Famous throughout Turkey for its yogurt, Kanlıca’s specialty is made with a mixture of cow and sheep milk. This is not an ordinary, store-bought treat. Kanlıca yogurt is so thick that it was originally served by cutting it with a knife. The true test of quality was said to be that the yogurt would remain firm, even if it were accidentally spilled on the ground. While today’s version may not be as solid as it once was, it is still dished up with sugar sprinkled across the top of the creamy skin.
However, there is more to Kanlıca than merely yogurt. Situated on the shores of the Bosporus at its narrowest point, Kanlıca is more like a sleepy fishing village than a suburb of bustling İstanbul. No one knows for certain how this hamlet got its name. One theory is that before the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans, this was the area where many two-wheeled ox carts (kağnı) were made by artisans who had emigrated from Anatolia. Another theory is that the village name refers to the red seaside villas that once lined its shores.
During Byzantine times, the area was known as Boradion in honor of the nephew of Justinian I. By the time of Süleyman the Magnificent’s reign, Kanlıca was a town of 1,200 inhabitants, surrounded by gardens, forests and vineyards. People often arrived by boat for moonlit parties along the Bosporus. In the 17th century, Mehmet IV presented the town and vicinity to Sheikh Bahaeddin Efendi, and the area became known as Bahai Körfezi, or Bahai Bay. Eventually, though, the name reverted back to Kanlıca. This was a popular place for equestrians who came for long rides in the surrounding wooded areas. Even today, the Mihrabat Woods, high above the village, are a popular spot for weddings and picnics.
Visitors disembarking from the ferries exit to a small square that has one of the best-known landmarks of Kanlıca — the İskenderpaşa Mosque. This mosque was commissioned by Gazi İskender Paşa. Built by master architect Mimar Sinan, the mosque dates back to 1560. Originally the mosque was part of a complex that included a hamam and school. Sadly, all that remains now is the mosque.
In addition to its rich yogurt, Kanlıca is also known for the many yalıs that line the Bosporus shoreline of the village. A reminder of the area’s more elegant past, the wooden yalıs are perched on the water’s edge, some lovingly restored to their former glory, while others are slowly falling into decay. Among the many yalıs that adorn the shores, there are a few of note, none of which are open to the public, however. These are best viewed from the water.
The oldest yalı on the Bosporus is the Köprülü Amcazade Hüseyin Paşa Yalısı (the “Köprülü Yalı”), located between Anadoluhısarı and Kanlıca. Built in 1698 by Hüseyin Paşa, grand vizier under Sultan Mustafa II, it was here, in 1699, that the Treaty of Karlowitz was signed, acknowledging the Ottoman Empire’s loss of territory in Austria, Venice, Poland and Russia. Sadly, all that remains of this once grand home is the T-shaped salon, with its dome propped up to keep it from completely collapsing.
Dating back to the 1850s is the Sadrazam Kadri Paşa Yalı, another of the wooden mansions that line the shores of Kanlıca. This mansion was bought by Kadri Paşa when he married the daughter of the palace physician, İsmail Paşa. A grand vizier to the sultan, he later went on to serve as the governor of Edirne. Following his death in 1883, the mansion was passed down to his heirs.
Considered by some architects to be the epitome of 19th century arabesque style, the Ethem Pertev Yalı is featured in almost every guidebook of mansions on the Bosporus. Built in the mid-19th century by a former palace courtesan, the residence recently underwent massive renovations to restore it to its former glory. After her passing, the yalı was bought by Ethem Pertev, who opened one of the first modern pharmacies in the Ottoman Empire. He also bought the lot next to the yalı and expanded the structure. Disaster struck the family, however, when his youngest son, Fehmi, was found drowned next to the boathouse. In 1932, the yalı was bought by Murside Günesin, a widow with two sons. In the mid-1940s, the household was stunned when a ferry slammed into the house. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the incident, and there was minimal damage to the dwelling. Her sons continued to live in the yalı on and off and they raised their families there. Eventually, though, the house was sold once again, this time in May 2000, to the Köprülü family.
Two other wooden mansions of note in Kanlıca are the Hacı Reşit Bey and Princess Rükiye yalıs. The Hacı Reşit Bey Yalı was built in the 1850s and was restored in the 1980s by Barlas Turan. The Princess Rükiye Yalı, located next to the Hacı Reşit Bey mansion, was presented to Princess Rükiye, the daughter of the Ottoman governor of Egypt, Abbas Halim Paşa. In later years, the house passed on to Princess Iffet, one of the relatives of Khedive Ismail Paşa. In 1957, the mansion was purchased by Özdemir Atman.
Even though it is a part of the sprawling city, Kanlıca has managed to retain the feeling of a small, intimate village. Tucked away in a cove on the Bosporus just past the second bridge, Kanlıca offers a step back to a more sedate, elegant time.