The Ottoman Empire managed to add its own features to every region it reached, and it reached its peak with civil architecture. The most important and the most beautiful examples of civilian architecture are dispersed in different parts of Istanbul. Hundreds of different books have been written about the architectural structures and stories of the proverbial mansions around the Bosporus. One of these mansions is Serpent Mansion. Also called Snake Pavilion, it was built at the end of the 18th century, has been restored, and still continues to display its magnificent appearance in the Bosporus.
Where Does the Serpent Mansion Name Come From?
The location of the Serpent Mansion is quite remarkable. The Mansion is located between the Rumelia Fortress and Bebek, two of the most beautiful places in Istanbul, which were built by Reisülküttap Mustafa Efendi at the end of the 18th century. It is located at the most exquisite place of the Bebek Bay and on the seafront of Yahya Kemal Beyazıt Street.
The story of the mansion is that one day, Sultan Mahmut II went on a tour of the Bosporus, which was customary for sultans to do with their entourages. The new mansion near the Bebek Bay captured his attention during the tour. The Sultan liked the mansion due to its architectural structure, splendor and glory. He asked who the owner of this mansion was and found out it belonged to Reisülküttap Mustafa Efendi, the Foreign Affairs Minister of the period. Sultan Mahmut appointed their common friend Said Efendi as proxy in order to get the mansion. But Said Efendi did not want to be in between them because he was worried that Mustafa Efendi would not sell the mansion. Therefore, he lied and told Sultan Mahmut that he investigated the mansion and learnt that there were snakes throughout it, and therefore, it was not suitable for the Sultan. Upon hearing this, the Sultan Mahmut gave up buying the mansion, but the name Serpent Mansion remains to this day.
Architectural Features of Serpent Mansion
The use of wood and stone is an important element of Ottoman Architectural art. Houses made of wooden materials are the most suitable for the natural environment of Istanbul. Especially the seaside mansions have extremely elegant designs with the use of wood and stone. When we examine the architectural features of the Serpent Mansion, we can observe that the same civil architectural technique is followed. The mansion which is detached from the garden and consists of a basement, a ground floor and a first floor.
The mansion was designed in classic architectural style and has a very elegant appearance with the wood base (referred to as “eli böğründe” in Turkish language) placed on top of the stone walls. The glazed parts placed on these wood bases create the distinct characteristics of the mansion. In all of the most beautiful mansions adorning the coast of Istanbul, the upper consoles were built as though protruding into the sea with wood bases.
Sections of Serpent Mansion
Serpent Mansion consists of two sections, the Harem (for women) and Selamlık (for men). The “harem” part is kept slightly smaller than in the other mansions, and different gathering places are formed in the “selamlık” part, so a more spacious atmosphere is created.
One of the most characteristic features of the mansion is that it consists of 40 rooms. The harem part was completely burnt in a fire in 1964, but nothing was built in its place. Therefore, it is the haremlik that remains from the mansion to the present day and is currently open to view the Bosporus. One of the most remarkable of the 40 rooms is the Sakal-ı Şerif room. Sakal-ı Şerif (Beard) of Prophet Muhammad has been protected in this room, and it is open to be visited, especially after tarawih prayer during Ramadan.
The Serpent Mansion is one of the extraordinary structures on the Bosporus, with its interior pool, , stone hall, pearl ivory, various jewels, the library consisting of many of handwritten works, the calligraphy works decorating the walls of the mansion, and the ornamented fountain reflecting the art concept of the period when it was built.
A note for the curious: The house named Aşiyan and its architectural drawings were completed by Tevfik Fikret, who is one of the poets of the Edebiyat-I Cedide (New Literature), is located in the area of Serpent Mansion. In the present day, the house named Aşiyan welcomes its visitors as the Aşiyan Museum.