Istanbul Art Nouveau

Istanbul is not the first city that comes to mind when one thinks of Art Nouveau. One finds here, nevertheless, a significant amount of outstanding buildings representative of that style. Most of these are located in Beyoğlu (Pera), the most developed and cosmopolitan district of the city at the turn of the 20th century. Some opulent Art Nouveau palaces can also be found along the Bosphorus.

Art Nouveau was introduced to Istanbul by Raimondo D’Aronco (1857-1932), an Italian architect. He was invited to the Ottoman Empire in 1893, to design the venue of the trade fair planned to be held three years later to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the accession to the throne of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. In 1894, an earthquake devastated Istanbul and cancelled the plans for the trade fair. D’Aronco was, instead, employed in the reparation works of the damaged historic monuments and was commissioned to design new buildings for both public and private use. He soon became the chief architect of the Sultan’s court, helping him realise his concept of a modern Ottoman city. In his works, D’Aronco reinterpreted the traditional Ottoman forms and fused them with the traits of Art Nouveau, especially its Italian and Austrian versions. He remained the palace architect until the fall of Abdul Hamid II in 1909.

Other notable architects of Istanbul’s Art Nouveau include Konstantinos P. Kyriakidis, Stefanos and Dimosthenis Georgiadis, Hovsep K. Aznavuryan, Aram and Isaac Caracach (Karakaş) and Léon Gurekian. Alexandre Vallaury, another very active architect at the time, also used some features of Art Nouveau in his work, but his style can be better described as eclectic rather than Art Nouveau. The same goes for the buildings commissioned by Abbas II, the Khedive (viceroy) of Egypt and Sudan, in the first decade of the 20th century (designed by different architects).

Below I will introduce 29 Art Nouveau buildings in Istanbul. The list contains the most important examples of the style in the city, but also includes some lesser-known stuctures. A notable building that is missing is the Island Pavilion in the inner garden of the harem of the Yıldız Palace (Raimondo D’Aronco, c. 1902). One may also want to add in the list many wooden mansions that can be found in the suburbs along the Bosphorus (e.g. Arnavutköy and Tarabya), but in my opinion those are generally, with their arabesque and floral motifs, a modern interpretation of traditional Ottoman architecture rather than a conscious attempt to emulate the European Art Nouveau. The Huber Mansion in Tarabya, possibly designed by D’Aronco in around 1906, is a famous example here.

There is not much reliable information available about most of the below buildings. The following travel guide has been of great help to me when mapping the Art Nouveau buildings of Istanbul: Saffet Emre Tonguç & Pat Yale, Istanbul: The Ultimate Guide, Istanbul: Boyut, 2012. Some information about the works of Raimondo D’Aronco I found in the following article: Paolo Girardelli, ‘D’Aronco: Architect to the New Society’, Cornucopia, 46, 2011, pp. 73-93.

I took the photos in November and December 2015 and in September, October and November 2018.

You will find the locations of the mentioned sites on the map below:

1. Camondo Steps

Bereketzade Medresesi Sokak, between Bankalar Caddesi & Kart Çınar Sokak / Banker Sokak, Beyoğlu

The Camondo Steps are among the most remarkable sights in Galata. The structure was commissioned by Abraham Salomon Camondo, a prominent Jewish financier who had served as the banker to the Sublime Porte before the foundation of the Ottoman Bank in 1856. Even though built some time before Art Nouveau became popular in Europe, the Camondo Steps are usually counted as representative of the style. Henri Cartier-Bresson took a famous photo of the stairs in 1964.

2. Botter House

İstiklal Caddesi 235, Beyoğlu
Raimondo D’Aronco, 1900-1901

The Botter House was the first major Art Nouveau building in Istanbul. It is considered to be one of the best works of Raimondo D’Aronco. It was commissioned by Jean Botter, the Dutch tailor of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, who used it as his office, shop and residence. Being the first European-style fashion house in the Ottoman Empire, it soon became very popular among the local elite.

The building’s façade shows floral ornaments, whiplash lines and mascarons. On the inside there are elaborate banister railings and stained-glass windows with floral motifs. All this shows the architect’s knowledge of the contemporary trends in French, Belgian and Austrian Art Nouveau.

The building has been in a dire state for quite a long time.

