It may seem that a city as rich in monuments as Istanbul stone bridges erected in Ottoman times should abound. Meanwhile, it turns out that it is very difficult to find examples of such Ottoman bridges near the historical centre of the city, as in fact, only one such structure has survived. This is the Bostancıbaşı Bridge, located in the Asian part of the city, in the Bostancı neighbourhood of the Kadıköy district.
Of course, near Istanbul, there are wonderful examples of historical stone bridges, erected in the 16th century by the greatest architect Ottoman of that era, Mimar Sinan. However, they are far from the centre, in Küçükçekmece, 17 kilometres west, in Büyükçekmece - 35 kilometres west, and Silivri, 62 kilometres in the same direction. Meanwhile, the Bostancıbaşı Bridge is only 11 kilometres away from the historical centre, but it is located on a different continent than the other bridges. This bridge is not particularly impressive structure as it is less than 40 meters long, but due to the rich history associated with this location, it is worth taking a closer look at it.
The name of the bridge and the neighbourhood where it is located may suggest that there were once vegetable gardens in this area because the Turkish word bostancı literally means a vegetable-cultivating gardener. In fact, the title bostancı hid the elite members of the Sultan's Guard, a subdivision of the Janissaries who could be compared to praetorians protecting Roman emperors. Both these formations sometimes contributed to the change of the person holding the highest position in the state. The title bostancıbaşı belonged to the commander of this guard and this title is now commemorated by the bridge in Kadıköy.
In the Ottoman times, Istanbul already stretched far, both on the European and the Asian sides. At the time, the city borders were marked by two bridges: from the west, it was a bridge in Küçükçekmece over the stream connecting Lake Küçükçekmece and the Marmara Sea, and from the east - the Bostancıbaşı Bridge over the Çamaşırcı Deresi stream. The name of this stream means the Laundry Stream, but sometimes it is also referred to as Bostancı Stream. The city limits on both sides were closely guarded by bostancı units, which had wooden police stations at their disposal, called the Turkish derbend. For this reason, the Bostancıbaşı Bridge was called Cisr-i Derbend for a long time. The station building was unfortunately demolished in the 1980s.
What was the control at the entrance to Istanbul like? In the first half of the 19th century, to regulate the city's rapid expansion, a special type of national passport, mürur tezkeresi, was introduced, without which it was not possible to cross the borders of Istanbul. It was issued by local authorities in the town of the traveller's origin, and the purpose of his visit had to be clearly defined in this document. Those caught attempting to infiltrate the city outside the checkpoints were severely punished.
The bridge itself, however, is much older than the 19th-century controls. According to the Ottoman chronicler named Hüseyin Ayvansarâyî, the first structure was erected in this location in the Islamic year 930, which is converted into 1523-24, i.e. the beginning of the reign of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. The same chronicler reported that the bridge was erected by İhsan Ağa, as evidenced by the inscription placed on the structure.
This 16th-century bridge served for many years served both travellers and merchants, whose caravans set off into Asia, along the road towards Baghdad and Damascus to obtain valuable goods. The Ottoman armies also marched to conquer new lands, to suppress revolts or, to regain the lost cities. It was at this bridge that the supplies was replenished before the long journey began.
The existence of the bridge at this location was also noted by the tireless traveller and storyteller, Evliya Çelebi, who mentioned it in the context of events that took place in 1651. The uprising in Anatolia was suppressed and the defeated rebels were brought to Istanbul to be executed next to the Bostancıbaşı Bridge. The unfortunates began to beg for forgiveness and many of them were released through the intercession of Evliya Çelebi. However, two rebellion leaders - Dasnik Emirze and Hanîfî Khalifa - were executed along with 40 other rebels. Their heads were taken to the Sultan, but their bodies were buried next to the bridgehead. Interestingly, the excavations carried out in the area in the 1950s uncovered the tombstones from this period of history, perhaps belonging to executed rebels.
The old bridge, a silent witness to those dramatic events, has not survived to our times. A violent storm and hail in the August of 1709 led to its collapse. It was rebuilt by Halil Ağa, the bostancı commander, who later reached the position of the Grand Vizier. He only enjoyed it for a year, because he managed to lose Belgrade to the Austrian army. As a result of this military catastrophe, he was sentenced to death but managed to hide and wait out the sultan's anger. He was even later appointed as the governor of Crete, where he died in 1733. The stone bridge he erected stands on three arches, of which the middle one is higher than the others. The decoration of the bridge is a wall with a recess, in which the founder's inscription was once placed, but it has been lost over the centuries.
Right next to the bridge there is also a marble fountain called Bostancıbaşı Derbendi with an inscription in gold letters on a green background. It gives the Islamic year of construction of the fountain - 1247, i.e. 1831-32. To the left of it stands a Qibla stone that once marked the direction of Mecca in a place of prayer in the open air called namazgah. Such places were often located at the exit roads from cities, and this was also the case with the Bostancıbaşı Bridge. During the construction works in the area during which the historical police station was demolished, both the fountain and the stone from namazgah were relocated, and not for the first time. The online Islamic Encyclopedia, run by the Turkish Religious Foundation (Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı) reports that the stone has changed its location five or six times since 1938.
The Bostancıbaşı Bridge is one of those unfortunate buildings that, despite their important history and impressive appearance, do not seem to deserve the proper care of the city authorities. It is true that in 2015, reports about the planned renovation appeared in the Turkish press, but the bridge is still standing, forgotten and unnoticed by passers-by, over the concrete bed of the former stream.