“Equestrian Villa”: The silent witness of history

Atlı Köşk, the “Equestrian Villa” on the Emirgan shore of the Bosporus is nowadays home to the “Sakıp Sabancı Museum”, one of the leading private fine arts museums in Turkey.

By Sevinç Akyazılı


Atlı Köşk, the “Equestrian Villa” on the Emirgan shore of the Bosporus is nowadays home to the “Sakıp Sabancı Museum”, one of the leading private fine arts museums in Turkey. With its magnificent architecture and its centuries old memories, the mansion whispers many stories apart from its art collection. In recent years, one of Istanbul’s most exquisite buildings is experi-encing an unusual development, namely an ever increasing number of queuing visitors at its gate. Ten thousands of art lovers rush to the Equestrian Villa, home to the Sabancı University’s Sakıp Sabancı Mu-seum, to see the exceptional painting exhibitions of grand masters such as Picasso, Dali and eventually Rembrandt.

Mirgün Gardens :

The story actually goes quite back in time to the first half of the 17th century, to the reign of the powerful Sultan Murat IV. In the1600’s the area between İstinye and Baltalimanı was consisting of a dense cy-press forest. The seashore was untouched. In 1635, Murat IV returned home from a successful military campaign which led to the expan-sion of Ottoman territories to the east, in company of the Governor/Custodian of Revan (Yerevan), Emirgüneoğlu-Tahmasp Kulu Han (Servant of Tahmasp Shah, Safavid Emperor of Iran), who surren-dered the Revan Castle without resistance to the Ottomans. As are-ward for this act, Emirgüneoğlu was receiving from a generous Sultan Murat IV the above-mentioned woods estate large over 400 thousand square meters. Thereafter, the district was going to be known under the name of “Emirgüne Gardens” and, eventually as “Emirgân”. Emirgüneoğlu’s name was changed into Yusuf Pasha, who built the first waterside mansion in this neighbourhood bearing his initial name. His mansion and the “Mirgün Gardens”, often honoured by Sultan Murat IV, became one of the most prestigious venues in town.

However, Yusuf Pasha’s fate drastically changed following the de-mise of Murat IV. Sultan Ibrahim I had Emirgüneoğlu executed and confiscated his estate which he dispensed to public foundations. In ensuing years and centuries, a group of new waterside mansions made appearance. Ottoman Pashas had their mansions built in and around the huge Mirgün Gardens. The most prestigious block in the area consisted of the sumptuous Palace of the Governor of Egypt, Khedive Ismail Pasha and seven mansions occupied by the members  of his family.

Equestrian Villa :

After the foundation of the Turkish Republic, Prince Mehmed Ali Hasan, grandson of Khedive Ismail Pasha purchased in 1927 a derelict house at Emirgân, which used to belong to his forefathers during the 19th century and, commissioned the renowned Italian ar-chitect Edouard de Nari to build a new mansion. However, the house remained unused for many years until the elder sister of the Egyptian Prince, Princess Iffet Hasan made it her home in 1944. Meanwhile, the Turkish Republic was creating its own values and Ottoman elites like the heirs of Egyptian Khedives were sellingtheir properties in Turkey to lead less grand-style lives abroad.

In 1951, Hacı Ömer Sabancı, father of Sakıp Sabancı and founder of Sabancı Holding, purchased the mansion from Princess Iffet for spending summer months with his family. Inside the entrance gate of his mansion, he placed the bronze statue of a horse he purchased at an auction. The sculpture was designed by Louis Daumas in Parisin 1864 and cast by Vor Thiebaut. The second equestrian statue placed in the villa’s courtyard is a reference to an older episode of Istanbul’s history. That statue is a replica of one of the four horse sculptures stolen from the city during the 4th Crusade campaign and currently located in front of the San Marco Basilica in Venice. Hence, the house became popularly known as Atlı Köşk, the “Equestrian Villa”.  Thus the time of the Equestrian Villa began at Emirgân, the silent witness of history!

