The Population and The Inhabitants Of a Peripheral Mahalle

Filed under : istanbul

The sixteenth-century Kasap ƒlyas mahalle consisted of mostly single-story wooden houses, all set at some distance from each other with their enclosed gardens, and of narrow and irregularly winding streets and dead ends. Apart from the central area with the mosque, the hamam, and a small “shopping center” around it, the neighborhood was generally quite sparsely populated, as it contained large vegetable gardens and some vacant lots. We know that, in the first half of the sixteenth century, one of the shops around the public bath45 was a butcher. Another shop housed a maker and seller of boza.46
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the semts and mahalles around the Davudpaœa wharf could in no sense of the term have been central to the life of the city. They were not near the main political (the Palace) or commercial (the harbor and the Grand Bazaar) areas of . Nor were they part of the more densely populated residential districts situated in the central, northern, and eastern parts of the peninsula. Ayverdi states that the center of gravity of the sixteenth- and sevententh-century population was situated around the large and central Bayazit complex and that the density of settlement decreased as one moved westwards.47 Many seventeenth-century
local sources also show that, just as two centuries ago, the coastline of the Marmara sea west of Kumkapı was still hardly built at all. This coastline was lined with gardens, orchards, and empty land. The great seventeenth-century Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi, as well as the Armenian historian Eremya Kömürcüyan, his contemporary, describe the Davudpaœa area as one most suitable for walks and for general recreational activities.48
Though it is quite impossible to give a plausible estimate of its sixteenth and seventeenth-century population, it is sufficiently clear that the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle never had a large number of inhabitants. A list of taxpayers and mahalles of Istanbul dating from 1634 provides another illustration.49 The tax to be collected that year was an avârız-tax. These avârız50 taxes were occasionally levied from the inhabitants of the capital, either when the treasury was in dire need of funds or when a state of imminent war was the cause of extraordinary government expenditure. Whenever a tax of this sort was to be levied, a number of avârız households was attributed to each Istanbul mahalle and the total amount to be levied was apportioned among the neighborhoods
according to the number of households attributed to each of them. The number of households was not arbitrary, for it depended on the population of the mahalle and was also supposed to reflect the overall “ability to pay” of the inhabitants. The tax attributed to each mahalle was then apportioned
between the locals and collected by the imam of the local mosque. In 1634, a tax register cum listing of neighborhoods was established for Istanbul.
According to this listing, the Kürkçübaœı mahalle, immediately to the east of Kasap ƒlyas, was attributed 10 households, and the Sancaktar Hayreddin mahalle, its immediate western neighbor, had a total of no less than nineteen.
As to Kasap ƒlyas itself, it was lumped together with the Davudpaœa mahalle and these two had been assigned a total of fifteen households only. This clearly comes to mean that, in the first half of the seventeenth century, and compared to the surrounding areas and districts, Kasap ƒlyas was neither
particularly populous nor noticeably well-off. The population of Istanbul has always been overestimated or exaggerated, by European travelers, by well-meaning Orientalists, and also by many
eminent Turkish historians. Fantastic figures have often been bandied about, such as a figure of over a million inhabitants for the middle of the sixteenth century.51 The real number couldn’t have been much above a quarter of a million, still a really extraordinary figure for that period. The population of
Istanbul was to reach the one-million mark for the first time at the eve of the First World War only, but to fall again below that benchmark soon after the end of the hostilities.
The first complete and fairly reliable count of the population of the capitalcity of the Ottoman Empire was conducted as part of the census of 1885. At that date, Istanbul had a total of 875,000 inhabitants, that is, about three times its sixteenth-century population. The city had grown throughout the nineteenth century and the density of settlement, especially within the walled city, had tremendously increased.52 The population of Kasap ƒlyas stood at about eleven hundred people.53 The same census, however, puts the average population of a traditional intramural Istanbul mahalle at about fifty percent above that figure. Though the transposition and extrapolation of figures taken from the
city at large to the level of a small neighborhood is perilous, it seems quite certain that the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century population of the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle could not possibly have exceeded a few hundred inhabitants.
Who were then those sixteenth-century inhabitants of Kasap ƒlyas? The wharf, a crucial transiting point in the urban transportation and retailing of wood, timber, and other construction materials and the large vegetable gardens provided the main local opportunities for employment and were cer-
tainly the main local sources of income. The carrying, storage, and distribution of those bulk goods, as well as the rents and other revenues accruing from the cultivation, distribution, and sale of fresh fruits and vegetables were certainly providing the means of subsistence of a substantial proportion of the inhabitants of the neighborhood.
There was, as we saw, a small “shopping center” right in the middle of the mahalle. Its main feature, the large double hamam (a place for socialization as much as for ablutions), proved to be a durable center of attraction which, together with the Kasap ƒlyas mosque right across the street, certainly
contributed to attract some customers for the local shops. A document dating from 1782, for instance, shows that the small conglomerate of shops was still there at that date. In the month of August of that year, a large fire had devastated the city and spread havoc in many of the Istanbul neighborhoods,
built mostly of wood, like Kasap ƒlyas. A report on the widespread devastation caused by that fire contains the following statement “…a tentacle of fire went into the Seamen’s Hamam and the Marketplace inside the Davudpaœa Gate and, from there, reached the dervish convent of Etyemez….”54 This small marketplace in the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle was well-known to the Istanbulites
at large.
The sixteenth-century deeds of trust contain a number of useful clues on various social characteristics of the inhabitants of our neighborhood. The descriptions of the endowed properties include, for instance, the names of the owners of each of the neighboring properties.55 Among a total of about 60
inhabitants of the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle mentioned in the deeds of trust of the first half of the sixteenth century, there is only one non-Muslim. The same remark applies to the whole of the Davudpaœa District. Among hundreds of property-owners whose names are cited in the 122 Davudpaœa deeds of trust, the names of only 6 non-Muslims are mentioned, 5 of which appear to be Greek Orthodox. At the time of Süleyman “the Magnificent,” then, Kasap ƒlyas was a predominantly Muslim neighborhood, with but a tiny minority of non-Muslims, and so was the whole Davudpaœa District. Armenian chroniclers and historians of Istanbul confirm that this was still the case throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.56 By opposition to its two neighboring districts of Langa, to the west, and Samatya, to the east, and whose Greek and Armenian churches are lavishly described by the Armenian chroniclers of Istanbul, Davudpaœa receives scant attention, and only by virtue of its
gate on the ramparts and, not surprisingly, because of its wharf.
The account-books of the building site of the Süleymaniye mosque confirm our local sources. This monumental sultanic mosque, commissioned by its eponymous ruler to Sinan, chief architect of the empire, took seven years to be completed (1550–1557). The account-books of the construction have been transcribed and extensively published by Ömer Lütfü Barkan.57 These detailed account-books include listings of all those who had worked on the construction site, with mention of their ethnic/religious background as well as specifics on their neighborhood of residence within the city, or of their town of origin for those who had come from outside the capital.
Among the hundreds of master builders and construction workers who, at sometime or other, had worked on the building—site of Süleyman “the Magnificent’s” complex, there were twenty stonemasons (sengtraœ) and carpenters (dülgers) who had come from Davudpaœa. All of them were Muslim.
By opposition, the same account-books contain the names of 28 workers who were residents of the neighboring district of Langa. Only three of these were Muslims, though, the remaining twenty five being either Greek or Armenian.
As to the westernly neighboring urban districts of Samatya and Sulumanastyr, they had provided a much larger contingent (about 70 workers) to the Süleymaniye construction site. Not a single one was a Muslim. Both the Davudpaœa District and the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle were, throughout the greatest
part of the Ottoman centuries, areas populated mainly by Muslims, but were embedded between some of the predominantly non-Muslim areas of Istanbul, along the sea of Marmara.

