Growing Up in Hisar II

 

In the 1960s, Robert College commanded/dominated Rumeli Hisar. Rumeli Hisar proper (the waterfront) consisted of a handful of wooden houses (which burned down one by one in front of our eyes over the years) and a few shops (hard to even call them "stores"). I recall a lower Hisar drugstore run by a Fikret hanim, the bus stop, a fruit and vegetable stand, the ferry boat landing and Karaca, the only restaurant - where we could get a sumptuous fish feast for a few dollars. We did our grocery shopping in Bebek, the next village closer to town, where there were in fact a few grocery stores, a deli, a larger fruit stand and a bookstore that actually sold the Herald Trib (2 days late) because you couldnít really shop in Hisar. Such an excursion/operation meant a taxi ride (in some fantastic classic 1940s and 50s US cars) back up the hill to our house: most families did not have a car. (Most Istanbullus didnít have a car!)

 

Middle Hisar, the area that the college occupied, was 50 families, of whom 25 were college housing. Upper Hisar, now called Hisar Ustu, was a few farms and shanties until the 70s. The 25 college families were the mainstay of the school I attended from 1961-70: RCCS, now morphed into IICS. RCCS, the Robert College Community School, was K-9 in those days. Most levels had about 10 students. Some of the Nat Geo Grovesnor family grew up in the building that was the school. Many of the houses in Middle Hisar were college property.

 

Actually, the college had an official address of "Bebek" despite its clearly being located in Hisar (well.. one entrance to the college campus was slightly closer to Bebek than to Hisar, but the campus itself was very much in Hisar.)

 

For most of the 60s, there was no viable approach to Hisar from the upper/ridge which is now Etiler. In the 60s, you could literally get stranded in a snow storm trying to approach along the top of the hill from Etiler I know: it happened to me at least once, and it wasnít until the late 60s that (irregular) bus service began to HisarUstu (Upper Hisar). All traffic approached along the waterfront road, which meant a drive or a walk up a rather steep incline: the "twisty turney" through campus, or the 100 steps up through lower Hisar. The alternative route was a drive (most no one walked) up Asiyan - a cobbled 45 degree road that wound along past a graveyard for the soldiers of 1453 and the Hisar castle itself.

 

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Greylock was built around the 1920s. I had originally assume the name bore some relation to the massive gray stones that were used to build the outer walls, but it appears that it actually came from the name of a mountain in New England. It was one of several properties belonging to the "Mission" (aka the UCBWM in my time). The electric bills that came to the house were in the name of Luther Fowle (most likely slightly mis-spelled) but I recall that he was not the original occupant: it's just that it was nigh on impossible to change the registration of things like water, gas and electricity services - worse so if you had a name that was sure to be garbled (w is not a letter in the alphabet and "th" is not a reasonable letter combination in Turkish and even today gets regularly reversed in mainstream Turkish publications: lenght.)

 

The Greylock property was ridiculously large, even for that place and time. There were more than 5 distinct levels of land, each with fortress-like garden walls. Separating the main property from the cobble-stone street that was its street address (Fenerli Turbe Sokak - "street of the lamp(lit) tomb(shrine)"), was a massive stone wall that reached heights of 30 feet or more with a huge iron gate at the lower entrance. The entire property was walled in except the farthest northwest reaches - and they were quite far. A modern developer would easily fit 15 apartment blocks into the land, or 5 or more luxury villas with decent gardens.

 

Story has it that the property was once the domain of the "Crazy Pasha" of Hisar who managed the water distribution rights for the village. There were cisterns buried into every corner of the land: some were deep open pools (one which we converted to a swimming pool), several buried into the earth, a well mounted by a towering 30 foot metal framework windmill, and pumice-like stone structures in the yard that were clearly water-playing features. The house itself, while built much later than the water-pasha's home, included a subterranean water storage room that was connected to a wooden hand pump about 3 feet in length that could force water to the attic where there were collection barrels that would provide gravitational down-flow to the kitchen and baths.

