The arboretum that took 33 years to complete is a gorgeous patch of green within the city, with no noise and food to distract you once you’re inside.
The Ataturk Arboretum is a green oasis in the middle of Istanbul, a little bit off the beaten path, but accessible via public transport nevertheless. It offers a respite to city dwellers in the form of a huge forest, spread out over 296 hectares.
Considered a “live plant museum”, the arboretum offers trees and other woody plants whose origins and ages are known and are displayed according to plant taxons (In biology, a taxon is a group of one or more populations of an organism or organisms considered by scientists to form a unit.)
It is located at the southeast end of Belgrad Ormani (Belgrad Forest), but has stricter rules than the latter, such as no food and drink (except water), no picnic, no bbq, no bicycles, etc. Pets are also not allowed, and neither are drones or tripods.
Thanks to these rules, the arboretum is a quiet piece of heaven, a tranquil sanctuary where one can walk around the artificial ponds, observe squirrels posing for photographers, and become friends with a stray dog or two being taken care of by the staff.
The arboretum primarily exists for scientific research and observation purposes. It was proposed by Prof Hayrettin Kayacik, instructor at Istanbul University Faculty of Forestry whose idea was adopted by the faculty board and forwarded to the Directorate General of Forestry. The idea was approved and first steps to realise it were taken in 1949, on a 38 hectare stretch of land.
Within its borders it contains the Ottoman era Kirazlibent, built in 1818, and a plant nursery established in 1916 by Neset Hoca, the first in the country. The Ataturk Arboretum is in collaboration with other arboreta and botanical gardens around the world for seed and sapling procurement.
Camille Guinet, inspector of the Sorbonne University's botanical garden, was invited to Istanbul in 1958 to help establish Turkey’s first arboretum. Guinet was intermittently present between 1959-1961 during the planning and applied work at the arboretum. The first saplings were planted at the arboretum while Guinet was there.
The project took longer than planned because of financial shortcomings, and it was finally opened to the public 33 years later, on July 12, 1982. The arboretum was named after the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, whose 100th birthday anniversary was in 1981.
The arboretum is reachable by public buses from Sariyer to Bahcekoy, Taksim to Bahcekoy, and 4. Levent to Bahcekoy. It is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day except Mondays. The entrance fee for students is 7.5 TL ($1) and 20 TL ($2.60) over the weekend, while bridal parties who want to shoot for their wedding have to pay 472 TL ($61.30). It’s best to call ahead if you have questions, as prices and hours may change: +90 (0) 212 226 19 29 / 226 23 35.
A pamphlet available for pick up at the arboretum lists the reasons that it was established as: growing local and exotic species as much as the microclimate allows, doing work to promote, develop and adapt to wide-ranging applications; to create a collection heavy on oak and its family fagaceae; to inspire elementary, middle and high school students with love for nature, to hold workshops to enhance green consciousness; and to grow endangered plants endemic to Turkey to protect them.
The same pamphlet says there have been about 2000 different taxons of many plants planted in the arboretum, whose information have been kept since the first day, and the plants tagged. The Ataturk Arboretum, the first arboretum in Turkey, is owned and financed by the Directorate General of Forestry, which is also responsible for the administrative operation. As for Istanbul University's Faculty of Forestry, it is the park's executive board’s scientific partner.