Under European influence, Art Nouveau began to impression the architecture of the Ottoman capital of Istanbul in the second half of the 19th century. Until the mid-1920s widely affected the appearance of the city.
It inspired the Turkish National Architecture movement, and even today, its traces persist as one of the defining characteristics of those decades. Although Art Nouveau was regarded by the intellectuals of the time as a pretentious affectation imported from Europe, the movement had soon integrated with Turkey's own architectural tradition.
Art Nouveau was first introduced to Istanbul by the Italian architect Raimondo d'Aronco, and his designs reveal that he drew freely on Byzantine and Ottoman decoration for his inspiration. D'Aronco made creative use of Islamic architecture's forms and motifs to create modern buildings for the city.
Art Nouveau architecture in Istanbul is characterized by structural forms and motifs of stonework, woodwork, wrought iron, and glass. To live in an Art Nouveau style building was an expression of social status and modernism.
Galata and Pera (today Beyoglu), with their large shops, tramway, smartly dressed inhabitants, and European way of life were where the new architecture style first took root, and today the loveliest examples of Istanbul Art Nouveau are still to be seen on Istiklal Caddesi.
After a terrible fire that destroyed much of the area, Europeans began to construct apartment buildings with shops and offices on the ground floors on the empty land. One of the fire's lessons was that stone was a safer building material in densely built-up areas. Examples of this stone architecture can still be seen in Karakoy, Sisli, and Eminonu.
For the traditional Turkish houses separated by gardens, however, no such precaution was required, and wood continued to be used for the most part. Art Nouveau was the perfect way to fulfill the desire to individualize one's house, a concept that had long since been embraced by the Ottomans. As a result, the new art soon began to make itself felt in the grandiose wooden houses built along the European and Asian shores of the Bosphorus, in Uskudar, in Kadikoy, and on the island of Buyukada.
One of the principal ways in which Art Nouveau made itself felt was in the facades. These featured bay windows, balconies, loggias, and other features jutting from the facade. Such articulation was particularly striking when applied to corner buildings, as we see in Flora Han, an office building in Sirkeci. In some cases, as in the Frej Apartment Building, the protruding elements were placed to either side of the facade, or with a defining element extending right across it, as we see on the Botter House on Istiklal Caddesi.
Simultaneously, these features have distinctive decoration, which makes them independent entities and focal points in the facade as a whole. Wooden houses often had a central bay window right above the entrance, rising for two or even three floors to culminate in a balcony or loggia.
Stone houses, on the other hand, usually had an elaborately decorated cornice along the top floor. At that level, the absence of projections or withdrawal of the facade is immediately evident. The bay window is not merely an element of the facade but a means of creating additional space. This use of projection from the facade to create space is a traditional architecture feature in Muslim countries.
Floriate motifs emphasizing empty and full areas on the facade were among Art Nouveau buildings' most distinctive characteristics and in complete harmony with traditional Ottoman art.
The most common motif of this kind is the rose, which is seen on the facades of many buildings in Pera and Galata. Roses as both buds and in full bloom are to be seen on Flora Han, for instance, or as entwined scrolling branches with thorns at the Botter House entrance.
Art Nouveau transforms wood into delicate and fragile lace. Such decoration can generally be seen in the form of friezes on this period's houses along the Bosphorus and on Buyukada. The most beautiful examples of such carved decoration are at Hidiv Kasri, the exquisite country house built for Egypt's khedive on a hilltop overlooking the Asian shore of the Bosphorus.
Doors, banisters, entrance gates, and balconies are adorned with wrought iron. The loveliest examples of Art Nouveau stained glass are those of the Botter House and the Marquise Tea Room.
Many Art Nouveau buildings still grace Istanbul today with their sensitive and graceful forms. Discovering this aspect of the urban landscape is a delight for visitors to the city.