At no period in the history of Istanbul can the number of mahalles within the walled city be taken as a datum. Their number in the early and formative decades of the Ottoman city after the 1453 conquest is not clear.21 The estimates for the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries range between 60
and 130 mahalles. New mahalles were still being formed more than half a century after the Ottoman conquest. Whether the increase in the number of mahalles that occurred in the first half of the sixteenth century is due to population growth by immigration, that is, in many cases, by forced settlements (sürgüns) of provincial groups, or simply to local population spillover is highly uncertain. The total number of Istanbul mahalles was put at no less than 219 in a listing of pious foundations done in 1546.22

About two centuries later, however, a trustworthy and often cited source of the late eighteenth century puts the total number of neighborhood communities in intramural Istanbul at only 181.23 In the post-Tanzimat era there was a tremendous change in the number of these basic urban entities. A
listing of Istanbul mahalles drawn in 1876 for electoral purposes contains 251 items. The 1907 population census contains population data from 147 intramural mahalles. Another administrative list dated from 1913 contains no less than 346 names of neighborhoods. Only ten years later their number has fallen to 282, according to another official listing published in 1922.24 The 1927–1928 Republican municipal reorganization finally reduced the number of Istanbul mahalles situated within the walled city to 114. It also redefined and stabilized their borders. In many cases, these newly defined and redrawn, “rational” and republican mahalle borders were not in conformity with previous usage, nor were they necessarily in agreement with traditional perceptions of local urban space. The number and area of these intramural Istanbul mahalles is, however, still the same today.
The number, the borders, the areas, and the modes of transformation of the quarters of Istanbul, as well as the social, demographic, and economic reasons behind their fluctuation, is still a moot question. Population growth— whether because of immigration or simply as a result of an excess of births over deaths—might have resulted either in a multiplication of neighborhoods or in an overcrowding of existing ones. Demographic growth certainly caused an increase in the number of mahalles in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but not necessarily in the nineteenth, when overcrowding was the result in many cases.
Besides, many local or large-scale fires frequently devastated Ottoman Istanbul, in whose residential areas houses were, especially after the sixteenth century, built more and more frequently of wood. As a result of the large-scale fires, many neighborhoods were frequently burned down.25 In the reconstruc- tion process, however, some neighborhoods were reconstructed and survived almost intact (e.g., Kasap ƒlyas) but some less fortunate mahalles did not. They disappeared and/or were absorbed by one or more surrounding mahalles. A well-documented example is that of the Servi Mescidi mahalle, situated in central Istanbul. In 1826 a local fire completely destroyed the neighbor-
hood. The mahalle contained at the time of the fire a total of forty-four houses, its namesake mescit and a han.26 After the fire, new houses and shops were rebuilt on the vacant lots, but these were somehow attributed to the two neighboring and larger mahalles of Mahmud Paœa and Cezerî Kasım Paœa. The unfortunate Servi Mescidi neighborhood then disappeared from the official records. It does not appear in the 1876 listing. The efforts at revival and restoration by the trustees of the local pious foundation (vakıf) and by the imam of the local mosque—who had lost his sources of revenue in the fire— were of no avail. As late as 1902, the trustees of the foundation related to the small mosque filed an application to the Council of State (¥ûra-yı Devlet) to make their point. The Council of State issued a ruling stating that the Servi Mescidi pious foundation was still valid, that the charred remains of the mosque were still standing, and that, therefore, the destroyed neighborhood
had not lost its legal right to exist. But the court ruling could never be implemented, and the local mosque, and the Servi Mescidi mahalle were never rebuilt.27 In the municipal reform of the 1920s its area was included within Mahmud Paœa.
What is it that made such a difference possible between the “stable” Kasap ƒlyas, which survived all the fires, and the unfortunate Servi Mescidi neighborhood that succumbed to the first large-scale fire and could not be restored? The answer is not clear. Whatever it may be, the lesson is that the physical, mental, and social boundaries of the Istanbul neighborhood communities were basically imprecise. The topographically amorphous nature of many of these urban cells could make them extraordinarily resilient as well as prone to sudden and accidental change. There is even a relative instability in the very names of many mahalles, when considered over a long period of time.
