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The Greatest Fire

Fire started on Thursday night, the fourteenth of the moon of Ramadan 1196 a.h. (August 22, 1782), this time in a house but, just as in 1660, on the shores of the Golden Horn. It then split into many branches and lasted for three whole days and nights.
This time the catastrophe reached the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle by not just one but by two of its different branches. The first branch followed the “usual” itinerary, westward from Aksaray and through the “Butchers’ Road,” going right across the neighborhood to reach Etyemez, then the Greek and Armenian quarter of Samatya, and finally to Yedikule, having thus traveled and wrought destruction along the whole length of the “Butchers’ Road.” This branch was so violent that even some houses situated within the Castle of Seven Towers were completely burned down. The second branch of this
monstrous fire came to the mahalle not from the east but from the north. It arrived from the northeasternly neighbor of Cerrahpaœa and stopped just at the northern tip of Kasap ƒlyas, though not before having destroyed a few houses situated within our neighborhood, among which two mansions (konaks) belonging to the Çavuœzade and Ispanakçızade families.
The first branch of the fire, however, was certainly by far the more destructive. As narrated by Derviœ Mustafa in his observation of the fires of 1782, “… the fire split into many branches before morning and a tentacle of fire which followed the Butchers’ Road went into the Seamen’s Hamam and into the Marketplace inside the Davudpaœa Gate and, from there, reached the dervish convent of Etyemez….”72 The small marketplace with the shops that had been, in a way, the “community center” of our neighborhood ever since the very early sixteenth century, was completely destroyed. Even the mosque and the public bath, albeit both built of stone, were not left unscathed, since some of the wooden houses of the neighborhood were directly abutting on the walls of the bath or of the mosque. The wooden roof of the mosque must also have greatly suffered.
The records of the Davudpaœa Religious Court73 show us that an unusually large number of houses and plots of land within the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle had changed hands within the few years that immediately followed the fire of 1782.74 Between 1783 and 1788 no less than eighteen deeds of sale of real estate property within Kasap ƒlyas have been recorded in the Records of the Davudpaœa Religious Court. Some other sales of property within the mahalle might also have been recorded elsewhere.
For a relatively small neighborhood which, at the time, could not have had more than a hundred houses, that is a very high number indeed. The type of record concerning the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle occurring most frequently in the records of The Religious Davudpaœa Court in the decade that imme-
diately followed the fire is the real estate property sales agreement. Of these eighteen sales of real estate, at least eight concerned houses that had been burned down in 1782. These eight legal acts of sale concerned basically the transfer of an empty plot of land. A closer look at the texts of these deeds of sale clearly shows, however, that some of these plots of land might include such items as the well-known remains of the house (enkaz-ı mâlumeyi müœtemil arsa), and that some of them were qualified as the land of the burned-down private house (muhterik mülk menzil arsası). Another was qualified as a piece of burned-down house (bir bab muhterik menzil arsası). We are also sometimes told that the plot of land was burned down, so that now only the land is left (muhterik olup arsası sırf kalmakla).75
Besides the sale of these eighteen “houses” that were all private property (mülk), we also have records concerning two more “houses” that belonged to one of the local pious foundations and that had changed hands in the same postincendiary period.76 The first of these houses is mentioned in a vakıf
record dating from November 1789. Before the fire, this house had been rented by the trustee to one Mustafa Çavuœ, who had died sometime between the date of the fire and 1789 without leaving any legal inheritor and without having rebuilt the house. The record tells us that the house “…was, by God’s will, completely burned in the great fire and the land was left empty….”77 In 1789 the imam of the Kasap ƒlyas mosque rented this empty plot of land to one Ömer A™a, who was also allowed to build a new house. Four years later, when the property was passed on to a new tenant in October 1793, the record tells us that it was not a plot of land anymore, but a “vakıf house.”
The second house is first mentioned in another vakıf record dated January 1792, when a new tenant came forward to rent an empty bit of land belonging to the local foundation. Quite exceptionally, the measurements of this burned-down plot of land (muhterik arsa) are also given in the vakıf record. This plot of land had a total perimeter of 157 zira,78 that is, just enough for an average-size house and a smallish garden. There was certainly feverish construction work on this plot of land, too, because when about a year and a half later, in May 1793, a new tenant came along, the rented property was not described as the charred remains of a burned-down house in the middle of an empty plot of land anymore. It was just a proper hane (house). Here, too, ten years after the catastrophe, there was a new house and new inhabitants.
The social and economic havoc as well as the destruction caused by fire have obviously been followed by a large increase in the rate of turnover of both the inhabitants and of the property-owners in the mahalle. Though house by house data are lacking, it seems not excessive to hypothesize that it is not only the houses and the grid of streets that changed after the fire, but also, to a certain extent, the social fabric of the mahalle itself. Those who had to leave the mahalle or who had no means of rebuilding their house after the fire simply sold their property if they were owners, or tried to transfer their legal right to—often lifelong—usufruct if they were only tenants of a local pious foundation.
Whatever the case may be, and provided the central pillars of the neighborhood community (the mosque, the hamam, or any other building of similar local importance, as the case may be) were not completely destroyed, the mahalle itself always could recoup its losses. As shown in the case of the two large catastrophies that befell Kasap ƒlyas, within ten years of the disaster many of the burned houses were rebuilt and the new owners or tenants were settled. We also have reason to suppose that the 1782 fire also largely contributed, once and for all, to the stabilization of the street plan of Kasap ƒlyas.

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