Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page - MATT HAN­SON - IS­TAN­BUL

‘Com­mis­sion­ers’ Ex­hi­bi­tion’ at Is­tan­bul’s SALT Galata fea­tures a con­stel­la­tion of struc­tures com­mis­sioned by women from the 15th to 20th cen­tury dur­ing the Ot­toman Em­pire. The ex­hi­bi­tion will be on dis­play un­til Nov. 26

SALT Galata was ini­tially de­signed by the French-Turk­ish ar­chi­tect Alexan­dre Val­laury for its 1892 in­au­gu­ra­tion as the Ot­toman Bank. The halls within its neo­clas­si­cal and ori­en­tal­ist fa­cades con­tinue to de­mys­tify the twi­light era of Ot­toman im­pe­ri­al­ism since re­open­ing as SALT in 2011. Cur­rently on dis­play un­til Nov. 26 one floor be­low the ef­ful­gent mar­ble lobby en­trance­way is the ‘Com­mis­sion­ers’ Ex­hi­bi­tion,’ an ob­scure archival res­ur­rec­tion that seeks to an­i­mate the role of bu­reau­cratic cre­ativ­ity in the di­verse ur­ban­iza­tion of Is­tan­bul

THE EX­TENT of metic­u­lous de­tail drawn by SALT re­search for the “Com­mis­sion­ers’ Ex­hi­bi­tion” is prac­ti­cally un­fath­omable to the non-spe­cial­ist. In­spired by the char­ac­ter­ful Ke­mal Kur­daş, for­mer pres­i­dent of the Mid­dle East Tech­ni­cal Univer­sity (ODTÜ) in Ankara, who in the 1960s com­mis­sioned ar­chi­tec­tural projects with an eye for the holis­tic in­tegrity of ur­ban­iza­tion, it is a proud in­tel­lec­tual achieve­ment in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Pa­mukkale Univer­sity, PAB ar­chi­tects, and ODTÜ Fac­ulty of Ar­chi­tec­ture. A score of in­di­vid­u­als contributed to its present form in sharp lines and clear points. Among four floors of pre­sen­ta­tions shown through­out SALT Galata is the “Map of Women Pa­trons’ Struc­tures in Ot­toman Is­tan­bul” at floor -1.

Span­ning a tem­po­ral scope of four and a half cen­turies, the “Map” is only a sideshow to the cen­tral con­tent of the ex­hi­bi­tion’s fo­cus yet its im­pli­ca­tions are far-reach­ing be­yond the sphere of the SALT re­search li­brary desk. The 50 plus women rep­re­sented were typi- cally elites, en­joy­ing fa­mil­ial ties within the fab­u­lously nepo­tist, by­gone Ot­toman so­cial cir­cles, and they used that power, eco­nom­i­cally, and even po­lit­i­cally at times, among the re­li­gious rule, to ac­tively par­tic­i­pate in the con­struc­tion process to ur­ban­ize the ev­er­ex­pand­ing im­pe­rial cap­i­tal.

Firuzan Me­like Sümer­taş led a team at SALT Re­search with car­tog­ra­pher Mu­rat Tülek to piece to­gether records from an ar­chive ded­i­cated to the mem­ory of the restora­tion spe­cial­ist Ali Saim Ül­gen with in­sur­ance, fire and road maps, street guides, and aerial pho­to­graphs from the late Im­pe­rial to early Repub­lic eras. With graphic de­sign­ers and ed­i­tors, they mapped over 160 struc­tures, in­clud­ing com­plexes, wa­ter­works, dervish lodges, mosques, schools, hos­pi­tals, and res­i­dences built due to pa­tron­age from Ot­toman women.

Many of the women pa­trons were es­pe­cially col­or­ful fig­ures, such as Eme­tul­lah Gül­nuş Valide Sul­tan, who com­mis­sioned three ex­tant foun­tains and the de­mol­ished Yeni Mosque in Bey­oğlu, the clos­est struc­tures to SALT Galata, as well as the Yeni Valide Com­plex and Wa­ter­way in Üskü­dar. Her full name was Devletlu İs­metlu Eme­tul­lah Rabia Gül­nûş Valide Sul­tan Aliyyetü’şşân Hazret­leri and she wielded it with a fine hand as the last im­pe­rial con­cu­bine to legally marry an Ot­toman sul­tan. At the age of 3 she was cap­tured along with her na­tive is­land of Crete, and en­slaved from her Greek birth fam­ily of no­bles in Rethymno, to later ac­com­pany Sul­tan Mehmed IV on hunt­ing ex­pe­di­tions to the Balkans where she be­came his fa­vorite enough to bear two fu­ture sul­tans with him.

She was an en­ter­pris­ing sort to say the least, as she was ru­mored to have mur­dered a fel­low lady of the harem in or­der to be clos­est to the sul­tan’s af­fec­tions, and after­wards had even or­dered the stran­gu­la­tion of her brother-in-law after the birth of her first son. By the time she had built her first foun­tain and Yeni Mosque in Karaköy the year was 1698, and she was then of­fi­cially Valide, the mother of the sul­tan. While her ar­chi­tec­tural legacy is most glo­ri­fied in the Yeni Valide Mosque in Üskü­dar, re­searchers at SALT have brought a fuller pic­ture of her in­flu­ence through­out Is­tan­bul into fo­cus.

