SHELTERS OF TRADE, CARAVANSERAIS AND TREASURES: HISTORICAL TRADE BUILDINGS OF İSTANBUL
İstanbul is a city desired by the whole world. In each period of history, the heart of trade has beaten in here from Byzantine to Ottoman. İstanbul is a city of historical trade buildings, inns, shelters of caravanserais, treasures, traders, craftsmen, masters who keep the secrets of their crafts for next generations, apprentices who learn life… Trade has always kept its liveliness with trade buildings, wholesalers, storages, shops, and workshops in the area between Eminönü and Kapalıçarşı (The Grand Bazaar). Craftsmen and wholesalers who had expertise in the same good used to take place on the same street in the Ottoman culture. It is enough to look at some of the street names to see it: butter sellers, dried food sellers, lighter sellers and so on…
The historical trade buildings of İstanbul gave a good account of themselves also with their contributions to culture and society other than trade. They continued to stay as mirrors of our society and lifestyle. Even if they have lost their former vitality, they are still offering fascinating observations today. Go up the road from Mısır Çarşısı, walk through the curves of the Çakmakçılar Yokuşu, walk around those trade buildings, witnesses of a great history, like old time travelers and merchants. There are certain things that still remain unchanged in the courts, where merchants from İstanbul and Anatolia used to tie their horses, and miniature workshops: elbow grease…
Trade as sweet as honey: Balkapanı Han
It is the times when there were break-stones used to take place at those trade buildings so the labors who were carrying goods on their backs could sit and take a break on them. Imagine a place that has all the nutritional needs of the city, especially honey… Let’s travel to the past… What did a “kapan” (trap) do? Essential necessities such as honey, flour, oil and sugar that came to İstanbul were stored in those trade buildings called “kapan” before they were weighed and checked, taxed and prices determined before they were distributed to the city’s markets. There had been many kapans in İstanbul. The biggest ones were Unkapanı, Yağkapanı, and Balkapanı. Balkapanı Han on the road of Hasırcılar in Tahtakale used to be a trade center where the honey (bal in Turkish) came from customs was stacked and distributed to the public. If you could convince the kind but hard old attendant, he will unlock the vaulted cellars of the 12th-13th century at the bottom of the building for you. According to a rumor, there was even a road to Hagia Sophia from here. Most of the rooms of the structure, which has a two-story architecture surrounding a large courtyard, are being used today as warehouses. The construction date of the building is not certain; however, it was built by the order of Fatih Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror and its incomes were donated to Hagia Sophia. At the same time, “Hanı Kadimi Sultani” description was used for the Balkapanı in the Endowment. During the reign of Fatih, “kadim” (ancient) was used for all the remains from Byzantium. For this reason, it is anticipated that it was built during the Byzantine period. Despite the fact that some of the stone walls were destroyed and the round stone arches were damaged in the fires of the 50’s, the original architectural style of the structure is evident. In the building where shops of non-Muslim minorities and handicrafts of Egyptian merchants took place is today continuing to host trading activities of small businesses that sell goods such as knives, notebooks, boxes, baked goods, wedding invitations, and restaurants.
İstanbul from its hills: Büyük Valide Han
When you step out of the stairs and think that you will disappear into the darkness of the damp corridors, you find yourself staring at the Golden Horn, Galata, Bosphorus… İstanbul says, “Make your whish!” The source of pride of Çakmakçılar Yokuşu, among the most magnificent constructions of the city, the Büyük Valide Han, makes its historical texture and atmosphere felt the best here. There are production noises coming from workshops, one of the centers of weaving for some time, divided into two or even more in time and sold to others. Büyük Valide Han was one of the important stops for caravans in the past. Kösem Sultan has the structure built in order to create income for Üsküdar Çinili Complex, she had it built also. One room of this building was also the vault for the personal treasure of Kösem Sultan. There is also a rumor that her treasure was plundered after she was killed. According to another rumor, Anastasia, who was thought to be a Greek or a Bosnian, comes to the palace court in the 1600s as a concubine. Her face is so smooth that they name her Mahpeyker, which means “moon-faced”, in the harem. Another rumor is that she was named “Kösem” which means who is confident, knows what to do and when to do it, who is capable of guiding and directing.” In the courtyard, there is a Shiite Masjid of the Iranians. The Iranians had lived in the bedsitters at the beginning of the century. The place where the Qur’an was first printed in İstanbul was the printing house that owned by the Iranians of this structure. The building, where tailors and shoemakers are located today, had camel-barn, a horse/mule-barn with a capacity of about one thousand animals, and over two hundred rooms in the first and second courtyards in the past. On July 14, 1660, a fire broke out in a crate-shop out of the city walls; heavy winds carrying the sparks caused the building’s treasures and goods to catch fire.