The case of a “new” mahalle, just next to Kasap ƒlyas is a good example of an attempted but aborted neighborhood. Its existence is documented as far back as the second quarter of the sixteenth century, and it seems to have then occupied an area around the Davud Paœa gate. It was at that time called a
“new mahalle, adjacent to Kasap ƒlyas,” probably because it did not yet have a mosque of its own from which to derive a name. In the 1630s, however, Bekir Paœa, one of the defterdars28 to Sultan Murad IV, built a two-story wooden mosque on the seaside just outside the ramparts, endowed it, and
appointed an imam and a muezzin to officiate in it. With a number of people already living in the area, and a newly established and endowed mosque, the new neighborhood was thus set to acquire its independence from Kasap ƒlyas. It appears, however, that a bona fide “Bekir Paœa mahalle” could never be launched. This “new” neighborhood does not appear in a late seventeenthcentury Istanbul avârız list of neighborhoods29 composed just a few decades after the building of the Bekir Paœa mosque. About a century and a half after the foundation of the mosque, an exhaustive and authoritative listing of Istanbul mosques does contain the Bekir Paœa mescit, but does not omit to mention that this small mosque “has no mahalle attached to it.”30 Similarly, a “Bekir Paœa neighborhood” appears in none of the post-Tanzimat nineteenth-century official mahalle listings. Yet another source calls the small mosque not by the name of its founder but as “the mescit next to the Davudpaœa wharf.”31 In the second half of the nineteenth century the mosque must have fallen totally in disuse, for during the Ottoman 1885 census it was already abandoned and in ruins. In the last Ottoman census of 1907, it had completely disappeared.

Kasap ƒlyas (“Butcher ƒlyas”) mahalle is a smallish neighborhood in southcentral intramural Istanbul, bordering on the sea of Marmara and immediately to the west of the large Langa vegetable gardens. Set on one of the southern hillsides of Istanbul, on land gently sloping toward the sea, the neighborhood also includes part of the city ramparts bordering on the sea of Marmara, with a gate (Davud Paœa Kapısı) opening to an empty plot of land on the seaside. From this plot of land jutted out a small wooden wharf known as the Davud Paœa Wharf (Davud Paœa ƒskelesi). Both the gate and the wharf served as geographic markers to localize the neighborhood (see map).
Situated near the area known as Xerolophus or Hagios Emilianos in Byzantine Constantinople, the identity of this Ottoman mahalle is documented from the end of the fifteenth century on. With a couple of adjacent neighborhoods, it formed a semt of Istanbul known as Davud Paœa. The fifteenth-
century mosque bearing the name of its founder, the grand vizier Davud Paœa (d. 1498) is located further up the hill, in another mahalle. Together with the wharf, the gate on the ramparts, and a building of public utility located within the mahalle (the public bath, Davud Paœa Hamamı), this mosque gave its name to the whole area. The Davud Paœa semt is surrounded by other well-known
districts: Cerrahpaœa, Samatya, Langa, and Etyemez. As to the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle, it still exists as a small administrative unit, presently within the bounds of the Fatih District of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.
Local legend tells us that Kasap ƒlyas was the chief butcher/meat provider to the Ottoman army that conquered Constantinople in 1453 and that in recognition of his services, the sultan bestowed upon him a large plot of land. On this plot of land he first built a small mosque bearing his name and endowed it. Around this local mosque, goes the legend, a whole neighborhood bearing his name then took shape. The elderly inhabitants of Kasap ƒlyas still recount the many foundation myths

concerning Kasap ƒlyas
and his arrival to the neighborhood, as well as his many exploits, religious and otherwise. Kasap ƒlyas has grown into a sort of mythical figure and he has been surrounded by an aura of sanctity by the locals for quite a long time. His deed of trust (vakfiye) was set down in 149417 and his small shrine
standing in the small graveyard beside his mosque bears the date of 1495 as the date of his passing away. The present-day Kasap ƒlyas mosque was almost totally rebuilt after the 1894 earthquake. Of the original structure, nothing much remains.
The available waqf (philanthropic/pious foundation) registers for the neighborhood bear evidence to the existence of a durable sense of local identity. So do many elements of local folklore and ethnographic material.

