Articles Tagged with: Pictures from a Neighborhood

Pictures from a Neighborhood

The mahalles of Istanbul were mixed in terms of wealth, social class, and status. Residential patterns usually ran along lines of ethnicity and religion, though ethnically mixed neighborhoods were not infrequent either. The mahalles were either predominantly Muslim, Armenian, Jewish, or Greek Orthodox. The class-based differentiation of the urban fabric was a product of the twentieth century, and it took hold only after the First World War.68
Before that, within the same mahalle, the large mansions of the rich and powerful neighbored on the shanty lodgings of beggars and street-porters. These groups were not usually clustered in different segments of the same neighborhood, either. This was so in the sixteenth as well as in the nineteenth centuries.
There had indeed always been mahalles where, on the whole, the inhabitants fared better than other neighborhoods, but really “exclusive” areas, particularly well-off or uniformly destitute ones were quite exceptional in Ottoman Istanbul. Some areas were more prestigious, and especially those situated in the vicinity of the center of political power, the Palace. So were semts such as Vefa, Zeyrek, Koska, and Fatih, where many of the large mansions of the high-ranking bureaucrats and the ulema’ were mostly concentrated. By contrast, the mahalles that were too far away form the urban commercial and political centers of activity, just as those situated close to the city-walls, were never considered as prestigious or “posh.” Take the example of our neighborhood. The Cerrahpaœa District, situated up the hill, whose “air” was reputably better and whose houses had a more scenic view of the Sea of Marmara, was held, at least in the nineteenth century, in higher esteem, as compared to its immediate neighbors. Supposedly, it contained a larger number of mansions. Among Cerrahpaœa’s immediate neighbors were the Davudpaœa semt and its constituent part Kasap ƒlyas, situated downhill and bordering on
the ramparts. Nevertheless, our neighborhood housed, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a wide variety of people, rich and poor. Any a posteriori attempt at defining a local homogeneity seems doomed to failure.
The series of later deeds of trust belonging to the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries do provide a short glimpse of the unsurprisingly variegated group that inhabited our mahalle in those centuries.69 First of all, of these ten local vakıfs, eight had been founded by a woman. Among these, Hurœide hatun stands out. She had endowed no less than three different local foundations with real estate property (a house and two rather large “gardens”) situated in Kasap ƒlyas and had appointed the imam of the mosque as beneficiary and trustee of all three vakıfs. All we know about Hurœide hatun is that she had died before 1770. A transaction dated from 1770 mentions “the late Hurœide hatun” as founder of the vakıf. She was most probably a convert to Islam and/or a manumitted slave, the clue being that, in all of the three vakıf documents, her name occurs as Hurœide Hatun binti Abdullah (Hurœide Hatun, daughter of Abdullah). So was, perhaps, Sakine Hatun, benefactor of her own foundation and also “daughter of Abdullah.” Of the other female local benefactors, we know only the names: Gülendam Hatun, Hanife Hatun, and Hasibe Hatun (d. before 1771). Besides, among the 140 names mentioned in the documents as effective users or holders of the right of usufruct of vakıf property situated in Kasap ƒlyas, at some time during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, thirty nine, that is twenty-eight
percent, were women. In six other instances a husband and a wife were mentioned in the vakıf records as partners in the use of the same vakıf property. As in the sixteenth century, Kasap ƒlyas women were much involved in the rent and use of real estate property in the neighborhood.
The documents list the occupations for only twenty of the one hundred and fourty occupants of property belonging to Kasap ƒlyas vakıfs. Artisans and shopkeepers, however, seem to have been the more numerous of the social categories represented. Between 1770 and 1780 Mustafa A™a, the owner
of a hamam and a prosperous tradesman, was living in Kasap ƒlyas. So was Hacı Halil Efendi, a maker and seller of handkerchiefs (ya™lıkçı), a more modest shopkeeper, who had rented a vakıf shop in Kasap ƒlyas. In the same decade, a barber, Tahir occupied a vakıf house situated on Çavuœzade Street.
