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  • Writer's pictureJoel Butler, MA

A Brief History of Gülhane Park in Istanbul

What is Gülhane Park?

Gülhane Park is the historic outer garden of the Topkapi Palace that’s now a public park.

Gülhane Park

Gülhane Park History

It’s April 1592. Sultan Murad III, at the suggestion of his chief gardener, takes a stroll through the extensive leafy groves of the private innermost section of his palace. As Murad gazes out across the water, he’s met by a strange sight. There, in a small rowing boat bobbing on the water within view of the palace walls, is a man standing in supplication to the sultan with an imperial petition held to his forehead. The gardener smiles, knowing his work is done.

The man was none other than the well-regarded Turkophone English Ambassador, Edward Barton, who had many friends within the inner palace. He had come to plead with the sultan for the safety of his barber-surgeon, John Field, who was being persecuted by the acting grand vizier (the chief minister), Ferhad Paşa. Murad took Barton’s petition at once, and the timely arrival in the following days of the English trading ship Ascension, bearing gifts for the sultan and cordial letters from Elizabeth I, guaranteed Field’s freedom, Barton’s reputation, and Ferhad Paşa’s disgrace. In the 16th-century Ottoman Empire, the keeper of the garden that would later become known as Gülhane was a very useful ally to have indeed.

Though Gülhane Park is no longer part of the palace grounds, it remains a grove-like, leafy green space at the heart of the historic city, as well as a key location in the history of Ottoman and Turkish government and politics. The park is named for the rose house (or gülhane) in the grounds, and it was from here in 1839 that Mustafa Reşid Paşa proclaimed the edict that launched what became known as the Tanzimât Reforms. These modernised the way the state related to its citizens (or, more properly, made the Ottoman Empire a 19th-century state with citizens, rather than an early modern dynastic empire with subjects), including establishing the primacy of a secular legal system that treated all citizens equally.

Gülhane has been a metropolitan public park since 1912 and has boasted various amenities that have come and gone over time, not least a zoo. That has now been removed but the old palace stables remain, hosting the speculative Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam. The park also boasts a large Roman column celebrating a victory over the Goths, and the Ottoman-era Procession Kiosk. But above all, Gülhane Park is known for its beautiful ancient trees, some dating back hundreds of years. In the words of celebrated 20th-century Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet, from his poem Ceviz Ağacı (or ‘The Walnut Tree’): ‘My head foaming clouds, sea inside me and out / I am a walnut tree in Gülhane Park / an old walnut, knot by knot, shred by shred / … I touch you with one hundred thousand hands, I touch Istanbul…’

Gülhane, in a manner far beyond that of any ordinary park, has continuously touched the life of Istanbul.

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