100 Years of Travelers in İstanbul from Pierre de Gigord Collection
Penning the classics of travel literature, these travelers were followed by tourist groups after the Crimean War. Guided by travel companies instead of academic institutions, these curious crowds began to appear in almost all parts of İstanbul. They were obsessed with the Eastern image the previous generation of travelers had created: the Sultan’s harem, whirling dervishes, stray dogs, and female sexuality hidden behind the veil and the chador were the most provocative aspects of this image.
The repertoire of the itinerary was roughly the same: Sultanahmet Square, Saladin Mosques, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar, Beyoğlu, the Bosphorus, and the Prince’s Islands.
During the same period, mass tourism gave rise to hotels in the city. Hotels such as Londra (London), Tokatlıyan, Bristol, and Pera Palace opened their doors to European tourists as well. Throughout the years, the slogan of the “travelmania” instigated by the “Eastern Question” remained the same: Travel Liberates!
In a letter he wrote to his publisher Timothée O’Neddy, de Nerval complained about the social predictability of stations, the punctuality of scheduled boats, and criticized the new geometry of life Europe has established: “What a bizarre city, this Constantinople! Glamour and destitution, tears and joy; people act more arbitrarily here than anywhere else, but that also comes with more liberties.
As children of the same land, they show far more tolerance to one another than our various provincial people or diverse partisan groups ever could. Four different communities coexist without hating one another too much. Turks, Armenians, Greeks, and Jews.
The decline of creative travel and its transformation into a monotonous act of consumption, on the other hand, was a commercial adventure that extended from the reign of Sultan Abdülmecid to the present.
Designed by architect Alexandre Vallaury, the hotel reflected the classic lines of Orientalism coupled with the highly popular Eclectic style of the period. The ballroom, for example, epitomized the Orientalist influence. It featured one large and one small dining hall on both ends. Throughout the years of Armistice, these halls were almost transformed into the headquarters of the Occupying Forces and a number of critical decisions concerning the future of the Ottoman Empire were made in their mystical atmosphere.
Hoping to be left entirely in the past, the more this civilization of fez and chador stumbled on the path to modernization, the more it was augmenting the pleasure Westerners derived from watching such a display of tragedy.
Roaming the streets of the city freely was not advised by the guides, for as much as the stumbling modernization increased the pleasure the West took from the city, a wall of security in the fullest sense had not yet been built for a city still unrestrained by law. The guidebooks of the period were filled with warnings about the challenges and unfavorable circumstances tourists visiting İstanbul could face. In reality, each warning was a reflection of the prejudices deeply rooted in the minds of foreigners.
The palace of the mighty sultan, harem women, seaside mansions of the Bosphorus, Sultanahmet Square, beggars, whirling dervishes, stray dogs, firefighters, cemeteries, and other social values that represented a complex cultural design altogether comprised both an open invitation to the East and a point of reference for the West.
Prior to 1883, trains running to İstanbul were not part of a definite schedule or program. Departing from Paris, Berlin or Rome, the trains transported not only the upper classes, but valuable commercial goods to İstanbul. In time, special cars reserved for luxury-seeking European bourgeoisie were also added to the rakes of wagons. These special cars were the harbinger of the Orient-Express, which would soon appear on the railways.
Spreading rapidly across Europe in the 19th century, the passion for luxury travel reached a new height following the inauguration of the Paris-İstanbul line of the Orient-Express in 1883.
As the historic operator of the Orient-Express, Wagons-Lits organized rides to İstanbul via the Danube until 1889.
Having purchased the Pera Palace in 1895, the company made no concessions on comfort and offered the cuisine and music of the countries on its itinerary to select guests.
Completing its final journey on May 27, 1977, the Orient Express is considered one of the ultimate cultural icons that the East and the West created together.
Sea voyages to İstanbul had two different itineraries that historically complemented one another: the north route reaching İstanbul via the Danube – Black Sea and run by the Danube Maritime Company between 1829 and the 1870s and the Mediterranean-Adriatic –south– route brought into service in 1833. Cruise ships run by Messageries Maritimes in 1851 would depart from Marseille, France.
This line was also the one most frequently used by the Young Turks fleeing the oppressive regime of Abdülhamid II. The 20th century witnessed the first scheduled flights organized by airline companies. In 1923, a French-Romanian airline company, which later took on the name CIDNA (Compagnie Internationale de Navigation Aérienne), began flying to İstanbul via Vienna, Budapest, and Belgrade.
The tree pillars of the organized travels commencing in the 19th century were the middle and upper class travelers, travel companies, and the accommodation and service sectors. Organized for a specific timetable, the İstanbul stop of these activities offered, in a the company of a guide, a tour the still-touristic parts of the city and the historic monuments. The area within the borders of the Historic Peninsula was –and still is– of particular importance in terms of both Byzantine and Ottoman cultures. At its heart were Sultanahmet Square and the Grand Bazaar. The area offered a glimpse into the traditional culture of İstanbul as well as the diversity of human profile.
Hotels such as the Pera Palace, Tokatlıyan, and Bristol not only offered luxury accommodation to European tourists, but they also functioned as schools in which locals of the city could learn the ways of modern culture.
Piano and dance lessons offered in the hotel advertisements appearing in newspapers of the period prepared the groundwork for Western decorum.
Curators: Ekrem Işın, Catherine Pinguet
Coordinators: Zeynep Ögel, Erkan Bora, Gülru Tanman
Translation: Melis Şeyhun Çalışlar
Digital Adaptation: Irmak Wöber, Umut Koca