3. Mausoleum of Sheikh Zafir

Mehmet Ali Bey Sokak 14, Beşiktaş
Raimondo D’Aronco, 1905-1906

The mausoleum (türbe) of Sheikh Zafir is another masterpiece of Raimondo D’Aronco. It represents the restrained and abstract version of Art Nouveau (cf. Vienna Secession). Some have found similarities with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Sheikh Zafir was a well-known Tunisian Sufi, one of the leading sheikhs of the Shadhili order and a spiritual advisor of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. His türbe is attached to the Ertuğrul Tekke Mosque. D’Aronco also designed the library and the fountain of the mosque.

4. Tulip Fountain

Laleli Çeşme Sokak 2, Beyoğlu
Raimondo D’Aronco (?), 1904

This fountain in Galata was probably designed by Raimondo D’Aronco. There is a strong stylistic similarity with the Mausoleum of Sheikh Zafir.

5. Palace of Memduh Pasha

Haydar Aliyev Caddesi 21, Kireçburnu
Raimondo D’Aronco, 1903

Of all the buildings designed by D’Aronco that survive in the suburbs on the European coast of the Bosphorus, the palace of Memduh Pasha – the Interior Minister under Abdul Hamid II – stands the closest to Art Nouveau. This building is also known as the House of Cemil Bey, after the husband of one of Memduh Pasha’s daughters. A beautiful colourful drawing by D’Aronco survives of this as well as many others of his buildings.

6. Vlora Han

Büyük Postane Caddesi 18, Sirkeci

Vlora Han is an office building with the most exuberant Art Nouveau façade in Istanbul. Raimondo D’Aronco’s authorship has been suggested, but this seems to be not accepted by everyone. Just like the Botter House, it has remained in a state of neglect for a long time.

7. Café Lebon / Café Markiz

İstiklal Caddesi 172, Beyoğlu
Art Nouveau wall panels – J. A. Arnoux, 1905

Café Lebon was established in 1880. It was a part of a shopping arcade that had been established in 1840 and was then known as Passage Oriental. The interior of the café was designed by Alexandre Vallaury. Some time later, possibly in around 1940, the café got a new name: Markiz Pastanesi, or Café Markiz. The arcade, too, was renamed as Markiz Pasajı.

On the ground floor of the café, which in recent years housed a fast food restaurant, survive two large faïence wall panels with the allegories of Spring and Autumn. These were most probably made by J. A. Arnoux in Choisy-le-Roi, France, in 1905 and were installed here in the 1920s. The remaining two wall panels, depicting Summer and Winter, most probably did not arrive in Istanbul.

8. Ravouna Building

İstiklal Caddesi 201, Beyoğlu
Konstantinos P. Kyriakidis (architect) & Aleksandros D. Neokosmos (Yenidünya) (interior designer), 1901-1906

This building originally housed an antique shop on the ground floor and apartments of the Ravouna family on the upper floors. The family is supposed to be of Italian origin, but I have not been able to find any information to confirm this. The letters RF, which stand for ‘Ravouna Family’, can be seen on the façade, together with the names of the builders and the architects. The door of the entrance to the residential floors is decorated with beautiful bee-shaped railings.

The original interior of the ground floor is almost entirely preserved, including wooden cabinets in Art Nouveau style for the display of jewellery and antiques. A hotel now operates in the building, with a café and a bar on the ground floor.

9. Frej Apartments

Okçu Musa Caddesi 1, Beyoğlu
Konstantinos P. Kyriakidis, 1905-1906

This apartment building belonged to Selim Hanna Frej, a rich Maronite from Beirut, who is known to have owned many other buildings in Şişhane. It is a monumental structure with a rich plastic decoration of the façade, supposedly influenced by German Jugendstil.

10. Abuaf Apartments

Okçu Musa Caddesi 3, Beyoğlu
Stefanos & Dimosthenis Georgiadis

This structure, located behind the Frej Apartments, was arguably built for a Jewish family. Its architects were brothers Stefanos and Dimosthenis Georgiadis, who designed numerous other buildings in the area, as seen by their names on the façades.

11. Meşrutiyet Caddesi 68

Stefanos & Dimosthenis Georgiadis, 1906

This is the most outstanding Art Nouveau apartment building on Meşrutiyet Caddesi. In addition to the façade, notable features include the entrance door and the staircase railing. I stayed here for a week in the autumn of 2018.

12. Sıraselviler Caddesi 4

I. Karagiannis, 1903

This building is less known for its Art Nouveau architecture than for the fact that it was home to the Changa restaurant, one of the best in Istanbul.