Significant intracommunity links can be documented for a period extending back to the late fifteenth century. For instance, in the first half of the sixteenth century, the average number of pious foundations per mahalle in Istanbul was around 11. Kasap ƒlyas, however, had one of the highest number of foundations (26, to be precise) among all the 219 listed neighborhoods in traditional intramural Istanbul.18 Less than fifty years after the Ottoman conquest, this is a sure indicator of a relatively high degree of social cohesion.
The first population census of our neighborhood was done in 1885. The neighborhood contained then about a hundred fifty houses, most of them wooden, one- or two-story traditional structures, set in a total of thirteen streets and blind alleys. Kasap ƒlyas also had a mosque, two dervish convents, three public fountains, a school for girls, a police station, and about thirty shops as well as a number of warehouses for the storage of bulk goods (coal, wood, timber, sand, gravel, etc.). It also contained a large double hamam for men and women, surrounded by a number of shops. The presence of a large
public bath in such a small neighborhood is something quite exceptional for Istanbul, for most of the public baths were located in or around the central commercial areas of the city. This large fifteenth-century hamam certainly attracted customers from other mahalles as well.
The irregular and dense maze of streets and houses in the mahalle acquired a topographical stability only toward the middle of the nineteenth century, after a number of devastating fires which, together with large areas of the city, also ravaged our neighborhood. According to a rough calculation based on a map of Istanbul dating from around 1875, the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle covered an area of approximately six hectares.19 Quite a large portion of the mahalle was occupied by gardens and vegetable gardens (bostans), sometimes called the “Davudpaœa gardens.” These were extensions of the neighboring Langa Gardens (see map).
Kasap ƒlyas, though relatively large in area, has never been very densely populated. Well into the twentieth century parts of it still had a clearly semirural character.
From about the sixteenth century on, Kasap ƒlyas was a predominantly Muslim city quarter with always, as far as we know, only a minority of Greek orthodox inhabitants. Armenians and Greeks were a sizable majority in the neighboring Langa and Samatya semts. The last Ottoman census of 1907 tells us that Kasap ƒlyas contained about eleven hundred people.20 Its sixteenth- and seventeenth-century population must have been about half that figure, or even smaller.
Kasap ƒlyas is not topographically central to the walled city, nor is it situated anywhere near the political heart (the Palace) or near the traditional business or shopping areas of the walled city. The central commercial areas were situated either along the southern shores of the Golden Horn or in and
around the large covered bazaar. As was the case with all mahalles located near the city walls and city gates, Kasap ƒlyas was, throughout the centuries, considered to be peripheral (in all senses of the term) and it was inhabited by relatively poor people. Notwithstanding the presence of a number of mansions (konaks) belonging to the high-ranking military and bureaucrats, Kasap ƒlyas was always a much less prestigious residential area than some of its immediate neighbors.
Kasap ƒlyas housed, in the late nineteenth century, a large number of street peddlers, itinerant vendors of fruits and vegetables, some beggars, a group of—mostly female—manumitted black slaves, and a considerable number of families of quite modest means. Many of these were immigrants from
the eastern Anatolian town of Arapkir. Nevertheless, all of the elderly inhabitants we interviewed, while recognizing that Kasap ƒlyas or the Davudpaœa District had never been very wealthy or particularly prestigious, still took great pride in its allegedly “aristocratic” (read: “old Istanbul”) character.
Kasap ƒlyas’ economic and social articulation to the rest of the capitalcity of the Ottoman Empire took shape through two of its main topographical assets: the wharf and the vegetable gardens. From the sixteenth century on, the neighborhood appears in official documents as “the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle near the Davudpaœa wharf,” thus signaling the fact that the wharf preexisted the mahalle and/or that it had a topographical and commercial importance that superseded that of the neighborhood as such. The Davudpaœa wharf was indeed an important geographic marker on the Marmara shores of the walled city and, as we shall see, a was nonnegligible disembarkation point for a number of goods. As for the large Langa orchards, and their extensions right to the middle of the neighborhood, they played an important role in local fruit and vegetable production and distribution and provided employment to many of the less-favored inhabitants of the mahalle.