Echo of the press and hammer sounds: Büyük Yeni Han
According to sources, Mustafa III. had the Büyük Yeni Han in the Çakmakçılar Yokuşu built in 1761. The three-story building with two courtyards, which is a sign that İstanbul’s trade life was alive at the time, has been prominent in the history of commerce as well as charity meetings and charitable work for the community. Although the building does not have its former glory, Amasya Bazaar, among its oldest shops, is still standing, providing clothes fabric since 1971, all over Anatolia. It is not possible not to look at the shelves filled with fabric bags and become nostalgic. Foundry and silver workshops are located on the upper floor. Most of the artisans in this area spent their apprenticeship in the Pastırmacı Han and Kalcılar Han. The architecture of the structure, where the press and hammer sounds echo on the walls, is suitable for silver crafts. Once, there were chimneys built for caravans on each story of the building so the smoke in the workshops could be let out and the thick walls would allow the shopkeepers to work without being exposed to too much heat.
Classical representative of the Ottoman: Büyük Yıldız Han
Shoppers used to come to this historic trade building to shop from Turkey’s first apparel store Çeşme Güzeli. This shop overlooking the Mahmutpaşa Yokuşu is still there but under a different name. Immediately at the entrance, the large courtyard of the building and three-stories give important clues about İstanbul’s trade life in the early 19th century. The building has been owned by the Mehmedzade Family for almost 150 years. Kerim Mehmedzade is the current owner of the place. In the mid-1870s, his grandfather Hacıbaba Mehmedzade bought the building after he started carpet trading in Mahmutpaşa. The building, which now mainly hosts apparel workshops on the ground floor and various workshops and warehouses on the upper floor, is one of the rare classical Ottoman trade buildings. The date of construction was recorded as 1817, but its architect is unknown. The western architecture that emerges in the structure today is realized with the changes made in the following years. The merchant, broker, and commissioner populations were more intense in the early days of the building. At the time of Sultan Abdulhamid II., it is known that the Iranians used the building as both a mosque and a hotel. The fresco on the entrance, which the Supreme Board of Monuments defined as a “historical artifact to be preserved”, takes you back into the past just as the place itself does.
The labor of it is hidden in its name: Kalcılar Han
Smelting is the process of separating mines from each other by taking advantage of the difference in melting degrees of the mines in an alloy. Craftsman, who purifies foreign metals in gold and silver through chemical methods, is called a smelter (”kalcı”). Estimated to have been built in the 18th century, the labor of the Kalcılar Han (Historical Gümüşçüler Han) among the trade buildings of the Grand Bazaar, is hidden in its name. This is a structure that houses goldsmiths’ workshops (kalcı-ramatçı) that separates gold from the dust. In the building that has 70 rooms located at the entrance of the Grand Bazaar’s Mahmutpaşa Gate, today there are silver workshops and stores. On the ground floor, traders who travel from Anatolia to İstanbul used to tie their horses and rest in the small rooms, which are now workshops, on the upper floor. In the building, where the handicraft prevails and the presence of the Armenian artisans is clearly felt, the production of many items such as beaten jewelry boxes, trays, gondolas, sultan portraits, and even İstanbul silhouettes continues while the sounds of the past echo.
Breathing in the atmosphere: Zincirli Han
One of the most authentic places of the Grand Bazaar is the Zincirli Han. You are struck by that Ottoman red right at the arched entrance. A little further ahead, the roof with ivies that makes a shade and the courtyard with a fountain right in the middle of it save you from the complex world outside. Although the old days filled with horse carriages and stables are left behind, this single courtyard, two-story building, cobblestone pavement, old rooms, rubble stone and brick arches keep the atmosphere of the old days faithfully. According to the inscription here; it was built by Nasuh Pasha in 1708 as part of the social complex. Today, on the ground level, there are sales shops of jewelers and workshops are located on the upper floors. There were stoves once in the rooms of the building. There are images that are familiar to you every time you enter the building; for example, the tea-house at the entrance takes away any type of tiredness, the miniature jeweler and repairman on the right at the entrance, and the carpet store Şişko Osman that is the stubborn enthusiast of the carpet business, which is often mentioned in foreign travel guides. Many jewelers who did not give up the handicrafts were raised at the Varakçı Han and Çuhacı Han.