Ashes and Dust Now

Tepebasi Theater – Tepebasi

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The landmark we will talk about this week, Tepebasi Theater, doesn’t exist… At least not since 1971.

Today only traceable on the Internet or books on old Istanbul, experts suggest that the theatre was built by the order of Ridvan Pasha around 1890s, and its architect was Hovsep Aznavur. Ridvan Pasha was the era’s Istanbul Sehremini (the official in charge of maintaining the state’s and palace’s buildings); and Aznavur was a famous theatre architect. Other sources on the other hand, mention a tent-theatre that would put on shows for foreigners visiting Istanbul. Said tent was located by the Muslim graveyard and is believed to have burnt down during a neighbourhood fire. However, the general consensus on the origins of the theatre is the Ridvan Pasha theory.

Until the declaration of constitutional monarchy in 1908, the theatre only performed for foreign groups of visitors. In 1916, the first local play was shown at Tepebasi Theater. Darulbedayi-i Osmani (Ottoman House of Fineness – the then name of the city theatre) showed “The Rotten Foundation” in a ladies’ session during the day, and a gentlemen’s session during the evening; the profits were donated to the Helping Veteran Families Society.

Though budget problems caused interruptions from time to time, Tepebasi Theater started to become part of the city theatre Darülbedayi; and in 1927 it went through a renovation completely funded by the artists themselves.

When city theatre located in People’s Garden changed the name of the building formerly known as contemporary hall/amphitheatre to comedy theatre, Tepebasi Theatre’s name was changed to Tepebasi Drama Theatre in 1942. When the famous actor Hazim passed away, his funeral took place here, and the theatre was in mourning for two days.

City Opera was formed in 1960s, and it held one of its first shows, Puccini’s Tosca, at the Tepebasi Theatre. During this decade, changing attitudes towards this neighbourhood considered the theatre’s location as a financial interest rather then a cultural one. Run down and unable to be renovated due to lack of funds, the theatre was shut down by the fire department. After a renovation, the theatre opened its curtains once again in 1962 with La Traviata and Flies.

In 1964, during a performance of Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan, a group broke into the theatre, assaulted the artists, and damaged the theatre. Same year Milliyet Newspaper ran a story on a private gated community that was planned to be built where the theatre stood.

Fall Storm in 1969 is the last play that the theatre opened its curtains for when City Theatre moved to Harbiye. The demolishment plans were met with public criticism and the city instead planed to transform the building to a theatre museum. In 1970 and 1971 the building endured two fires started by arson; while the 1970 fire only damages the theatre, the 1971 fire completely destroys it.

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Gentrification and greed transformed what was once a city landmark to a grey, non-descript part of the concrete jungle…

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If you understand a bit of Turkish, we highly recommend this article on Tepebasi Theatre that we ourselves got inspired from; while the theatre itself is gone, the admiration of it lingers on.

Take care of yourselves,

Tracer of Istanbul

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