Bull statue in Kadikoy *

The charging bull statue in Kadıköy *

Those who venture into Altıyol district in Kadıköy may be surprised to see a bronze bull standing in the middle of a junction. The district itself takes the name from the junction (literally: 6-ways) which used to be a very busy junction before the Bahariye direction was pedestrianized.

To the unquestioning eye it may look like a beautiful yet insignificant piece of art, yet this is a 150+ year old statue with a long and interesting story and with many siblings around the world. Furthermore there are two competing stories to explain how the bull came into being.

The statue itself is signed by the French sculptor Isidore Bonheur with date of 1864 in Paris. The first story tells that the Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Aziz on his 1867 trip to Europe (first such trip by an Ottoman Sultan) likes Isidore’s statues at l’Exposition Universelle in Paris and orders 24 monument sized animals including two bulls due to his liking of hunting. The one in Kadıköy is a charging bull, and another one which lives in the garden of Beylerbeyi Palace is the bellowing bull. Other animal statues including a horse seem to have disappeared and/or dispersed to various places. Many siblings of these two bulls appear in various places around the world though, e.g. the gates to the Colt State Park, or the gates to Anderlecht Slaughterhouses.

A juicier alternative story popular in Turkey states that, the bull is a present from Kaiser Wilhelm II to Enver Pasha (the War Minister and the most powerful figure of the Ottoman government) in 1917. That it was originally built in Paris, for the Alsace-Lorraine region, to signify the French power; and following the Franco-Prussian War, it changes hands to go to Germany to eventually end up in Turkey. The German kaiser is known to entertain imperialistic ambitious about the Ottoman Empire at the time to the alarm of the other “Great Powers”. So in this story, this present of a mighty bull takes a special symbolic form inspired by Greek mythology. Bosphorus takes its name from the Greek origin name for a “cattle passage”. The associated story is about Io, a priestess of Hera seduced by Zeus, being transformed into a heifer by a Zeus hoping to avoid detection by his jealous wife Hera. Caught and cursed by Hera to be chased by a gadfly, Io in heifer form crosses from Propontis to Black Sea in agony displacing the earth on her path thereby opening up the Bosphorus strait.

From 1917 on, the charging bull resides in various places in Istanbul, ending up in its current location in 1987. It is a popular culture icon in Kadıköy, much loved by the locals and used frequently for address descriptions. It has been subjected to various cases of pranks and vandalization, also being one of the symbols associated with the Gezi Park protests in Kadıköy. It lives on giving visitors a classical photo opportunity.


* Bull statue photo taken from Wikimedia Commons, see link for license details.