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The Kasap İlyas Mahalle

Kasap ƒlyas (“Butcher ƒlyas”) mahalle is a smallish neighborhood in southcentral intramural Istanbul, bordering on the sea of Marmara and immediately to the west of the large Langa vegetable gardens. Set on one of the southern hillsides of Istanbul, on land gently sloping toward the sea, the neighborhood also includes part of the city ramparts bordering on the sea of Marmara, with a gate (Davud Paœa Kapısı) opening to an empty plot of land on the seaside. From this plot of land jutted out a small wooden wharf known as the Davud Paœa Wharf (Davud Paœa ƒskelesi). Both the gate and the wharf served as geographic markers to localize the neighborhood (see map).
Situated near the area known as Xerolophus or Hagios Emilianos in Byzantine Constantinople, the identity of this Ottoman mahalle is documented from the end of the fifteenth century on. With a couple of adjacent neighborhoods, it formed a semt of Istanbul known as Davud Paœa. The fifteenth-
century mosque bearing the name of its founder, the grand vizier Davud Paœa (d. 1498) is located further up the hill, in another mahalle. Together with the wharf, the gate on the ramparts, and a building of public utility located within the mahalle (the public bath, Davud Paœa Hamamı), this mosque gave its name to the whole area. The Davud Paœa semt is surrounded by other well-known
districts: Cerrahpaœa, Samatya, Langa, and Etyemez. As to the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle, it still exists as a small administrative unit, presently within the bounds of the Fatih District of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.
Local legend tells us that Kasap ƒlyas was the chief butcher/meat provider to the Ottoman army that conquered Constantinople in 1453 and that in recognition of his services, the sultan bestowed upon him a large plot of land. On this plot of land he first built a small mosque bearing his name and endowed it. Around this local mosque, goes the legend, a whole neighborhood bearing his name then took shape. The elderly inhabitants of Kasap ƒlyas still recount the many foundation myths

concerning Kasap ƒlyas
and his arrival to the neighborhood, as well as his many exploits, religious and otherwise. Kasap ƒlyas has grown into a sort of mythical figure and he has been surrounded by an aura of sanctity by the locals for quite a long time. His deed of trust (vakfiye) was set down in 149417 and his small shrine
standing in the small graveyard beside his mosque bears the date of 1495 as the date of his passing away. The present-day Kasap ƒlyas mosque was almost totally rebuilt after the 1894 earthquake. Of the original structure, nothing much remains.
The available waqf (philanthropic/pious foundation) registers for the neighborhood bear evidence to the existence of a durable sense of local identity. So do many elements of local folklore and ethnographic material.

Significant intracommunity links can be documented for a period extending back to the late fifteenth century. For instance, in the first half of the sixteenth century, the average number of pious foundations per mahalle in Istanbul was around 11. Kasap ƒlyas, however, had one of the highest number of foundations (26, to be precise) among all the 219 listed neighborhoods in traditional intramural Istanbul.18 Less than fifty years after the Ottoman conquest, this is a sure indicator of a relatively high degree of social cohesion.
The first population census of our neighborhood was done in 1885. The neighborhood contained then about a hundred fifty houses, most of them wooden, one- or two-story traditional structures, set in a total of thirteen streets and blind alleys. Kasap ƒlyas also had a mosque, two dervish convents, three public fountains, a school for girls, a police station, and about thirty shops as well as a number of warehouses for the storage of bulk goods (coal, wood, timber, sand, gravel, etc.). It also contained a large double hamam for men and women, surrounded by a number of shops. The presence of a large
public bath in such a small neighborhood is something quite exceptional for Istanbul, for most of the public baths were located in or around the central commercial areas of the city. This large fifteenth-century hamam certainly attracted customers from other mahalles as well.
The irregular and dense maze of streets and houses in the mahalle acquired a topographical stability only toward the middle of the nineteenth century, after a number of devastating fires which, together with large areas of the city, also ravaged our neighborhood. According to a rough calculation based on a map of Istanbul dating from around 1875, the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle covered an area of approximately six hectares.19 Quite a large portion of the mahalle was occupied by gardens and vegetable gardens (bostans), sometimes called the “Davudpaœa gardens.” These were extensions of the neighboring Langa Gardens (see map).
Kasap ƒlyas, though relatively large in area, has never been very densely populated. Well into the twentieth century parts of it still had a clearly semirural character.
From about the sixteenth century on, Kasap ƒlyas was a predominantly Muslim city quarter with always, as far as we know, only a minority of Greek orthodox inhabitants. Armenians and Greeks were a sizable majority in the neighboring Langa and Samatya semts. The last Ottoman census of 1907 tells us that Kasap ƒlyas contained about eleven hundred people.20 Its sixteenth- and seventeenth-century population must have been about half that figure, or even smaller.
Kasap ƒlyas is not topographically central to the walled city, nor is it situated anywhere near the political heart (the Palace) or near the traditional business or shopping areas of the walled city. The central commercial areas were situated either along the southern shores of the Golden Horn or in and
around the large covered bazaar. As was the case with all mahalles located near the city walls and city gates, Kasap ƒlyas was, throughout the centuries, considered to be peripheral (in all senses of the term) and it was inhabited by relatively poor people. Notwithstanding the presence of a number of mansions (konaks) belonging to the high-ranking military and bureaucrats, Kasap ƒlyas was always a much less prestigious residential area than some of its immediate neighbors.
Kasap ƒlyas housed, in the late nineteenth century, a large number of street peddlers, itinerant vendors of fruits and vegetables, some beggars, a group of—mostly female—manumitted black slaves, and a considerable number of families of quite modest means. Many of these were immigrants from
the eastern Anatolian town of Arapkir. Nevertheless, all of the elderly inhabitants we interviewed, while recognizing that Kasap ƒlyas or the Davudpaœa District had never been very wealthy or particularly prestigious, still took great pride in its allegedly “aristocratic” (read: “old Istanbul”) character.
Kasap ƒlyas’ economic and social articulation to the rest of the capitalcity of the Ottoman Empire took shape through two of its main topographical assets: the wharf and the vegetable gardens. From the sixteenth century on, the neighborhood appears in official documents as “the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle near the Davudpaœa wharf,” thus signaling the fact that the wharf preexisted the mahalle and/or that it had a topographical and commercial importance that superseded that of the neighborhood as such. The Davudpaœa wharf was indeed an important geographic marker on the Marmara shores of the walled city and, as we shall see, a was nonnegligible disembarkation point for a number of goods. As for the large Langa orchards, and their extensions right to the middle of the neighborhood, they played an important role in local fruit and vegetable production and distribution and provided employment to many of the less-favored inhabitants of the mahalle.

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From the end of the eighteenth century on, the presence of Arapkirlis in Kasap ƒlyas is abundantly recorded in official documents. The death of...