Istanbul During the 16th Century

During the 16.century in Ottoman history, Istanbul was divided four districts which were Istanbul proper, Galata, Eyüp and Üsküdar. Each of them developed a distinct urban and social character. Eyüp developed around the tomb of Şeyh Ebu Ensari, companion of the Prophet Muhammed who led the first Muslim siege of Constantinople. Şeyh Ebu Ensari died […]

During the 16.century in history, Istanbul was divided four districts which were Istanbul proper, Galata, Eyüp and Üsküdar. Each of them developed a distinct urban and social character. Eyüp developed around the tomb of Şeyh Ebu Ensari, companion of the Prophet Muhammed who led the first siege of Constantinople. Şeyh Ebu Ensari died during the siege. Fatih Mehmed built Eyüp Mosque, and set up religious school and a kitchen around the tomb.  It developed into a major pilgrimage center and burial site for the elite and religious dignitaries. The girding of a new sultan took place in Eyüp as well. Another feature of Eyüp was its gardens. Greek, Armenian, Albanian and Bulgarian grocers supplied vegetables and fruits. More, the Beylik farm was located in Eyüp and supplied milk and yogurt for the . Rural migrants from Balkans also settled in Eyüp and supplied the city with foodstuff and seasonal workers. The charachter of Eyüp was rural and consequently it became favourite location for summer residences. Kağıthane, was on the road to Eyüp, was a popular spot for Friday picnics. However, its fame was coming from legendary Kağıthane parties and its pavillions. More than 170 pavillions and palaces were built in Kağıthane during the Tulip period. The famous Sa’dabad where the sultan and his Grand vizier held many banquets and festivities, was there too.  Kağıthane became synonymous with ruling-class decadence and moral decline according to conservative residents of the city.

Istanbul proper , the old city of Constantinople, was bounded on the west by the Theodosian walls, by sea walls along the Golden Horn, and by the Sea of Marmara on the south. The city walls had twenty-seven gates that opened into several neighborhoods. The district of Istanbul had fifteen subdistricts; each was named after a mosque complex, and each was divided into several quarters. The quarters did not spread beyond the walls, and the population within was dense. Harbors and bays rimmed by fishing villages and wooded orchards dotted the shores of the Bosphorus. The Greek communities lived along the seacoast in Kum Kapı, Samatya, and Fener. The headquarters of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate had been located in Fener since 1601. The Jewish community lived mainly in Balat and Ayvan Saray along the left bank of the Golden Horn. The Armenians and the gypsies lived  in Sulu Kule and Samatya.The headquarters of the Armenian patriarchate was in Samatya.The Greek Orthodox and Armenian patriarchs were appointed by the sultan with extensive rights to administer the religious, legal, and cultural affairs of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian communities throughout the empire.  The district of Istanbul contained the Topkapı Palace, the Hippodrome,  Hagia Sophia, and the Grand Bazaar. The Topkapı Palace complex, the private residence of the Ottoman dynasty and the center of government, stands on the first hill at the eaSaray Burnu. Mehmed II built the palace over parts of the Great Palace of Constantinople. Enclosed by walls and divided into four courts, the Topkapı Palace contained public buildings where government business was conducted. The Topkapı Palace housed more than 6,000 people.  The first court of the Topkapı Palace, also called the janissaries’ court, contained military installations.  The second court contained the Imperial Council, which functioned as a cabinet and a higher court of appeals. The third court contained the Throne Room, where the sultan received officials, petitioners, and foreign ambassadors. The imperial harem, the tulip garden of Ahmed III, and kiosks were located in the fourth court, the center of the private life of the sultan and his family, which overlooked the Sea of Marmara. The imperial had more than three hundred rooms that housed several hundred female members of the dynasty, Ottoman princes, and their large staff headed by the chief black eunuch.  Adjacent to the Topkapı Palace Hagia Sophia and the former Byzantine Hippodrome. The Hippodrome was the ancient ceremonial center and the public square. Under the Ottomans, it was renamed At Meydanı and continued to function as the ceremonial center. Processions, military drills, and public festivals celebrating the birth and circumcision of Ottoman princes and the birth and wedding of princesses took place in the Hippodrome. The janissary barracks  and the Et Meydanı (meat square), where janissaries received their meat ration, were located near the Hippodrome. The rebels used the Hippodrome as their base in 1703 and 1730. The commercial hub of the city was located very close to the Hippodrome and the Topkapı Palace. The Divan Yolu (via ignatia) branched out in several directions from the Hippodrome and connected the area to the mercantile center of the city, the Grand Bazaar and its surrounding residential and commercial districts on the one side as well as the Egyptian Market and the port  on the other side on the Golden Horn. The distribution of foodstuff and raw materials took place in the port area on the Golden Horn, where ships from all over the empire and the Mediterranean ports anchored. The Un Kapanı  and Yemiş iskelesı distributed flour to bakers at government-set prices and fruits citywide. In the marketplace various religious communities mingled together, carried out business, and belonged to the same guilds. As would be expected, this area also became a center of crime due to its commercial wealth and social diversity. The district of Istanbul was under stricter government control than the rest of city because the Topkapı Palace, the main residence of the sultan and his family, was located here. The administration of the city was under  the grand vizier and his retinue of janissaries, the chief kadi (Islamic judge) of Istanbul, the chief inspector of markets, the chief of night police, the chief of day police, the agha (commander) of janissaries in Istanbul, and the head of the palace guards.

