Articles Tagged with: The Lower Mahalle

Wharf and Warehouses: The “Lower Mahalle”

Ever since the early sixteenth century (see chapter 1), the presence of a number of shops and warehouses for wood, timber, coal, sand, gravel, straw, and other bulk goods is well documented. These warehouses were functionally dependent on the operation of the Davudpaœa wharf and were, as in the sixteenth century, all situated within the area between Samatya Street and the sea.
The continuity between the sixteenth-century shops for wood and timber (the dükkân-ı haœœâb) and the late nineteenth-century warehouses can be followed by the many traces they have left in local documents. In a list of the shops and trades of Istanbul drafted in 1682, for instance, there is a total of
forty-nine shops selling wood and coal. Forty-one of these were located in such districts as Cibali and Fener, both of them along the southern shores of the Golden Horn. These were the ports where these bulk goods were traditionally brought; the shores of the Golden Horn contained many wharfs for unloading coal and wood upon their arrival to the city. As to the remaining eight shops and warehouses, they were all situated in our neighborhood.36
Less than a century later, in 1772, a shop for wood/timber located in the neighborhood was being donated to establish a local pious foundation.37 In 1784, the sale of a warehouse for straw neighboring on a storeroom for coal in Kasap ƒlyas is recorded by the Davudpaœa Court. The description of this
piece of real estate makes it clear that both the warehouse for straw itself and the neighboring storeroom for coal were adjacent to the city ramparts (cidarı hısn)38 and, therefore, that they were situated between the “Butcher’s Road” and the sea.
The fate of one particular Kasap ƒlyas warehouse can be followed through the local vakıf documents for quite a long period of time. When this piece of real estate was first endowed as a local vakıf in 1772, it consisted of a “house with a shop for wood and timber under it.”39 According to the deed of trust, the monthly rental income of 25 akçes was to accrue to the imam of the Kasap ƒlyas mosque. This piece of real estate was described in the deed of trust as being surrounded by two other shops for wood and timber. In 1772, then, Kasap ƒlyas contained at least three of these shops. This house cum timber shop was endowed as a vakıf in 1772 for the benefit and under the trusteeship of, the Kasap ƒlyas imam, changed hands at least seven times in the fifty years that followed the initial deed of trust. Most of the transmissions of the right of usufruct, all of them approved and signed by the imam, who was also the trustee of the vakıf, were from a deceased father to his son.
After 1780, however, the deeds of transfer of this vakıf property do not mention the house that was above the shop at the time of its donation. Half a century later, a record of transfer, dated March 1825, tells us that the donated shop was now used for a different trade. It was not a shop for wood and timber anymore, but a warehouse for straw.40 As of March 1825, this vakıf record redefines the shop’s neighbors and indicates that it was now surrounded by another warehouse for straw on one side, and by a shop that sold coal on the other. Just like half a century ago, these shops and warehouses still seem to have been more or less grouped in the same area, between the neighborhood’s “main street” and the sea. A few years later, half a share of the ex-timber shop, now a warehouse for straw, was transferred in April 1831 to one Hüseyin Nuri bey, a kömürcü (coal-seller) by profession, and the other half to his wife. Hüseyin Nuri bey used this shop for selling coal, not straw. Eight years later, in March 1839, in a last deed of transfer, Hüseyin Nuri bey passed on this shop to Ali bin Ismail, another coal-seller. Neither the wood and timber shop initially donated as a vakıf, nor its successor, the warehouse for straw, are mentioned in the 1839 deed of transfer of the shop for coal. This is the last deed of transfer we have, and we lose track of this vakıf shop thereafter.