It is also usually understood, in the context of the same paradigm, that the guilds in Islamic cities did not essentially function as organizations defending the interests of craftsmen. Given the general weakness of urban organizations in Islamic lands, the guilds would be functioning basically as a means of supervising and taxing craftsmen, who would otherwise have totally escaped governmental control.15 This centrally controlled rigid guild structure would then obviously have impeded the appearance of a class of “free” laborers, the social basis for industrialization and for capital accumulation. The administrative rigidity of the guilds’ organization, another pillar of the “Islamic City” paradigm, will be clearly seen, in the case of Kasap ƒlyas, to be more an illusion than a reality. The fluidity and permeability of guild and nonguild activities will be illustrated by the fruit and vegetable peddlers who had been living for centuries in Kasap ƒlyas.
The haras or mahallas of some Arab or Middle Eastern cities, such as those of Cairo or Aleppo, were often barred by gates that had to be shut at night, a fact taken as a handy physical demonstration of the segmentation of Islamic urban structures. As to the borders of the various city quarters of Istanbul, or those of any other Turkish Anatolian city for that matter, let alone being physically barred, they were never even strictly drawn or well defined.16 Over the centuries, there were orders issued by the kadı of Istanbul, especially in times of political trouble, demanding that the population construct gates to protect their mahalles from outside aggressions. But these rulings were never fully implemented, or only haphazardly.
As exemplified by the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle and by its adjacent neighbors, the areas of the traditional Istanbul neighborhoods have always been somewhat imprecise and fluid. The mahalle was essentially a basic urban community defined by a dense web of relationships, before being a “ward,” a local
administrative unit.
As to the continuum in local consciousness in Ottoman Istanbul, it may well be due not to any pre-set internal homogeneity, but to the very peculiar functional and topographical constraints which, from the very beginning, besieged almost all quarters of the Ottoman capital-city. The fact that the continuity in the topographic and administrative makeup of the capital-city of the Ottoman Empire implied a rigidity neither in the number nor in the human and social composition or the economic and social function of each of its cells is perhaps a further challenge to the essentialist notion of a clearly defined, archetypal, and immutable “Islamic city.”
The resilience and the physical and social flexibility of our particular city quarter needs explanation, when viewed over a number of centuries. That the small Kasap ƒlyas neighborhood had the capacity and contained a multisecular mechanism designed to absorb rural migrants and integrate newcomers is striking enough. The fact that, in the last four centuries, it has more or less successfully survived a number of devastating fires, earthquakes, political instability, changes in the economic fortunes of Istanbul, and nineteenth-century throes of modernization must be a sign of its power of adaptation. Ottoman/ Turkish cities were not amorphous conglomerates of homogenous, rigid, and isolated town quarters or guilds. The apparent lack of formal urban institutions before the nineteenth century signifies neither that townsmen had no means of articulating their specific interests, nor that particular public cultures, of the sort that the legacy of the “Islamic city” typology has contributed
to obscure, did not exist.
True, no Muslim Istanbul neighborhood could exist or survive without a minimal level of autarkic organization centered around a mosque (and with a public fountain, a few shops, perhaps a school or a public bath, etc.). From that trivial fact to the notion of a city made up of homogenous and uniform
cellular units, there is, however, a huge step which, if taken, will wear away much of the historical variety that characterized Ottoman cities and neighborhoods. We would suggest that any attempt at devising a normative “Ottoman neighborhood” or producing a programmatic “Istanbul mahalle” is
bound to lose much factual wealth and historical variety. In organizing research into local history around such clichés as “integration,” “local autarky,” “staticness,” or “topographical fragmentation” we would elude many issues. Much information would be put away by the a priori submission to such
bulky concepts.
This book does not pretend to provide a paradigm to rival the idea of the Islamic city, and to replace one norm or one archetype by another. If anything, we would argue, in the context of Islamic/Ottoman/Middle Eastern cities, against any essentialist reductionism and in favor of the irreducible historical singularity not only of each city, but of each of its bits and pieces.
The contribution of such a microstudy to the debate would be to show, perhaps, that not only the cities of Arab, Islamic, and Ottoman lands themselves, but also their topographical or functional or social constituent parts (i.e., the neighborhoods, haras, or mahalles) too, cannot be made to fit into
a set of fundamentally unique and ghettoizing characteristics.

