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Build, demolish, rebuild Topçu Kışlası

ISTANBUL- Hurriyet Daily news | 7/16/2011 12:00:00 AM | NIKI GAMM

The Topçu Kışlası, or Artillery Officers’ Winter Headquarters, was built around the second quarter of the 19th century. It enjoyed a good life but slowly sank into oblivion until the recent dream to resuscitate it

Although now home to one of central Istanbul’s only large green spaces, Taksim Gezi Park is only a relatively recent addition to the city. The area was long the home of the sprawling Topçu Kışlası, or Artillery Officers’ Headquarters, until the buildings were destroyed roughly 70 years ago. Now, however, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality is discussing plans to rebuild the barrack.

The Istanbul district of Taksim used to be called the Grand Champs des Morts (the Large Cemetery), while the only building to be seen was used to house the water distribution system for the area.

Removing the cemeteries north to Şişli wasn’t difficult so the land for Taksim Square was emptied and made into a promenade area for residents of the Beyoğlu

area. This only occurred after people became more aware of the value of green space in cities from Turks who had traveled to Western Europe and wanted their country to “catch up.”

Topçu Kışlası

The Topçu Kışlası, whose name probably came from Topçu Field Marshal Mehmed Ali Paşa, was built in the first half of the 19th century. They are thought to have been constructed during the reign of Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1809-1839), probably some time after he annihilated the Janissaries in 1826. Efforts to reform the Ottoman army as a means of re-establishing the Ottoman Empire as the power it had been in the 16th century had failed under Sultan Selim III – who had even had to hide the formation of his new army by placing their barracks out at Levent. But the destruction of the Janissary corps gave Mahmud II a freer hand.

The date for the construction of the Taksim Kışla complex is unknown although it is generally thought that the architect was Krikor Balyan, a member of the famous Ottoman-Armenian architectural family. This would mean it was built sometime between 1826 and the architect’s death in 1831. He was the architect for the original Selimiye Barracks in Üsküdar built in 1800. Certainly Charles White who wrote a book about his three years in Istanbul around 1844 refers to the Topçu Kışlası as housing 3,000 men and 1,000 horses. The drilling area for the soldiers was where Talimhane is now located.

The 19th century was a time when the Ottomans were looking with admiration and envy toward the West, and ideas of what buildings should look like changed under this influence. These new army buildings were constructed under the watchful eye of Tophane Field Marshal Halil Paşa, a son-in-law of Sultan Mahmud II.

It is now Taksim Square

The building, which had two stories plus a basement, covered an area that started in what is now Taksim Square and included what is now the Ceylan InterContinental Hotel. The middle contained a large open area, large enough to serve as the Taksim Stadium for football matches until Dolmabahçe Stadium (now the Fiyapi İnönü Stadium) was built next to the Bosphorus. The ground also served as a good bicycle track.

The façade, as seen from surviving photographs, was highly decorated by modern standards. The late Çelik Gülersoy suggested it might have a Russian or Indian flavor, especially looking at the rather bulbous protrusions above the main entrance. The projecting towers on either side of the entrance were reminiscent of the Second (French) Empire style.

Topçu Kışlası retained its prominence until the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II (r. 1876-1909). After his overthrow, the headquarters were used less, and someone eventually gave permission for a building to be constructed just to the

side of the entrance for a car agency. In time, Talimhane was given over to luxury apartment buildings, and a tea house opened in front of the stables.

In 1937, the decision was taken to completely tear the building down; the need for an open area where large-scale ceremonies could be held was expressed by Istanbul Gov. Dr. Lütfi Kırdar. French architect and city planner Henri Prost proposed the area north of Taksim Square on the grounds that such an open space could be created without changing the area where the Monument of Independence was located. His drawings date from the end of 1939 and the barracks were demolished in 1940.

While today few would disagree with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s dream of putting all the vehicular traffic in Taksim underground, those who live in the area would certainly have something to say if they were to lose their beloved park to army barracks.

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