“At Uzunçayır, I envisage the long fields to which the name refers. Fully grown sheep and brilliantly white newborn lambs dot meadows covered with long blades of grass swaying gently in the cooling breezes. In my mind’s eye the reality of the ugly sprawling mess of over and underpasses connecting the intersection of two major highways and numerous side roads is always blanketed with the red poppies of spring or the purity of winter snow. It’s hard to believe now but not that long ago much of this side of Istanbul was a wilderness of green. Densely packed forests boasting a rich array of wildlife provided a cool respite for the sultans and their court during the gruelling heat of summer while the lush pastures bred succulent lambs for their feasts.
After a slow crawl out of the basin comes Acıbadem, which is also the name of my favourite Turkish almond meal biscuit. The name correctly translated means ‘bitter almond’ but is a misnomer for these moistly sweet treats. Caught up in the delight of remembering the taste, I wonder if the acıbadem on the metrobus line is a sobriquet. Was this the site of true love turned bad, when a man’s little almond blossom turned out to be a bruised and damaged flower? Or is the story more mundane, and the soil only yielded almond trees whose fruit was bitter to the taste? I know from talking to local taxi drivers that the hills next to the highway we’re on used to be covered in orchards. In spring the air would be heady with the scent of fruit blossoms. I try to finish the tale of the fragile bloom of my imagination but sadly, as I gaze out the bus windows my dream is interrupted by insistent lines of new villas cascading down the terraces, mowing down the remaining patches of unspoiled landscape.
The meaning of the word Altunizade, also the name of the next suburb on the route, is open to interpretation. Altun on its own means gold coloured, and zade derives from Ottoman Turkish and means ‘son of’. The present day suburb sits on a hill that in the past would have had a commanding view to the Bosphorus away in the distance. I like to imagine Altunizade was the much awaited first born son of a pasha and his blushing bride. On reaching maturity a grand palace was built for him here and he lived out his days casting a golden light on the rolling hills of Istanbul. In reality the neighbourhood was in fact established by a pasha, one Altunizade Ismail Zühdi Pasha, in the second half of the nineteenth century. He was responsible for building a mosque, the main road, a hamam and other properties which he rented out. Numerous members of his family can still be found here, resting peacefully in the local cemetery. In my story his proud parents lie there too, alongside their beloved boy.”
To ride a full journey on the Istanbul transport metrobus, from Söğütlüçeşme, Fikirtepe, Uzunçayır, Acıbadem, Altunizade, Burhaniye Mahellesi, Boğaziçi Köprüsü and finally Zincirlikuyu, read about the complete trip in my collection of essays Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City, 2nd edition.