Social and urban historians of Istanbul have often stressed the idea that these mahalles, however diverse they may have been, defined on the whole a static configuration, typical of most precapitalist urban populations.8 The mahalle is implicitly taken to be not only a basic level of social integration but also a community characterized by a high amount of autarky and an almost builtin inability to move. This static picture of the human topography of Istanbul intra muros is usually taken to mean, first, that the numbers, areas, and composition of the residential mahalles were well-defined and relatively stable, and, second, that the restricted mobility of the population implied some rigidity in the ethnic/religious makeup of each of the neighborhoods.
The absoluteness of the ethnic, religious, and functional divisions embedded in the topographical makeup of the city, its cellular structure, and the absence of interpenetration between the ethnic and religious constituents were also used for claiming the existence of a specific and typical Islamic urban model, an archetypal Islamic City. The functional articulation of various parts of the city, the use of public space, and its overall architectural and urbanistic consequences (the functional triangle consisting of the mosque, the market, and the public bath) were also taken to have an unequivocal and unique connection to this model. Often even the sheer physical shape of the Islamic city was taken to be an unequivocal expression of its social structure, just an external sign of a system of law, social ethics, and social institutions.
The presence of ruling elites that distantiate themselves from the population at large, the general lack of urban political autonomy and of oppositional political initiatives coming from the cities in Islamic lands—as opposed to “Western”/European cities—that were attributed to this structure were taken
to be an a posteriori demonstration of the thesis.9 Some proponents of the thesis went as far as denying the existence of any sort of permanent formal institutions within the Islamic city and of any sort of corporate personality within which there might grow up an exclusive solidarity that could take
precedence over the community of “believers at large,” the umma.10 The thesis on the existence of an essentially “Islamic city” was, for a long time, surrounded by the prestige and aura of its first proponent, none less than Max Weber himself. Weber had, in fact, adduced no historical evidence
worthy of that name to support his thesis. His idea, however, was taken up by, and integrated into, other worldviews such as “Orientalism” or the “worldeconomy/world-system” paradigm. These two were obviously in dire need of defining (albeit sketchily, and notwithstanding the teleological vision involved), some overarching urban similarities that would account for the decline or
“peripheralization” of Ottoman, “Islamic,” and Middle Eastern cities in the nineteenth century. A classical Islamic scholar, Gustav von Grunebaum, came to the rescue in the 1950s, filled up Weber’s historical lacunae with religious and philological scholarship and, for all practical purposes, codified the concept of the Islamic city for the coming decades, and it became part of a more general typology of urban forms.11 The same codification had also been applied in the 1930s and 1940s to North African Muslim towns by the French Islamists William and Georges Marçais.12 The Eurocentric Weberian framework on urban development in Islamic lands received a more nuanced interpretation in the hands of such scholars as Ira Lapidus and Albert Hourani.13 While sharing with Weber and von Grunebaum the basic view of a disaggregated and vertically segmented typical Islamic urban structure that lacked the elements of a true civil society, these historians had a more nuanced view of the politics and governance of these cities. They admitted the historical existence of a group of denizens who could, under certain circumstances and by common consent, come to represent an (almost European) civic community spirit, a strictly local ‘asabiyya.
For a number of reasons, most of them concerning the available historical sources, scholars have so far considered the (North African as well as Middle Eastern) Arab case as the normative type of “Islamic city,” although Anatolian and other Ottoman towns, and even Istanbul, have also been envisaged within the same paradigm.
More recent studies, however, while seeking neither to question nor to support the long-standing paradigm of the Islamic city have, first and foremost, tried to diversify their historical perspective by using a larger variety of local sources. Recent historical work tends to focus on the diversity of situ-
ations and on the singularity of urban societies in Islamic lands and in the eastern Mediterranean. Efforts are made to situate and represent a greater diversity of ethnic, religious, local, and professional identities. Scholars now rightfully insist not only on the singularity of each Ottoman city, but also on that of each of their constituent parts. As Lapidus candidly wrote in an article published in 1973: “When we speak of Muslim cities, we do not speak of a special type of city society, but we refer to the predominant religious and cultural identifications of their inhabitants and the institutions built around these identifications.”14
In the residential quarters of Istanbul, settlement patterns did traditionally follow religious and ethnic lines. Socioeconomic determinants of housing patterns were, for centuries, of only secondary importance. The class- or income-based differentiation of the urban fabric did not take hold of Istanbul before well into the twentieth century. But from this observation to the idea that these residential patterns were, before the twentieth century, either frozen or at least largely predictable, there is a huge step that the proponents of this thesis would not hesitate to take. The reality is, as we shall see in the case of Kasap ƒlyas, that even in times of relative demographic stability, even before the “long” nineteenth century, both the population of Istanbul and of the traditional residential neighborhoods were in considerable flux. The demarcation lines between mahalles were never so strict and the horizontal mobility of the residents was much higher than is usually admitted. At the local level, mobility and change seem to have been the rule, not the exception.

