The sultan’s Italian architect, Raimondo D’Aronco (1857-1932), was invited to Istanbul in 1893 to organize a national exhibition that would celebrate the 20th anniversary of Abdülhamid II’s accession to the throne three years later. This project could not be realized because of a terrible earthquake in the following year. Nevertheless, D’Aronco stayed on to restore a considerable number of buildings in Istanbul, binding his name inextricably with the city.
D’Aronco was given the task of restoring all kinds of structures, including mosques, fountains, government buildings, the Grand Bazaar and parts of Ayasofya. D’Aronco went on to design and construct many new buildings in Istanbul, from commercial premises to private houses and government offices. He worked with various Ottoman ministries and became chief palace architect to Abdülhamid II, helping to realize the Sultan’s concept of a modern Ottoman identity for the city. D’Aronco was the first foreigner to occupy the post of palace architect. In this role he initially worked with Sarkis Balyan, a member of the family of Armenian builders who had built Dolmabahçe Palace and most of the mosques of the 19th century.
D’Aronco made important contributions to Balyan’s new architecture at Yıldız. In accordance with the Sultan’s taste and desire for privacy and solitude, the new residence was not a monumental palace like the Dolmabahçe Palace and Çırağan. Instead it revived the older pattern of Topkapı, with pavilions surrounding courtyards and open spaces, all enclosed by high walls. During this work, D’Aronco brought European rococo exuberance and he began his pioneering experiments in Art Nouveau, for example with his design of the fountain at Tophane, now relocated in Maçka. D’Aronco can be accredited with bringing Art Nouveau to Istanbul, where it survives up to date as part of the city’s heritage.
His work was not confined to imperial projects. He also took on residential projects. . This is demonstrated by the drawings for the orphanage in Maci Badem and for a new college complex of the Imperial School of Arts and Trades. However, unfortunately all these designs remained solely on paper. . Among the public buildings that were made, the greatest achievement was the Imperial School of Medicine on Haydarpasa hill, on the Asian side, in 1895-1900.
If his designs and projects addressed to Italy show hesitation, second thoughts and lack of confidence, the opposite can be claimed for the projects erected in Istanbul. D’Aronco’s projects and achievements in this city appear extremely admirable and remarkable. Since 1900, he became the favourite architect of the private clients belonging to the high ranks of the society.
The first great Art Nouveau building of Istanbul was the Botter House, the residence in Beyoğlu that D’Aronco created for the Sultan’s Dutch couturier, Jean Botter. Botter House has been designed from December 1900 to April 1901 and it has been constructed in the main street of Pera, the current İstiklâl Caddesi.
Another remarkable residential urban example of his blending of Levantine and modern forms is the Santoro House. Also this house has been designed for Pera and D’Aronco reached to provide in the reconstruction of the house project one of its most indisputable results. Sadly, the Santoro House was never built and we can only admire this project from the drawings.
Among the best evidence of modernist architectures, there are the Merzifonlu Mosque, the small complex of fountain, tomb and the library built for the religious leader Seyh Zafir. Here, D’Aronco successfully combined the most abstract, rectilinear forms of the Jugendstil (German and Austrian Art Nouveau) with the late-Ottoman taste for small but exuberant landmarks.
The Merzifonlu mosque, which stood on the square in Karaköy, from which branches off the Galata Bridge (Karakoy-Eminönü bridge), were set on the second floor of a pre-existing commercial building. Using his admirable skills, D’Aronco created a wide base protruding, almost an artificial soil, which made raising the small octagonal mosque with a minaret. The building was made of wooden structure, according to local traditional methods, showing an external face in thin marble slabs secured with bolts and finished with joint covers in gilded bronze, like the Santoro House. This small mosque was built in the most famous and most crucial centre of Istanbul cityscape. The project was awarded at the Milan Exhibition of 1906, but in April 1959 it was dismantled and never rebuilt again.
D’Aronco’s appreciation of the city’s built heritage was wide-ranging. In addition to the classical buildings of the Byzantine and Ottoman eras, he studied Ottoman baroque architecture, becoming one of the first Western observers to take an impartial view of the style’s inventive reworking of spaces and forms. He surveyed the Nuruosmaniye Mosque, anticipating the admiring gaze of Le Corbusier, and appreciated the 18th-century cistern fountains and drinking fountains, some of which he restored after the earthquake.
He returned to Italy after the deposition of Abdülhamid in 1909 and he died in San Remo in 1932. Despite his obvious talent, D’Aronco was a defiantly independent man who avoided the fame and public acknowledgment. He was reluctant to mingle with high society in Istanbul and he never agreed to a press interview.
As chief palace architect, he often employed Italian masons, carpenters, decorators and manual laborers. An Italian ambassador to the Porte proposed that he was awarded of the title of “Cavaliere” for his contributions to the welfare of the local Italian community. In typical fashion, D’Aronco declined the honour.
After a master’s degree in the fields of Arts and culture, I am interested in doing research, writing and sharing knowledge