The Yali mansions of Istanbul, Turkey’s most expensive real estate market, are in the limelight as the 32,000 square foot Zeki Pasa mansion, where Boris Johnson’s great grandfather once lived goes up for sale.
Listed for a staggering 96 million USD, the estate sits on the European Bosphorus shores in Rumelihisari district, home to many other yali mansions and a castle with the same name.
Last appearing on the market in 2011, the selling price makes it one of the world’s most expensive houses, but that is not its only claim to fame, because it is also the largest of Istanbul 600 yali houses.
The massive mansion featuring baroque architecture covers five floors and includes eight bathrooms, and 23 bedrooms. Built in 1895 for Musir Zeki Pasa, an Ottoman army field marshal, Ali Kemal, Boris Johnson's great grandfather, was the son-in-law of Zeki Pasa. The Turkish connoisseur magazine, Cornucopia called it one of the last great waterfront homes.
Yali mansions receive much fame and prestigious for two reasons. The first is their age. All were built during the Ottoman empire as summer and holiday homes for royalty and elite members of society.
The second reason for fame is the unique architectural style constructed from wood. The Zeki Pasa mansion was the only one that bucked tradition by also including stones in the framework.
Hence, these days, 366 mansions are under official protection status, and owners cannot carry out certain modifications or refits that do not fit in line with the original structure. Known as iconic Bosphorus symbols, they are also sometimes called Pearls of Istanbul.
The yali real estate market is shrouded in secrecy, with an attitude of if you have to ask how much, you can’t afford it. If you have the cash to buy one, you are also entering an elite social circle restricted to Turkey’s wealthiest and most influential families.
In 2018, the whole of Turkey gasped as onlookers filmed an oil tanker crashing into the 1330 square meter Hekimbasi Salih mansion. It had lost control and caused utmost damage to the roof and front facade, renowned for its deep red exterior colour.
Even though insurance covered the damage cost, many locals who said the original architecture was destroyed forever, weren’t happy. Built by a physician called Salih Efendi, the mansion still portrays his love for gardening and these days, the landscaped lawns and flower beds grab headlines news and make this a popular spot for weddings.
Erbilgen: Once listed by Forbes as the world’s 5th most expensive house, the last time the Erbilgen mansion came up for sale, the price tag was a staggering 100 million USD. Built in 1887, the home covering four floors also features its swimming pool, Turkish bath and sauna. Covering 3636 square feet, one reason for its hefty price tag is the gold covering some walls and ceilings.
Sait Halim Pasa Mansion: Built in the latter 19th century and named after an Ottoman Grand Vizier of the same name, this luxury house sits in Yenikoy district. Famous previous owners include an Egyptian prince. A renowned event that also took place at the mansion was the signing of the Ottoman – German alliance for World War One. In 1968, it was converted into a casino and also as a summer residence for the Prime Minister. Restored in 2002, after a significant fire, these days, it is one of Istanbul’s top venues for private events.
Amcazade Huseyin Pasa: As the oldest Bosphorus mansion, the exterior of Amcazade yali is a far cry from the grand exterior of its neighbourhoods, but its age ensures a special place in the heart of Istanbul locals. Originally comprising selanlik and harem sections, only the first has survived. Including 20 rooms, kitchens, a Turkish bath and a butler’s apartment, the house underwent extensive renovation in recent years.
Sedat Bay: Sitting on the Bosphorus Anatolian side, and built in 1840, this mansion is also called Manolya Yali because of its magnolia gardens. Floor plans show a central hall surrounded by rooms that reflect the traditional Ottoman layout of houses. Key features of its architectural styles are a fringed roof, round-arched windows, and balconies. Current owners are the prominent Isikoglu family who has kept it in marvellous condition.
Komodor Remzi Yali: This 1917 mansion with neoclassical architecture, in the Beykoz district, slots in with the surrounding landscape. Belonging to a soldier, in further years, the Mumtaz Pasa and Erdal Inonu families owned it, and one famous tenant included painter Feyhaman Duran. Out of all yali mansions of Istanbul, this one stands out for its four-story blue and white exterior.
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