In 1807 Mustafa A™a, a seller of perfume and herbs (aktar), was living in a vakıf house in Kasap ƒlyas. Between 1788 and 1792 Molla Mustafa bin Mehmed Efendi, a member of the ‘ulema class, had rented a house in the neighborhood and had been part of the community for four years.
The successive tenants of a particular house in Kasap ƒlyas belonging to the vakıf of Amine hatun70 provide a good picture of the variety of local inhabitants, and of their rate of turnover. The deed of trust gives no details about the house itself, except that it was bounded by one of the streets of Kasap ƒlyas. The variety of people who used this house suggests, however, that it was an ordinary dwelling, rather than an exceptionally large one, a mansion. On July 26, 1797 Ahmet A™a, a butcher, rents this house from the trustee (the rent was of one akçe a day, or thirty akçes monthly) and lives there with his family for the next twenty-two years. We do not know whether, between 1797 and 1819, Ahmet A™a had practiced his profession within Kasap ƒlyas or not. It is, however, certain that he had, in the interval, undertaken the pilgrimage to Mecca. After the death, in 1819, of the butcher, the right of disposal of this vakıf house was inherited by his son, also named Ahmet. On October 25 of the same year, this son sold his right of usufruct to Hacı Ahmet bin Ibrahim, a slave-trader (esirci). The slave-trader lived in
this Kasap ƒlyas house for about two and a half years and then, on May 22, 1822, transferred it to Seyyid Mehmed A™a, who was the chief musician of the Janissaries’ Military Band (mehterbaœı). Five years went by. In the meantime, in June 1826, the centuries’ old Janissary Corps was crushed and suppressed by Sultan Mahmud II. With the Janissaries, the Military Band attached thereto (the mehter) was also abolished. Seyyid Mehmet a™a therefore lost his job, and was perhaps even persecuted, as was the case with many former Janissaries. About a year after the event, on August 5, 1827, the former mehterbaœı transfers his right of use to the former occupant of the house, the slavetrader Hacı Ahmet bin Ibrahim, who was now married to Fatma ¥erife hanım, with whom he shared the house. Four years go by. The last transaction concerning this house and mentioned in the vakıf documents tells us that early in July 1831 Ahmet bin Ibrahim left the house to a new tenant,
Seyyid Mustafa a™a. This new tenant was a “civil servant,” a tatar, that is, an official in charge of carrying messages from one branch of the government to another, or from the capital-city to the provinces. The mahalle also housed a number of other bureaucrats and civil servants.
In 1813 Ali a™a, a kapıcıbaœı, one of the higher-ranking officials of the imperial Palace, took over a garden in Kasap ƒlyas. In 1802, a vakıf house in the neighborhood was rented by Ahmet efendi, who was a beytülmal kâtibi, an official attached to the Janissary corps, and whose duty was to apportion the
estate of deceased members of the corps.71 In July 1796 a ruznamçeci, that is, an official in charge of the financial responsibility of the daily expenses of a branch of government, had rented a “garden” from a vakıf in Kasap ƒlyas. Another important official of the financial administration of the empire also
lived in Kasap ƒlyas between 1807 and 1822. Kethüdazâde Mustafa Efendi was indeed one of the senior bureaucrats of one of the central tax offices, and his official title was “Mevkufat kalemi hulefâsından.”
After the 1840s, a few members of the newly established bureaucratic apparatus of the Tanzimat, all of them products of the administrative reforms of the day, also chose to reside in the mahalle. Their names are cited in the local vakıf documents preceded by the official modes of address that the Tanzimat had instituted. Izzetlû Mehmed Esrar efendi was an undersecretary for official correspondence in the Administrative Court (Meclis-i vâlâ evrak müdür muavini), and Fütüvvetlû Mehmed ¥evket bey was a higher official attached to the Cabinet (Hacegân-ı Divan-ı Hümayundan).
Alongside these high-ranking bureaucrats, the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle continued to harbor many members of some of the less-favored professional groups of the city throughout the nineteenth century. For instance, in 1834 Yusuf, who was a simple street-porter (hammal), rented a shop from one of