Yeni Mosque was fi­nally torn down in 1959 after it be­gan de­te­ri­o­rat­ing in the early 20th cen­tury though its ac­com­pa­ny­ing foun­tains re­main, de­spite one of them be­ing de­funct and now of­ten cov­ered over with the tools of an itin­er­ant cob­bler and con­struc­tion equip­ment be­side the gate to Hır­da­vatçılar Market. Across from the hard­ware bazaar is Bereket­zade Mosque and Is­lamic school (madrasah), which now stands fur­nished with an ex­te­rior plaque memo­ri­al­iz­ing Gül­nuş Eme­tul­lah Sul­tan. And inside the market, one of the foun­tains is still in use where men take mo­ments out the work­day to hy­drate and wash un­der three cen­turies of legacy pa­tron­age.

The power and in­flu­ence of Gül­nuş Eme­tul­lah Sul­tan was rare, as she rep­re­sented a gen­uine last hoorah in the in­flu­ence of women in the high­est court of Con­stantino­ple, es­pe­cially those of non-Mus­lim ori­gins. Later women pa­trons like Ver­di­naz Kadın, the child­less con­sort to Sul­tan Mah­mud I, did not hold as much sway, as vi­su­al­ized with spec­tac­u­lar graphic pre­ci­sion in the gen­dered car­tog­ra­phy of the “Com­mis­sion­ers’ Ex­hi­bi­tion.” Her foun­tain in Galata sur­vives, even while its 18th cen­tury ar­chi­tec­tural sub­tleties are all but ban­ished to mod­ern us­age in a truck park­ing lot within the shore­front bow­els of met­al­work store­houses. As Muzaf­fer Özgüleş ex­plained in his book, “The Women who Built the Ot­toman World,” the power of women was ab­so­lutely mea­sured by the tra­di­tional role they played firstly be­fore they could par­take in such so­cially and in­tel­lec­tu­ally grat­i­fy­ing ac­tiv­i­ties as ar­chi­tec­tural pa­tron­age.

The very def­i­ni­tion of ur­ban­iza­tion changed dras­ti­cally in the last cen­tury of the Ot­toman Em­pire, as its foun­tains re­main to tell tales of lost days. Con­tem­po­raries laugh nos­tal­gic imag­in­ing the pre-mod­ern world where women cir­cled the el­e­gant stone of foun­tains un­der the watch­ful stare of am­bling men who waited for the drop of a ker­chief to sig­nify at­trac­tion. Foun­tains were gen­dered meet­ing points. To build one was to serve the peo­ple as they main­tained the fab­ric of com­mu­nity so­cial­iza­tion within the city as a place where the worlds of men and women could flirt, and with luck, change hands over mu­tual city plan­ning ef­forts.

To open the Thursday cin­ema se­ries at SALT Galata, the film “Cit­i­zen Jane: Bat­tle for the City” (2017) screened to a packed au­di­to­rium fit for over 200 the­ater­go­ers, and still the late and ea­ger stood for lack of seats. Its mes­sage of women lead­ing ur­ban devel­op­ment was rel­e­vant to the con­cur­rent “Com­mis­sion­ers’ Ex­hi­bi­tion” that a city is about peo­ple, not high­ways and build­ings as the pro­gen­i­tors of Robert Moses and Le Cor­bus­ier would as­sume. And the “Map of Women Pa­trons’ Struc­tures in Ot­toman Is­tan­bul” fur­ther at­tests to the in­nate so­cial di­ver­sity that vi­tal­ized Is­tan­bul, one of the great­est cities in his­tory, for over four cen­turies.

SALT Re­search is breath­ing new life into the ar­chi­tec­tural necrop­o­lis that is Ot­toman Is­tan­bul with gain­ing con­tem­po­rary rel­e­vance to the global di­a­logue on gen­der equity in cities. They have pre­sented for­mi­da­ble ev­i­dence to con­test a flag­ship article ti­tled, “How are women chang­ing our cities?” pub­lished by The Guardian in 2015, as its au­thor Lucy Bul­li­vant wrote: “Cities are cul­tural ar­ti­facts. Yet we live in cities where nearly 100 per­cent of the en­vi­ron­ment around us has been owned, leg­is­lated, de­signed and im­ple­mented by men. This is be­cause, out­side of monar­chic city-builders like Cather­ine the Great, women have only had ac­cess to po­si­tions where they could en­gage in the shape and evo­lu­tion of cities for the last 100 years.”

In “Cit­i­zen Jane,” econ­o­mist and pro­fes­sor San­ford Ikeda said, “If you can un­der­stand a city, that city is dead.” In the con­text of the film, he em­pha­sized the cen­tral theme that cities live and die on the in­tegrity of dai­ly­chang­ing com­mu­nity foun­da­tions, and that, if they are to be sus­tain­able, they must be planned from the bot­tom-up. While it is true that the women urbanistas who built Con­stantino­ple from as early as the 16th cen­tury mostly rep­re­sented the high­est class where they could have a greater so­cial ef­fect out­side of the fam­ily, they also in­cluded a few court stew­ardesses, a housemistress and a head of fe­male ser­vants at Top­kapı Palace whose deaths are un­known yet who are re­mem­bered by the mosques, schools and foun­tains they built for each other to make a more in­clu­sive city.

SALT Re­search pro­duced the “Map of Women Pa­trons’ Struc­tures in Ot­toman Is­tan­bul for the Com­mis­sion­ers’ Ex­hi­bi­tion on dis­play un­til Nov. 26.

The last ves­tiges of Eme­tul­lah Gülnu Valide Sul­tan are barely vis­i­ble in the worka­day en­vi­rons of the Hır­da­vatçılar hard­ware bazaar.

Ver­di­naz Kadın Foun­tain was the mod­est, 18th cen­tury con­struc­tion ef­fort of the child­less wife of Sul­tan Mu­rad I.

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