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Bakırköy: The Bastion of Byzantium


Municipal map of Bakirköy

Historically located seven miles from the Ayasofya on the road to Rome, Bakirköy was founded in the second century by Emperor Septimius Severus as a Roman city called Septimum. Today it lies in European Istanbul, sandwiched between the D100 highway and the Sea of Marmara.

Postcard of the Hebdomon Palace (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Though historically a single neighborhood, known as Hebdomon (Ἕβδομον) during the Byzantine period, Bakirköy - in present day - has swelled into a district encompassing several other neighborhoods. As Hebdomon, meaning "The Seventh”, the neighborhood was initially a fishing village that grew into a resort village for Byzantine nobles, even witnessing the crowing of several Byzantine emperors. Toward the end of the Byzantine Period it was called Makri or Makro Hori, meaning “Big Village.” This inspired its new name, Makriköy, after the Ottoman conquest. Only after its renaming in 1925, would it become known as Bakirköy.

Elephant’s Roof Cistern (Source Hebdomon’dan Bakırköy’e)

Due to its rich Hellenistic culture during the Byzantine Period, Bakirköy is home to many iconic landmarks. Some of these trace their origins back to the emperors, such as the summer palace of Justinian, the memorial of Theodosius, and the sarcophagus of Emperor Basileus Bulgarocton in YeniMahalle, which was unknowingly converted into a public fountain.

Sarcophagus of Basileus Bulgarocton (Source Hebdomon’dan Bakırköy’e)

As a Byzantine village, the neighborhood boasts numerous historic landmarks such as the summer palace of Justinian, the memorial of Theodosius, and the sarcophagus of Emperor Basileus Bulgarocton in YeniMahalle. Another such landmark, the Elephant’s Roof Cistern, was later excavated from under a children's hospital in the 19th century by Makridi Bey, an ethnically Greek Turkish archaeologist who oversaw the first major excavations of Bakirköy.


The remnants of the Church of Saint John the Baptist, Theodor Makridi Bey, a fragment of Saint John's skull (Source Hebdomon’dan Bakırköy’e)

Inside view of Azadlu Gunpowder Mill (Source: Mahmud Raif)

During the Ottoman period, Bakirköy - then Makriköy - was an industrial powerhouse for the city and empire. One such example was the Imperial Gunpowder Factory (Baruthane-i Amire) established in the 17th century but rebuilt in 1785 after a fire destroyed the original building. It was expanded into a rifle and bullet factory in the early 19th century. It became part of a massive industrial complex centered in Zeytinburnu and Bakirköy, boasting a boatyard for steamships and produced the Work of Iron (Eser-i Hadid), the empire’s first armored steamship.

Bakırköy Fabric Factory (Source: Salt Research)

The gunpowder factory was left in disrepair after the invasion of the Russian Army in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877. Included in the industrial complex was the Cloth Factory at Bakirköy which was a privately owned calico plant. The factory employed half Muslim and half non-Muslim workers. A new Bakirköy Cloth Factory operated from 1920 to 1950 and employed many recent immigrants including those born in Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, and Russia. As a state-owned enterprise, it operated under both the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic.

Dr. Mazhar Osman (Source: The Journal of Psychiatry and Neurological Sciences)

Beyond the factories, Bakirköy was home to the Istanbul Atatürk Airport which began operation as an Ottoman airfield in 1911 and was officially opened as a commercial airport in 1953. Turkish Airlines headquarters, established in 1933, are also in Bakirköy. Another modern establishment is the Bakırköy Psychiatric Hospital, opening its doors on October 14th, 1924 by Dr. Mazhar Osman. Its notable patients include actress Afife Jale, American writer Billy Hayes, and serial killer and rapist Ayhan Kartal. In the late 19th century, with the construction of a railroad through Istanbul the neighborhood became a popular residential area and rapid urbanization of the 1950s through 80s saw the historic neighborhood grow into the larger district it is today. It is still considered a desirable residential spot for Istanbul’s middle class.

Notre Dame de Rosaire Latin Church (Source Hebdomon’dan Bakırköy’e)

The neighborhood is home to two Orthodox Greek Churches, the Hagios Yeoryios and Khristos Analepsis Churches, which were the two main Greek Orthodox churches built in Bakirköy in the nineteenth century, the latter of which is on the grounds of a prominent Greek cemetery. Catholic Greeks also maintained a presence in Bakirköy, evident in the Saint Rosaire Catholic School, a primary school founded by the Catholic Greeks of Bakirköy at the beginning of the twentieth century, located next to the Notre Dame

Outside of Ayios Yeoryios Church in Present Day (Source: TripAdvisor)

de Rosaire Latin Church. Besides the Greeks, other ethnic and religious minorities lived in Bakirköy. Built in 1831 due to the request of Armenian workers in the Zeytinburnu Iron Factory, stands the Dzinunt Surp Asdvadzadzni Armenian Orthodox Church in the Baruthane district of Bakırköy. The Bakırköy Synagogue has been active since the late 19th century though in the current day, due to decreased activity, it is mostly only open for the Sabbath.

 

References

Akgöz, Görkem. 2012. “Many Voices of a Turkish State Factory Working At the Bakırköy Cloth

Factory, 1932-50.” Universiteit van Amsterdam Digital Academic Repository.

https://pure.uva.nl/ws/files/1689525/102589_thesis.pdf.

Aksoy1, Yildiz. 2022. “The Values of Republic Period Buildings - Istanbul Bakırköy Houses."

Architecture and Exploration, no. Contemporary Issues in Architecture and Urban Planning.

“Bakırköy.” n.d. Wikipedia. Accessed 2023.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bak%C4%B1rk%C3%B6y.

“Bakirkoy a unique history and modernity in Istanbul.” 2022. Ramzy Real Estate.

https://ramzyrealestate.com/en/post/bakirkoy-a-unique-history-and-modernity-in-

istanbul.

“Bakırköy Psychiatric Hospital.” n.d. Wikipedia. Accessed 2023.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bak%C4%B1rk%C3%B6y_Psychiatric_Hospital.

Kus, Dilara, and Matteo U. Poli. 2022. “Regeneration by the Interpretation of Abandoned

Urban Structures Memory : Baruthane, Bakirkoy.” ARC I - School of Architecture Urban

Planning Construction Engineering. https://www.politesi.polimi.it/handle/10589/189017.

Yerasimos, Stefanos. 2005. Constantinople: Istanbul's Historical Heritage. N.p.: Könemann.

https://istanbultarihi.ist/679-the-gunpowder-factories-of-istanbul.

Tuna, Turgay. Hebdomon’dan Bakırköy’e = From Hebdomon to Bakırköy. Bakırköy: Belediye,

2000.


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