Palais de Hollande te Istanboel

The Palais de Hollande in Istanbul - a monument to centuries of relations

Turkish Daily News 7 April 2003 by G¿l Demir and Niki Gamm

The Palais de Hollande in Istanbul - a monument to centuries of relations

¿In his foreword to the first edition, former Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Jozias van Aartsen relates how the building is part of a "shared Dutch-Turkish past," how it is "essential in these times to cherish and maintain our cultural heritage"
¿Given that the Ottoman Turkish court placed importance on outward shows of display, diplomatic representatives had to provide a good show. That also contributed to the complaints that the various representatives of the Dutch government forwarded to The Hague
¿The book is very good reading, comprehensive and highly enjoyable with interesting illustrations, some of which are unknown outside of the Netherlands

And what were you doing in 1612? Were you in Istanbul or in Amsterdam or London or Madrid? And who was at your side or opposed to you and what you were trying to do? What was happening in the international arena?
Why not follow the story of the Dutch embassy in Istanbul and the envoys of the Netherlands from 1612 by reading "Palais de Hollande in Istanbul," subtitled The Embassy and Envoys of the Netherlands since 1612.

Former Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Jozias van Aartsen wrote the foreword to the book whose publication was timed to match that of last year's (2002) official opening of the Palais de Hollande in Istanbul restored to its former glory. It relates how the building is part of a "shared Dutch-Turkish past," how it is "essential in these times to cherish and maintain our cultural heritage."

As van Aartsen writes, "That is not the whole story. The long annals of Turkish- Dutch relations have some intriguing chapters, and the narrative presents them in such a way as to bring to life the Istanbul of Ottoman times.

While paying proper attention to the serious political ramifications of diplomacy, the book also dwells on the quirks and churlishness of proud envoys and their vivacious wives, on palace pastors and the palace painter Vanmour, on palace intrigues and ill-fated love affairs, on astonishingly beautiful works of art, and even on the spirits that haunt the building - in short, it sweeps across the entire range of interests of real people!"

The first contacts between the Ottoman Empire and the Netherlands were earlier than 1612, of course -- born of trade, born of attempts to balance the European powers of the day, born of a defensive posture on the part of the Ottoman Empire and, at least on the Dutch side, born of balancing the books and not overspending, to the despair of the men appointed to represent the Netherlands in Turkey.

Those who think that diplomacy is all intrigue and spying will be disappointed to know that much of the diplomatic correspondence from Cornelis Haga, the first representative to the Sublime Porte, a name given to place where one could approach the Ottoman sultan's government, and onwards has been concerned with how to buy, rent, renovate or build and rebuild a structure that would be imposing enough to vie with the Netherlands' rivals such as Spain, Russia, Sweden and so on. Monetary concerns at home seem to have outweighed the concerns of those on the ground in Istanbul - livable quarters, prestigious building, salaries commensurate with the position that needed to be maintained vis-¿-vis the members of the Ottoman court and/or other foreign diplomatic representatives.

The book starts from a short summary of how the Netherlands was formed at the end of the 16th century in resistance against the centralist policies of Spain and that country's religious policy aiming at restoring the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. From there one is led onwards to "the experiences of Dutch diplomats and their efforts to establish an august, permanent residence in Istanbul. "Around 1700 [Jacobus] Colyer purchased a plot of land on what is now Istiklal Caddesi. On the site were seve

ral stone structures, including the vaults of a building that's wooden superstructure had perished in a great fire. Colyer built a new wooden house on the stone substructure, which became known as the 'camel walk.' Turkish houses were always made of wood at that time..."
It was the first of several houses/palaces that were to be built on the site - a constant litany of complaint, ignored; request for money, ignored; request, request, request; delay, delay, delay -- and from time to time very interesting ways of dealing with the situation.

In an awkward position

Levinus Warner, an orientalist, worked as an interpreter and a secretary during some of the ups and downs of the Dutch representation to the Ottoman court. But his difficulties occurred primarily because he wasn't sent instructions from The Hague and had to make decisions on his own. "The Netherlands adhered to a policy of strict neutrality in the Levant, as they were only interested in unimpeded trade. The lack of interest was tangible; needless to say, as the envoy's salary was transferred at long intervals only. His task remained limited to protection of national trade and shipping." As the good orientalist he was, a complaint was lodged against him as well for having "spent many thousands on Turkish, Arabic and Persian books and other curiosities..."

There are several references to how much importance the Ottoman Turkish court placed on outward shows of display. That also contributed to the complaints that the various representatives of the Dutch government forwarded to The Hague - they couldn't match their diplomatic counterparts, they couldn't keep up their position or pay the salaries of all the people they needed to hire, they couldn't replace a "palace" that had burned down or was damaged in an earthquake.

The curious story of White Rose

The stuff of legends or novels, Beyaz G¿l (White Rose), is apparently a real story. She was the beautiful Turkish mistress of Cornelis Calkoen, the Dutch ambassador to the Ottoman court between 1727 and 1744. She was left behind in Istanbul when her lover was assigned to Dresden. It is said that she died of grief and there are claims of her ghost being seen walking around the premises. Her statue is still on the grounds.

The book continues describing the various vicissitudes that the Palais de Hollande has been subjected to over time, including its life as a consulate general and its most recent renovation and reconstruction. This latter was managed even while the consulate general kept conducting business as usual to the extent that it could. Nor was the outside neglected and two Istanbul landscape architects designed a superb courtyard garden.

Many of the foreigners in Istanbul are acquainted with the Dutch Chapel, where church services have been held for centuries. It too has been renovated.
And exactly five years after the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave final approval to the renovation project, the completely renovated building complex became fully operative again.

Recommended reading

If you are casting around for something interesting to read, that will be both informative and sometimes amusing, packed with details presented in a clear way, yet interspersed with pictures that well illustrate the text, then the best suggestion possible is the "Palais de Hollande in Istanbul, The Embassy and Envoys of the Netherlands since 1612."

Few books ever provide a provocative table of contents, one where the subjects sound so interesting that you find you read the book out of order. But "Palais de Hollande" is just such a one. "Oh, look at that one! Or what about this one?" And soon you realize that you've actually read the entire book, although perhaps not in the order the author intended.

The illustrations are also fascinating as many of them are unknown outside The Netherlands. The colour reproduction seems excellent, as is the quality of the paper used in the printing.

All in all the book is a ver

y good read with a no-holds-barred approach, perhaps because the author who wrote it is not a diplomat - Marlies Hoenkamp-Mazgon. She describes the project in the Acknowledgements chapter as having been inspired to produce of study of the building that currently serves as the consulate general of the Netherlands and to examine the historical ties between Turkey and her country. Particularly supportive then and later were Consul General Eric Kwint and his wife Carleen. She also pays tribute to Dr. Alexander de Groot at the University of Leiden where she did her academic work and to the present consul general in Istanbul, Jan Giesen.

The book also provides lists of the Dutch diplomatic representatives in Turkey, the consuls general, the Turkish diplomatic representatives in the Netherlands as well as a list of the illustrations, a glossary, a bibliography and an index. These are really handy although as suggested above, the table of contents is very complete too.