Explore the canals of Istanbul and uncover the secrets of the city’s majestic water mansions. Learn the stories behind these remarkable structures and experience the city’s unique charm
Yali, is a Turkish word meaning a waterside mansion. It also means shore or strand in Greek. During the Ottoman period these mansions on the waterside were named “Sahilhane”. Istanbul is the only city in the world through which the sea passes and it has a history of some 2700 years. Initially, and for many subsequent centuries, Istanbul was located on an historical peninsula between Sarayburnu and Edirnekapi. Building in the Bosphorus area which is 30 km. long began during the Byzantine period, with the building of the first monasteries. Later, small fishing villages started to appear on its shores. During the Tulip Period (1718-1730), waterside mansions followed one another, these creating a necklace of pearls. The name Bosphorus is derived from the mythical name of Io, the favorite of Zeus. Zeus had to turn her into a cow in order to protect Io from his jealous wife Hera, and it actually means “the river of the cow ”.
The Water Mansions of Istanbul, also known as Yali in Turkish, are an architectural wonder that has stood the test of time. These elegant mansions are located on the shores of the Bosphorus Strait, where the elite of Istanbul have made their homes for centuries. They are a symbol of the city’s history, culture, and luxury.
The Water Mansions were first built during the Ottoman Empire, when wealthy families used them as summer homes. They were designed to provide a respite from the heat of the city, with their open-air design and proximity to the water providing a cool breeze that would refresh the occupants. Today, they continue to serve as a testament to Istanbul’s rich past.
Each mansion is a unique work of art, with its own distinct style and design. The mansions were built by master craftsmen, who used local materials to create intricate wood carvings, colorful tiles, and ornate balconies that decorate the facades. These mansions have withstood the test of time, and their beauty is just as awe-inspiring now as it was centuries ago.
The Water Mansions are not just a collection of buildings, but rather a lifestyle. They are a symbol of wealth, luxury, and elegance. These mansions offer a glimpse into the lifestyle of the elite, and provide a sense of exclusivity and prestige to those fortunate enough to call them home.
Imagine waking up to the sound of the Bosphorus, with the gentle breeze cooling your skin and the scent of sea salt in the air. This is the lifestyle that the Water Mansions of Istanbul offer. The mansions provide a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the city, with their serene surroundings and breathtaking views of the water. They offer a sense of peace and tranquility that is hard to find in the modern world.
THE WATER MANSIONS ON THE EUROPEAN COAST
THE SERIFLER YALI
This is a building in Emirgan which derives its name from the Iranian Emir Han. He had been a close friend of Sultan Murat IV. This is the oldest water mansion on the European coast. It was built by Yusuf Pasa in 1780. Its name is related to Serif Abdullah Pasa, who had been governing the Ottoman region including Jordan, Syria and Iraq. He took over the possession of the house in 1948. During the final restoration of this building, now owned by the Ministry of Culture, fabulous frescoes have been revealed.
THE FAIK BEY YALI
The yali called “Pakize Hanim”, adorns the entrance to Yeniköy. Its present owner is Koray Construction Company. On the southern side towards Istinye, there is another yali belong ing to Recaizade Ekrem Bey. He was one of the most important authors of the later Ottoman Empire, and a member of the literary group called “Servet-i Fünun”. On the northern side, is the mansion which at present belongs to the Uzan family.
THE AFIF AHMET PASA YALI
This mansion, built in the Neo Baroque style by Alexandre Vallaury, architect of the famous buildings of Osmanli Bankasi and Pera Palas Hotel, was later bought by Misbah Muhayyes, the previous owner of Pera Palas. When Agatha Christie visited Istanbul to write her novel “Murder on the Orient Express”, she was a guest in this mansion. The current owners are the Uzan family.
THE SEHZADE BURHANETTIN EFENDI YALI
This mansion was bought by the son of Sultan Abdulhamit II in 1911, therefore, carries his name. It has 64 rooms and it is one of the biggest yalis on the Bosphorus. It includes a large wooden house in the back garden. The present owners are the Erbilgin family, and its estimated value is 60 million US dollars. After the Kibrisli mansion, it has the longest pier on the Bosphorus. When Misirli Ahmet Ihsan Bey, bought the mansion, it was known as the Misirlilar Yalisi.
