An Open Wound In The Collective Memory: Narmanlı Han

Narmanlı Han, which came to the agenda recently with the Gratis sign that was wanted to be hung on the front facade, did not please anyone with its appearance after the restoration. Banu Pekol from the Cultural Heritage Conservation Association, Art Historian Emine Çaykara and Tanpınar Specialist Handan İnci shared their thoughts on the gap created by this loss among themselves and in the cultural memory, which seems irreversible.

Narmanlı Han, which is one of the significant parts of our cultural heritage with its architectural structure and location and its inhabitants, returned to Beyoğlu with a new face last year after a 2-year restoration process. However, this restoration, which completely destroyed the texture of the building received great criticism. In the past days, trying to hang a Gratis sign on the facade of the building overlooking Istiklal Street brought Narmanlı Han to the agenda once again. Experts in the field say that they feel really sorry for the things this very valuable cultural heritage had to encounter and that what created this negligence towards the cultural and historical heritage is lovelessness, ignorance and greed.

 “Narmanlı Can’t Get Its Pre-Restoration Value Back No Matter What”

Cultural Heritage Conservation Association’s Cultural Heritage and Capacity Development Manager Banu Pekol, recently reacted to the demand to hang the a Gratis sign on the side of Narmanlı Han facing Istiklal Avenue as: “After this point, they can hang a McDonalds sign on the building as this whole thing has turned into a parody.” Pekol is completely alienated from Narmanlı as an Istanbulite: “Hanging the Gratis sign to Narmanlı Han did not make me feel anything, as what emerged when the building was “restored” is an empty shell that is irrelevant to the value and memory expressed by the original Narmanlı.” Banu Pekol explains the negligence on Narmanlı Han with the following words: “After the restoration of Narmanlı Han, even the labels on the front windows were not removed. This dismissiveness and negligence on the facade facing Istiklal Avenue and on such an important building for Beyoğlu already reveals the inadequacy of the priorities of the project. Those labels have been there for months, like a third-class apartment window waiting to be rented. ” 

Pekol reacts to the offering of a structure with great cultural, historical and social significance such as Narmanlı Han as a superficial structure: “Narmanlı Han is offered as a superficial structure whose spatial construct, structure, historical and socio-cultural background are considered to be insignificant. No matter how much the life stories of the people who had worked in this structure were told on the walls behind the locked iron doors, it was Narmanlı himself and Beyoğlu’s historical memory which was damaged as a result of perceiving efficiency as profitability. Narmanlı Han is not a place free from historical and therefore symbolic meanings. Narmanlı Han gained its value and meaning over time and is important because it has cultural-economic-social significance. ”

 “Cultural Heritage Should Not Pursue Concerns Such As ‘Popularity’”

According to Pekol, it is not possible to restore Narmanlı Han and even an attempt to do so would be very dangerous: “The consumption culture is globalized and this situation is increasingly obscuring the difference between the original / copy, the elite / the people. An artificial nostalgia should not be pursued. Narmanlı Han and historical buildings have lost their uniqueness and increasingly adapted to market conditions and nourished by the idea of ‘popular sells’. However, cultural heritage should not pursue concerns such as “popularity”. This should have been considered long ago, so the focus should not have been on profit in the restoration of Narmanlı but to protect the place in Beyoğlu’s memory. Whatever is done with the current arrangement, it cannot maintain the pre-restoration values of Narmanlı. ”

“Narmanlı To Be Rented To NGOs and Creative Initiatives May Be a Solution”

Although she has no hope on Narmanlı Han regaining its value, Pekol has a different solution suggestion even though she doesn’t find it in her heart: “A solution that comes to my mind but still does completely satisfy me, is that not to keep the iron doors locked and renting at the flats / offices to various NGOs and creative initiatives at affordable prices. One of the most important parts of the building is its courtyard, and it should not be kept from the community and from the tenants inside. In addition, there are warning signs hanging on the side of the building, and these signs are written in red in order to be particularly threatening, and it is stated that there will be criminal action against those who hang posters to 

  1. This is a great example of how far the structure is detached from its context. The walls on every back street of Beyoğlu are filled with posters that reflect Beyoğlu’s rich and diverse culture-art environment and social expressions. Is threatening this diversity the solution? Besides, it was repainted as the paint on those precious walls started to peel off after 1 year, and if you look at it today, you will see cracks all over the plasters. In other words, the building itself was not even cared for. The solution to not wanting posters to be hanged on the wall is not threatening people by criminal proceedings, there are many alternatives that can be done. There may be a system that allows posters to be hanged onto that facade, but does not stick to the wall itself, if that’s the case. ”

 “The Greed For Profit Has Annoyed Most of Us”

