russian silver fox… the neck furs of duck, swan and goldfinch… and the furs of astrakhan lambskin, all worth hundreds of thousands of kuruş”. It's likely that the original was built for Sultan Mehmed II, the Conqueror of Constantinople, although the current model dates back only to 1819, when the reforming Mahmud II was sultan. From the köşku one can get a Sultan's-eye view through the windows at the enormous roofed gateway, know as the Sublime Porte. This was where visitors, seeking an audience with the Grand Vizier, would wait to be received. This resulted in Ambassadors being described as accredited to the Sublime Porte, as opposed to the Palace. The current gateway is dated back to 1840.Leaving the library and walking in a clockwise direction one passes a small lake, with a bridge, which is frequently used as a photo shoot for newly married couples. Further along is the Museum of the History of Islamic Science and Technology, closed Tuesdays, which is housed in what was originally a stable block. Among the exhibits is the history of the İstanbul Rasathane, the observatory that today plays a major part in seismological activity. It was originally established by a Syrian scientist named  Takiyüddin,1526-85, who founded the first site in Tophane in 1574.

Crossing the park and heading back uphill towards the Setüstü Çay Bahçesi, one comes to a clearing with, in the center of it, Goths Column. An inscription on its refers to a victory over the Goths, without indicating which one. Historians are of the belief that it was erected during the reign of Claudius II Gothicus, r. 268-70, or by Constantine the Great, r. 306-37. One historian stated that it had been topped with a statue of Byzas, the founder of Byzantium, which would be logical, given that the Topkapı Palace was built on the site of a Byzantine palace. A number of scattered capitals broken columns and piles of stones, close to the main path, are the only clues to what may have been a small Byzantine church, possibly dating back to the reign of Constantine. From the Setüstü, following the walls of the park in a clockwise direction, you will pass behind the elegant Çinili Köşkü, built in 1472 for Sultan Mehmed II. It was from here that he would watch bouts of cirit, a Turkish sport, similar to polo. The back of the building is studded with beautiful turquoise tiles of Central Asian origin. From the front of the köşku one can access a part of the Archeological Museum. The park is open daily from dawn to dusk.

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