Articles Tagged with: Streets and Houses

Streets and Houses

There was a fundamental change in the layout of the streets and in the distribution of the houses that had occurred in Kasap ƒlyas between the late sixteenth and the end of the eighteenth centuries.
For instance, of the ten pieces of vakıf property in Kasap ƒlyas described in their respective eighteenth- and ninetenth-century deeds of trust, seven were described as “bound by the public thoroughfare.” In other words, they were overlooking a street. Only one of them was described as being accessed by a dead-end street (tarîk-i hass). Besides, all of the Kasap ƒlyas houses whose deeds of sale was, in the late eighteenth and in the early nineeenth centuries, recorded by the Davudpaœa Court of Justice were also described as “bound by the public thoroughfare.”47 Not a single one was situated in a dead-end street.
This is a stark contrast with the street layout and the usual housing pattern of the mahalle in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when, as we saw, many of the houses in the mahalle were protected by dead-end streets and enclosed by large and walled “gardens.” Now most of the houses in Kasap ƒlyas are simply overlooking a normal street and are contiguous to other houses. Two centuries ago there were at least as many semiprivate dead ends as there were public passageways in Kasap ƒlyas. Now the blind alleys have almost disappeared. So have the large walled “gardens” that were surrounding each and every house. Out of the ten Kasap ƒlyas houses donated to a foundation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries only one was situated in the middle of a walled “garden.” And this house was the only one to have the extensions and outhouses that a majority of the houses in the neighborhood had, two centuries ago.
In other terms, most of the Kasap ƒlyas houses had become, in the early nineteenth century, unifunctional residential units. They were no more the topographical centers of an economic unit of production, that is, just the lodgings of the owner or of the manager of a large vegetable garden (bostan).
The residential and the agricultural/commercial functions were clearly dissociated. Houses and bostans were now clearly distinct, in location as well as in function. The bostans were now just bostans, not residences, and the majority of dwellings were monolithic units and had no gardens.
When and if the ordinary houses did have a garden, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was nothing but a garden of a relatively small size. None of these gardens could boast either of “fruit-bearing trees” or of “large flower-beds” and “vegetable-beds.” The bostans were large, and the gardens that adjoined the houses were small. The two bostans which, around the year 1800, had been set up as vakıfs within the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle had perimeters of 1,140 and 1,200 zira’. These were obviously large vegetable gardens, all part of the centuries’ old cityscape of Kasap ƒlyas and of its environs.
As to the plots of land in the mahalle on which houses hade been, or were to be, built, those we have traced in the Davudpaœa Religious Court records in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries had, for instance, perimeters of 214 ziras,48 130 ziras,49 136 ziras,50 430 ziras,51 80 ziras,52 and so forth. Obviously these measurements represent enclosures just sufficient for an average-size house and, eventually, a miniscule garden. They are too small to constitute an agricultural and commercial asset in themselves. The houses were built on smaller plots of land, and the facades were now more or less lined-up along the streets. The houses were all facing the street, and each other, thus giving to the public thoroughfare a sense of communication which, as we saw, it did not have back in the sixteenth century. The sixteenth century was a time when the “street” in Kasap ƒlyas was just a simple passageway, lacking both a form and a secondary social function.
Things had greatly changed since then. Not surprisingly, of the ten houses that were part of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century vakıfs in Kasap ƒlyas, five had, as immediate neighbors, just another house or an odd shop. One of them was even surrounded by houses on three sides.53
We took a random sample of ten houses among those Kasap ƒlyas houses whose deeds of sale were recorded by the Davudpaœa Court of Justice between 1785 and 1825. We found, first, that exactly forty immediate neighbors to hese houses were cited in the deeds’ detailed descriptions. Among these neigh
bors, there was, first, the anonymous “public thoroughfare” along which all of the ten houses were aligned (10 instances). Then, there were other houses (18 instances) and, finally, gardens and empty plots of land were cited as neighbors (12 instances).54 In contrast to the generally irregular (sometimes polygonal or triangular) shape of the plots of land in the sixteenth-century Kasap ƒlyas mahalle (see chapter 1) almost all of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Kasap ƒlyas houses had exactly four neighbors each. These houses had quadrangular surfaces, and they occupied quadrangular plots of land. A typical Kasap ƒlyas house was therefore immediate neighbor to two other houses, on the average. That house had a facade that directly overlooked the street, and occasionally had a garden. Houses in the mahalle were more and more surrounded by other houses and buildings, and not by “gardens.” And, obviously, this meant that there were now, everything else being equal, more houses in the mahalle as compared to two centuries ago.
Moreover, and again in sharp contrast to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the houses in Kasap ƒlyas now generally had more than one floor. In the random sample of the ten houses drawn from among all of those real estate property items from Kasap ƒlyas whose deeds of sale were recorded by
the Davudpaœa Court of Justice between 1785 and 1825, six houses were described as having two floors. The lower one contained, more often than not, a hall, a kitchen, a lavatory, a storage place for wood and coal, stables, and so forth,55 and the upper floor(s) a variable number of rooms. A typical
description could be “…three rooms, a hall and a lavatory in the upper floor and, in the lower one, a kitchen, latrines, a bathroom, a storage place for coal, a water well, a courtyard, and a gate to the street….”56 Though more exceptionally, some later deeds of sale also occasionally mention the existence of houses with a shop or a workshop on their ground floor.57
