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Streets and Dead Ends

Out of the sixteen houses set up as a foundation in Kasap ƒlyas in the first half of the sixteenth century and whose detailed descriptions are given in the deeds of trust, nine were surrounded by a wall on all sides. These houses, with their gardens, and all sorts of outhouses and extensions included therein, were enclosed, walled (muhavvata). This is a critical detail that allows to visualize more clearly the patterns of land use, the streets, and the general outlook of the mahalle in the sixteenth century.

There was no reason why these one-story houses whose gardens were surrounded by walls should be facing each other. Besides, only those that had a second floor (and these were quite rare, especially in Kasap ƒlyas) could be overlooking the street or the neighboring gardens. The presence of walledin areas, of various gardens also meant that the houses were somewhat at a distance from each other. The gates or facades of these houses did not have to face each other or to run parallel to the street. They did not have to follow any preestablished symmetry, building plan, or pattern either. The plots of land on which these houses were built in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were apparently of different sizes and of sometimes quite irregular shapes. The deeds of trust usually situate each house and plot of land by referring to the owners of the neighboring houses or plots. And some of the
endowed properties in the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle had two neighbors, some three or four, and some even five. Some of the gardens and plots of land are described as being triangular. There was no clear cluster of houses, except perhaps just around the mosque itself and around the Davudpaœa hamam just across it.
Houses were sparsely distributed over the neighborhood, and so were the inhabitants. A single house, donated in 1524, was described as being contiguous to another building, and that building was the Kasap ƒlyas mosque itself.
It appears that what is perceived nowadays as the “traditional Istanbul housing pattern” does not date from as far back as the sixteenth century, at least not in or around our mahalle. The almost canonical image of the twoor three-story wooden houses with tiled large eaves, overhangs, and latticed bay windows, all regularly lined up on narrow and badly cobbled winding streets is an image that dates from the late eighteenth century at the earliest.
It was certainly not until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that wooden houses of two or three stories spread beyond the wealthier areas around the seat of government and the markets. The sixteenth- and seventeenth-century streets and housing patterns were very different, especially in a relatively peripheral neighborhood like Kasap ƒlyas.
Ottoman towns were not anarchic or sprawling but they were sketchily planned. When a new center was endowed and founded in Ottoman Istanbul in the inceptive fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the result could be only a new neighborhood made of wandering lanes governed by rigid laws of property. For there was no town planning that could have preexisted the settlements in the conquered city and no time for preestablishing an ideal grid of streets and settlements. When the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle came into being, for instance, the various buildings were certainly not erected according to the fixing of a street map or of any sort of development scheme. Just the opposite happened. For land was plentiful, both in Istanbul and in the whole Davudpaœa District. So, the Kasap ƒlyas mosque, the shops, and the hamam were probably built first. With them, or after them, came the houses with their gardens and multiplicity of extensions and outhouses, and all of these, as we saw, were enclosed within a wall or a fence. The space that remained became the streets of the mahalle. All of the strictly private spaces were built up, and the public passageways of the neighborhood were then defined by default, so to speak.
It is highly doubtful that the modern concept and image of a “street” could in any way fit the situation in sixteenth-century Istanbul. This is especially true for those “peripheral” parts of the walled city which, like the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle, had salient rural characteristics. A low population density as well as an agricultural and horticultural outlook were, as a matter-of-fact, the lot of many other sixteenth-century neighborhoods of Ottoman Istanbul.
Many neighborhoods in the area all along the land walls from the sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn and many of those—like Kasap ƒlyas—that were located along the walls bordering the sea, as well as those situated within the alluvial plain of the Bayrampaœa stream (the “Lycus valley” in Byzantine times) shared the same fate.

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