The Fall of the House of Narmanlı?


Designed and built by the Italian architect Giuseppe Fossati in 1831 and until 1880 used as a Russian Consulate General, the building right across the street from Swedish Palace of Istanbul, the House of Narmanlı might be the next victim of “urban regeneration” plans of Istiklal. Originally a consular building, The building was used as a Russian prison between 1880 and 1914, and later on became the property of Narmanlı family.

As diplomatic relations between the Ottoman Empire and Russian Empire were at too much stress due to two sides fighting in the World War, building was neglected throughout the war years. When the October Revolution took place in 1917, Narmanlı became the refugee house for Russians fleeing from the Bolsheviks. As a result of this refugee flow, the consular offices were moved to across the street to another nearby building, which still serves as the Russian Consulate General in Istanbul.

Apart from the obvious ties of the building to Russian-Turkish relations, it is significant for Turkish literary history as well. During the years of global crisis when housing costs were too high especially for singles, several authors, poets and even painters and sculptors rented rooms in this building. The Narmanlı family is still remembered for their generousity and patronage of the time, as they did not rent the rooms to tradesmen for high prices but rather preferred to keep prices low so that artists would be able to afford it. The most famous person that has lived here is perhaps Bedri Rahmi Eyuboğlu, a brilliant Turkish poet. But of course he was not alone. Eyuboğlu was surrounded by dozens of contemporary intellectuals. Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, a prominent figure in Turkish literature was there, and journalist Neşet Atay would write his articles here, as the painter Aliye Berger would be busy on her canvass, the Armenian newspaper Jamanak would get printed in the mean time, sculptor Firsek Karol would be working on his latest design and there was Andrea Bookstore that kept offering books in every language to this intellectual haven.

Later in its coarse, the building also served as a dormitory for students and at some point as a Greek Orphanage, however in time it fell victim to decay. In the last decades, important of the building kept decreasing, especially with the nuclear expansion of the city of Istanbul. There emerged several plans to renovate the building by adding several floors to it, a glass roof and an eventual gentrification of the whole area. Obviously this would mean that the economic value of the building would increase, with the growth in size of budget in the ever-expanding frequency of money-flow in this building. But at what cost?

By letting this building also be gentrified, Turkey would yet again lose another tie to its Ottoman past, early republican artistic life, the last remaining monuments of its cosmopolitan faces of the city. This building needs to be preserved as it is, although with the obvious renovations which should only clean the building up.

The House of Narmanlı was host to a pharmacy, a kiosk-shop, notary, and a shop selling works of art. It was sold to Mehmet Erkul, owner of Erkul Cosmetics, and Tekin Esen, owner of Eteksan Textiles, for 57$ million.


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