The following article was published in August 2003 issue of Turkishtime.
Whistles are blown
Gülhane Park, one of the oldest in İstanbul, has just come out of its three-year-long plastic surgery.
The oldest park in Istanbul. It stretches along a tiny hill, between Sarayburnu, Topkapı Palace and Çizme Kapısı. It's not for nothing that it is called "Gülhane" (rose garden); in the past, this place was made a rose garden so that Topkapı Palace would be steeped in fragrances of roses uplifting the soul and giving us a lovely view.
If you are curious about the park's history prior to the Ottomans, military depots were located in the park during the Byzantine era, then somebody appreciated its worth and the Mangana Palace was built. Because the Hagios Georgios Monastery and the Panagia Hodegetria (Sacred) Fountain were also hereabouts, this was actually a sacred piece of land. When Mehmet the Conqueror passed his ships over land initiating a new era for the city, he didn't stop short of surrounding Sarayburnu by walls of fortification, but also had the Çinili Köşk (Tiled Pavilion) inside. As the robes that touched the Ottoman throne changed, İncili Köşk (Pearled Pavilion), Ishakiye Kasrı Summer Palace, Mermer (Marble Pavilion) and Gülhane Pavilion were built. When Topkapı Palace fell out of grace and Dolmabahçe Palace was favored by the Sultans, the swagger of Gülhane was stilled. Pavilions were pulled down and even trees were up-rooted. In 1839, the Tanzimat Fermanı (sultan's decree of an administrative reform package) made history as the "Gühane Hatt-ı Hümayunu" (sultan's decree) was personally read by Grand Vizier Mustafa Reşit Paşa to the public here. This was the place that the Ottoman State chose to announce its reforms in political, social and economic areas; meanwhile Abdülmecid watched what went on from Gülhane Kasrı. Afterwards, the place where Abdülhamid II saw fit for the construction of the first big museum in the 1880s was again Gülhane Park. Then the Ottoman state had no more strength left to devote time to Gülhane…
The first lesson of the Head Teacher
On the fresh page opened in the life story of the park, the first important heading was November 24, 1928, Atatürk's introduction of the Latin alphabet to the public by putting it on a blackboard with his legible shorthand. On that same day, Atatürk was given the title "Head Teacher". (This is why since 1981, November 24 is celebrated in our country as teachers' day.)
Because of its geographical location within the historical peninsula where the heart of the city beat, since the 1880s when it opened its doors to everyone, Gülhane has always been the gathering place of the public and the meeting point of those not from the public, with members of the public. Until it turned into a construction site for a series of plastic surgery operations three years ago, it was a center of commotion where people came with the whole family to crack-open sunflower seeds, sprawled under the trees to picnic on meatballs and bread, boys leered at girls and fired at balloons with toy rifles. Crowds, which many a famous singer wouldn't see in his wildest dreams, were gathered here for "free public concerts". Maybe the minimum wage they were paid was not enough to buy the albums of İbrahim Tatlıses (a very popular singer), but there he would perform before them. This was so much like a dream that Müslüm Baba (another popular singer whom fans call "Father") fans slashed themselves with razors in a bout of rapture to the music in Gülhane concerts the most.
Then, there was a small zoo inside. Though the harrowing misery of the monkeys made you say, "If I could only let these loose on the Belgrad (a large forest in Istanbul) Forest" and though the aquariums where snakes hid, frightened children with their filth, it was the only place where animals other than cats, dogs and insects were seen in the city center.
At long last, Gülhane Park re-opened its doors to its guests with its new, made-up face, around the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality's "transformation projects". The reorganization work of the park, a first-degree reserved land on 163 dönüms (land measure 1/4 of an acre) was done amid a bit of a clamor: Despite the declaration that restoration work proceeded along with the decisions of the Board of Preservation of Cultural and Natural Heritage and under the supervision of archeologists of Archeology Museums, the Tanzimat Museum was demolished, animals in the zoo, in service since 1955, were auctioned in a flurry to the Atatürk Forest Farm in Ankara, the aquarium in the Byzantine cistern was removed under the pretext that it caused humidity and Gülhane Festivities, involving free public concerts and acrobatic shows were called off for good. Metropolitan Mayor Ali Müfit Gürtuna did the opening, reciting "I am a walnut tree in Gülhane Park/ Neither you are aware of this, nor the police" from Nazım Hikmet, planting roses and drawing his fortune (slips of paper bearing prophecies) from the mouths of rabbits. He spoke about the 55,000 plants that had been planted and shared the good news that they had set to work to build Europe's largest zoo in Gaziosmanpaşa.
The lucky few with a bench to sit on
Since vendors aren't allowed in the park anymore, there is a rigorous competition at the door of Gülhane. Touting vendors insist so persuasively that even if you are full, you have to force yourself not to buy at least a "quarter" portion of the tempting meatballs (in a quarter of a loaf of bread) or the freshest of corn. As you enter the park and walk along the neatly laid cobblestones, the din of the city and the vendors die down. But what's that? Is there a grass field to play football? No, soon you find out, this means there is someone stepping on the grass. Guards warn trespassers on the grass by a tune they whistle gently. All right, it wouldn't be wrong to call the species of humans living within the borders of this country "homo grillius" due to their weakness for grilling (barbecue), which they hold to be the major kick they get out of life despite all scarcities and hardships; yes, so trillions have been spent on this park, but how are we to discharge the energy in our bodies? Moreover, it is such a great luxury to grab one of these smart benches for a brief rest that you can hardly take a seat unless you take it upon yourself as a task and ambush in order to reckon who will possibly get off soon. You need to be patient until you go to the tea garden on the raised set at the other end of the park and there, because tea is served in teapots and the view is absolutely magnificent, once someone sits down, they just won't get up.
A lady who had come to visit with her two kids and husband was saying, "They have done the setting very nicely, but there is no entertainment inside". An official working at the SetüstüTeagarden (on a raised platform) since 1987, was talking about how the lives of trees had been extended by raising the soil three or four meters. He loves the tulip time and the spring waters of the park the best.
Gülhane is still the hangout of the "people", the breathing hole of people with a paltry income. Gardening work has been done scrupulously, it's mesmeric. However, it's as if the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has loudly asserted the "urban" awareness that is has been trying to instill in the public by various advertising and commercial campaigns, in Gülhane. They try to "transform" city residents just like they "transformed" the city; where the "people" will proclaim their reply to that, we don't know yet.
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