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Local Identity

Less than a century after the conquest, Kasap ƒlyas had already acquired the location that it still occupies within the semt and mahalle topography of Istanbul. Set on the slopes of the last of the “seven hills” of the historical Istanbul peninsula, on land gently sloping toward the sea south of the Davud Paœa Mosque, Kasap ƒlyas was then, as it is today, embedded in the larger Davud Paœa semt.
The high number of endowments for local common benefit established in Kasap ƒlyas is a sure indicator of a strong sense of local identity and of a relatively high degree of social cohesion. The decisions that many of the inhabitants of the mahalle took, in the first half of the sixteenth century,
concerning the transmission of their property, shows that they really believed in the perennity of their neighborhood. Those who established a foundation for local common benefit in their neighborhood chose to dispose of their goods in a manner that would establish an eternal link between them and
their neighborhood community. A local identity, a sense of local belonging, was evidently already there, for such potent material effects would not have been produced without a strong collective belief in local common goals and benefits. The first deed of trust (vakfiye) established in the neighborhood is, as a matter-of-fact also the earliest within the whole Davud Paœa district and is dated May 1501 (¥evval 906 a.h.). That first local vakıf provides for the repair and maintenance of a local public convenience, a well for public use (bi’r-i mâ-yı müœterek) situated in the neighborhood.3
Was the comparatively large number of local endowments due to the fact that Kasap ƒlyas was particularly populous or particularly well-off in the sixteenth century? On the matter of populousness, just the contrary is true. As we shall see, though large in area, the mahalle was always, in the sixteenth as well as in later centuries, rather sparsely populated. As to riches, the available sources do not allow for that sort of a comparison at a mahalle level in the sixteenth century, but, as we shall see, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century data would, if anything, point in just the opposite direction.
Starting from the very end of the fifteenth century, the inhabitants of that small bit of Istanbul seem to have strongly believed that they could meaningfully bequeath their possessions (in cash or as real estate property) for a strictly local cause and purpose. Besides believing in the perennity of the mosque and of the mahalle itself, the inhabitants who endowed a foundation for local common benefit must have put a good deal of confidence in the personality of the local religious leaders (i.e., the imam and the müezzin of the Kasap ƒlyas mosque) who would automatically have to function as trustees and would have to manage the trust fund or the real estate property in accordance with the desires of the founder.
Besides, Kasap ƒlyas, through the prestige of its local religious leaders, seems to have acquired a particular urban aura. Indeed, the trusteeship of a number of houses situated in Arap Taceddin and in the adjacent “new” mahalle had also been given to the imam of the Kasap ƒlyas mosque. However, not even a single item of property situated in our neighborhood had been given in trust to a local religious foundation situated elsewhere in the city in the first half of the sixteenth century.

Points of Reference
In the last quarter of the fifteenth century three buildings played a definitional role in the formation of our neighborhood and of its local identity: (1) the Davud Paœa complex (külliye) which gave its name to the whole area and was situated up the hill above Kasap ƒlyas. Built in 1485 by the grand vizier Koca Davud Paœa (d. 1498), it was composed of a large mosque, a shrine (türbe), a small theological school (medrese), and a soup kitchen for the poor (imaret); (2) the Kasap ƒlyas mosque, built probably not long before 1494, which is the date of its deed of trust; and (3) the large Davud Paœa double bath (çifte hamam4) situated right in the middle of our mahalle and built probably at the same time as the Davud Paœa complex itself. As it was nearer to the city walls bordering on the sea of Marmara than to the Davud Paœa complex, the Davud Paœa public bath was often designated as Deniz Hamamı, or Denizciler Hamami (The Seamen’s Hamam).
Together with the Davud Paœa gate on the city walls bordering the sea of Marmara and the small wharf that jutted out from the piece of land just outside the gate, these three buildings were the main formative landmarks of both the Davud Paœa semt and the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle in the last quarter of
the fifteenth century. These three buildings put their imprint on the area, became the basic topographical points of reference for a local identity, and contributed to the formation of a durable local consciousness. Indeed, neither the name of the Davud Paœa District nor that of Kasap ƒlyas appear in a previous listing of Istanbul pious foundations dated from 1472.5 The last quarter of the fifteenth century was crucial in that respect.