Galata and Pera, on the opposite side of the Golden Horn from the district of Istanbul, were the hub of Western European trade and the center of diplomacy, finance, entertainment, and European residence in the early modern period. The walled town of Galata was a former Genoese colony, part of the Italian trading settlement on the Black Sea during Byzantine times. Galata had gained full autonomy because of its alliance with the Byzantine Empire against Venice during the restoration of Byzantine rule in 1261. It also had lent financial and military support to Byzantine forces during the Ottoman siege of March–April 1453. Some merchants had collaborated with the Ottoman army and handed the keys of the city to Mehmed II two days after the fall of Constantinople. Because of its timely surrender, Galata survived as a distinct city within a city under the Ottomans. The Ottoman sultan had rewarded the colony by granting capitulations to Genoa and partial autonomy to the town. The treaty provided the Genoese colony with religious and commercial freedom, security, and protection of property as well as exemption from extraordinary taxes, forced labor, and residents’ service in the army. The colony also received the right to elect freely a person to represent its interests before the sultan. In return, the residents had to agree not to build new churches or ring their bells too loudly. These privileges were later granted to other Italian city-states and western European nations in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Mehmed II divided the community in Galata into two groups, the non- Muslim Ottoman subjects who paid the poll tax and the subjects of Genoa who resided temporarily in Galata for commerce. The first group of non-Muslim subjects included Greeks, Jews, Armenians, and some Genoese. The second group, defined as protected non-Ottoman merchants, received the freedom to trade in return for payment of customs dues. Both groups enjoyed distinct legal and religious autonomy. To establish Ottoman control over Galata, Mehmed II razed some of the land walls and kept the sea wall intact. However, the walls were restored by his son Sultan Bayezid II. The Galata tower  functioned as a fire-watch facility, a prison for indebted merchants and slaves, and a storage place. Galata was divided into three wards separated by inner walls that still stood in the seventeenth century. Its sea walls and inner walls had eleven outer gates and six inner gates opening into different neighborhoods. Galata inside the walls was a densely populated subdistrict with 200,000 non-Muslim and 64,000 Muslim residents.  In the fifteenth century, Galata had eleven Catholic and nine Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches and only two mosques. However, the number of mosques had increased to twelve inside and around the walls of Galata by the sixteenth century. There were also two Mevlevi lodges in Galata and Beşiktaş that housed the Mevlevi Sufis.  In the eighteenth century, as more non-Muslims settled in the district of Galata, the number of Greek churches in the district of Galata rose to forty despite an earlier ban on church construction. Additionally, Western European nations were again able to restore and build new Catholic churches according to the Treaty of Carlowitz and as their commercial presence grew after 1699. France, and Great Britain negotiated commercial treaties that granted them extraterritorial rights, freedom of trade, lower customs duties, and legal immunity. France succeeded Venice as an exporter of silk textiles and other luxury goods. Capitulations granted to France in 1740 also protected the Catholic community and led to an increase in French missionary activity in the eighteenth century. The number of French residents increased from 40 in 1682 to 175 in 1719. The growing French community resided in the neighborhood of Bereketzade. European embassies moved to the vineyards of Pera to the north of Galata in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Their palaces had a large staff and retinue that employed many people. The French embassy even contained a church, a law-court, a printing press, and a prison. The British embassy built summer residences in villages along the Bosphorus in Büyükdere and Tarabya. Galata became an important commercial and financial center where many wealthy Armenian and Jewish merchants operated as agents for the European nations and as bankers for members of the ruling class, including tax farmers and janissaries. European goods cleared through the marina of Galata, where ports, warehouses, shops, custom houses and workshops were located on the waterfront in Karaköy, Mumhane, and the Azap Kapı. Galata had a covered market with twelve domes, 3,080 shops, twelve major houses of commerce, hans, and a wheat depot that belonged to Greeks and Franks. The arsenal and shipyard in Kasım Paşa and the gunpowder factory and cannon foundry in Tophane were the military-industrial sector of Istanbul and employed many workers and galley slaves. Galata inside the walls also contained the red-light district of Istanbul, with many brothels and taverns along the harbor catering to sailors, merchants, janissaries, and a large number of single and working-class men who resided in bachelors’ rooms. Evliya Çelebi , the well-known Ottoman traveler and resident of Istanbul, counted two hundred houses of ill repute and taverns along the seashore walls in the mid-seventeenth century; these were operated by Greeks and Jews, each serving a clientele of five hundred to six hundred Muslims and non-Muslims in the middle of the seventeenth century.  Serving alcoholic drinks to Muslims was forbidden by the shari’a, but many Muslim visitors took respite from the watchful gaze of neighbors and local officials when they frequented the many taverns and brothels in the winding alleys of Galata and along the harbor of Kasım Paşa. Galata was the most crime-ridden area of the city, requiring greater policing. Mehmed II appointed a chief kadi, subaşı (police chief), and voyvoda (mayor) to oversee the affairs of residents. The chief kadi of Galata was the most important official and reported directly to the sultan. His deputies held court in the subdistricts and worked closely with the heads of non-Muslim communities. The voyvoda was appointed by the sultan, functioned like the mayor, and worked with the chiefs of day and night police.The market inspector controlled weights and scales and supervised prices. The agha of janissaries held law and order particularly in red-light district, where brawls occurred frequently. The non-Muslim and European communities had their own officials and representatives who worked with the kadi and police officials to maintain law and order. The population of Galata inside the walls dispersed as time went on to the villages on the European shore of the Bosphorus like Beşiktaş, Ortaköy, and Bebek that were mixed in ethnic and social make up.  All these villages were ethnically, religiously, and socially mixed. Beşiktaş had, in addition to a Muslim majority, one Greek and one Jewish quarter, six thousand summer houses, and many gardens belonging to notables and grandees. The sultan and members of his household, particularly the princesses, constructed palaces and mansions along both shores of the Bosphorus, visible symbols of conspicuous consumption. The Çırağan Palace,  built by Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha, and the Dolmabahçe palace as well as Yıldız Palace were located in Beşiktaş. Ortaköy was inhabited predominantly by Greeks, Armenians, and Jews. The palace of Hadice Sultan, daughter of Mustafa III,  in the Defterdar neighborhood is the mostfamous. Ottoman princesses Beyhan Sultan  and Esma Sultan the elder also owned palaces in Ortaköy and Bebek.

