Maslak is like the eighth of Istanbul’s seven hills. Once situated outside the city, Maslak in recent years is a world of its own with its buildings reaching for the sky.
Maslak, which used to be a scarcely populated district of Istanbul, succeeds in surprising visitors with its relatively recent transformation. Skyscrapers with blue windows on one side, and venues for shopping, art and history on the other… Blanketed with forests in the early 1800s, Maslak was, then, home to pools collecting the water brought through channels from Büyükdere River. It was these water distribution pools that gave the district its name which literally means “water tank.”
I begin my exploration in Maslak by passing through the gates of history. Built in the late 19th century, Maslak Pavilion is where Sultan Abdul Hamid II lived and spent most of his time before his accesion to the throne. Here, you can see the traces of the daily life of an Ottoman sultan. Nestled in a forest and currently open as a museum, the pavilion and its adjacent structures reflect the elegant taste of their time. The museum complex includes the Kasr-ı Hümâyûn (Women’s Quarters), a Lemon Grove, the Mabeyn-i Hümâyûn (State Office), the Çadır Mansion, and the Pasha Quarter. Kasr-ı Hümâyûn is one of the finest examples of Ottoman residential architecture with its traditional planning of rooms surrounding an entrance hall in the center. The walls and ceilings are ornamented with rich stencils, still lifes, and paintings inspired by nature. The greenhouse is home to 20 different species such as Camellias imported from France in addition to endemic species such as Grolto and Cycos. I feel elevated by the beauty of the greenhouse and the gardens.
I leave the pavilion’s garden and enter Çadır Mansion. Built on an octagonal plan with a single upstairs room, this small mansion decorated with balconies serves fried eggs and cheese platters for breakfast. As I sip my coffee, I can see the skyscrapers from among the trees. The chirping of birds, this mansion hidden among the green, and the giant structures of the modern world define Istanbul’s new identity.
I head for the skyscrapers to close the window of history and open the door to the present. The district center of Maslak hosts the sparkling buildings of local and global brands. Reaching the population of a small European city during the week, this area has also become an attraction center on weekends thanks to new-generation restaurants and venues which have reinterpreted the understanding of fun and art. Most of those who opt for eating their lunch at the office prefer spending their lunch break visiting an art gallery, trying a new delicacy, or taking a coffee break. The district also has weekend guests because of many interesting events.
One of Maslak’s highlight art venues, Elgiz Museum is the first private contemporary art museum in Turkey. The venue offers ample space, with works by local and international artists on the terrace. It’s an interesting experience to explore art surrounded by plazas. The museum’s permanent collection displays works by many artists such as Gilbert & George, Cindy Sherman, Abdurrahman Öztoprak, Barbara Kruger, Meriç Hızal, and Paul McCarthy. An eclectic new selection will be presented to art enthusiasts in March.
After feeding my soul with art, I head for Rawsters Coffee at 42 Maslak. I smell an intense scent of coffee with my first step and, looking to my right, I immediately understand why. It’s a statuesque roasting machine surrounded by sacks of coffee beans in a room separated by a glass partition. Right next to it are the stairs leading up to the mezzanine where you can study or read a magazine. If you’re open to new flavors, I suggest you try shakepressso or black eye.
The auto industry site, whose existence precedes the skyscrapers here, partakes Maslak’s transformation. Car repair shops with briquette walls and service areas are slowly beginning to host artist studios and concept stores. For instance, Sanayi 313 is a restaurant which replaced a repair shop about four years ago. What sets it apart from others is that it displays a design collection inside. Chef Müge Ergül says her customers are mostly executives and white-collar workers in Maslak during the week and families visiting the district on weekends. When you talk about dining in Maslak, you cannot overlook Markus Prime Ribs Society which has gained a legendary reputation. The restaurant is located in an old repair shop. Known for its special sauce and cooking technique, Markus Ribs is a delightful option for those who prefer leisurely meals.
Maslak is also home to UNIQ Istanbul and İstinye Park, two of Istanbul’s most popular shopping malls. UNIQ Istanbul is great with its dining options, gallery, and performing arts center. Wandering around its outdoor area, I am reminded of fairy tales when I hear the sounds of children from inside the forest. I find myself in the middle of an adventure park with ropes stretched between trees, houses perched on branches as if put there by an invisible hand, and wooden steps tied together with steel cords. I am lured by the jazz tunes from the terrace, which hosts live sessions almost every day. Volkswagen Arena inside UNIQ Park hosts concerts, plays, and stage performances. Having welcomed prominent names such as Fazıl Say, Morrissey, David Helfgott, and Jamie Cullum, Volkswagen Arena prepares to host electro-house musician Steve Aoki this month and violinist Ara Malikian in April. Istanbul Equestrian Club has been in Maslak since 1956. It offers horse riding classes every day of the week.
İstinye Park is a giant magnet for shopping enthusiasts. With its indoor marketplace and outdoor shopping area consisting of luxury brands, it offers everything you might need.
Walking around Maslak, I imagine a blue road sign, one like those you see when you drive into a city, with Maslak’s name on it. The population is around thousands at night and hundreds of thousands during the day. It covers about 100 meters on land and rises as high as 300 meters into the skyline with its skyscrapers. This must be the fun mathematics of modern transformation!