Pekol says that experts from many different disciplines should work together in the restoration of Narmanlı Han, however, she says that the greed for profit has annoyed those who want to do their job decently: “In buildings such as Narmanlı Han, which have such a distilled value of social memory, a very rigorous research and protection project and a communication strategy should be considered. Preserving cultural heritage is an area where many different disciplines come together and come to a conclusion together. In this project, sociologists, historians, architects, anthropologists, communication specialists should have worked together on the same ground and guide the conservation project of the building. In the end, projects that claim to add value to historical structures, even if they use the language of the past, talk in the current context and when talking, it needs to be worked on very carefully about what is told as well as to whom and how. In this area there are also very competent experts in Turkey. Considering the historical continuity and the necessities of change, we can produce designs that aim to go beyond aesthetic effects and take responsibility, but the greed for profit erecting in front of us annoyed most of us. ”

“We Have Been Experiencing A Process That Has Been Out Of Control For The Past 10 Years, Which Threatens Its Own Existence”

Finally, we asked what needs to be done to protect the places that have a place among our social and cultural memory. Pekol, who struggles this with her work throughout the country at the association, says that we have a rich architectural background that can be seen as an opportunity for most countries in Europe, but this legacy has been dragged into a process that has been out of control, threatening its own existence and preventing modernization, especially in the last 10 years. “The phenomenon of cultural heritage in Turkey perceived as a commodity is being caused by it being decerned as an exchange value. This is positioned in a capitalist order which includes a production market aiming capital increase. Narmanlı Han went through a ‘creative’ operation to look attractive and actually determine the value of the profit. It is claimed that such interventions are made to meet a wider range of needs. However, these realities are always less important than the aim of increasing profit. Architectural heritage is viewed only as a commodity, as we see in the example of Narmanlı Han. The historical artifacts are only evaluated by their shapes and the internal dynamics and values ​​of the buildings are lost.

 “How Would You Bring A Historical Building In To Today If You Don’t Talk To It?”

Art Historian and writer Emine Çaykara, who is known for her studies on the history and culture of Istanbul, first gives information about the history of Narmanlı Han: “Narmanlı Han was not only one of the valuable symbols of Istanbul’s 19th and 20th centuries because of its culture and art people, but it was also an example of Istanbul’s cultural richness. I use past tense, because the things that had been done is incomprehensible. This was a structure that reflects all the cultural richness of the Ottoman Empire, of Europe, and the Republic period, and this richness should have been kept alive with all these features while repairing, and if these additions are to be made, these elements must be observed. If you don’t talk to a historical building, how can you bring it into today? How can you make people love it if you do not love it as its restorator?”
Listing the other works of the Fossati Brothers, the architects of the building, Çaykara says that the restoration made without respecting these very important architects completely destroyed the spirit of the building: “This building was born in the Italian part of Switzerland, and Fossati Brothers whose names are known in Istanbul mostly during the restorations of Hagia Sophia during the reign of Sultan Abdülmecid had built it… Apart from the restoration of the Hagia Sophia, Fossati Brothers put their signatures under well-known places such as additions on this building like Hünkâr Mahfili, Muvakkithane and Kasr-ı Hümayun as well as Iran in Cağaloğlu, Spanish and Dutch consulates in the ‘new city’, St. Pierre and Paul Church and Naum Theater; and lesser known works such as mansions and estates. The building used as the Press Museum in Sultanahmet is theirs too, as well as the Baltalimanı Hospital and the Reşid Pasha Tomb. As you know, architecture is a work of art, and if the building and the architect are both respected and loved while it is being brought to today, both the ones who repair it or who gives a new function to it will also be respected. You can’t overthrow something completely and then make it wear new clothes. Style can be bought today, but those bought styles are askew as well, because people and buildings have souls, and that soul is reflected on their faces as well as around them.”

“Narmanlı Family Has A Share In The Inn Being The Home Of Intellectuals”

According to Çaykara, Narmanlı, that is said to be created by Guiseppe Fossati of the brothers, was used as the Russian Embassy at first, and the Russian trade offices and consular offices continued to work here. The building became a place for the refugee Russians who came after the October Revolution and witnessed another period of Istanbul. The building passed to the Narman Brothers in 1933 and became the home of the city’s intellectuals like Bedri Rahmi, Tanpınar, Maya Art Gallery, Berger, hatmakers and artists.

Çaykara says: “In the formation of this rich cultural heritage, of course, the Narmanlı Family, who did not rent the building for too much money also had a share, they are also a family that should be mentioned.”
According to Çaykara, neither the great heritage of Narmanlı Han for centuries nor its architect has been respected: “Narmanlı Han, is one of the most important structures that symbolize the European relations of the city, the empire, the republic as well as the locality in the city. Today, there is a structure whose architect is not respected, and even his name has been tried to be erased in order to put another name.”

 “I Look Aside While Passing By The Building In Spite Of All Its Memories”

Çaykara says that it is painful to look aside while passing by the building just like any Istanbulite who keeps eyes on the structure: “I look aside while passing by the building in spite of all its memories. Some may ask ‘what memories?’, but actually we talk to buildings. The archtecture strikes you, attracts you even if you don’t live in it. If you walk through that history when you enter into its courtyard and take a breather there, it would be enough. It’s ruins were better than its current state if you ask me. At least there was life.”

