Ataman Title

Title Turkey

Our HotelTurkeyCappadociaDaily ToursViewsGuestbookRequest FormHome

Empress Eugénie
Memories of İstanbul

eugenie.gif (47498 bytes)The European nation with which Turkey has had the longest standing friendship is undoubtedly the French. This friendship soared to unprecedented heights under Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, and peaked again during and after the Crimean War.

Sultan Abdülaziz’s visit to Paris in 1867 and the return visit by the Empress Eugénie in 1869 reflected the warm relations between the two empires.

Eugénie was a remarkable woman who stood out among not only previous queens of France but contemporary queens of other European countries. The daughter of a Spanish aristocrat, she combined beauty, intelligence, breeding and political acumen, and was a woman who did full justice to her crown. She was tall, with a neck spoken of admiringly at the time as swan like, and her courtesy and eloquence were matched by equally skilful penmanship. Her memoirs of İstanbul, where she arrived early in October 1869, are written in a lively style. She describes the magnificent welcoming ceremony, the bosphorus (which she likens to an early paradise), the architecture and furnishings of the Turkish palaces, the hospitality and courtesy of the Turks, the delicious food and elegant costume of the ladies. Reading this account of that bygone world is like listening to a fairy tale or having a pleasant dream.

Eugénie opens her memoirs with the following words: eugenie2.gif (73555 bytes)

The last and most pleasant days of our reign were those which I spent visiting İstanbul. My memories of this visit will never fade so long as I live. My husband and I were to have made this visit together, but due to the troubles besetting both domestic and international politics towards the end, the Emperor did not see fit to leave France. He sent me to İstanbul as his authorised representative.

Preparations for the empress’s arrival commenced in İstanbul three months in advance. The marble in the state bathroom at Beylerbeyi Palace was changed, and the room where she was to sleep was fitted out with the finest furniture, hangings and precious ornaments. An elegant pavilion was erected for her use at Beykoz Meadow, and in case the empress should visit the nearby town of İzmit the imperial hunting lodge there was redecorated. The engine and carriages of the train by which Eugénie would travel to İzmit were bedecked with branches and long lasting flowers.

Silk fabrics, shawls of silver thread and other valuable gifts were made ready, and silver uniforms were ordered for the 25 oarsmen of the imperial barge placed at her command.

Grand Vezir Âli Paşa sailed to meet the empress at the Straits of Çanakkale, and when her steamship anchored in the Bosphorus she was welcomed by a 101 gun salute. Sultan Abdülaziz boarded the ship and escorted the empress onto the boat which carried them to the quay of Beylerbeyi and Dolmabahçe palaces to celebrate her arrival. Eugénie recorded her arrival in the following words:

Our imperial vessel was a fine paddle steamer, the Aigl. In this magnificent ship I arrived at the Dardanelles in beautifully calm weather. There I was met by a naval fleet carrying a deputation of civil and military dignitaries led by Grand Vezir Âli Paşa. Âli Paşa and the statesmen who accompanied him came abroad, and after exchanging civilities we entered the Marmara Sea in a splendid procession with the fleet of Turkish war ships. When we approached İstanbul I was met by many boats of all sizes carrying large numbers of men and women. As we passed by these vessels lined up to left and right, I passed another warship which saluted me. I arrived off Beylerbeyi Palace which had been allocated for my accommodation. From my streamer I was escorted onto a richly decorated and gilded imperial barge which carried me to several statesmen and a short rest, polite and respectful eunuchs in ornate costumes showed me to my private suite. No amount of praise can do justice to the charm of that earthly paradise the Bosphorus, the unique and elaborate architecture of the palace, its order, decoration, hangings, the bed covers and toilet sets of the rooms appointed for my use, the elegance of the bathrooms appointed for my use, the elegance of the bathrooms supplied with hot water and fitted with marbles the colour of the sea and porphyry, and above all the courtesy, beauty and grace of the richly dressed palace retainers and ladies-in-waiting who served me. These lovely and gracious people were most solicitous in their care of me. At a glance they discerned my wishes and carried them out immediately.

The delicious food which we ate, whether at Beylerbeyi Palace or at official banquets elsewhere, and the arrangement and embellishment of the tables, were exceptional and defy the power of describe them.

I was awed by the jewellery, antique objects and weapons, carpets and porcelain vases which I saw at Topkapı Palace. St. Sophia and the large mosques are among the world’s greatest monuments.

A truly picturesque and graceful pavilion in the oriental style had been constructed for me on Beykoz Meadow. From this pavilion I watched the splendid procession organised in my honour by Commander-in-Chief Ekrem Ömer Paşa, one of the heroes of the Crimea. The way in which the Turkish soldiers marched with that distinctive stately air was a sight not to be missed. I especially liked the artillery and cavalry. There is no exaggeration whatsoever in the descriptions of the Bosphorus by such French poets as Lamartine and Theophile Gauter. I visited Göksu, one of the most beautiful excursion places on the Bosphorus. One could never tire of the view from here of the historic fortress of Rumelia and the wooded parks. From Küçüksu Palace, which has a special place in my heart, I looked around me with delight. Later, taking the arm of the Paris Ambassador Cemil Paşa, I set out with my entourage into the meadow to take a closer look at the women with their graceful feraje and yashmaks, with their lace and silk sunshades, seated under the trees on the emerald green Göksu Meadow. All the women greeted me with respect and courtesy. Here I also encountered a party of schoolboys from Galatasaray brought here on an outing. They were dressed like our school pupils. I spoke with them at length, and they answered me in French most agreeably. I was happy to find that they had learnt our language in so short a time, and I congratulated some of them.

Here I must digress to explain that one of the young boys whom the empress spoke to was Salih Münir, who made a welcoming address on behalf of his fellow pupils when Eugénie visited Galatasaray High School with the sultan. Salih Münir was nine years old at the time, and just 14 years later was appointed Turkish ambassador to Paris by Sultan Abdülhamid.

eugenie3.gif (86493 bytes)One of Eugénie’s interesting memories of Istanbul was her experience of being strenuously rubbed down at the Turkish baths of Beylerbeyi Palace. The bath attendant, Vesile Hanım, had been chosen for the duty months in advance, and taught 20 or so essential words in French. Eugénie remembered being carried along in a sedan chair, which had been specially made for her and can today still be seen in the entrance hall of the French Consulate in Beyoğlu.

The French empress felt as if she were dreaming during her stay in İstanbul. At one point in her memories she remarks: The festivities held for me in İstanbul were extraordinary. The most magnificent was that held on the night that I returned to Beylerbeyi Palace from Beykoz. Soldiers deployed on both shores of the Bosphorus fired in salute as I passed, and they lit bonfires and set off fireworks of diverse colours. The railings and gardens of all the waterfront houses were illuminated with coloured lanterns and lamps. Rockets and wheels-of-fortune lit up the sky on both shores of the Bosphorus, and from rafts on the water. As I watched I thought myself in an imaginary world. I will never forget the exquisite joy of my return to Beylerbeyi Palace. Just a few months later her husband Napoleon lll was to fall captive to the fall of the empire. Eugénie retired to England, but 45 years later towards the end of her life she returned to İstanbul, perhaps to refresh the memories of her youth. She was received by Sultan Mehmed V Reşad at Dolmabahçe Palace, and retraced the steps of that pomp-filled state visit of her youth. Upon this second departure from the city, this time on an ordinary passenger streamer and under such changed circumstances, Eugénie could not hold back her tears.

By Taha Toros