THE SAIT HALIM PASA YALI
This mansion which has a Neo Classical architectural style, burnt down in recent years. It was later renovated by the Turkish State. Its original owner Sait Halim Pasa was a Grand Vizier in the Ottoman Palace for five years. Despite his efforts to keep the Empire impartial during World War I, he finally had to sign the treaty which obliged the Ottoman Empire to enter the war on the side of Germans. Later he was exiled to Malta, and was assassinated in in Rome1921.
THE FAIK VE BEKIR BEY YALI
This mansion was designed in 1906 by the famous architect, Raimondo D’Aronco. He was the same architect who had built the summer residence of the Italian Consulate in Tarabya. As it was built for the twin daughters of Sultan Sara, it was also called the “twins’ mansion”. Immediately beside the port of Yeniköy whose ancient name is Neopolis, the building was later sold in two seperate parts. They were called Faik Bey Yalisi and Bekir Bey Yalisi, respectively.
THE HUBER YALI
Huber Yali takes its name from its former owner Huber. He was the representative of Krupp, the company which had been selling weapons to the Otoman Empire towards the end of the 19th century. Its land covers approximately 9 acres. One of the former Turkish presidents, Kenan Evren, had the mansion renovated, and it subsequently became the summer residence of the Turkish presidency. According to a story related to the mansion. It was given as a bribe to the lady-in-waiting of Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon. It was rumored that she had had an affair with Sultan Abdülaziz.
THE SUMMER RESIDENCE OF THE GERMAN CONSULATE
Abdülhamit II, who is also known as the Red Sultan, had passed his adolescence years in this mansion. He had later given it as a present to Kaiser Wilhelm against his acceptance of re-establishing the navy of the Ottoman Empire. This group of houses were designed by the Belgian architect Cingra, and located in Tarabya, whose name is derived from the fact that this location was a center for therapy. These buildings have an orchard of approximately 45 acres, and it is one of the greenest spots in the Bosphorus.
THE WATER MANSIONS ON THE ASIAN COAST
THE DEBRELI ISMAIL PASA YALI
The Debreli Ismail Pasa yali, built in the Turkish Baroque style in 1778 near the Mosque of Beylerbeyi, was burnt down, like many others over the years. Since its restoration, it is now a boutique hotel. The original plan of the building was designed by the architect Alexandre Vallaury in 1890. For those wishing to spend a night in an historical water mansion, prices start from 160 Euros.
THE KALKAVAN YALI
This beautiful mansion which adorns Beylerbeyi, originally belonged to the Kalkavan family and was later sold to Ömer Sabanci. Besides being one of the 15 water mansions on the Bosphorus which belong to the Sabanci family, it has been used as a set for “Topkapi”, the cult film of 1960’s, in which Melina Mercuri and Peter Ustinov played the major roles. The film was about an attempt to steal the famous Topkapi dagger from the Topkapi Palace.
THE SADULLAH PASA YALI
Located in Çengelköy this mansion was famous for its interior decorations and for its very high value. Its most recent tenant was Aysegül Nadir Tecimer, the wife of a wealthy businessman. It derives its name from its original owner Sadullah Pasa. During the reign of Sultan Abdülhamit II, he was exiled for having been among the conspirers who were said to have plotted a coup bringing Sultan Murat V to the throne. He was not allowed to return to the Ottoman capital after completing his terms as Ottoman Ambassador to Berlin and Vienna. He later committed suicide. Sadullah Pasa was one of the important figures of the literary school of Tanzimat.
THE MAHMUT NEDIM PASA YALI
The most striking element of this mansion, built for Mahmut Nedim Pasa, the Ottoman Ambassador to Austria, is its tower. The inspiration for the tower was from the buildings of Vienna and Prague, where Mahmut Nedim Pasa had lived. His heirs have donated this building in Vaniköy, to the Turkish Red Crescent Organization, but last year it was sold to Yalçin Sabanci for three million US dollars. Pasa had been a Governor and also a Grand Vizier of the Empire. Due to his pro-Russian stance, he was called Nedimof.