Çaykara touches on the renovation of the Cercle d’Orient Building, which also includes Emek Cinema that also keeps place in our cultural memory together with Narmanlı Han being a very good example of restoration: “I think Narmanlı was able to be renovated like this because it was within the scope of the second degree historical artifacts, but for example, I would like to convey another example that I have been interested in recently. Cercle d’Orient Building in Beyoğlu was despised due to Emek Cinema behind it and was considered equal to Emek but its past was fully revealed with a protective approach and been brought to today with an incredibly beautiful restoration. Architect restorator Fatih Kesgün is the one who brought this Vallaury work, which he restored with the approval of the renovation board, to the status of first degree historical work. So the importance lies in the way the restorator looks at the city and historical buildings.” 

Emine Çaykara, whom we asked if there were any ways to restore Narmanlı Han, says she does not think it is too late to reconsider the restoration: “I think an architect or restorator with the features I mentioned can take over here again, I don’t think it’s late, the building is known for its many characteristics.” Çaykara tells us what Narmanlı’s new architect Sinan Genim had told her during a chat: “It is not possible to tell what Sinan Genim understands from quality when looking at the structure as he once told me that Narmanlı would be visited by qualified people and it would be a place of good quality. Thinking and producing cultural people are indispensable values for every society. We will surely think about people who aim profit, this is clear, but you cannot make one live by destroying the other. Nowadays, money is in front of everything, but you do not have the luxury of spending it in culture. When you spend it, you will also spend your past, and this is not reasonable, sensible, humane or fits the most important value of our time which is culture.”

 “There Is A Need For A More Active And Constructive Civil Society”

Çaykara says that the processes at Narmanlı Han are also against international agreements signed by our country. According to Çaykara, we do not need others in this regard anyway, we only need a more constructive and active civil society: “We don’t need someone to tell us not to do things, we already have people who are culturally educated and who knows how to appreciate in this field. It is of course a problem that civil society is not sufficiently developed and only knows about the destructive opposition, but this is also changing, we need civil movements that are stronger and that oppose constructively and turn it into actions. There are such bitter examples that are shaped by profit around the world; however, as we have of those examples more, we are hurt even more. ”

“What Is Done To Narmanlı Is Also A Type Of Violence”

Çaykara says that what is done to Narmanlı is also a kind of violence and harassment: “What happened to Narmanlı is an abuse of Istanbulites, of the people of this country and this precious city. I think this place with its beautiful history and architecture can breathe again with an architectural touch, and it can be kept alive with very special presentations related to its past to be created with creative teams. This does not mean that it would not have cafes, restaurants and other places with profit, as long as we make plans without ignoring the culture. People come to original places, not to ordinary places that are copies of each other. It is necessary to think of structures just like people, the original always attracts attention. In this context, this structure will come to life with a completely different spirit. I stand not for killing things but for keeping them alive, remember that even a person without a story is boring.”

“Narmanlı Han Shouldn’t Have Been Left To The Conscience Of Capital”

Rector of Mimar Sinan Fine Arts Faculty, Tanpınar Specialist Handan İnci expresses her sadness by saying: “Just the Huzur novel being written here should have been sufficient for us to protect this building, but it was not.”
“Narmanlı Han was one of the unique structures in Istanbul. It took this uniqueness not only from its impressive architecture, but from those who lived in it. You know, it was a place where Tanpınar, Aliye Berger, Bedri Rahmi once lived, wrote, produced artwork and a place where art lovers met. Just the Huzur novel being written here should have been sufficient for us to protect this building, but it was not. We couldn’t protect it.” 

İnci says that she thinks that it is not possible for the inn to participate in the cultural life of the city in its new form: “It has turned into a repulsive structure in every way. The traces of Tanpınar, the artists I mentioned were erased, the trees in the courtyard were cut, the monumental wistarias were taken off, and then their funny sculptures were erected in the concrete courtyard. It is not acceptable, but we accepted. Because it was “private property”. However, it should be discussed what is private and what is public. There is even a Mimar Sinan structure in Istanbul that has private property status. Places with such an important background and which are historical with their identities should be protected by the state in the name of the society and the future. Narmanlı Han should not have been left to the conscience of the capital. ”

 “Not Only The Memory Of Narmanlı Had Been Erased, It Is Also Corrupted…”

According to İnci, it is not possible to restore the building, but the structure can still have a tolerated appearance despite everything. She lists her recommendations as follows: “First of all, its color should be changed, its old feeling should be restored, this appearance can be achieved with advanced restoration techniques. Then the trees and wistarias of the courtyard should be planted again, and they should get rid of that concrete floor. And of course, those weird sculptures of Tanpınar and Berger must be removed. It is hard to understand why they put a sleeping cat sculpture on a bench after doing everything to get rid of the real cats in its yard. Not only the memory of Narmanlı had been erased, it is also corrupted.”

Finally, Handan İnci whose personal feelings we asked about as a Tanpınar specialist said, “It should not be forgotten that the future has the right in such cultural memory spaces. The next inhabitants of Istanbul will never experience the feeling in that courtyard. Protecting Narmanlı Han and bringing it back to Istanbul as a cultural center would yield a greater income than millions of liras.”