Wooden İstanbul

Examples from Housing Architecture

Kandilli’de Kıbrıslı Yalısı. (1962)İstanbul Research Institute

Traces of Lost Wooden İstanbul...

The cityscape of Istanbul was dominated by wooden buildings far into the 20th century. This type of building was edged out in a dramatic process. Das Deutsche Archäologische Institut Istanbul (the German Archaeological Institute Istanbul) (DAI) has researched the wooden buildings of Istanbul in many investigations, reaching as far back as the 1960’s. The summary of these investigations gives an overall picture, which reaches chronologically from the Amcazade Yalısı of the late 17th century to the residential house of the early 20th century on Büyükada. The whole variety of the old wooden houses is typologically presented, from the magnificent villa on the shores of the Bosporus to the wooden houses of the petty bourgeoisie in Zeyrek. The documentation of this important city quarter covers its total area and takes up its own section of this exhibition. Special attention is given to the construction techniques of the wooden houses, with the tools of the historical world of craftsmanship and with a detailed construction model of the Amcazade Yalısı. The exhibition is supplemented with numerous historical photographs from the photographical archives of the German Archaeological Institute.

Wooden house of İstanbul, probably from the 18thcentury, Sebah ve Joaillier, Before 1900, From the collection of: İstanbul Research Institute
Show lessRead more
Houses Nr. 7-17 of the Parmaklık Sokağı from the north, 1977, From the collection of: İstanbul Research Institute
Show lessRead more

Amcazade Yalıİstanbul Research Institute

The Oldest Wooden House in Istanbul: Amcazâde Hüseyin Paşa Yalısı

The perhaps oldest wooden house in Istanbul is thought to be from the 17th century. It is situated on the Asian shore of the Bosporus north of Anadolu Hisarı. It basically concerns only the reception hall (Divanhane) of a large group of buildings, which otherwise have been lost. With its rich interior decoration the Amcazade Yalısı belongs to the most important examples of ottoman architectural art. In 2007 an exact building registration was possible for the first time, into which the construction was also incorporated. Even though it is in a very bad structural condition, the beauty of this fragile building is still a revelation.

Amcazade Yalıİstanbul Research Institute

Model of Amcazade Yalısı:
As a result of the construction survey a reconstruction of the original structure could be accomplished. The model should make the ascertainable construction principles clear, without commitment to a definite historical condition. For instance is the characteristic board panelling of the Amcazade Yalısı probably not the original façade, which is unknown. The model made from linden- and birch tree wood in the scale of 1:20 was made by Steffen Sauter and Anita Knipper of the University of Karlsruhe (TH).

Sadullah Paşa Yalıİstanbul Research Institute

The Sadullah Paşa Yalısı

The Sadullah Paşa Yalısı in Çengelköy was built at the end of the 18thcentury. It is the Harem of a much larger, lost group of buildings. With its magnificent space conceptions, it represents one of the most significant buildings of this important epoch of ottoman architectural art. The building survey of 2004 is directed especially onto the constructive aspects of the building, but also onto its rich structural decoration, as is, for instance, noticeable in the ceiling designs of the layout.

The Bosphorus-facing westerly view of the Sadullah Paşa Yalı, building documentation of 2004 (2004)İstanbul Research Institute

Façade of the Halet Çambel Yalı, situation in 2008 (2008)İstanbul Research Institute

Halet Çambel Yalısı

The residential building of Prof. Halet Çambel in Arnavutköy was most probably erected in the first quarter of the 19th century. In 1978 it underwent a detailed building survey. Large parts of this simple and noble building, which was originally situated directly on the shoreline of the Bosporus, have been preserved until today. Even the extensive terraced gardens could also be preserved.

View of the bay Küçüksu to the north, in the foreground of the Kıbrıslı Yalı, around 1900 (around 1900)İstanbul Research Institute

Kıbrıslı Yalısı

The Kıbrıslı Yalısı in Küçüksu (Kandilli) has already been investigated in 1962 by the DAI Istanbul. The extensive building is one of the largest documented layouts. It was constructed in the three-sofa-scheme (three large distribution areas), which became fashionable in the middle of the 19th century. Its present condition is the result of several phases of reconstruction, to which belong especially a large garden room and a limonluk (orangery) in the western aspect of the building. The modest classistical façade towards the Bosporus relates largely to the original appearance.

