In 1893, while Osman Efendi was still muhtar of Kasap ƒlyas, an epidemic of cholera struck Istanbul. Whether the epidemic took a particularly heavy toll in Kasap ƒlyas is not known, but its indirect and long-term effects on our neighborhood as a whole were certainly devastating. The year the epidemic
broke, a large konak called Takiyüddin Paœa Kona™ı and situated in Hûbyâr, the northernly neighbor of Kasap ƒlyas, was bought by the Istanbul municipality and set up as a hospital to treat the victims of the epidemic.1 This konak was situated at the uppermost corner of Yokuœçeœme Street. Its large garden that extended downhill was not too far from the Ispanakçı Viranesi, which was at the northern tip of Kasap ƒlyas. When the cholera epidemic ended, the konak continued to operate as a municipal hospital. Later, a couple of new buildings were added in the garden of the konak and the institution continued to function as a general hospital for men. In 1911–1912 the old wooden konak was torn down and new construction replaced it.
Until the 1930s the hospital (now called the Cerrahpaœa Hospital, by reference to the district and to the new mahalle in which it was situated) remained, topographically speaking, within the bounds of the former Hûbyâr mahalle. After the 1928 municipal reform of Istanbul, the limits of the old Hûbyâr mahalle were modiﬁed, and its name was changed to Cerrahpaœa. In 1933, the Cerrahpaœa Hospital was integrated into the University of Istanbul as a Faculty of Medicine and began to serve as a training hospital for interns and residents for specialization.
In 1936 the president of the Republic Mustafa Kemal Atatürk paid a visit to the institution. During his visit, he is reported to have said: “This hospital should be extended down to the seaside.”2 Between the Cerrahpaœa Hospital and the seaside stood then two traditional Istanbul mahalles:
Cerrahpaœa (alias Hûbyâr) and Kasap ƒlyas. Whether the effect of this presidential pronouncement or not, the whole area was marked as a “hospital area” in the urban development plans drawn for Istanbul in the late 1930s. From then on, the inhabitants of Hûbyâr and of the northern section of Kasap ƒlyas knew that the whole area was to be turned over to the hospital, and that they
were sooner or later due to be expropriated. “When we decided to build a second ﬂoor to our house, we knew very well that the whole area was in fact an expropriation area,” declared an elderly inhabitant, referring to the early 1950s.3 Coming from the wife of a former muhtar who had arrived herself to
the mahalle in 1947, “Atatürk had said long ago that this whole area was to be a hospital”4 is a statement that shows that the inhabitants of Kasap ƒlyas were well aware that the fate of their neighborhood was already sealed.
The expropriations and the hospital extension process was quite slow, though, and it took them more than three decades for completion. Closer to the hospital, it was the small Hûbyâr mahalle that went ﬁrst. It had almost completely disappeared by the early 1950s, as new buildings were added to
the hospital complex, which extended its limits and came to neighbor the Ispanakçı Viranesi. The centuries-old local community of poor Alevî Arapkirli migrants living in the Virane dispersed, never to be formed in this location again. Their dilapidated houses were not worth repair and it was the hospital
that was in command of the land, anyway. In the 1960s, one of the many open-air ﬁlm theaters of Istanbul (Gülistan sineması) was operating on the ﬂat piece of land where the Virane used to be. The two-centuries-old Ispanakçı viranesi, heir to the konak of Ispanakçızâde Mustafa Paœa had completely
disappeared. The Kasap ƒlyas mahalle had thereby lost one of its historically fundamental social/ethnic identity markers.
Then, in the late ’60s and ’70s the expropriation procedures were accelerated. As the hospital complex spread toward the sea, scores of houses were vacated and torn down. As a matter-of-fact, whole streets disappeared. Following the western side of Yokuœçeœme Street and tearing down all of its houses
with an odd number, the hospital ﬁnally reached Samatya Street, leaving nothing of the old “upper mahalle” but the Kasap ƒlyas mosque itself. “This hospital greatly damaged the neighborhood….it took Yokuœçeœme; it took the Ispanakçı Viranesi, the Cami street, Çavuœzade [Street], there was the Çavuœzade fountain here, Hamam odaları [Street], ¥eyhülharem [Street]… all the land until Esekapısı was taken up by the hospital” was a remark we recorded.5 “The Cerrahpaœa hospital is the institution that completely destroyed our neighborhood, historical Davudpaœa is gone too.”6 was another bitter comment made by an elderly former inhabitant of Kasap ƒlyas. After completion of the expropriation process,7 the following Kasap ƒlyas streets had completely disappeared:
Çavuœzade, Tekke, Cami-i ¥erif, Hamam Odaları, ¥eyhülharem, Ispanakçı Viranesi, and Ispanakçı Viranesi Street, as well as the whole western side of Yokuœçeœme Street. About one third of the total initial area of the mahalle had been swallowed by the hospital. The hospital complex, however, could not completely obey Atatürk’s indications of 1936 and had to stop short of reaching the seaside. Obviously, there were obstacles more difﬁcult to overcome between
Samatya Street and the sea: the train lines and part of the historical city ramparts.
