Little Istanbul – Sala, Sweden - Atlas Obscura

Little Istanbul

One man's fascination with Turkey led to this backyard mini-city. 


Outside of Sala, a small town in southern Sweden, there is some decidedly un-Scandinavian architecture. Minarets, domes and ornamental arcades dot the landscape of a miniature version of Istanbul, as seen through the eyes of a unique city planner.

The man behind Little Istanbul is Jan-Erik Swennberg, and the story of his personal journey to create a Turkish city goes back a few decades. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at an early age, and it’s not uncommon for people with Asperger’s to have an intense focus and interest in one topic. In 1979, Jan-Erik turned his focus to Turkey.

It all began during a trip to Bulgaria, a holiday that included a three-day excursion to Istanbul. Jan-Erik fell in love with the hectic, beautiful, crazy, ancient, modern city. The jumble of building styles from millennia of construction, spear-like towers piercing the sky, car exhaust curling around smoky incense—it was all fascinating and mysterious, if not a little intimidating to the young traveler.

After the trip, his interest in Turkey and Istanbul grew and grew, and was soon channeled into creating a small-scale version of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (aka the Blue Mosque) in his family garden. At first Jan-Erik’s father was skeptical, fearing the neighbors might laugh. But they didn’t, and construction continued. Today there are about 20 model buildings of Istanbul landmarks spread throughout the garden. They are all there: the Dolmabahçe Palace, the Yavuz Selim Mosque, the Topkapı Palace, and the Blue Mosque that started it all.

What might be most impressive about the garden mini-city is that it has all been built from one man’s own perspective, no drawings, plans or blueprints—and all from salvaged material from the local dump and recycling bins.

Know Before You Go

Sala is in southeast Sweden, about 70 miles northwest of Stockholm. Little Istanbul is on private property, but you are more than welcome to visit. The owner is very friendly and will most likely take you on a tour and tell you more about his creations if he's at home. But please be respectful of the people living there and make sure to leave a contribution for the maintenance of the buildings (cash or by using the Swish app).

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