Many construction workers were then living in Kasap ƒlyas in the sixteenth century. Indeed, none of the sixty dwellers of the mahalle mentioned in the deeds of trust have ever been honored with such titles and status-markers as paœa, bey, or even a™a, indicative, respectively, of high-level militaries or bureaucrats or more simply, with the last, of just an above average social status. Except for the imam officiating in the Kasap ƒlyas mosque itself, no one in the neighborhood was ever qualified as efendi, a title then attributed to persons belonging to the higher ranks of the religious hierarchy such as religious judges, and teachers in theological schools. That not a single house donated in the neighborhood was qualified as luxurious (mükellef ) in the deeds of trust is also another indication on the general socioeconomic picture of the mahalle.
There were also, however, as there would always be, a few of the more well-to-do living in Kasap ƒlyas, inhabitants who were wealthy enough to own slaves. Two of the houses in the neighborhood (one of them with two floors) had indeed been bequeathed by their initial owners to their manumitted slaves, who were to act as the trustees of the pious foundation they had just established. But that type of social mix was a quite common occurrence in traditional Istanbul and does not constitute sufficient reason to suppose that Kasap ƒlyas was any wealthier for that.
As they were appointed trustees of the pious foundations, the identities of some of the imams and müezzins of the Kasap ƒlyas mosque in the first half of the sixteenth century are known to us. As early as 1506 the small mosque already had a permanent imam, who was probably living in one of the en-
dowed houses nearby. His name was Murad, and he seems to have kept his post until at least 1510. In 1533 Ahmed bin Veli was the mosque’s müezzin and between 1542 and 1546 the müezzin was one Ali, who was being supervised by Ayas Efendi, the imam of the Kasap ƒlyas mosque.
The sixteenth-century deeds of trust in Kasap ƒlyas also tell us about the donators’ sex. Interestingly enough, seventeen out of a total of twenty-six local foundations had been endowed by women. Some of these women had even set up more than one foundation. Safiyye Hatun bint-i Hamza,58 for instance, had bequeathed three houses situated in the mahalle between 1531 and 1538. As to Aiœe Hatun bint-i Mehmet, in two different deeds of trust, both dated 1509, she had given a two-story house and an amount of cash of no less than thirty thousand aspers, a considerable sum of money. This relative overrepresentation of women among the donators to pious foundations in the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle will not disappear in later centuries.

Leave a reply

Find Your Destination

Most Commented Articles

Featured Video

Photo Gallery