By Rhiannon Davies
The guard sitting behind the counter beams a wide smile when we inquire about the most interesting things in Atatürk Arboretum, this living tree museum. “Everything is interesting, everything is beautiful, and everything is clean,” is the answer from a man who is clearly happy with his job. And why wouldn’t he be? The calming effects (on both mind and body) of spending time in nature have been well known since time immemorial. In the vernacular of days gone by we entered this unusual museum to “take the air.”
Located in the Belgrad Forest, this arboretum was established on a 38 hectare plot in 1949 by Professor Doctor Hayrettin Kayacık from Istanbul University’s Forestry Faculty. It has since grown to cover 345 hectares and boast over 2000 different types of native and foreign trees and plants. Willows weep their feathery branches into lilypad covered lakes, terrapins swim in the slipstream of gleaming white ducks, and lizards dart out of sight as footsteps approach. Despite the guiding hand of man, it’s clear that nature rules here, bugs and all.
In to the woods
The information leaflet we received at the entrance recommends three different routes, two that take 30 minutes and one that takes 90. We opted instead to go off-message and leave behind the beaten path (in keeping with the theme of this feature). We followed slate steps built into the dirt, and pushed our way through overgrown bushes, finding the narrow tracks leading between the trees, remembering the smell of sunlight on leaves, and feeling the crackle of twigs underfoot.
The trees themselves hail from the far corners of the world, and each is labelled, making this a fascinating destination for botany enthusiasts. Although Latin names are written, many descriptions are in Turkish, so to make the most of it, take along a tree guide and learn the background of each stately variety.
The arboretum was built on the site of the first plant nursery in Turkey, which was founded in 1913 and still stands in the center of the arboretum. Enter this gated sanctuary and admire the unusual flowers planted in raised flowerbeds built with what look like old railway sleepers.
Embrace the natural scene
There are three lakes that can be walked around, edged with wooden duck houses, decorative rock gardens, and the occasional young couple clearly getting into the spirit of this romantic spot. There are strict rules preventing visitors from bringing in any food or drink (presumably to prevent the scattering of litter that too frequently spoils Turkey’s most beautiful locales). So this is not the spot for a picnic, instead bring a book or a camera, away from Istanbul’s chaos.
How to get there
Take the M1 metro all the way to Hacıosman, from where you can catch the 42HM bus to Bahçeköy. Alight and walk a few minutes down the Kemerburgaz road to the arboretum. Free Parking is also available for those who prefer to travel by car.
No entrance fee for the Belgrad Forest. To enter the arboretum costs 2.5 TL for students and 7.5 TL for others on weekdays; 7.5 for students and 20 for others on weekends and holidays.
Open Tuesday-Sunday, 8:30am-5pm; closed on Mondays.
Kemerburgaz Bahçeköy Yolu, Sarıyer Köyü, Belgrad Ormanı, Bahçeköy; T: (0212) 226 19 29