View from the anteroom of the Kıbrıslı Yalıİstanbul Research Institute

Ceiling ornamentationsİstanbul Research Institute

View of exterior of the Mazlum Ağa Köşkü (2008)İstanbul Research Institute

Mazlum Ağa Köşkü

The Mazlum Ağa Köşkü in Altunizade represents the type of freestanding pavillion like summerhouse surrounded by extensive gardens, which used to define the suburbs of Istanbul. The building was erected as a shooting lodge around 1860 and was documented in 1978. Today it is the headquarters of the İstanbul Tarihi Türk Müziği Topluluğu and is in a well-kept condition, but is totally bereft of its original interaction with the surrounding landscape.

Façade of the Mazlum Ağa Köşkü, building documentation of 1978 (1978)İstanbul Research Institute

View over the buildings of the German summer residence in Tarabya from the north-east, around 1890 (around 1890)İstanbul Research Institute


The historical summer residence of the German Ambassador in Tarabya consists of a group of wooden houses, which were built in the 1880’s in the location of an older villa on the shore of the Bosporus. The extensive plot of parkland was presented in 1880 as a gift to the German Reich by Sultan Abdulhamid II.. Especially in the main building – the ambassador’s residence – there is a noticeable endeavour to get a rich facade effect through additional orientalised decorations in the style of historism.

The street in front of the Kayserili Ahmed Paşa Konağı and its neighbouring buildings (1979)İstanbul Research Institute

Kayserili Ahmed Paşa Konağı

With the Kayserili Ahmed Paşa Konağı in the area of the Süleymaniye we are confronted with an example of a large residence in an urban style. Such Konaks originally defined the urban scape of many districts of the old city of Istanbul, but have become a rarity today. The building was constructed in 1890 and was documented in 1978. At that time it was awaiting demolition, but today it is maintained in a restored condition with its remarkable rich interior.

Kayserili Ahmed Paşa Konağı, From the collection of: İstanbul Research Institute
Show lessRead more

Stucco ceiling on the upper floor of the Kayserili Ahmed Paşa Konağı (1979)İstanbul Research Institute

Street front of the building Altın Ordu Cad. Nr. 20 (2007)İstanbul Research Institute

House Altın Ordu Cad. 20

The largest stock of historical wooden houses of the extended city area of Istanbul are located on the princes islands. The house on Altın Ordu Cad. 20, Büyükada can be attributed to this, which was probably built shortly after 1900. Even on a small building plot, it was attempted to give this modest middle-class building a representative air with elements like its overhanging bay. The building Altın Ordu Cad. 20 represents the last generation of wooden houses in Istanbul, which were replaced with concrete buildings since the 1920’s.

Firebrigade of the Ottoman tabaccomonopol during a fire-drill (before 1900) by G. Berggrenİstanbul Research Institute

About the building techniques and construction

The technical principles in erecting the wooden houses of the 19th century were relatively simple. The wooden skeleton consisted of simple, relatively thin beams – often oak wood – which were mainly connected with blunt cast iron nails. This is in contrast to the elaborate wooden connections of mediaeval and modern half-timbered constructions in central Europe, as is shown here in a principle-model. But the few older ottoman wooden houses – as for example the Amcazade Yalısı – show great attention in the construction of the wooden skeleton. The interior construction and décor and the façade panelling show a high standard of craftsmanship in all phases of the ottoman wooden houses. This is illustrated by the variety of specialised tools used, of which some parts are shown. These examples originate partly from middle Europe and partly from Turkey, but hardly differ in the 19th and early 20th century. Especially emphasized should be the different types of planer, with which not only planks and beams could be smoothed, but were also used to manufacture decorative trims and overlaps. Only a small part of the tools was actually used for the construction of the skeleton, which is the main carpentry. To this belong the big saws, the crowbar and instruments for measurements. A majority of the carpenters and joiners belonged to the minorities of the ottoman empire – Armenians and Greeks.