Ever since the early sixteenth century, the urban fabric of the residential areas of intramural Istanbul has consisted of a juxtaposition of mahalles. Some of them retained their name and topographical location for centuries. These mahalles were usually not very populous, nor did they cover a wide area. On the eve of the First World War, for instance, the Istanbul mahalles had an average population of around fifteen hundred people. 4 Ten or fifteen streets at most, grouped around a thoroughfare or perhaps around a small square, and one or two small mosques (or a church or a synagogue, depending on the ethnic makeup of the neighborhood) defined most of the residential Istanbul mahalles. The neighborhood also usually contained a public fountain or two and a few shops catering to basic necessities or services. There might also be some some public utility buildings (a public bath, or perhaps, a dervish convent or a primary school). Less basic goods and services were available either in the more central commercial areas, like the covered big bazaar (çarœû-yı kebir), or in the many weekly markets serving larger slices of the urban population. Many of these Ottoman mahalles of Istanbul bore the name of the benefactor of the local mosque, the public bath or fountain, that of a
mythical figure, that of a Byzantine monument, or even, in a few cases, the name of the geographic origin of its first Muslim inhabitants. Although the borders and areas of each of the Istanbul mahalles were never very strictly drawn, and they certainly did fluctuate in time, these urban neighborhood units were at all times perceived as an important protective and cohesive unit immediately surrounding the family and the household. They fostered a durable sense of local identity and cohesion. At least ever since the middle of the sixteenth century, and in the absence of accepted family surnames, many of the artisans and the ordinary folk of Istanbul were known or nicknamed as “from such and such a district (semt) or mahalle.” Various types of rivalries or cooperative actions between adjacent neighborhoods and districts are well-known and have survived well into the twentieth century.

The mahalles were well entrenched as basic communities at the local level and played key roles in shaping local identities and solidarities. This solidarity entailed a particular modus vivendi, plus some sort of collective defense, as well as various mechanisms of mutual control and surveillance, many of them designed for regulating and monitoring public morality. In many mahalles collective social life was real, durable, and strong. In many of them, for instance, self-appointed bands of youths would act as militias to defend the mahalle’s “honor” from outside “agressions.” In others, there were, in the nineteenth century, self-organized amateur “fire-brigades” who took charge of the extinction of real and of the prevention of potential fires. These young
mens’ brotherhood type of groups (tulumbacı) also took upon themselves the task of defending the honor and reputation of the locals. Twentieth-century Kasap ƒlyas bears many reminiscences of these groups. The districts (semts) and mahalles of pre-twentieth-century Istanbul had their—real or imagined— honor and reputation to uphold.
The traditional mahalles of Istanbul were generally very mixed in terms of wealth, social class, and status. Residential patterns usually ran along lines of ethnicity and religion. However, ethnically and/or religiously mixed mahalles were not infrequent either. Recent studies have tended to show that even in the early periods of Ottoman rule, ethnic and religious identities did not necessarily exhaust the definition of a mahalle. The notion of the absolute homogeneity of the Islamic or Middle Eastern town quarter regarding its social composition and the idea that these neighborhoods were exclusively defined by religious, ethnic, class, or occupational affiliation have also seriously been challenged by recent studies on Ottoman cities, especially in the empire’s Arab provinces.5 In intramural Istanbul, large mansions of pashas and beys neighboring the shanty lodgings of beggars (se’ele) or of streetporters (hamals and küfecis) were quite a common occurrence. These different
groups were not usually clustered in separate parts of the neighborhood either. Indeed, there were some mahalles where, on the whole, the inhabitants fared better than those of other neighborhoods. However, really “exclusive” areas, or particularly well-off neighborhoods, or particularly destitute ones were quite exceptional.