Were there any traces of any Byzantine building, monument, road, church, and so forth or of any other pre-Ottoman center of attraction that could have served as a point of reference to the newly formed mahalle? Judging from the speed with which local identities were formed in the neighborhood after the Ottoman conquest, the answer seems to be negative. The Byzantine monument nearest to the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle would be the Arcadius column, at the center of a small forum that was situated about a quarter of a mile to the north and was within the bounds of the Cerrahpaœa District, where the basis of the column can still be seen. To the west of Davudpaœa, the neighboring semt of Samatya derives its name from the Greek Psammathia. To the east of Kasap
ƒlyas are the large vegetable gardens of Langa, whose Turkish name is a direct descendent of the Byzantine Vlanga. No onomastic or topographical traces have been transmitted to Ottoman Istanbul, however, either of Xerolophus, the Byzantine denomination of the hills of the Davudpaœa District, or of Hagios Emilianos, the name of a church and of a gate in the city ramparts, both in the same district.6 The district was in no way an important Byzantine economic or political center. It did not become a primary urban center under Ottoman rule either. The construction of durable local identities in Ottoman Davudpaœa and in Kasap ƒlyas seem to have owed little to what the district
had contained in Byzantine times.
The area was very sparsely populated in the late Byzantine period. Sources show that the whole Marmara coast from the point of the Seraglio to the Castle of the Seven Towers was hardly inhabited.7 Buildings were rare in the first decades of the Turkish conquest as well. Many maps and engravings of the period show vast empty areas all along the coast. The Buondelmonti map of the end of the fifteenth century as well as the Vavassore map dating from the 1520s show, despite the usual inaccuracies of scale and perspective, that the seacoast of the walled city of Istanbul was lined with gardens, vineyards, orchards, and windmills and contained large areas of empty land. In all of the
fifteenth- and sixteenth-century historic maps and charts, very few houses, churches, and mosques appear along the Marmara coast of intramural Istanbul.8
Deserted though it was in the decades preceding the Turkish conquest, the Davudpaœa area was not given priority when Istanbul had to be repopulated after the Ottoman takeover. Some of the neighboring districts did receive an influx of immigrant population, but not Kasap ƒlyas and Davudpaœa.
As part of the policy of repopulating Istanbul, for instance, many Armenian communities were brought from around the Anatolian towns of Tokat and Sivas in the years immediately following the conquest, and they were settled in the neighboring districts of Samatya, Langa, and Sulumanastır.9 For all we know, our district and mahalle were not directly concerned by any of these forced population movements. The neighborhood identities that took shape in the mahalle and in the district were not connected to any “imported” network of preexisting relationships (a common geographic origin, ethnic or religious groupings, etc.) which would have simply been superimposed upon a new topographical locus. The available evidence seems to indicate that local identities and local solidarities in Kasap ƒlyas were formed on the spot, the two mosques, the hamam (a place for meeting as much as one for taking baths) and the wharf having served as basic mental and geographic landmarks.
The account-books of the large and central Süleymaniye mosque, built between 1550 and 1557, barely a decade after the 1546 list of pious foundations, contain another bit of evidence indicative of this early formation of the Davudpaœa and Kasap ƒlyas local identities.10 In the absence of family surnames, almost all of the workers employed on the construction site of the large sultanic mosque were clearly identified by their place of origin. For those coming from outside the capital, the name of their town of origin was added to their name and for the Istanbulites, that of their district within the
city. Next to those coming from the adjoining districts of Langa or Samatya, many workers (stonemasons, carpenters, etc.) on the construction site, from 1550 on, were clearly identified as “such and such from Davudpaœa.”

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