Florence Nightingale

A Note from a Crimean Traveller

Hello Joe McDonald,

I just saw your interest in Florence Nightingale (FN) and couldn't resist giving you a little info you may not know. I've been very interested in the Crimean War, starting out many years ago after reading the funny book Flashman At The Charge (G. MacDonald Fraser), where he explains what a total mess-up that military blunder was. All books in the Flashman series are treasure troves of Victorian mitlitary history, laced with comedy.

I have visited Istanbul several times in recent years and discovered that there is a small Florence Nightingale museum in what you call the Barracks Hospital. Back in the days of the Crimean conflict, it was called Scutari. It is now (still) a military barracks where the Turkish Military has its library, amongst other things. After reading somewhere about the museum, I took the boat from the Besiktas Ferry across the Bosporus Strait to Uskudar on the Asian side. The Barracks Hospital is a short taxi ride south of Uskudar in the Harem section. You can also sail strait to Harem from the Eminonu Ferry near the Railway Station in Old Town section of Istanbul and walk up to the barracks. You will be following the route taken by casualties from the war.

On my crossing to Uskudar I managed to find a cab-driver who understood that I wanted to go to the said Barracks after I had shown him the quadrangle of the barracks on a map. The place is called SELIMIYE in Turkish. Having paid off your cabbie you see on the wall of the guard-house a small green enamel plate saying "Florence Nightingale Museum." You tell the guards you want to get in and one of them (dense country types) goes and fetches an officer. After a while, he comes out and asks why you're interested in this topic. You state you interest in history, upon which he takes you inside, through the Military Library to an iron spiral staircase that ascends in one of the four towers - one of which Joe has depicted on his FN pages. Up the stairs, you arrive in the first of two private rooms that FN inhabited and further up is another. They contain some photographs and letters, in addition to some furniture from her time. The tower which she chose for this was the one that afforded the best view of ships coming down the Bosporous from the Black Sea with more casualties - I made my mind up about that after looking out the windows. On one of my visits I was offered a refreshment of tea by the guide officer. On the walls of the hallways of the barracks are period arms (rifles, etc.). The number of Nightingale artefacts in the museum is small - there is nothing more dramatic to a visit than afterwards knowing you went and was given VIP treatment by the guiding officer. There will be no other visitors than yourself.

Very few people know about this museum but the Turks maintain it becasue they were allies of the British and French during the Crimean War, the purpose of which was to keep The Bosporous out of Russian control. The British thought this neccesary because otherwise the Russian navy could dominate the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

In London, in the National Portrait gallery near Trafalgar Square, they have a Crimea Room and here you can see a large painting of one of the entrances to the very same Barracks. In the painting you see Florence Nightingale, along with the commanding (British) officer and other people. I asked the guiding officer at Scutari once about the details of this painting, because some of them indicated that the entrance depicted was not the same as the one used today, and we decided that in former times an entry was used on the opposite side of the quadrangle, which however is out of bounds for history-interested tourists. That entry may well be closer to the shore, for easier transport of casualties.

For anyone visiting Istanbul who seeks cheap ($35-45) but clean accommodation here is a good tip. Right in the center of the Old Town (Sultanahmet section) there is a small hotel called The Nomad that caters to backpacker types. From there is a 50-yard walk and you're right in the middle of everything. On the flat roof of the hotel you can sit and have a beer with a stupendous view out over the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosques. The Address is: The Nomad Hotel, Divanyolu Cad., Ticarethane Sk. No. 15, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Tel: (90-212) 511 1296 or 513 81 72/73. Fax: (90-212) 513 24 04.

Peter MacKay from Copenhagen.

[Re where to stay, there is also the Harem Hotel, Selimiye-istanbul 81170, tel. 90 (1) 333 20 25 (5 hat/5 line) Tix. 29420 hrm-tr. (I copied that from their brochure -- I'm not sure what it means.) It has 100 rooms and a pool, no air conditioning, small but very nice. Rates are reasonable, I think well under $100 US a day and it is just a block away from the Selimiye Barrack (Hospital) on the Asian side (Scutari) of the Bosphorus. Easy access by ferry. --CJM]

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