The Istanbul Agricultural and Industrial Exposition, 1894
A second exposition in Istanbul was conceived in 1893 under Abdülhamid II, with the goal of "promoting the development of the wealth and well-being of the country." A 142,000-square-meter site on the northern side of the Golden Horn, near Sisli, was selected for the Istanbul Agricultural and Industrial Exposition (Dersaadet Ziraat ve Sanayi Sergi-i Umumisi). Unlike the 1863 exposition, this one would be permanent but would close for four months each winter. Although the major exhibits would consist largely of agricultural, industrial, and artistic products of the empire, foreign goods would also be displayed, and some foreigners would sit as regular members on the committee formed to organize the exhibition. Therefore, while bringing "under the eye of agricultural and industrial Europe a complete collection of products of the soil and toil of the Empire," the exhibition would simultaneously "show to the native industrialists and agriculturists such foreign methods, models, and types of production as might enlarge their ideas of their own work and enable them to improve it as to render Turkey in an economic sense less and less tributary to foreign countries." The exhibition would double as a marketplace; the products would be offered for sale, and purchasers as well as visitors would be admitted.
As in the West the promoters of this exposition emphasized its educational, social, and recreational benefits. An editorial in The Levant Herald and Eastern Express argued that although the capital had open spaces with pleasant views and fresh air, none of them were "interesting, nor did any of them offer any intellectual attraction whatsoever nor quicken healthy curiosity." If managed properly, the planned exhibition could do all these things. The site was well chosen, because Sisli was a healthful spot. With its physical and intellectual
appeal, the exhibition had the potential to bring together "all classes of the population."
The organizing committee decided that because the exhibition was to be permanent, the pavilions should be built of long-lasting materials—stone, brick, and iron. Visitors arriving at the site from Pera would see two facades of the main building. Inside, to the left of the entrance, would be an area for foreign machines and instruments and for hothouses. A large hall (under a glass roof), intended for the inaugural ceremony, would occupy the center. To the right of the entrance an area was reserved for displaying livestock and dairy farming. A field for agricultural experiments and a hippodrome were planned for the northeast section. The buildings, including an imperial pavilion, would cover 44,000 square meters. A rail transportation system would facilitate communication on the site.
The architectural style of the pavilions was a major concern. A government document argued for the serious consideration of the issue because the goal of exhibitions was promotion, including promotion of architecture, and in the Ottoman Empire the "science of architecture" (fenn-i mimari ) had been forgotten. Even the design of buildings, on which great sums had been spent, did not follow "architectural rules" (kaide-i mimari ). To develop such rules required the study of "Ottoman architectural science" (fenn-i mimari-i Osmani ) or of Arabic, Moorish, Indian, African, and Andalusian "architectural styles"—in short, an "Islamic architectural science" (fenn-i mimari-i Islami ). Nevertheless, some buildings would be designed in the "new manner." This was the "Renaissance" style, based on the "Roman," "Greek," and "Gothic" architectural rules and observed in many architectural drawings received from Europe. The logic for selection among the Western styles was simple: "Whatever is considered prestigious in Europe will be used in the architecture of the exhibition." Despite its great confusion, this argument reflects the basic dilemma Ottomans encountered in choosing an appropriate style—reduced to the juxtaposition of Islamic versus European.
Raimondo D'Aronco, well known as a practitioner of the Italian branch of art nouveau, the stile floreale, was chosen as the architect of the exhibition. Only two of his numerous drawings have surfaced in the archives of the Dolmabahçe Palace: one depicts a setting for ceremonies (possibly the imperial pavilion) and the other the British pavilion (Figs. 94–95). The first is an interpretation of Islamic forms in new materials (i.e. the iron-ribbed dome and the
arcades); the second is a typical stile floreale structure, with oversized sculptures applied to the facades, the decorative use of metalwork, large windows, and curving lines. These two drawings represent the two architectural styles, neo-Islamic and modern European, written into the program by the organizing committee.
D'Aronco's scheme for the exhibition grounds included landscaping. At the center of the site would be the People's Palace, surrounded by "all the features of (landscape) gardens—shrubberies, avenues, fountains, etc." When D'Aronco presented the drawings, the sultan expressed his satisfaction by conferring a decoration on him and agreed to hire Italian master builders for the construction work. A few months later a huge model of the exhibition grounds was brought before the sultan; measuring 3.0 by 2.5 meters, it was seen as "a masterpiece, perfect in every detail, . . . a work of rare beauty and finish, a work of art."
The plan for the 1894 Istanbul Agricultural and Industrial Exposition was ambitious in its social aims, its hopes for economic benefits, and the grandeur of its architecture. Like exhibitions in Western cities, it was seen as an arena of architectural experimentation. Although the pavilions were never built and most of the drawings and the model have been lost, the discussion of architectural styles sheds light on the Ottoman Empire's search for an architectural philosophy.