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Spaces of Moral Instruction or Vice? Debates surrounding Late Ottoman Public Gardens as Sites of Recreation and Entertainment
Starting in the early 1870s, public gardens (or parks) designed after Haussmann’s Parisian promenades started appearing in cities across the Ottoman Empire, from Istanbul to Thessaloniki to Cairo. These new European style recreation spaces were seen as signifiers of urban reform, which was equated with economic and social progress. Certain Ottoman elites believed that these new recreation spaces could serve an edifying function, that they could "civilize" urban residents and contribute to their moral instruction. This mode of thinking paralleled the way in which urban public parks were established to serve as a moralizing landscape for the working classes of industrializing European cities. There was another segment of the Ottoman population, however, that viewed the new public gardens as undesirable traits of excessive Westernization, and associated these spaces with moral decrepitude and extravagant consumerism. Ottoman writer Recaizade Mahmud Ekrem's novel Araba Sevdası (A Love of Carriages) written in 1898, lends expression to these conflicting viewpoints in his detailed description of the Çamlıca public garden, one of the first European style parks that opened in Istanbul in the summer of 1870. Set within the first weeks of the garden’s opening, Ekrem’s novel describes a teeming cosmopolitan crowd that engages in bold rituals of courtship, lavish displays of personal wealth, and partakes in a globalized entertainment culture of Ottoman and Parisian musical offerings. Ekrem also provides character sketches of independent minded Ottoman Muslim women who derive a great deal of pleasure from their ability to access and navigate these sites of entertainment and recreation. The novel, however, neglects to reveal that this bustling scene inside the Çamlıca garden was brought to an end shortly after it opened to the public. What was viewed as a site of debauchery necessitated new sets of rules for the types of recreation and entertainment activities that would be permissible in these public gardens, especially those located in Muslim-majority neighborhoods. This paper looks at a range of documents dating from the 1870s to the 1890s, including government correspondence, newspaper articles and Ottoman literature, to examine the debates surrounding the benefits and vices of Istanbul’s outdoor recreation spaces of the late nineteenth century, specifically its new public gardens. It discusses how these debates helped shape the design, function, use of public recreational spaces and their various entertainment offerings at this time.
Art/Art History
Geographic Area
Ottoman Empire
Sub Area