But something just as destructive befell this part of the neighborhood, the “lower mahalle,” in the 1950s: the building of a sort of “corniche,” a wide fourlane freeway along the whole Marmara coast of Istanbul.
The 1950s saw widespread urban developments in Istanbul. A number of wide and modern boulevards that cut across the urban tissue of the walled city were opened. Among this network of boulevards was the so-called sea-side road (sahil yolu) that went from the Sirkeci train station in the city center
all the way to the airport, about twenty-two kilometers away. This road was designed to be thirty meters across, with wide sidewalks on both sides. It was to run parallel to the railway line and to the ramparts along the Marmara shore.
Practically, the opening of such a wide road meant that the whole Marmara coast of the city was to be leveled, that the sea was to be ﬁlled in where needed, and that all topographical or man-made obstacles were to be removed.
The Davudpaœa wharf itself, part of the ramparts bordering on the sea, as well as the warehouses near the wharf were among the obstacles to the new seaside road. These basic topographical landmarks, of deﬁnitional importance to the neighborhood ever since its foundation in the late ﬁfteenth century,
completely disappeared in the middle of the 1950s. After the demise of the Ispanakçı Viranesi, the neighborhood thus lost another of its traditionally important human and social components. With the warehouses, the greater part of the employment opportunities for the street-porters of the neighborhood was taken away. The bostans near the ramparts were expropriated too.
In fact, the whole “lower mahalle”—with its more modest residents, its reputation, and peculiarities—lost much of its raison d’être. The Davudpaœa Wharf was torn down, never to be rebuilt again. Most of the warehouses for wood and coal were expropriated and torn down to make space for the new seaside road and for its promenade. So was the larger part of the old city ramparts
that passed through lower Kasap ƒlyas. As to the occupants of the shoddy wooden houses abutting on these ramparts by the seaside, they were relocated by the municipal authorities in one of the new shantytowns that were spreading then in the northern suburbs of Istanbul.
Not only was the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle totally severed from the sea, but an end was put to the social and economic characteristics that came from its proximity to a wharf and to the centuries-old transportation, wholesale, and retail activities related to it. The “lower mahalle” lost its overall urban commercial functions at about the same time the “upper mahalle” was truncated of its traditional residents and of many of its streets. Never before, as far as we can surmise, in its entire history that extended over more than four centuries, had the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle experienced such an overwhelming and existential trauma.
It is not only in the creation of a new urban grid of avenues and boulevards,8 or of a health infrastructure more adapted to modern needs that the
modernizing thrust of the republican municipal reforms made itself felt. It is the very deﬁnition of the traditional intramural Istanbul mahalles that underwent a radical change in the 1920s. The new rational conﬁguration that was a posteriori superimposed upon the myriads of small neighborhoods signiﬁed, in a sense, the beginning of the end for the traditional perceptions of local space in Istanbul.
As already sufﬁciently underlined (see the Introduction), a mahalle was essentially a matter of perception. “The mahalle is in the eye of the inhabitant,” to paraphrase a better-known aphorism. The neighborhoods of Ottoman Istanbul never had nor needed well-deﬁned borders. Where a mahalle
ended and another began was a matter for the residents to perceive, to voice, and to enact in their daily lives, not a matter for the legislator or the administrator to determine. Before being anything alse, a neighborhood was a place where people were neighbors. It was the interacting families, the daily con-
tacts of men, women, and children, whether to pray, to shop, to play games, or simply to stroll together, and the relationships that such activities implied that made up the neighborhood gestalt. Local identity was ﬁrst and foremost dependent on the existence of a web of relationships. The intensity of contacts among the residents created a sense of belonging to the secondary sphere of privacy centered around the home that was the mahalle. It is the degree of social integration, not necessarily the precise topographical “address” or the necessary presence of a local mosque that created this.9 The existence of face-to-face contact and interaction brought a neighborhood community to life and deﬁned it as a mahalle having a speciﬁc geographic location; not the other way around. Predrawn precise borders were irrelevant.
