Alumnus Nicola Verderame in Istanbul

As a Fellow of the Nederlands Instituut in Turkije (NIT), Area Studies alumnus Nicola Verderame had the opportunity to stay at the NIT in Istanbul. Here he writes about his experiences.

The fountain of Ahmed III

I am writing from a snowy Istanbul to give you a short update on my stay as a Fellow of the Nederlands Instituut in Turkije (NIT). I arrived in Istanbul on the first day of 2012, and I have immediately started browsing the primary sources related to heritage and fountain-building in Istanbul between the second half of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century.

The first week has been devoted to a survey of the secondary literature related to fountains and water supplies in Istanbul across the centuries, as well as the studies about the birth of archaeology in the Ottoman Empire. For this survey I could greatly benefit from the NIT and RCAC libraries, both extremely rich of brand-new books, even catalogues of exhibitions that are still going on! The other field on which my literature survey has concentrated is the emergence of heritage, particularly in the form of archaeology, in the Ottoman Empire. In particular, I have been able to read the very recent study by Alev Koçak The Ottoman Empire and Archaeological Excavations, and the collective book Scramble for the Past: A Story of Archaeology in the Ottoman Empire, 1753-1914, which is the catalogue of an interesting exhibition held in SALT Galata, in the building that used to host the Ottoman Bank. For those of you who are planning to come on a trip to Istanbul, I strongly recommend to pay a visit to that building, just a few steps away from the enchanting Camondo stairs, and also very very close to the Galata Bridge. It has been perfectly restored and it has recovered the original grandeur. It now hosts a really rich archive opened to students, with a particularly friendly staff.

Besides the secondary literature survey, my second week of research has been spent in the Prime Minister's Ottoman Archives (BOA), where I started digging for documents about the restoration of the fountain of Ahmed III at the Bâb-ı Hümâyûn of Topkapı Palace. Unfortunately, although the documents about that restoration still exist, they are not accessible at the moment of writing, thus a second period of research in the archives will be needed. The reason why my research has focused on that particular fountain is that it was a landmark of the late Ottoman visual culture, and it was often mentioned as the proof of the peak of splendour Ottoman art reached in the 1720s, namely the period that will be later labelled as the “Tulip Era” (Lale Devri). The restoration of that fountain seems to coincide with the inauguration of an international exhibition in Istanbul in 1894 – the latter never realised because of an earthquake – and possibly points at the symbolic value of Ahmed III's fountain as the true masterpiece of “national art”. However, the study of the primary sources which are not available at the moment will provide further evidence to this thesis.

Postcards and papers

During the second week of research I could also visit the Atatürk Library, where I found a rich collection of postcards showing fountains, as well as a very interesting paper presented by the physician Alexandre Kanburoğlu Paşa to the Imperial Medical Society of Istanbul in 1903, L'Aqueduc d'Eau de Source et les Fontaines Hamidié. The paper praises Sultan Abdülhamid's interest and care for his subjects through fountain-building, which is in itself everything but a surprise for something written during the Hamidian regime!

Groceries in the fountain

The third week has been devoted to the collection of archival documents related to the restoration of fountains in Üsküdar and in other more peripheral areas of the Bosporus. The goal was to see what kind of evidence we do have at our disposal about the construction, restoration, and rebuilding of water fountains in the wider metropolitan area of Istanbul, besides those in the areas of the Golden Horn and in Galata. The results are very encouraging, as there are plenty of instances of interventions on fountains and waterways throughout the urban fabric of Istanbul and the surrounding villages in the late nineteenth century. As a side effect of this research, as soon as I see a fountain I stop and start thinking about the street where I am, looking at the buildings around, and you can imagine how curious the grocery sellers around (there is always one, and sometimes the grocery is IN the fountain!) become...

Hrant Dink demonstration

Besides the research, the stay in Istanbul has been enriched by many new experiences. In particular, on January 19 I have participated in the march organised for the fifth anniversary of the assassination of the journalist Hrant Dink. Only a few days before the anniversary the judges had condemned the killer to prison, but the fact that the involvement of ultra-nationalist groups has been denied since the day after the assassination has left many people extremely disappointed. The march of the 19th of January has been an occasion to point out the need of transparency in this trial. Shouting slogans like “Resistance to Fascism, you are my brother, Hrant”, “This trial won't finish this way”, “We are all Hrant, we are all Armenians”, a crowd of between 15 and 30 thousands people has walked from Taksim square until the offices of Agos, the newspaper published in Turkish and Armenian to which Dink was contributing with his writings.

At 3:05 pm, the time when Dink was killed, the writer Adalet Agaoglu has left some red carnations on the place of the murder, while a female voice was singing a mourning chant in Armenian. In that moment the emotion coming out of the crowd reached its peak, and many people, including myself, were so touched that we started crying. Of course, it is clear that this march had so big numbers in Istanbul only, but it has to be read, I think, as a high expression of the need of justice and freedom of expression that is widely felt right now (let us not forget it, the number of arrested journalists at the moment of writing is 150!).

Zenne - The Dancer

There is another very important trial that is going on and that has even become the subject of a feature film, Zenne – The Dancer. It is the case of an honour killing of the student Ahmet Yildiz, shot by his father because of his sexual orientation. In a later post I will have a short interview with the lawyer of the LGBT association Lambdaistanbul, which has asked to bring a civil action in the criminal proceedings against Yildiz's father. I think it can be interesting to see how, in this case, LGBT activism is gaining a particularly important role in the media.

A dream coming true

Before concluding my update I want to express all my gratitude to the staff of the wonderful NIT, in particular the director Dr. Fokke Gerritsen, who has provided me with lots of information, feedbacks, and support in my research. My stay in Istanbul could not have been better! Everybody here is very welcoming, and there is a 24/7 access to the library: sometimes dreams come true...

Turkish Studies on Facebook

Nicola Verderame will post further updates on Facebook: follow the group Communication Platform Turkish Studies and the page Turkish Studies at Leiden University to read more!


Last Modified: 10-02-2012