Within intramural Istanbul, the distinction between the semt6 (district) and the mahalle was of primary importance in the perception of urban space and in situating local identities. The semt is a nondescript area, a district, usually much larger than an average mahalle, indicative of a rather large
section of the city. Most of the semts took their name from a precise point, such as a city gate, a large market, or a building that was functional for the city as a whole (Edirnekapı, Fatih, Sultanahmet, Karagümrük, Unkapanı, ¥ehremini, Fener, etc.) and were therefore used as basic geographic markers.
Sometimes, the toponymy of the semts might indicate the city or region of the empire from which an initial population had migrated (Aksaray, Karaman, Çarœamba, etc.). Many people referred to their personal addresess by indicating both the semt and perhaps the name of a local landmark (a well-known mosque, a city gate, a wharf, a monument, etc.). These semts and landmarks were no
doubt better known by the inhabitants of Istanbul at large than the names of the numerous small traditional mahalles. The mahalles, notwithstanding some remarkable exceptions, were of vital importance only to their own denizens and their names might not be known to inhabitants of distant semts.
A cadastral land survey of the city and a regular name for each street of intramural Istanbul (with a number for each house or gate) were to come only in the 1860s. Before the last quarter of the nineteenth century, even official documents—deeds of sale of real estate, for instance—in which a precise definition mattered, routinely used only very approximate addresses in which the semt and/or a well-known local landmark were mentioned. For instance, in the religious court rulings in which a resident of the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle was involved, that person was always identified as “such and such, from the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle near [the] Davudpaœa [wharf/gate].” The Davudpaœa semt and/or the Davudpaœa wharf clearly localized the small Kasap ƒlyas mahalle.
For all practical purposes, this was deemed to be a sufficient “address.” Once in the neighborhood, people were pretty sure of finding their way to a precise destination or of reaching the desired person simply by asking around.
The mahalle was an economic and social entity which, as far as the daily lives of its inhabitants is concerned, delineated their primary cultural milieu (family life, religious community, neighborhood, etc.). This is especially true of the period preceding the early nineteenth century, since local public coffeehouses began spreading in Istanbul only then.7 Before that period, these public coffeehouses were concentrated in a few central or commercial areas of the city. The mescit and, perhaps, the hamam were the only public meeting places at the mahalle level. Therefore, the local mescit, which was of definitional importance to the neighborhood, was also the main available public space.
Local consciousness at mahalle level necessarily meant close and frequent contacts. As to the semt, its extent implied that routine face-to-face meetings were much less important. In Istanbul the semt was almost always related to the functionality of the area within the overall urban organization (trade,
commerce, religion, politics, education, etc.). The sense of belonging to a mahalle was part of daily life, but that of being part of a semt certainly involved a somewhat higher degree of abstraction, a sort of open topographical self-positioning and status-seeking with respect to the rest of the city. A
residential semt could be more or less prestigious than another and there could be a—real or imagined—hierarchy of semts, but not of mahalles.
Unlike the mahalle, the semts never were legal administrative units. The mahalle, however, was always both a basic urban administrative unit and a social and economic entity. However, these two meanings never completely overlapped. The centrally determined administrative network of Ottoman
Istanbul and the web of local identities did not necessarily coincide. This was so in the inceptive fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as well as in the “modernizing” nineteenth. The perception of the urban population regarding their environment and their self-definition in relation to their immediate surrounding was always more important than the religious/administrative matrix imposed upon the cityscape for purposes of control or tax collectio.

In the residential quarters of the Ottoman city, the imam of the local mosque was considered, up until the Tanzimat reforms of the middle of the nineteenth century, as a local headman of sorts. As a mediator of the authority of the kadı, he had both administrative and religious powers and duties. His most important duty was to apportion and to collect the lump-sum taxes imposed by the Ottoman state. He also acted as a guarantor for every local inhabitant. Any newcomer who wanted to set up house in the mahalle had to have the imam’s approval, provide a guarantor, and also produce proof of his solvency. After the 1830s laymen (muhtars) were appointed/co-opted as ocal headmen. The process of transfer of authority was generally smooth and a good example of this transfer can be followed in Kasap ƒlyas.

