A Historical Building to Ottoman Empire from French Vallaury
The Ottoman Bank building, which was designed by the French architect Alexandre Vallaury, continues its existence today as a museum in the Karaköy district of Istanbul. The Ottoman Bank building, which has witnessed the last Ottoman period and the city memory of Istanbul since the late 1800s, is an important building block for both the history of finance and Ottoman architecture. After serving as the Central Bank of the period for many years, it has been active as the treasurership of the Ottoman Empire. It is a historical institution, which has its name written in gold letters to the Turkish – Ottoman finance life as a trading and investment bank.
The Bank has always fulfilled its function as a bridge between the Republic and the Ottoman Period and has now been engraved in the memories by its location, which can be visited as a museum. It still retains its place in the memories with its approach that considers its customers as the “Board of Directors itself” and with the advertising slogan “Actually, we are not different from each other. But, we are the Ottoman Bank.” Although it is now outside of the active banking sector, the fact that it has witnessed almost every event, which is extremely important in terms of our cultural and political history, such as the late Ottoman Period, early years of the Republic and the transition to the multi-party system, makes it a must when the importance of Ottoman – Turkish history has been considered.
The historical building has been used as a museum since 2002 until today, and it has been serving to the enthusiasts of culture, history, and architecture. The building has been transformed into a very important location in terms of the cultural history and museology of the world, and it has taken the archive of the Ottoman Bank under protection. The history of the building, which contributed to the financial life, architecture and to the urban fabric, dates back to 1890s. The period corresponds to a time when Westernization has been intensively felt in almost all areas, and the Ottoman Empire has faced the West… This effect manifests itself mostly in architectural works of art. The Ottoman Bank building was built in the period when Ottoman architecture moved away from the classical style of Architect Sinan and approached European architecture style. The building land was bought from the region, which is known today in Karaköy as the Street of Bankers. Construction works were completed in two years. Hence, the architectural work of art, which is an architectural masterpiece in the nineteenth century, designed by the French Architect Alexandre Valluary was added to the city silhouette of Istanbul.
Architect Vallaury, who also signed many structural designs, which were designed in the European style, contributed to Ottoman architecture by Osman Hamdi Bey, whom he knew from Paris. Together, they did many architectural works and worked as architecture teachers. Considering the period, classical Ottoman architecture started to leave its place to another form in terms of style and attitude. In this respect, we can talk about the impact of the period on the construction works, which can be incorporated into the modern Western architecture. The role of Vallaury in this change is an undeniable fact. In the same period, it is possible to see the name of Alexandre Vallaury under the buildings of Sanâyi-i Nefîse School, Ottoman pavilions, museums, and educational institutions, which he designed together with Osman Hamdi Bey. Pera Palace, which is known as one of the most important block buildings of Istanbul today, is an important Vallaury design, which carries both the orientalist and the Neo-Classic features, such as the Ottoman Bank building. If you look at the buildings, which are one of the important symbols of Istanbul such as Istanbul Boys’ High School and Marmara University Haydarpasa Campus, you can surely find hints about the style of Alexandre Vallaury.
Museum and Café
The historical building of the Ottoman Bank has been serving as a museum since 2002 after it has overthrown its hundred years old. Historians and architects discussed the transformation Project into a museum. Prof. Dr. Ihsan Bilgin, historian and academician Dr. Edhem Eldem and graphic designer Bülent Erkmen are important persons, who contributed to this transformation. The huge vault and archive of the Ottoman Bank are the most remarkable parts of the museum. One of the most important features of the steel case, which has been brought from England and is located in an area of 700 square meters in the museum, is the lock system. The system, which even confuses the experts, based on the protection of the vault, which has been covered with the one-centimeter thick sheet, with three layers of walls bonded with bricks. The walls were supported by thick concrete profiles.
One of the most important details, that attracts the attention of the museum visitors, is the lighting system, which was so designed, that it does not take precedence over the objects in the museum. In the process of transforming the historic building into a museum, special attention has been paid to the preservation of the signs of social life and economy, which make the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Republic Period understand. The area, where the first bank books, accounting records, checks, bills and photographs of the Ottoman Empire has been exhibited, has always been the focus of attention of the visitors in the museum. In this place, where you can find lots of information about the history of banking, it is also possible to read books or magazines. For this purpose, the café library offers different time-consuming alternatives to those visiting the Ottoman Bank Museum. The museum, with its architectural texture, library, exhibition area, book reading areas, and café, is an important place in Istanbul’s city and cultural life and remains standing proudly in Galata.
Ottoman Bank… An ancient sycamore, which constitutes the finance and banking memory… It was established with the name “Bank-ı Osmani-i Şahane” (Magnificient Ottoman Bank) with an equal partnership of British owned Bank-ı Osmani (Ottoman Bank – 1856) and French financial group Mayer Amschel Rothschild, which assumed the debts, in 1863. With a new contract signed in 1875, it became the treasurer of the empire. Shortly thereafter, in 1881, it played an active role in the establishment of the Ottoman Public Debt Administration. In addition to supporting the infrastructure initiatives of the financial sector in the Ottoman period, it has become a commercial bank. After the proclamation of the Republic with a practice of law, which entered into force on the 10th March 1924, it left the privilege of minting to the Republic of Turkey. In 1933, it transferred the identity of being the official state bank to the Central Bank and continued to serve the sector as a private commercial bank. Ottoman Bank had been actively involved in the finance and banking sector for many years and then joined Garanti Bank on the 21st December 2001. There is a previous history in banking before Galata… The first 200 Kurus banknote was printed on the 16th of November 1863. Two years later, 200 Kurus banknotes were withdrawn from the market and 2 and 5 Turkish lira banknotes were issued. Between 1870 and 1880, there were problems. Those years were called as the years when the bank lost blood. The reason for this was the debts given by the Ottoman treasury and the war with Serbia in 1876. With the establishment of the Ottoman Public Debt Administration, the process of regression left its place to recovery in 1881.
According to the research carried out by Prof. Dr. Ali Murat Aktemur about the Ottoman Bank building, the facade arrangement of the building has influences from both Ottoman and Western architecture. The facade of the building facing Galata was designed in Neo-Classical style, while the side facing the Golden Horn was designed in Neo-Baroque style. Thus, the bay windows, canopies and pavilions in the Ottoman buildings took their place among the features of the building. This difference between the facades actually includes the message of being a bridge between the East and the West. Classic Baroque and Renaissance arches can be seen in some parts of the building together with Neo-Classical touches. It is possible to see the European and Ottoman synthesis used in the structure starting from the courtyard. The fact that one of the reciprocal epigraphs was written in Latin and the other was written in Arabic, referred to the Westernization process of the Ottoman Empire.
By: Necati Bulut / Photo: Sevinç Doğu Yılmaz
*This article was published in the March-April issue of Marmara Life.