Blind Alleys

Many of the “streets” in sixteenth-century Kasap ƒlyas were in fact simply blind alleys. Out of a total of sixteen houses donated to a foundation in the first half of the sixteenth century five were on a dead end. The deeds of trust describe them as bordering on a blind alley (tarîk-i hass ile mahdûd, literally,
“limited by a private street”). These streets were not considered a public thoroughfare, but were qualified as “private.” These blind alleys were narrower and shorter than the other Kasap ƒlyas streets. The short dead ends were considered a kind of entrance hall to the few houses whose gate opened onto it, not as their property but as their private space, in a way. Not being a public passageway, these alleys also functioned as a protective element, guarding the private life of the households who lived within it. It was obviously seen as a sort of lock, a transitional stage between the public space of the streets and the privacy of the houses.
The inhabitants of the houses whose gates faced these blind alleys were sharing this semiprivate space; this fact entailed mutual obligations and responsibilities. As they were shared by more than one household, none of them could infringe with impunity on the tacit agreement that made the alley an area of common privacy, so to speak, or a meeting point of many private domains. For instance, such building activities as the construction of a new house, the extension of an existing one, the adding of a second floor, of an overhang, or of a bay window that might overlook either the alley or the neighboring gardens, the opening of another gate to the alley, and so forth, were all pending on the tacit agreement of all of the other inhabitants of that blind alley. This, in most cases tacit, building permission was called, in Ottoman legal parlance, a partners’/shareholders’ permission (izn-i œürekâ).
The absence of such a permission meant the possibility of a court case, or, more frequently, the request for an ad hoc official legal opinion (fetva) to be obtained from the ¥eyhülislâm, and that would have force of law.
The problems that arose in these blind alleys did not necessarily exclusively concern the respect of mutual property rights. Any intervention on that communal space was ipso facto a direct intervention on somebody else’s privacy. That is why building activities in these dead-end streets often gave rise
to legal disputes; a new window overlooking the neighbor’s garden, an extension slightly dimming somebody’s sunlight, or any sort of noisy activity could be the occasion for a legal opinion emanating from the highest religious authorities. Quite a large number of these disputes between neighbors thus
found their way into the fetva-collections of such reputed and authoritative seventeenth-century ¥eyhülislams as Feyzullah Efendi and Çatalcalı Ali Efendi.44 These collections of legal opinions were then used later as precedents for the settlement of similar conflicts.
A modus vivendi between all neighbors had to be eventually found, for the rules of communal life in the dead-end streets of residential Istanbul had to both respect all legal property rights of the inhabitants and to be mindful of their perception of their respective private domains. It remains that the interface between the public and the private domains in Ottoman cities, and its evolution and its relationship to Ottoman urban culture in general is a topic not yet sufficiently investigated.