On the Asian side of the Bosphorus, the district of Üsküdar was a smaller settlement of five subdistricts known for its cypress groves, peaceful villages, cemeteries, and carved tombstones.   Üsküdar was a well-populated district with seventy Muslim quarters, eleven Greek Orthodox and Armenian quarters, and one Jewish quarter during the seventeenth century. The villages of Kadıköy, Istavros, Beylerbeyi, and Kuzguncuk on the same side of the Bosphorus had populations of Muslims, Greeks, and Jews and contained the mansions and gardens of grandees. Üsküdar also contained mosque complexes endowed by royals. The great mosque complex called the Atik  Valide Cami was built by the great architect Sinan for Nur Banu Sultan, mother of Murad III, in 1583. It was composed of a mosque, medrese, hospice, bath, and guesthouse. The Yeni Valide mosque complex of queen mother Gülnüş Sultan, which was built between 1700 and 1710, included a public fountain was also located close to the shore of Üsküdar.  Sultan Selim III  built a mosque and the modern Selimiyye barracks in 1800 to house the new troops. Üsküdar never developed into an international port but did become an indispensable entrepôt of Asian goods on their way to Istanbul and Galata. Its primary trade was with Iran, many of whose merchants carried on a caravan trade in silk and other commodities and resided in the hans of Üsküdar. The Iranian envoys lived in Üsküdar and, like European envoys, were not allowed to reside in the district of Istanbul. Great caravans of pilgrims encamped in Üsküdar for several weeks prior to their march to Mecca every year. Moreover, it was a place of banishment for Ottoman officials who fell from favor. The administration of Üsküdar was in the hands of the kadi and his five deputy judges, a subaşı, and a division of the janissary corps. Its population did not increase at the same rate as that of the districts of Istanbul and Galata because its population flow was in the direction of trade, industry, and government activities.



Photo Credits: Henrik Berger Jørgensen


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