The main entrance of the Marble Mansion

The main entrance of the Marble Mansion

The Marble Mansion of Mahmut Muhtar Pasha

I first met her in 1982. She was already old at that time; she was a lady of mature years. Her 122 years old marble body was strong. Her strength seemed to be derived from thousands of girls’ life energy that has been flowing through her veins. Back then we have been calling her “The Mansion”. Yet some decades later, I would learn her real name: “The Marble Mansion of Mahmut Muhtar Pasha”. And some more decade later I would dig her story…

Today the Marble Mansion, whose property that lays between Moda Street and the seashore in Istanbul’s Kadikoy side, and whose large garden decorated with old pine trees gives a fresh breath to people of neighborhood, is commonly known as Mahmut Muhtar Pasha’s mansion. However her former owner was Dimitri Velademi of Greek origin who sold her to Pasha’s wife Princess Nimetullah Hanim in 1897. The documents show that her construction took ten years (1860-1870). It was the rise of Neoclassicism.


The old lady of Moda

The old lady of Moda

The Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, and the excavations in Pompeii and Athens in 19th century have already sparked off the Neoclassical movement in the Western intellectual environment. Classical art and culture of the Ancient Hellen and the Ancient Rome were the basic inspirations for those who have seen Romanticism and Gothic as “anti-modern”, and who have opposed the flamboyant and religious style of Baroque. Cities of England, France, Russia, and Germany have been decorated with Hellenic and Roman touches. These were the days when The Ottoman Empire has been trying something new inside and outside of its territory. In 1839, The Rescript of Gülhane accelerated the reformation in administrative, legal, educational, and military areas which has also opened the intellectual and artistic environment to the Western winds. This led to rise of stone in architecture. Wooden material had a very bad reputation anyway for those who remembered great fire disasters in Istanbul. However, stone was quite a new material, and required the import of new Western architects who had already worked with stone. So the architects such as Alexandre Vallaury, Raimondo D’Aronco, Giulio Mongeri and Konstantinos Kyriakidis came to Istanbul from the wide opened Western gate of The Ottoman, with their Neoclassicism, Neobaroque, Art Nouveau, and Eclectic styles that would lead to a synthesis of western and eastern patterns and so to The First National Architecture movement at the very beginning of 20th century. For instance, Istanbul Archeological Museums of French architect Vallaury which is one of the most beautiful and magnificent examples of neoclassical architecture in Istanbul was built in 1891. It looks like a huge temple of knowledge gathered by human beings throughout the history, which is very convenient with its function and its architectural background.

Even though the best representative buildings of Neoclassicism in Istanbul are monumental, there are also very nice surprises in residential architecture. Especially Pashas of the new Westernization wave seem to be enchanted with Neoclassical lines. Mahmut Muhtar Pasha fitted this category perfectly.


Mahmut Muhtar Pasha and Princess Nimetullah (Picture taken from Ekdal's book)

Mahmut Muhtar Pasha and Princess Nimetullah (Picture taken from Ekdal’s book)

Mahmut Muhtar Pasha was born in 1866, in the mansion, at Feneryolu of his father Gazi Ahmet Muhtar Pasha who served as Commissionary of Egypt for 23 years. After his graduation from Galatasaray Sultani (highschool), he got Harbiye (Military College) education. He finished his education in Metz, Germany as a lieutenant in 1888. He spoke French, German, Arabic, and English fluently and had works on mathematics written in these languages. This handsome and Western style educated man started his career in bureaucracy. After a perfectly arranged marriage with the daughter of Ismail Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt, Princess Nimetullah in 1897, there was nothing left to stop his rise. First he was appointed as the Minister of Navy of his father’s cabinet. During his ministry, an unfortunately famous event occurred. On behalf of The Ottoman Empire, he ordered two warships, called Sultan Osman and Resadiye, to a British company, Times Iron Works and paid 20.000 Pounds. However at the dawn of World War I, British government refused to deliver these warships. This incidence resulted in that Mahmut Muhtar Pasha was tried in court martial and sentenced to pay compensation (22.411 gold liras). After this trial he felt offended and left his country with his family to Alexandria, and lived there till his death in 1935.

The first episode of The Marble Mansion’s story was written during this period.


Pale colors of time...

Pale colors of time…

Newly married couple, Mahmut Muhtar Pasha and his wife Nimetullah Hanim moved to the mansion that the rich Princess bought in 1897, with some other properties and shops in the neighborhood. All of their five kids, a girl (Emine) and four boys, were born under the roof of this three floor marble beauty and played in the huge garden with a greenhouse, ornamental pool, and boatyard next to the Marmara Sea.

Rumour has it that Nimetullah Hanim was a lady of charity; she was very well educated but authoritarian… She had two young companionships called Selma and Yegane. They were so close and loyal to their lady that in the March 31st incidence, when soldiers has attacked the mansion, two girls covered Nimetullah Hanim by their bodies. However, same girls, in 1911, were accused of stealing the lady’s jewelry and allegedly committed suicide by drinking mercuric chloride. As no one called the police and as there is no official record on this case, the allegations that they were killed by torture and their soul couldn’t rest in peace, are still hanging on the mansion’s walls.