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There were fruit trees throughout the garden - most fairly native: more plums and plum varieties than you could shake a stick at (and we shook many to get at the fruit) - perhaps 20 or so; walnuts, kumquats, hazel nut trees, pines with nuts, grapes, a cherry, and figs. There was a collection of other trees that included imported redwood firs, "redbuds", magnolias of several varieties, oak, plain and chestnut trees (of both the edible and non edible kind). In the first year we lived there (1961) there was a gardener - it was more than a working family could keep up with, what with the flower beds and such, but in our later years, as the economy began to change, we had to manage the yard ourselves. In fact, it was part of our weekly chores that each of us would tackle one of the many corners of the "garden" every Saturday morning before we were "free". Dad frequently hired various men to help out and I recall in the late 60s his delight in telling visitors that he had Jesus and Paul (those were their real names - Isa and Pavlos) working in the yard. The garage to the side of the house was the size of a barn but placed in such a way that it was useless for car access.

 

The house itself was near the top of the Hisar hill and had about 15 rooms in its original configuration which we and the Averys lived in at differnt times as single families in the early 60s. In the mid-60s, the Mission (again, the economic bite of the modern era) divided the house into two separate "flats". I recall at least one occasion when there were 21 people who spent the night under the roof before an early morning cross-Bosphorous Europe to Asia swim that was part of the yearly Mission orientation program. In addition to all the habitable rooms, there was a large single room attic and a huge basement that included a coal storage room with a delivery chute. The attic had a trap door exit to a flat if somewhat precarious roof that commanded a view of most of the northern Bosphorous. Today, you could see both of the modern day Bosphorous bridges from up there, and the northern tower of the Hisar castle featured prominently in the main view from most of the second storey windows.

 

At one point (before we moved in), the back half of the property, which we never did really "control", included a tennis court. The property was so big that it was virtually impossible to "defend", even after we extended the outer walls to the north: there were always animals wandering in. (Upper Hisar was still primarily open farm land, and the visiting livestock included at times stray cattle, a horse we allowed our farmer-neighbor to graze, sheep and goats and of course feral dogs.) In the early 60s, the back northwest corner of the property abutted a hilltop graveyard that must have been overflow from the main lower 1452 Rumeli Hisar castle graveyard: the tombstones were exquisite Ottoman carving and script - and all over-run with thick low brush. Not a one of them remains today.

 

At another time in the late 60s, my best friend and I contrived to make some use of the basically unused/wild back section of the property by designing a "golf course". The area was big enough that we managed 2 decent par-3 holes, heading out along the top section and back down through the lower, but the ground cover was a bit "rough" - to†† say the least: thistles and no grass to speak of: not even on the "green". The point being, however, that the length and width of the land was enough that you could get in about 2 good "drives" with a 6 iron and still be within the property.

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One corner of the yard had a copse of about 6 trees (I recall they were 50+ foot tall linden trees) rooted within a few feet of each other. About 20 feet up off the ground, the Averys had built a tree house - nay, a fortress. The tree house had a floor plan of 10 x 10 feet, and it was 2 stories high. There were side walls, a trap door and the thing was so sturdy that it survived, with minor repairs, more than a decade of heavy use. We strung wire from the house through the trees (more than one set of wires went off into the woods and the neighborhood), that at various times either provided electricity or communications links. Another tree house that we later built in a nearby tree never amounted to much more than a treetop perch platform: this first one was superior, both for its natural configuration and its solid build.

 

One of the "levels" was ideally suited as a vegetable garden. It was protected from traffic, being off to the lower side of the house itself and accessible from the basement exit door or a set of stone steps down from the "front" yard. Off to one end of this garden was the walk-in entrance to one set of 3 or 4 of the covered cisterns (one of which had a well-covered marble access from an upper level yard behind the house.)

 

Although there were many other beautiful yards in the neighborhood, I can't think of one that came close to matching the grandeur, variety and natural riches of this one. Unfortunately, in the early 1990s. the city claimed eminent domain, paid a ridiculous pittance, and took possession of the house and land. Within 10 years, the place was falling apart. At one point, when I visited, the doors were banging in the wind, rain had seeped in from the attic exit left open and the floors were slowly rotting. Mildly mitigating this condemnation of the city's management, the place has finally recently been fixed up and "reclaimed" and is once again in service.

 

map by cedmonds

photo courtesy of Whit Shepard