The Miniature Mansions of Istanbul
● Wooden birdhouses are seen in many parts of the world. They are ideal places for birds to feed, keep warm, make a nest, raise young, and gain protection from predators and the elements. In Istanbul, birdhouses have been designed to look like full-size structures. Some resemble mansions; others mosques or palaces. * They are known as pigeonries, bird mansions, and even sparrow palaces.
The oldest of these birdhouses date at least as far back as the 15th century, and they incorporate Ottoman architecture. They are simple structures, but starting in the 18th century, birdhouses became grand, luxurious residences. Some had receptacles for food and water, walkways, and even balconies where the birds could, as it were, take in the view. These houses were usually positioned on the side of the building that got the most sun and provided the best shelter from the wind—far away from the reach of cats, dogs, and people. Sometimes these features were added not just for the sake of the birds but to decorate the building as part of its overall design. Birdhouses can be seen on the sides of mosques, large and small, as well as on public drinking fountains, libraries, bridges, and private homes.
Sadly, many of those miniature mansions have deteriorated under the constant barrage of the elements, while others have been intentionally destroyed by people who did not recognize their value. Birdhouses are seen less and less. However, if you visit Istanbul and you have a taste for historical architecture, see if you can spot these delicate little structures nestled in the eaves. Now that you know what they are, noticing these miniature mansions will enrich your visit to the city.
^ par. 2 Although realistic, these birdhouses are not usually modeled after specific buildings.