We will never know the true story but anyway the girls of the Marble Mansion have been living in the stories of other girls; the ones of Kadikoy Highschool for Girls. As the family never returned to Istanbul, and the successors sold all furnishings of the mansion, including the amazing horse sculpture in the garden in an auction; the building were expropriated by the state (1.5 million liras) and given to the Ministry of Education in 1956. During the “educational period” of the mansion, the main building has been used mostly for administrative purposes. Its deep book scented library at the third stage was a rare one with the most beautiful panoramic view of Marmara Sea. At the dark and eery basement, students’ hobby and club rooms were full with life. Unfortunately, because of the Izmit earthquake in 1999, the mansion and main school building are damaged. The latter was renovated but as the budget was not enough, the mansion was left to its fate. Betül Demirağ, one of the principals of the school, actively tried to find fund by asking the Sabanci family whose mansion’s garden in Emirgan is actually decorated by the famous horse sculpture coming from the auction in 1956, and got rejected. Today, the Marble Mansion is, sadly deserted but certainly proudly standing in the middle of the Kadikoy Highschool’s garden and waiting for her savior.


Initials of Mahmut Muhtar Pasha on iron gate

Initials of Mahmut Muhtar Pasha on iron gate

The marble lady has always been hosting quite a big population. During Pasha’s period, in addition to the couple and their household, their daughter Emine and her husband Hulusi Fuad Tugay were also living in selamlik part. The Eunuch Bashir Agha were carrying out his duty inside and the outside of the mansion. The cook, servants, workers, guard, keeper of the gate, gardeners, and also a steward and his assistant were playing their parts in the mansion’s daily life.

The mansion and her garden of 16 decares hidden behind high stone walls, was big enough to keep the system working without any problem. She was born for it.

She has three openings to the external world. The one at the Moda Street is a big, double-wing, iron door which is decorated with anaglyphic MM (Initials of Mahmut Muhtar Pasha) with two smaller iron doors at both sides. Another one is at the Muhurdar side, standing between two columns. The third one was used to access the sea, with a small boatyard for Pasha’s transfer to his office at Beyazit.

In the garden there was a separate building of selamlik, kitchen, rooms for personnel, manege, greenhouse, coach house, depots and as there was no city electricity in Istanbul, a generator… Namely, everything required to maintain an ordinary life of a Pasha. But the most famous item of this garden was a sculpture. At the Muhurdar entrance of the garden, before the main gate of the building, a bronze Arab horse reared up with pride on a marble pedestal. Its left front leg risen, its muscles flexed, its ears erected and a piece of its fluttered mane fallen on its forehead… A very realistic work of Louis Doumas casted in Paris in 1864. This peer of the Fighting Bull of Jules Isidore Bonheur, standing at Kadikoy, Altiyol, is now living in the garden of Sabanci Museum at Emirgan.

Once, visitors who entered the Muhurdar selamlik gate and faced with this beauty, was amazed with the main gate of the mansion. This monumental, propyleaum-like entrance that is led by large marble stairs and decorated with four marble columns carrying a balcony, is almost whispering to the newcomers’ ear that they are about to enter a Hellenistic temple. The two other gates are, the one of harem, looking to east (Moda Street side), and of Pasha looking west (seashore).

Double-winged, solid wooden door of the main entrance is opening to a hall, the first level of private life. Straight ahead, anti-dust, stained glasses of Morano illuminate the space as a whole. On the left, there is Pasha’s office, which has been used by principals of Kadikoy Highschool, for a long time. In the room, a 4 meters tall, gold foiled; crystal mirror above an Italian marble fireplace makes the space larger and fantastic. On the right side of the hall there is the “music room” which is quite rare for this period. Ornaments on the ceiling and walls of the room, gold and silk foiled corniches, silk satin board on which musical instruments were embroidered, and 2.5-3 cm diameter medallions of Western musicians like Mozart, Liszt attached… All were glamorous but very few left now.

Stairs going up to the second floor have decorative marble balustrades that were eroded by the past inhabitants and students. Similarly wide oak parquets of this floor seemed tired of crowds, and led to the Nimetullah Hanim’s room with a wonderful view of the Marmara Sea. About 4 meters high room doors are double-winged and made of French oak, fir tree and hornbeam composition. Smith hinges, brass, crystal and ceramic door handles were another sign of wealth of the good days.

Today she is still there, but at the edge of oblivion in the middle of hundreds of young men and women. And if I know her well, as her body is terribly damaged, she is probably worried about endangering her young guests…



Gökhan Önce, Kendine Özgü Bir Semt Moda, Kadıköy Bld. Sağlık ve Sos. Dayanışma Vakfı Yayınları, 2004

Dr. Müfid Ekdal, Bizan Metropolünde İlk Türk Köyü Kadıköy, Kadıköy Bld. Bşk. Kültür Yayınları, 1996

Elif Soybaş, Mimaride Neo-Klasizm,, 2014

Doç. Dr. Ali Murat Aktemur, Works of Alexandre Vallaury in Karakoy, The Journal of Academic Social Science Studies, Volume 5 Issue 8, p. 37-74, December 2012

Seljuk and Ottoman Art, April 2015