The Museum opens its doors Hacı Ömer Sabancı and his family lived in the mansion until his decease in 1966. Thereafter, the mansion was home to Sakıp Sabancı and family between 1969 and 1999. The Sabancı family was not only investing in industrial undertakings, but also to a great extent in works of art. The collection became so vast and sophisticated over the years that Sakıp Sabancı decided to share it with the public. The mansion was leased in 1998 for a period of 49 years to Sabancı Uni-versity along with all the antique furnishings and art collections. The museum bearing his name was inaugurated in 2002, two years before Sakıp Sabancı’s passing away and further extended in 2005. Today, the original mansion and a modern gallery annex host extensive art collections of the 19Th and 20th centuries. Beyond the abundance of its rich permanent collection, the Sakıp Sabancı Museum grew rapidly into a cultural sanctuary due to its conservation workshops, the international temporary exhibitions, the seminars, training courses, musical concerts, conferences it is hosting throughout the year. Finally, the exhibitions of great masters such as Picasso, Dali, Rodin put the museum on the front page of the public agenda. This year, on the occasion of its tenth anniversary, the museum is hosting another legendary painter, namely Rembrandt.

Collections of the museum :

President of the Sabancı Museum is an internationally acknowledged scholar, Dr.Nazan Ölçer. Having studied  ethnology, ancient history and history of art at the Ludwig  Maximilian University in Munich, she worked intensively  at the University’s antiquity and ethnology collec- tions as well as at the Munich Museum for  Ethnology. She began working in 1972 as  curator at the Museum of Turkish  and Islamic Art in Istanbul. Between 1978 and 2003, she occupied the post of director of that institution. Among many other distinctions, she is the recipient of the “Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres” award (1991) from the French Ministry of Culture. The Sakıp Sabancı Museum is benefitting from Dr. Nazan Ölçer’s valuable knowledge and experience since 2003. The collection of calligraphy consisting of nearly 400 pieces offers a comprehensive view of Ottoman calligraphic art over a period of 500 years, with manuscript Korans and prayer books, calligraphic panels, decrees, imperial documents, declarations, imperial seals, poetry books and calligraphic tools. The painting collection consists mainly of samples of early Ottoman and Republican Turkish painting and works of foreign artists who lived in Istanbul during the last period of the Otto-man Empire. More than 320 selected paintings from the period 1850-1950, by notable local artists like Raphael, Konstantin Kapıdağlı, Osman Hamdi Bey, Şeker Ahmet Paşa, Süleyman Seyyid, Nazmi Ziya Güran, İbrahim Çallı, Halil Paşa, Feyha-man Duran, Fikret Mualla, and by European artists like Fausto Zonaro and Ivan Ayvazovsky are on display. Most valuable 18th and 19th century Chinese porcelain Famille noire and Famille verte, polychrome vases and decorated plates as well as an impressive collection of 19th century French porcelain, including large numbers of Sèvres vases, and Ger-man porcelain produced in Berlin and Vienna along with deco-rative art works consisting of figurines, metalwork, porcelain, objets d’art and furniture on display at the entrance floor of the mansion, deliver clues to the delighted visitor, on the life style and approach to art of the Sabancı family.


From Osman Hamdi Bey to Rembrandt

The Sakıp Sabancı Museum is not only drawing attention due to its permanent collections but also through its temporary exhibitions. Having hosted exhibi-tions of world’s major artists such as Picasso and Rodin and ofTurkish artists like Abidin Dino, the museum is currently presenting two important exhibitions. First is the new permanent exhibit inaugurated on 24 December 2011, presenting a 100-piece collection that chronicles the past 200 years of the art of painting in Turkey. Entitled “As a Country Evolves: The Turkish Art of Painting from Reformation to Republic”, the show at the newly refurbished permanent exhibit gallery includes works of Osman Hamdi Bey, Fikret Mualla, HalilPaşa, Crown Prince Abdülmecit Efendi and İzzet Ziya. On this occasion, the Naile Hanım (Lady Naile) portrait by Osman Hamdi Bey is presented for the first time to the Turkish public. The second exhibition opened on 22nd February is entitled “Where Light meets Darkness: Rembrandt and his Contemporaries” organized on the occasion of the 400th Anniversary of Turkish-Dutch relations. On display are 110 pieces consisting of 73 paintings,19 drawings and 18 objets d’art by 59 Dutch artists including Rembrandt. 




This article has originally appeared in “Müze” Magazine, published quarterly with the contributions of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. We would like to thank TÜRSAB Museum Enterprises for sharing this piece with Istanbul Digital Platform followers. 

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