The image of Istanbul as the city, or as “a world in itself” was often used to depict the size, the bustle, and the diversity of the Ottoman capital.1 As the center of economic and political power of an empire stretching over three continents, Istanbul drew people from all Ottoman lands and even from beyond. Its population was no doubt one of the most disparate in the world, and the city itself was very large. The walled city itself, a triangular peninsula surrounded by water on two sides, was, at least until the industrial revolution, larger in area than most European cities.2 Its three boroughs (Eyüp, Galata,
and Üsküdar) were set outside the walls and, for two of them, across the water. The official Ottoman denomination of greater Istanbul, Dersaadet ve bilâd-ı selâse (the Abode of Felicity and the three boroughs), does reflect the feeling of size and distance, as experienced by its inhabitants in their daily
lives. Many Istanbulites were leading a localized life, especially before the nineteenth century, and were only partially familiar with the city at large, especially those parts of it that were “across the water.” Well into the nine teenth century, traveling from one part of the city to another was still some thing of an adventure, and daily “commuting” was unthinkable. Local iden-tities and solidarities at the neighborhood and district level developed within Istanbul long before an overall urban conscience could impose its stamp on the inhabitants.

The population of Ottoman Istanbul, though it certainly had a number of ups and downs, always seemed to be tremendous.3 Among Ottoman cities, only Cairo could ever have stood the comparison. Though the hard data are lacking, Istanbul—and not London or Paris—might well have been the most
populated capital-city of Europe between the sixteenth and the late eighteenth centuries. At the time of the Ottoman conquest, the population of the Byzantine capital had fallen to just tens of thousands of people. The policy of Mehmed II (the Conqueror) was one of bringing settlers to Istanbul, a policy of forced migration (sürgün) in an attempt to revive the city in the decades immediately following the conquest. About a century later, under the reign of Süleyman “the Magnificent” (1520–1566), the Istanbul population

probably reached the quarter-million mark. It was then almost twice as large as that of Paris or London. Throughout the centuries, the Porte was always worried about the uncontrollable crowding of Istanbul and tried to limit migration to the city and to push away all undesirable elements, if necessary manu militari. These efforts, however, were mostly to no avail. Except for some wild guesses made by a few European travelers, there are practically no data for the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century population of Istanbul. The earliest estimates for the first half of the nineteenth century point to slightly less than half a million inhabitants. Growth was slow but regular throughout
the nineteenth century. The first citywide reliable count is that of 1885. The one-million mark will be crossed—for the first time, and only temporarily—just before the First World War, due to the sudden inflow of refugees fleeing the Balkan wars. Not surprisingly, the historiographical heritage of Istanbul has tended to view this enormous conurbation not as an integrated whole, but rather as a patchwork, a colorful collage. There is a wealth of studies on the trade and commerce of Istanbul, its politics and government, its art and architecture, its religious/ethnic communities, and so forth. There have been very few efforts to examine Istanbul as a unified whole. The very problematic nature and— as often as not—the simple absence of historical documentation on the social life of the city and of its inhabitants, is a forbidding obstacle facing local and social historians of the Ottoman capital. Specific in-depth local studies as well as studies emphasizing the modes of articulation of the diverse sections
of the city to each other are sorely lacking. Istanbul’s topographical mosaic of well-defined individual cells did consist, on one side, of city quarters or residential neighborhoods (mahalles), delineated on ethnic/religious grounds and, on the other side, of ethnically more mixed commercial/economic areas. There is, however, a very basic difficulty in finding references to individual mahalles in pre- nineteenth-century Ottoman archival sources. The only Ottoman historical sources for Istanbul that are classified on a topographical basis and in which various mahalles can be spotted are the Archives of the Religious Courts (¥er’iye Sicilleri/Kadı sicilleri); and even in these archives, homogenous,
long, and uninterrupted time series are difficult to come by.

Istanbul is preparing to host the two-day 13th Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit next Thursday and Friday. According to a statement from the president's...


Istanbul is preparing to host the two-day 13th Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit next Thursday and Friday. According to a statement from the president's...