Located on a plot once used as the Agha’s residence, this rare green space in the old city has become a political flashpoint between secularists and the Turkish government
Alfred Heilbronn Botanical Garden hosts more than 5,000 plants in Istanbul’s old city (Courtesy of ‘The Garden of (not) Forgetting’)
Istanbul’s old city is densely populated with wonders. From the Hagia Sophia to Beyazit Tower and the Column of Constantine, the historic centre is a chaotic maze brimming with tourists, traders and locals alike.
Among the multitude of grey domes and brown roofs, it can be difficult to locate a green spot to break away and enjoy the breeze coming off the Bosphorus. For years, one such retreat has been the Alfred Heilbronn Botanical Garden. However, recent developments – and a clash of ideologies that strikes deep into the soul of Turkey – have left this beautiful spot inaccessible to the public.
Located near the tomb of the Ottoman Empire’s great architect Mimar Sinan (1490-1588) and the breathtaking 16th century Suleymaniye Mosque, for decades the botanical garden has been an urban oasis.
Founded by Jewish academics fleeing the Nazi regime in 1935, it currently boasts more than 5,000 species of plants in a 15,000 square metre plot, as well as a stunning view of the Golden Horn and the Galata Tower.
“We used to go there and have picnics, and enjoy the great view,” says Dilsad Aladag, an architect turned artist, who has been documenting the history behind the garden to help preserve its memory, with her colleague Eda Aslan. “It was such a liberating place, from all the suffocating issues we deal with as Istanbulians and as then-university students.”
Aladag and Aslan, also an artist, have been visiting the garden for years, only to recently learn that it is in risk of ruin.
Disclaimer: Istanbul's Alfred Heilbronn Botanical Garden and its contested history, unearthed By Ragip Soylu in Istanbul - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view