Y?ld?z Park, Istanbul

Abdül Hamit II didn't allow himself to be upstaged by his predecessors, making his architectural mark by adding to the structures built by earlier sultans in Y?ld?z Park. The pretty ?ale, or chalet, that he built here in 1880 originally functioned as a hunting lodge but was converted into a guesthouse for visiting foreign dignitaries in 1889. It's now a museum.

The park itself had begun life as the imperial hunt?ng reserve for the Ç?ra?an Saray?, but after Abdül Hamit built the ?ale it was planted with rare and exotic trees, shrubs and flowers and became a huge formal garden. The landscape designer, G Le Roi, was French.

The park and its various kiosks became derelict during the early years of the Republic, but in the 1980s it was restored by the Turkish Touring & Automobile Association (Turing) under lease from the city government. In 1994 the newly elected city government declined to renew the lease and took over operation of the park. Today it's a pretty, leafy retreat alive with birds, picnicking families and young couples enjoying a bit of hanky-panky in the bushes. The best time to visit is in April, when its spring flowers (including thousands of tulips) bloom.

The ?ale is at the top of the hill, enclosed by a wall. After being expanded and renovated for the use of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany in 1889, it underwent a second extension in 1898 to accommodate a huge ceremonial hall. After his imperial guest departed, the sultan became quite attached to his 'rustic' creation and decided to live here himself, forsaking the palaces of Dolmabahçe and Ç?ra?an on the Bosphorus shore.

Turkish-speaking guides conduct compulsory half-hour tours through the building every 15 minutes on weekends (less frequently on weekdays). The chalet isn't as plush as Dolmabahçe, but it's far less crowded. In fact, on weekdays it's often empty.

The tour visits a reception hall with French furniture and an ornate painted ceiling; the ceremonial hall with its magnificent Hereke carpet; and a series of bedrooms, bathrooms and salons.

Around 500m past the turn-off to Y?ld?z ?ale, you'll come to the Malta Kö?kü, now a restaurant and function centre. Built in 1870, this was where Abdül Hamit imprisoned his brother Murat V, whom he had deposed in 1876. The terrace here has a view of the Bosphorus and is a pleasant spot for a light lunch, tea or coffee.

If you continue walking past the Malta Kö?kü for 10 minutes, you'll arrive at the Y?ld?z Porselen Fabrikas?. This factory is housed in a wonderful building designed by Italian architect Raimondo D'Aronco, who was to introduce the art nouveau style to ?stanbul.

The steep walk uphill from Ç?ra?an Caddesi to the ?ale takes 15 to 20 minutes. If you come to the park by taxi, have it take you up the steep slope to the ?ale.


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