Aynalıkavak Kasrı is one of Istanbul's hidden gems, an imperial Ottoman pleasure pavilion in Hasköy overlooking the Golden Horn (map), seldom visited by tourists even though it's easily accessible by a short bus or taxi ride—or even a ferry cruise.
The pavilion's tranquil gardens and grounds provide a welcome respite from the city's concrete landscape and sensory overload.
With its Tulip Period (Lâle Devri, early 1700s) decoration and Ottoman furnishings, Aynalıkavak Kasrı gives a good idea of what life was like for the Ottoman ruling class in the early 18th century, when the district of Hasköy was a thriving Jewish neighborhood.
A hidden gem
I took a short taxi over and it was well worth my trip.
A Bit of History
Byzantine emperors had enjoyed this location for pleasure, and Ottoman sultans followed suit, building a pavilion here in 1613. During the first half of the 18th century the site developed into a palace complex of 14 buildings set in extensive gardens.
By the first years of the 19th century, however, the sultans had sacrificed most of these buildings in order to expand the important Ottoman shipyard below on the Golden Horn, and only the current kasr remained.
The present building was originated by Sultan Ahmet III (1703-1730), and given its present form by Selim III(1789-1807), followed by the reforming Sultan Mahmut II (1808-1839). Renovated by Sultan Abdülmecid (1839-1861), it was again restored by the Turkish government between 1975 and 1984.
Hours & Admission
Aynalıkavak Kasrı is open daily except Monday. The grounds and gardens, served by a tea shop, are open to the public. The elaborately-decorated public and private rooms of this mini-palace, and the museum of musical instruments and scores, are shown on guided tours. Photography within the building is not allowed.
The most pleasant and appropriate way to go to Aynalıkavak Kasrı is by Golden Horn ferryboat, getting off at the Hasköy dock. You then walk up the hill to the palace 800 meters (1/2 mile, 12 minutes)(map).
Several city bus lines serve the Aynalıkavak stop right by the palace walls. Bus 36T (Hasköy-Taksim-Şişil) takes you there from Beyoğlu. Buses 47, 47Ç and 47E come from Eminönü. Bus 1453 serves Miniatürk.
By taxi, if your driver doesn't recognize "Aynalıkavak Kasrı," say "Hasköy Polis Karakolu" (police station) or "Şükrü Urcan Spor Tesisleri" (athletic facilities), which are well known.
About the Name
The pavilion's modern name, Aynalıkavak Kasrı, was not the name used by the sultans, who called the palace complex the Imperial Quarters, Imperial Gardens or Shipyard Garden. Unfamiliar with this name, in modern times, someone saw an archery target (ayna) affixed to a poplar tree (kavak) and used that simple name—the poplar with the target—to identify the place.
—by Tom Brosnahan