This was so even for those predominantly non-Muslim mahalles with a high degree of ethnic/religious homogeneity. If anything, the “borders” were organic, changeable, and mental.
As to the streets of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Istanbul mahalles, they were not just neutral passageways, but loci for play, work, and communication and were constituent parts of local neighborhood conscious- ness. Face-to-face contact was a reality for houses as well as for people. Both
sides of these narrow streets, with the protruding bay windows of the houses lined on opposite sides almost touching each other, obviously belonged to the same mahalle. In conformity to this general perception, the Ottoman census returns for Istanbul in 1885 and again in 1907 do not contain a single case where the even-numbered and odd-numbered sides of the same street belong to two different mahalles. An ordinary Istanbul street was never perceived as being a borderline between two neighborhoods, one side of the street belonging to one neighborhood, and the houses facing this side to another.
There were some exceptions to this state of affairs, however. These exceptions were constituted by the very few long and relatively rectilinear arteries of Istanbul. All of them were topographical relics of Byzantine Constantinople, and they had to pass through more than one Ottoman mahalle. Samatya Street, alias “Butchers’ Road,” which went through no less than seven mahalles, is one such instance. But even these are doubtful exceptions, since the artery entered the next mahalle at a particular crosspoint and, while crossing this mahalle, became part of it, with the houses on both sides and all their contents.
The 1927–1928 reform and restructuring of the Istanbul mahalles10 completely ignored these traditional perceptions of urban local space. The redrawing of the mahalle borders by the Istanbul municipality rested on principles totally alien to the century-old conceptions that formed the basic urban culture of local cohabitation in the Ottoman capital. The ideal model was the haussmannian arrondissements of Paris, and the cartesian division of each of them into four quartiers. The reform reduced the number of intramural Istanbul neighborhoods and ﬁxed it to 114. More importantly, new mahalle borders were deﬁned and streets were systematically used as border markers. The frontiers of all of the mahalles were identiﬁed with the median line of a street, one side of which was made to belong to a mahalle, and the other side to the neighboring one. Kasap ƒlyas provides some good examples of this type of
border redeﬁnition. Take, for instance, the Ispanakçı Viranesi, that centuriesold traditional landing ground for the poor Arapkirli rural migrants who came to Kasap ƒlyas. The 1928 redeﬁnition of mahalle borders divides the Virane in two. The new mahalle borderline was put right in the middle of it and the northern part of Ispanakçı Viranesi was attributed to Cerrahpaœa, while the southern part remained within Kasap ƒlyas. Davudpaœa ƒskelesi Street (Davudpaœa Wharf Street) which went from Samatya Street to the wharf, and that was lined with many of the local warehouses for wood and coal, is another example. This street was also selected for constituting a limit between Kasap ƒlyas and the neighboring mahalle to its west (Yalı mahallesi).
Yokuœçeœme Street is yet another instance. The border was drawn right in the middle and the even-numbered houses were attributed to Kürkçübaœı. Kasap ƒlyas was not always on the losing side of the deal, since the western ﬂanks of a couple of streets previously in the easternly Sancaktar Hayreddin neighborhood were now, with this sleight of hand, brought into the new domain of Kasap ƒlyas.
A logical, positivist idea of the urban quarter was thus superimposed upon and, for administrative purposes, substituted to the more ﬂuid and
ﬂexible conception of the traditional Istanbul mahalle. In a sense, with these deﬁnite and ﬁxed new borderlines, it was the “bottom-up” view of an Istanbul mahalle as a real neighborhood community that went away and was replaced by a more rigid administrative territorial structure. Not that the mahalle as a community ceased to exist overnight, of course, but this negation of its existence marked, in a way, the beginning of the end and signiﬁed a radical change of local gestalt. Henceforth, the traditional mahalle and mahalle life were set to become a popular subject matter for the expression of regrets and
of nostalgia for “a world we have lost.” As an elderly inhabitant of Kasap ƒlyas put it “This was an average neighborhood, which contained both rich and poor. But no one cared about the difference; everybody deserved and got the same respect from everybody else. Now there is none of that anymore, nobody cares, and being neighbors doesn’t mean anything anymore….”11