Not only had Kasap ƒlyas a larger number of houses in the late eighteenth than in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but there were now also more floors to each house. This meant that the mahalle had a larger population, which was spread over an area that had not considerably changed in the preceding centuries. Kasap ƒlyas was therefore less sparsely populated in the nineteenth century. There is, however, no meaningful way in which either the size or the rate of growth of the population of Kasap ƒlyas in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries could be measured.
The number of houses in Kasap ƒlyas, back in the sixteenth century, could not, as we saw, have much exceeded fifty or sixty, given the basic pattern of settlement and land use (see Chapter 1). As to the late Ottoman Census and Population Register of 1885, it recorded a total of 153 houses, small and large (denominated hanes and konaks, respectively) in Kasap ƒlyas,58 plus a small number of inhabited “rooms.” The definition of a konak is rather vague and problematic. How large must an Istanbul house (hane) have been to deserve to be called a konak? Or was it the wealth and status of the occupants that were determinant? The evaluation seems to have been prone to change. For instance, the 1885 census had listed four konaks situated within the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle. Osman efendi, the muhtar of Kasap ƒlyas thought differently and, in his own list of real estate property of the neighborhood, had counted only three konaks. He had chosen to call the fourth a simple hane. Whatever the case may have been, the number of dwellings had almost grown threefold during the intervening centuries.
Our mahalle contained, according to the census of 1885, around 1,100 people. This is lower than 1,550, the average population of the 251 intramural Istanbul mahalles, according to the same census returns.59 As Kasap ƒlyas had a larger area than most of the centrally situated neighborhoods of Istanbul, its population figure definitely point to a generally lower density of settlement. As to the total population of Istanbul, it had been on a rising trend throughout the nineteenth century, passing from an estimated 400,000 inhabitants in the 1840s to more than twice that figure in 1885.60 The population of the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle simply followed suit.
Had then the traditional semirural and peripheral character of Kasap ƒlyas totally disappeared during the nineteenth century? Certainly not. The bostans were there, as they are still now,61 and there is no indication that their overall size was considerably reduced either in the eighteenth or in the nineteenth
centuries. These large extents of uninhabited greenery situated within the city walls continued to put their stamp on the whole area. While taking a stroll right in our neighborhood, that is, “between Samatya and Langa” in 1874, the Italian traveler Edmondo de Amicis took note of “…large areas scarred by recent fires, the city resembling a village, dervish convents….”62 The Davudpaœa vegetable gardens, which extended right into our neighborhood, have always remained part and parcel of the map of the capital-city of the empire.63
What had happened was not that the gardens and the greenery of this semiperipheral neighborhood had disappeared just before the nineteenth century. It was simply, first, that the “streets” of Kasap ƒlyas had acquired a certain topographical stability and an urban function that they did not have two centuries ago. Now the houses had to adapt their positioning to these streets, and not the opposite, as was the case in the formative sixteenth century. The destructive fires of the end of the eighteenth century had certainly erased to a great extent the former irregular grid of “streets.” As to the increasing population pressure of the nineteenth century, it resulted, as elsewhere in the capital-city of the empire, in a more localized but denser web of streets, houses, and inhabitants.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the streets of Kasap ƒlyas had already acquired more or less the shapes and configurations that were to appear on the first detailed street-map of traditional Istanbul, dating from 1875.64 Some of these streets already had names, although not yet official
ones. Apart from the neighborhood’s “high street,” the centuries-old Butchers’ Road, there was that winding street leading to the seaside, the Davudpaœa wharf, and the nearby wood and coal sellers, Wharf Street (ƒskele Soka™ı), alias Davudpaœa Wharf Street (Davudpaœa ƒskelesi Soka™ı). The two streets which, from the “Butchers’ Road,” climbed up the hill toward the Davudpaœa mosque, were already well defined: Yokuœçeœme Street, with, in the middle, its eponymous old public fountain, and Çavuœzade Street, leading to the small Çavuœzade mosque, at the north-westernly border of Kasap ƒlyas. The streets of Istanbul were given official names in the 1860s, but the official denominations were not immediately adopted and really used by the locals. As late as the 1890s the “addresses” of plaintiffs and witnesses living in the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle were set down in the Davudpaœa Court records as the Coal Sellers’ Street (Kömürcüler Soka™ı), the Street of the Arabs (Araplar Soka™ı), or in the Haysellers’ Street (Samancılar Soka™ı).65 These were all names that never had any official existence, and many of the official names given by the municipality had to wait for the end of the century before being generally recognized.
As to the small market area across from the Kasap ƒlyas mosque and around the public bath, it had kept its location for centuries, despite numerous fires and devastation. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries this small group of shops consisted of66 among others, a barbershop, a tailor, a seller of glassware and a maker and seller of boza.67 Most, though not all, of the shops in Kasap ƒlyas were independent, detached, small, and shabby structures. Houses with shops on their ground floor were quite exceptional.
The commercial and residential areas of Ottoman Istanbul (just as in Byzantine times, for that matter) were set apart from each other and the shops and workshops situated in residential areas were generally small in size and in number and were all meant to meet the small-scale daily needs of the local inhabitants.
As for the houses themselves, wood was, of course, still the main building material. The mostly two- or three-story wooden houses of Kasap ƒlyas, with their latticed bay windows overlooking the street, their large tiled eaves extending over the street, and their various overhangs, were now in a contiguous row, lined along the narrow, winding, and mostly unpaved or barely cobbled streets. They had then come to conform to what is nowadays almost canonically perceived to have been the “typical traditional Istanbul housing pattern.” This pattern—the typical postcard-view of a street of Ottoman Istanbul—however, was the product of very particular circumstances dating from the end of the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries.

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