THE EDIP EFENDI YALI
The Edip Efendi yali is situated in Kandilli at one of the narrowest points on the Bosphorus. This is where the currents are the strongest. It was named after a much respected government officer of the Ottoman Empire. This yali has become a popular news item during Prime Minister Özal’s reg i me, because its most recent owner Ugur Mengenecioglu has been involved in a bribery scandal. A former tenant in this yali, Dorina Lady Neave, described life on the Bosphorus during the previous century , in her book “Romance of the Bosphorus”.
THE HADI BEY YALI
This mansion of the 1800’s was called the Manford House. It was bought by a Greek shipowner, called Licardopulos following the British occupation of the city. Hadi Bey, a laywer, later took possession of it exchanging it with his property in Thessaloniki, Greece.It is painted with a special red ochre dye, used for these watermansions. It has become one of the most beautiful houses on the Bosphorus, following recent renovations.
THE KONT OSTROROG YALI
Kont Ostrorog Yali is the most beautiful and historical building on the Bosphorus. The Polish-born Leon Ostrorog an expert in islamic law, served as a consultant to the Ottoman Empire. He married Jeanne, a daughter of one of the Galata bankers, the Lorando family. Among his famous guests was the French writer Pierre Loti. The present owner of the house is Rahmi Koç.
THE ABUD EFENDI YALI
The Abud Efendi yali was bought by Abud Efendi in the beginning of 1900’s. Garabet, who was the architect of this yali was from the Armenian Balyan family. They built many of the palaces and important buildings in Istanbul. Abud Efendi’s daughter Belkis, who had been a prominent figure on the Istanbul social scene in 1920’s, had a fabulous wedding ceremony in this mansion.
THE KIBRISLI YALI
Kibrisli Mehmet Emin Pasa was a Grand Vizier during the reigns of three Sultans, This yali is situated near the old Küçüksu beach and it has a private pier of 64 meters. It is still owned by the same family. The Iraqi King Faysal, and the important poet Yahya Kemal are among the many guests who have stayed here. In 1980’s when there was feverish land purchasing by Arabs, the orchard of this mansion, changed ownership. The British born wife of the Pasa wrote a book called “Thirty Years in the Harem” in 1872.
THE KOMODOR REMZI BEY YALI
In 1390, Yildirim Beyazit built Anadoluhisari, which is the castle on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. This was the narrowest part of the Bosphorus and he built it intending to capture Istanbul easily. The Komodor Remzi Bey Yali was built next to and it was rebuilt in 1917. Later, it was sold to the General Mümtaz Aktay. The present owner since 1970 is Sevinç Inönü, the daughter of the famous Turkish shipowner Ali Sohtorik. She is also the wife of Erdal Inönü, who, in turn, is more famous for his political career than for his academic prowess in physiscs.
THE BAHRIYELI SEDAT BEY YALI
The Göksu stream, also referred to as the “Sweet waters of Asia”, flows into the Bosphorus in Anadoluhisari, previously called Güzelce. One of the most beautiful yali in this region is the Bahriyeli Sedat Bey Yali. This house was built in the Neo Baroque style and was constructed by the grandfather of Sedat Bey, Mustafa Resit Pasa. Because of the magnificient tree in its garden, it is also called the Magnolia Yali.
THE ZARIF MUSTAFA PASA YALI
Zarif Mustafa Pasa Yali is one of the most beautiful and valuable mansions on the Bosphorus. It was purchased by Kani Bey, the coffee magnate of Sultan Mahmut II. in 1800’s. When the yali was originally built, it was composed of three sections: the Harem, the Selamlik and the Boat-house. It was originally three times bigger than its present size. In 1848, it became the property of Zarif Mustafa Pasa. The mansion was built on the ruins of a Byzantine monastery. The Ayazma (sacred water source) of the monastery is still in its garden.
THE AMCAZADE HÜSEYIN PASA YALI
Built in 1699, this is the oldest mansion on the Bosphorus. It has a marble fountain from which a jet of water spouts upwards, and its ceilings are decorated with flowers and geometrical designs. Unfortunately, it is in ruins, because of neglect. The original owner Hüseyin Pasa was a member of Mevlevi sect. Five Grand Viziers stemmed from the Köprülü family of the Ottoman Empire. Huseyin Pasa was the fourth Grand Vizier. Pierre Loti appealed to the authorities for the Amcazade mansion to be saved.