the local vakıfs in association with Mustafa, who was a hayseller (samancı). In 1855, Seyyit Süleyman, a seller of charcoal (kömürcü), rented a garden in Kasap ƒlyas. In this case, the vakıf document openly specifies that Seyyit Süleyman was an “inhabitant of the Kasap ƒlyas neighborhood.”72 The witnesses coming from the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle, and whose testimonies were registered in the Davudpaœa Court records during the first half of the nineteenth century, were also mostly artisans and shopkeepers (sellers of wood and charcoal,73 barbers,74 grocers,75 water-carriers, street-porters,76 etc.). The sellers of wood (whether for burning or for construction) and charcoal (tahtacıs, kerestecis, and kömürcüs) constitute together the single largest occupational category appearing as plaintiffs or as witnesses in the Davudpaœa Court records of the nineteenth century. This is no doubt a reflection of the role that the Davudpaœa wharf and the shops for wood and coal continued to play in Kasap ƒlyas.
As many of the traditional intramural Istanbul mosques, Kasap ƒlyas also has a small burial-ground (hazire) just next to it. This small cemetery adjoining the mosque also bears witness to the social diversity of the inhabitants of the mahalle in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. There are about forty tombstones in this small burial ground. Except for that of the legendary Kasap ƒlyas himself (his own tombstone is dated 1494—a.h. 900), all of them have been erected between 1780 and 1867. In 1868, a government order forbade the use of the small intramural burial grounds in Istanbul and ordered all burials to take place outside the city walls.77
The Ottoman tombstones, by the inscriptions that they bear as well as by their very shape and the elaboration of their design, give some information on the occupation, the official positions, the social status, and the family of the deceased.78 They always indicate the dates of death/burial, but very sel-
dom contain any information as to the age of the deceased. Some of the names and dates of death that appear on the Kasap ƒlyas tombstones that have survived are as follows: Hacı Mustafa a™a, müezzin of the Kasap ƒlyas mosque (1819); Rukiye hanım, wife of Çuhadar (footman) Ali a™a (1805); Mustafa Çavuœ, an officer of a mounted brigade (Sipahi Oca™ı Çavuœlarından) (1809); Zeliha hanım, daughter of Hacı ƒbrahim efendi (1810); Mehmet Sadık efendi, a silversmith (gümüœçü) (1849); Ahmet Muhtar efendi, a Customs official (Gümrük memurlarından) (1863); and Mehmet Cemil a™a, a seller of charcoal (kömürcü) (1865). No grandee of the empire appears. Neither does any high-ranking bureaucrat or military.
As to the inscription on Ahmet Vehbi efendi’s tombstone, it describes the origin and occupation of the deceased in exceptional detail. Ahmet Vehbi Efendi had died in 1860. The fact that he had been living in the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle must have been very important for him and for his family. Just as his
official position and function in the Ottoman administration, the simple fact of his neighborhood of residence was also used as a basic item defining his identity and social status and, as such, was made to appear on the inscription engraved on the marble tombstone: “Ahmet Vehbi Efendi, inhabitant of
Kasap ƒlyas and scribe in the bureau of the mahalles of the Istanbul Municipality—A prayer for his soul—1276 [1860 a.d.].”79

Ever since the sixteenth century, the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle had always been a basically Muslim neighborhood. What small non-Muslim minority there may have been in our neighborhood hardly ever appears in the late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century documents. Among the one hundred and forty inhabitants of the neighborhood whose names appear in the local vakıf documents of this period, we came across the name of only one non-Muslim. This person had, in 1807, rented a shop selling wood and timber from one of the local vakıfs.80
The names of hundreds of inhabitants of Kasap ƒlyas occur in the nineteenth-century Davudpaœa Court records. Only three non-Muslims are ever mentioned. These are Orthodox Greeks who, in 1807 and again in 1823, had applied to the court on a matter concerning the ownership of a garden situated
in Kasap ƒlyas.81 It appears that the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle, which had been an essentially Muslim neighborhood in the sixteenth century, had kept this character right to the end of the nineteenth century.

Filed under : istanbul

Find Your Destination

Most Commented Articles

Featured Video

Photo Gallery