The multiple avatars that this single shop went through, in a period more than three quarters of a century long, have one important thing in common. The successive users of this vakıf shop changed its contents and its trade, but not its essential character, namely, that of being a shop/warehouse for the storage and sale of bulk goods (timber and wood at first, then straw, and finally coal), the transportation and distribution of which were dependent on its proximity to the Davudpaœa wharf.
The Davudpaœa wharf and the warehouses cast their shadow on the human landscape of the area, as well. The Davudpaœa area, and the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle that was part of it, acquired a reputation in Istanbul, a reputation that stemmed directly from the presence of the warehouses and their managers and workers. An illustration of this is given by an anonymous early-eighteenth-century tract on the folklore of the various districts and inhabitants of Istanbul. The tract contains a humorous, deprecating, and sometimes even insulting list of the evil deeds supposedly perpetrated by the inhabitants of the various districts of Istanbul. And each of these districts had its own dominant ethnicity, occupational group, specific urban function, or generally perceived overall character or image. Davudpaœa was famous in Istanbul for its wharf and for the warehouses for storing and selling wood that were next to it. Not surprisingly, the inhabitants of our district are qualified in this tract
as “…those ruffians from the Davudpaœa wharf who sell wood with counterfeit weights….”41
The warehouses left their mark on the street names, too. Although all of them were bearing official names ever since the early 1860s, the people of Kasap ƒlyas continued to refer to some of the streets in their mahalle by the types of warehouses they contained. In 1883, for instance, two different cases
brought to the Davudpaœa Court concerned pieces of real estate property situated in the “coal-sellers’ street.”42 That misnamed street was certainly one of those situated south of Samatya Caddesi. As late as 1898, another of the streets in the neighborhood was named as the “straw-sellers’ street” in an
official document.43
These warehouses brought not only goods, trade, and activity to the neighborhood but also, from time to time, the odd small disaster. In 1864, a fire ravaged once again the area around the Davudpaœa wharf. Its scope was fairly limited, however, and a total of only twenty-two buildings were destroyed in this local catastrophe. This rather circumscribed (by Istanbul standards) fire was recorded in the annals of Istanbul disasters as “The fire of the coal-sellers in the Davudpaœa Wharf,”44 thereby signifying that the numerous coal-sellers present in the area and the highly inflammable goods that they stored were not only the victims but perhaps also the cause of this local fire. These warehouses and their trade did not address themselves solely to the inhabitants of the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle. Given the large number of warehouses (twenty-four) listed in the 1885 census documents (see table 4.7), it is highly unlikely that the small Kasap ƒlyas mahalle, or even the larger Davudpaœa area, could ever have constituted a sufficient outlet for the volume of coal, wood, and so forth that must have been brought in. These ware-
houses were in fact servicing a much larger area, perhaps the whole portion of the intramural city bordering on the sea of Marmara and situated to the east of the Davudpaœa wharf. Large quantities of these goods could obviously not be brought through the dense, narrow, and hilly maze of streets of the city center. By necessity, they had to be brought by sea and had to be stored in warehouses situated not too far away from their point of entry into the walled city. From there, the retail trade and distribution could normally proceed.
Two of the warehouses in Kasap ƒlyas were clearly listed in the 1885 census documents as being “warehouses for coal.” As to the notebooks of the muhtar Osman Efendi, they specify that, at about the same date, two of these warehouses were for timber, three for coal, and another three for straw. Most
of the commodities stored and distributed were goods of first necessity, whether for fuel (wood and coal), for transportation (straw), or for construction and repair work (timber, sand, and gravel).
At least some of the porters (hammals) living in Kasap ƒlyas at the end of the nineteenth century must have been fully or partly employed in the transportation and the retail distribution of these bulk goods stored nearby.
Some of these porters might even be sleeping in their workplace. And the presence of this group of poor and destitute porters carrying sand or coal on their backs all day long from boats to warehouses and from warehouses to various houses in and around the mahalle was one of the reasons why this part of the Kasap ƒlyas neighborhood had acquired a plebeian and rather unsavory reputation. “My family lived in Çavuœzade and, when we were children, the lower parts of the neighborhood [meaning the area between the “main street” and the wharf] were strictly out of bounds for us. Some unpleasant things had happened in that area and my father had forbidden us to go down there,” declared one of the elderly inhabitants of Kasap ƒlyas, referring to his childhood period in the 1930s and 1940s.45 “Only poor people lived over there in small and shabby houses,” declared another elderly informant, referring to the same area in about the same period.46 The area was also qualified as “A sort of large shantytown.”47 Ispanakçı Viranesi was also another such impoverished large area but the traditional shelter of poor Arapkirli migrants never had this sort of unsavory reputation.
It was not the presence of the poor street-porters alone that gave the part of Kasap ƒlyas nearer to the sea its disreputable character. At all times, there were some even less-esteemed groups of people that haunted the area. A few fishermen, for instance, probably used to live or sleep in the sheds and boat-
houses down by the wharf, where they also dried and mended their nets. The old city ramparts, which ran along the sea side certainly provided some shelter (and also the occasional building material) to some of the poorest and of the “homeless” of Istanbul. Drunkards and drug addicts also got together, especially in the summer, under the ramparts and by the wharf, far from the ordinary crowd of the mahalle. Besides, all along the Marmara shore of the traditional walled city, there were always vagabonds whose main occupation was to stroll by the seaside, on the lookout for the occasional spoils brought by the waves, the southernly wind, or the latest Lodos tempest. The area also had the great
advantage of being right next to the large Langa vegetable gardens, which contained a maze of winding tracks and small footpaths, a terrible trap for the newcomer but a practical way of escape for those familiar with the topography of the bostans. No wonder, then, that this outgrowth of the mahalle was considered disreputable and unsafe by many of the inhabitants of “upper” Kasap ƒlyas and declared out of bounds for their young children. As a matter-of-fact, the dubious reputation of the “lower” part of Kasap ƒlyas persisted well into the 1950s when the wharf was torn down and the warehouses removed once and for all.
This part of the neighborhood, located between Samatya Caddesi and the sea, therefore had, for quite a long time, an overall urban commercial function whose importance exceeded by far, the narrow limits of a single little mahalle. It was located on a sort of topographical extension of the neighborhood toward the sea and the warehouses throughout the history of Kasap ƒlyas, it was directly related to the urban function fulfilled by the wharf. The sorts of goods transported, stored, and distributed did change, but the unloading/storage/retail distribution functions that the wharf and the warehouses of Kasap ƒlyas together fulfilled, remained intact. In the sixteenth century the goods were wood and timber. Later, coal and straw were added to the list of goods brought and stored there. As for the twentieth-century inhabitants of Kasap ƒlyas, they remember the Davudpaœa wharf primarily as
a place for unloading sand and gravel.
Kasap ƒlyas was part of the Davudpaœa semt of intramural Istanbul. But the definitional role of the homonymous wharf was always perceived as far more important than that of the stately Davudpaœa mosque and its complex, situated up on the hill. Historical documents even present many instances in
which the Davudpaœa semt is, for reasons of topographical clarity, subdivided in two separate entities: upper Davudpaœa, or Davudpaœa itself (nefs-i Davudpaœa) and the Davudpaœa Wharf (Davudpaœa ƒskelesi). Kasap ƒlyas was always part of this second section.
The wharf and the warehouses marked not only Kasap ƒlyas’s image, reputation, and social standing, but even its very name, its official denomination. In all official documents Kasap ƒlyas was defined as “the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle by the Davudpaœa wharf,” in the sixteenth as well as in the nineteenth century. This was so in the Davudpaœa Religious Court records, in the local deeds of trust, as well as in the various official lists of Istanbul neighborhoods.
The official seal (mühür) used by the muhtars of Kasap ƒlyas for stamping legal documents at the end of the nineteenth century reads; “The Muhtar of the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle, near the Davudpaœa wharf.”48

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