The real “nurses’ tower”

The real “Nurses’ Tower” – where Florence Nightingale lived – has now been located!

One of the four towers of the Selimiye Barracks building has been turned into a museum and several of its rooms contain relics and reproductions relevant to Florence Nightingale and her nurses.  The Turkish authorities do not say whether this tower is the one occupied by Florence Nightingale.  Many people may believe that it is, but a plan drawn by Florence’s sister shows that the rooms occupied by Florence and her nurses were in a different tower.  A  hard-to-read figure on this old plan may have confused people in the past.  Here is the plan, and beside it a plan of the entire barracks (the pink rectangle), in which the tower now used as a museum is marked with an X.

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The manuscript plan shows the nurses’ tower in the top left corner.  It also shows the length of each side of the building (which is not square) and so it  helps us to narrow down the search for the tower.  Against the vertical corridor, Parthenope Nightingale wrote clearly “400 paces long”.  Against the other corridor she wrote a number which is hard to read, but it can only be “300 paces long”, because as you can see from the coloured map the sides of the building are in the ratio of about 4 to 3.  In fact the internal dimensions of the building are very approximately 280 yards by 210 yards, which fits in with 400 paces by 300 paces if the nurse taking the paces was a little over 5 feet tall.

So if you stood in the corner of the corridor facing outwards towards the tower, the short side would be on your right.  That means the nurses’ tower must be eiither the one marked Y or the one diagonally opposite it.  The one marked Y is to the left of the entrance marked 2 on the map which is now (and was in 1854) the main entrance to the barracks.  This confirms that the nurses were in tower Y because in her eyewitness account nurse Sarah Anne Terrot said that the nurses’ tower was to the left of the main entrance.  If you haven’t been there you might naturally think the main entrance was no 3, because that is the one pictured in the famous painting of Florence receiving the wounded (you can tell because the Bosphorus is visible through it).  But this was not the main entrance – it was the one most convenient for soldiers coming ashore.  An 1856 painting by nurse Anne Morton shows that the main entrance was in a street with tall buildings opposite, which must mean it was between X and Y rather than on the opposite side on top of the cliffs (the building is symmetrical and there is an entrance of sorts in the middle of each side). 

The museum tower is often referred to as the “North West Tower”.  I am not sure where this phrase was first used, but if you look at the coloured map (where North is upwards) you will see that it is not a very appropriate description of any of the towers!  It would be better to call the museum tower the North Tower and Tower Y (the real nurses’ tower) as the East Tower.

We may be lucky that the Turkish authorities have turned the “wrong” tower into a museum, because the real nurses’ tower may well be in a better state of preservation.  It may have been lined or panelled, for example, which could preserve graffiti from the Crimean War.  The “real” nurses’ tower, like the rest of the building apart from the museum, is in use by the army and all requests to see it will be politely refused. 

It would be nice to see a proper archaeological survey of the whole building which, given the normally conservative military approach to buildings, might reveal things of great historical significance.  In one way we are lucky the building has not been gutted and turned into a luxury hotel already, but on the other hand it will be tough to persuade the First Army Group to open it up to detailed examination.