THE NURI PASA YALI
It is estimated that this mansion was built in 1895 by one of the officers of Abdülhamit, Nuri Pasa. For many years Rahmi Koç lived in this house. When Rahmi Koç moved to the Kont Ostrorog yali in Kandilli, this house was left to his son, Ali Koç. It is believed that Nuri Bey’s painter son Hami eloped with the daughter of Marki Necip, who was the owner of the neighboring mansion.
THE MARKI NECIP BEY YALI
Necip Bey was a French aristocrat. He accepted the Muslim religion in order to be able to get married to Melike Aliye Hanim. The building behind the mansion which has a tower, was the winter residence of Necip Bey. The yali, which now belongs to the Demirören family, was burnt down in 1983, and it has been subsequently renovated. The original building dates back to the end of 1800’s.
THE HEKIMBASI SALIH EFENDI YALI
Salih Efendi, a graduate of the first medical school in the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Sultan Mahmut II, was the head physician for three sultans. He was interested in botany. He developed a special kind of rose named after him, which he personally grafted, and this rose was called “Hekimbasi”. During the spring, the mansion’s garden became a paradise of colours. It is one of the rarest mansions on the Bosphorus which still keeps its original architectural style and its original furniture. The present occupants of the mansion are the family members of Salih Efendi, who died in 1905.
THE YAGLIKÇI HACI RESIT BEY AND PRINCESS RUKIYE YALI
Yaglikçi Haci Resit Bey Yali was restored by Barlas Turan in 1980’s. Situated in the cove of Kanlica, it was originally built in 1850’s. The neighboring mansion was given as a gift to Princess Rukiye, the daughter of the Ottoman Governor of Egypt, Abbas Halim Pasa. This house, is surrounded by the grove of Mihrabad. The house was purchased in 1957 by Özdemir Atman, a famous name within the Turkish Jockey Club.
THE SADRAZAM KADRI PASA YALI
Kadri Pasa bought this mansion when he married the daughter of the famous palace physician of Sultan Abdülmecit, Ismail Pasa. Kadri Pasa had been a Grand Vizier and later he became the Governor of Edirne. He died in 1883. The heirs of the Pasa restored the present building after a ship had crashed into the mansion, causing serious damage. Next to the yali is the house of a prominent Turkish singer Sezen Aksu, and on the other side is the mansion of Cem Boyner. The period of architecture of this Kanlica mansion dates mainly to the 1850’s.
THE ETHEM PERTEV YALI
The famous cosmetic cream, Krem Pertev, was produced in the 1960’s by one of the early pharmacists of Turkey, Ethem Pertev. He was born in 1871, and is the second owner of this mansion also known as Sarayli Hanim Yali. After the death of Ethem Bey, his children continued to run his pharmacy in Aksaray, and sold the mansion in 1932 to a ship’s captain. Built in the Art Nouveau architectural style, this house has been successfully renovated in recent years.
THE HACI AHMET BEY YALI
The port of Kanlica is called “Glaros”, meaning sea gull. In Ottoman times, people drove oxcarts, called “kagni”, and when they went to Kanlica it meant that they were going to a place which could be reached by kagni. Bosphorus village known as Kanlica is famous for its yoghurt, and the mansion Haci Ahmet Bey is also located there.. This yali was built during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamit II, who ruled the Empire for 33 years. It now belongs to the Ramazanoglu family. Atatürk is said to have visited the house in the circumcision ceremony of one of their sons.
THE YAGCI SEFIK BEY YALI
In the place of Yagci Sefik Bey Yali, there was an earlier mansion belonging to Cemile Sultan, the sister of Sultan Abdülhamit II. In 1905, Sefik Bey, a successful businessman and also the founder of Association of the Naval Fleet, built this magnificient yali. The larger of the two parts of the house is the Haremlik – reserved for women, and the smaller building is the Selamlik – reserved for men. As you travel towards Çubuklu from South to north, you see the 7-8 Hasan Pasa Yali and the Rasim Pasa Yali, recently turned into a boutique hotel.
In conclusion, the Water Mansions of Istanbul are a true masterpiece of architecture and design. They are a symbol of Istanbul’s rich history and culture, and a testament to the city’s elite. These mansions offer a lifestyle of luxury, exclusivity, and prestige that is hard to match. If you ever have the chance to visit Istanbul, make sure to take a stroll along the Bosphorus and marvel at the beauty of the Water Mansions.