German and Turkish tools for the treatment of woodfrom the late 19thand early 20thcenturies, From the collection of: İstanbul Research Institute
Show lessRead more

Row of wooden houses in Zeyrek, in the background the Church of Pantocrator Monastery, at the fron the Atatürk Boulevard, 1977 (1977)İstanbul Research Institute


The old city quarter of Zeyrek around the Pantokrator Church (Zeyrek Mosque) belongs to the few areas of the peninsula, which were kept in the original condition after the large-scale fires of the early 20th century and the city modernisations afterwards. Accordingly, large inter-connecting stocks of wooden houses were still preserved in the 1970’s. This was the occasion for a singularly large-scale documentation project, with was started by the director at the time of the department Wolfgang Müller-Wiener and mainly carried out by Johannes Cramer (TU Darmstadt). Also participating were the University of Karlsruhe und the Istanbul Üniversitesi. In the years 1977-1978 approximately 50 wooden houses were recorded due to deformation, but in the end the total city quarter was mapped and documented. It became evident that only a very small amount of the buildings were erected before 1900, but the way of building and the structure of the quarter mirrored a much older tradition. Unfortunately many of the buildings recorded in the years of 1977-1978, do not exist anymore.

Üsküdar’da yeni Valide Camii’ne açılan bir sokak (Before 1900) by Sebah&Joaillierİstanbul Research Institute

During the documentation project of 1977-1978, the old city quarter of Zeyrek was characterised through overcrowded conditions. Up to 60 people crammed into houses, which were meant for only two or three flats. This condition was the result of the big migration from Anatolia, which started from the 1950’s. At first, these buildings were part of an urban culture, of which they received their shape and structure. The over crowdedness was responsible for the bad condition of the houses. During the survey of 1977-1978 extensive sociological studies were also made to find points for improvements of living conditions. It was ascertained, for instance, that a large part of the inhabitants of Zeyrek had moved there from Siirt.

The surveyed area in Zeyrek, the modern land registry plan overlaying that of 1978İstanbul Research Institute

Building technique and architecture

The large-scale investigation of the wooden houses of Zeyrek allowed singular discoveries to the way of construction of the buildings and their specific features. The bad condition of the buildings occasionally opened up a view onto the construction skeleton. For this oak wood was often used, even for the most simple buildings. Curiously, there were several examples of wooden façade panelling being replaced through pre-manufactured metal sheeting, which seemed to have come into fashion around 1900. Still attached to some façades were the plaques of the fire insurance companies, which became widespread from 1900 onwards in the ottoman empire and were highly relevant in the areas of wooden houses. The view over the roofs shows that many buildings of the 1970’s were still covered with the traditional over-underlap tiles.

View over the houses of Zeyrek with historical roof tiles, situation in 1977İstanbul Research Institute

As an example, four wooden houses from Zeyrek should be viewed in more detail. The building İbadethane Sokağı 41/43 might still originate from the first half of the 19th century. It is conspicuous through a domed side room, the Divanhane, which was part of a traditional room programme. The building Bıçakçı Çeşmesi Sokağı 25 also follows an older living- and building tradition and is thought to be constructed around 1860. Only a few decades younger and exactly opposite is the house Bıçakçı Çeşmesi Sokağı 25,which shows a completely different architecture. The building types express now a middle-class representation, paired with some modernism. The big building Gül Bahçe Sokağı 14 also originates from this epoch.

Perspective view of the interior of the divanhane approx. 1915 (around 1915)İstanbul Research Institute

Credits: Story

Curator: Martin Bachmann
Consultant: M. Baha Tanman
Coordinators: Zeynep Ögel, Gülru Tanman, Erkan Bora Translation: Ali Akkaya, Verena Belik
Digital Adaptation: Irmak Wöber, Başak Arifoğlu, Merve Evirgen

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps