Floods are one of the factors that have transformed Istanbul’s topographical structure; as a type of meteorological natural hazard, they continue to affect the city today. Severe flooding can have a sudden and immensely negative impact on daily life. The characteristics of the climate, the amount of rain, vegetation, drought, human activities, and topographical structure all play a role in transforming floods into natural disasters. In various historical eras, Istanbul has been the stage for floods that have had an impact on the structure of the city. The phenomenon of flooding has been referred to in Ottoman archival documents with words such as seylâb (flood), tuğyan (overflow), and feyezan (frenzy), as well as the expression su baskını (water flood). This article offers an overview of the important floods that have affected the city’s topography since its conquest in 1453.
Rainfall on August 24, 1553, the 14th night of Ramadan, caused particular damage in Kâğıthane, demolishing villages and orchards. Because it was harvest season, the damage was significant. Trees were dragged into the sea by the force of the flood; the coastal areas of Galata were filled with poles, trees, and hay carts.1
On September 19, 1563, during a downpour that continued for days, lightning struck 74 times; flooding ravaged the shores of the Golden Horn, the slopes of the Galata district, Hal Halkalı, Silivri, Küçükçekmece, and Büyükçekmece. Kâğıthane Creek burst its banks, the water levels of the Golden Horn rose, and many palaces and homes were destroyed, including the interiors of the Eyüp Sultan Mausoleum, which was completely flooded. The flooding of the Halkalı Creek was so severe that it lifted the İskender Çelebi Palace from its foundations. Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent was there, seeking refuge with his entourage. One of the aghas was able to save the sultan’s life by carrying him to the upper floor on his back. The flood caused severe damage throughout most of Istanbul. The Mağlova, Uzun, and Ayvad (Kurt) Aqueducts were all destroyed, while the Kovuk and Güzelce Aqueducts were eroded down to their foundations.2
Because of floods caused by rainfall that lasted for three days in 1618, many homes were destroyed, and the masjids (prayer rooms) located in the Aksaray Koğacı neighborhood remained underwater for a full month. This was followed by an outbreak of disease of unprecedented proportions, leading to the death of many people.
Markets were flooded as a result of a 10-hour rainfall that occurred in the fall of 1751; many buildings were destroyed.3 Heavy rain and hail in the Kartal area in November 1767 destroyed the roof and walls of a newly built mosque and ruined bridges and waterways. Water fountains built in the name of Hacı Beşir Agha and the customs officer İshak Agha were destroyed, and travelers and local residents suffered great hardship.4 A flood that followed heavy rainfall over Üsküdar in August 1786 swept all the market-stall products into the sea.5 Heavy rainfall that lasted for two days in October 1789 caused flooding in Istanbul, Eyüp, Kasımpaşa, Galata, the Bosphorus, and Üsküdar; ditches were dug in the markets, homes and public hamams (bathhouses) were destroyed, and the Mahmutpaşa and Kasımpaşa courthouses were flooded. More than 60 people died in the floods. The surface of the sea was covered with bridges, personal possessions, trees that were hundreds of years old, and food items.6 The heavy downpour at the beginning of March 1790 also caused flooding.7
A flood caused by rain that began at night in the summer of 1811 caused destruction to many buildings and bridges, as well as the loss of human and animal life in the Kağıthane district. Beşiktaş was left underwater, people were swept into the sea, and the employees in a hamam were drowned. The flood swept a bridge into the sea and demolished a mill, a store, and the Bostanci Barracks.8 Yet again in 1866, flooding caused difficulties for the residents of Eyüp. Bridges that had become unusable were repaired, creeks were cleaned up, and piled-up debris was transported with pontoons.9 In 1884, Kağıthanye Creek overflowed three times, causing tremendous damage to farms and livestock. Rain that lasted for two days in November 1887 transformed the streets into rivers, although the municipality attempted to contain the water in channels. A flood that occurred in May 1888 caused tremendous damage in the Baltalimanı and Bebek districts. Heavy rains that lasted a few days in December 1888 caused Kağıthane Creek to overflow; streets were closed and houses were flooded. Floods covered the Çırpıcı meadow, rising higher than the brick bridge next to the basmane (cotton printing) factory.10 Floods that occurred in the winter of 1889 caused Kağıthane Creek to overflow again, and sand dragged in by the floods almost clogged the creek.
Flooding in August 1891 caused damage to many Istanbul districts. Kagıthane overflowed into the surrounding areas, and the Alibeyköy Bridge was destroyed. The walls and roofs of houses in Aksaray, Cibali, and Halıcılar collapsed; the flood that came in from Bayrampaşa caused damage to Sulukule, while homes, stores, and orchards were left underwater in Fener, Balat, and Eyüp. The railway bridge and parts of the tracks in Bakirköy were damaged. The water levels of the Ayamama rose up all the way to the railroad tracks, train services were held up, and telegraph lines were pulled down. Dolapdere, Ihlamur, and Haydarpaşa Creeks overflowed; in areas on both sides of the Bosphorus—including Beşiktaş, Ortaköy, Üsküdar, Çengelköy, and Kuzguncuk—tremendous damage and loss of life occurred. An imperial edict provided assistance to individuals who suffered during the flood; the material costs of the damage and the total amount of aid was determined at 56,110 kuruş.11 The flood severely damaged the irrigation system, dikes and aqueducts, roads, sidewalks, and other infrastructure.12
A flood that occurred in January 1892 caused severe damage to the waterways in Kırkçeşme, Halkalı, and Taksim.13 Because a significant number of sheep were lost during the flood, the meat requirements of the Ottoman military were met through beef.14
A lengthy nighttime rain near the end of September 1911 demolished the Göksu Dam, which had been built by the Water Board. When the creek burst its banks, it ruptured two bridges and timber storage facilities; 45 people were rescued from the flood.15
Floods that occurred in August 1921, after a lengthy drought, caused great damage in many districts. Transportation in Aksaray and Eminönü was interrupted. The Kagithane Creek overflowed again, causing damage to the surrounding areas.16 Heavy rains in June 1924 transformed streets into creeks; water flooded the lower floors of houses, orchards and gardens were ruined, and livestock were lost. The Kurbağalıdere overflowed and flooded the Kızıltoprak, Kuşdili, and Yoğurtçu meadows. More than 500 homes in Kasımpaşa were left underwater. Water flooded homes in Topkapı, Aksaray, Eyüp, Beşiktaş, Samatya, and Beyoğlu. The Veliefendi meadow turned into a lake three meters deep. Village roads were ruined, and 80 percent of the cultivated areas suffered damage.17 Rainfall that lasted for three days on August 6, 1924, caused tremendous physical damage; stones, sand, and debris brought by the floods filled the streets, and homes were swept off their foundations. Eyüp and Kasımpaşa were the most affected districts. Flooding changed the courses of the İslam Bey, Bülbül, and Gümüşsuyu Creeks, causing the loss of life and property. Trains sustained damage in Bakirköy, as did planes in the hangar at Yesilköy. When the waters that gushed in from Fatih, Topkapı, and Saraçhane met the waters of Yenibahçe Creek, Aksaray became a lake. Police reports to the Istanbul vali (governor) indicated that losses amounted to more than 500,000 liras. The number of houses destroyed in Karagümrük, Büyükdere, Aksaray, Şehremini, Unkapanı, Beyazıt, Kasımpaşa, Beyoğlu Pangaltı, Arnavutköy, Samatya, Hasköy, and Eyüp reached 400. Railway and tram tracks were ruined and transportation was delayed. The devastation of cultivated lands, harvested grain, and orchards caused an increase in food prices. It was decided that aid would be provided to the victims of the flood via the Ziraat Bank.18 Property tax deadlines were postponed for individuals whose homes had been destroyed.19 A flood that formed after rainfall in October 1924 caused damage in the districts of Üsküdar, Eyüp, and Kasımpaşa. Sixteen people were saved from the ruins of houses in Beyoğlu.20
A flood that occurred on October 27, 1927, had an impact on Eminönü, Beşiktaş, and Aksaray; cars were submerged and tram services were canceled. Homes in Beykoz and Anadoluhisari were flooded, and the walls of the Emin Mosque in Beyoğlu were destroyed. A flood on December 18, 1927, caused the Ayamama and Çırpıcı Creeks to overflow, turning the area between Bahçe Stream, Aksaray, Langa, and Yenikapı into a swamp. Ayazma Creek burst its banks, flooding the pier at Akıntıburnu. Ortaköy Creek, Kuşdili, and Kurbağalıdere Creeks in Kadiköy, and Göksu and Küçüksu Creeks overflowed. Rainfall, which lasted for days, caused a house in Edirnekapı to collapse on December 27; as a result, houses that were unstable were identified and their owners were warned. Yenibahçe Creek overflowed in September 1929, and the lower floors of houses in Aksaray were submerged. A flood that November affected Kâğıthane and Kemerburgaz; two children drowned.
Floods caused the Kâğıthane, Göksu, Ortaköy, Kasımpaşa, Yenibahçe, and Alibeyköy streams to overflow on October 5, 1930; houses were flooded in Aksaray, Eyüp, and Yenibahçe. Kurbağalıdere Creek was partly filled with mud. When heavy rainfall that lasted 20 minutes turned into a flood on July 12, 1935, the debris carried by the floodwaters clogged the sewers and transformed Tophane and Eminönü into a lake. The summer rains between July and September 1936 left districts at low elevations, such as Aksaray, Kasımpaşa, Eminönü, and Beşiktaş, underwater, and communication and transportation were disrupted. Kağıthane Creek flooded, destroying cultivated areas. Flooding of streets during the rains of May 3 and September 14–15, 1938, led to disruption in transportation. Kurbağalıdere and Ortaköy Creeks burst their banks and flooded houses.21
Heavy rains at the beginning of October 1942 turned public squares into lakes, and trams and other vehicles could not operate. Floods took place in Karagümrük, Malta, Eyüp, Kasımpaşa, Nişantaşı, and Beşiktaş. The leather factory in Beykoz, the customs depots in Sirkeci, and the Silahtarağa power plant were flooded during a downpour that occurred on October 19 and 20; some districts were left without electricity. Kağıthane Creek overflowed again during these rains, and the roads that ran along the creek were left underwater. Heavy rain on July 13 and August 25, 1944, led to loss of life and property. A woman drowned in the flood in Fener. Flooding in Kasımpaşa, Aksaray, Dolmabahçe, Kabataş, Ortaköy, Beşiktaş, and Sirkeci on August 25 caused damage to homes and workplaces. Rainfall in August 1945, during an otherwise dry summer, caused a flood; streets were left underwater in Üsküdar, Kasımpaşa, Aksaray, Kumkapı, and Şehremini. A flood on June 27, 1948, ruined farmland and crops in Silivri and Çatalca.
Rains during June, July, and August 1951 caused loss of life and property. Two people died because of a flood in June; in July, 10 individuals died and nine were injured. A total of 223 homes were damaged, 2,000 houses were flooded, buildings cracked, and sidewalks were damaged. The area between Arnavutköy and Bebek was covered in mud. Together with the damage to Hagia Sophia Museum, the total damage caused by the flood in August was close to a million liras. Floods on August 18, 1955, had an impact on the districts of Karagümrük, Samatya, Sarıgüzel, Langa Küçükmustafapaşa, Şehremini, Eyüp, Kumkapı, Balat, and Kasımpaşa. During mid-November of the same year, streets were covered in mud; there were floods in the districts of Yenikapı, Kumkapı, Eyüp, Balat, Kasımpaşa, Karaköy, Kadıköy, Bebek, Kâğıthane, Taşlıtarla, and Bakırköy. Fourteen people died and three were injured when an apartment collapsed following the rainfall. The most severe rainfall in 10 years fell on August 22, 1957; 25 kg of rain per square meter was measured. More than 150 homes were submerged, and squares were transformed into lakes. Heavy rainfall on March 18, 1958, caused the dams in Elmalı and Bahçeköy to overflow; when the water could not be drained, residents of 1,500 homes had to be evacuated. The damage caused by rainfall during May, June, November, and December 1959 affected the telephone exchange in Kadiköy, caused flooding in some districts, and disrupted communications and domestic air travel. The Besiktas-Yildiz road, Vatan Street, and Zeytinburnu were turned into lakes.22
Rainfall on the first day of 1961 left homes, particularly those in the lower parts of Zeytinburnu, underwater. Rain in November and December 1965 submerged streets and city squares and flooded more than 30 homes. On August 20, 1968, the districts of Fener, Balat, Cibali, Eminönü, Kumkapı, Kasımpaşa, Sirkeci, and Demirkapı, as well as Vatan Street were covered with water.
Rainfall lasting two days in May 1974 caused Kağıthane Creek to overflow; more than 1,000 homes were left underwater, three people died, and a factory next to the creek suffered millions of liras in damage.23 Law No. 4373 declared Kâğıthane and Alibeyköy Creeks to be within the flood zone, and placed this area under the protection of the Sulara ve Su Baskınlarına Karşı Korunma Kanunu (Law Concerning Protection against Waters and Floods).24
Rainfall on January 10 and August 19 and 26, 1981, caused floods and traffic accidents. During the summer rains of 1987, two people were caught in a flood and drowned. With the bursting of the ISKI collectors at Feriköy Creek and in Gaziosmanpaşa, streets were left under 1.5 meters of water. The telephone and electricity distribution systems broke down, and the fire department, state water management agency, Köy Hizmetleri (village services agency), and military stepped in to assist. Rainfall in November and December 1988 also damaged Alibeyköy. Rain in October and November 1989 caused traffic accidents, the collapse of roads, and flooding in many districts.25
Rainfall at the beginning of August 1990 resulted in floods and material losses. On June 30, 1992, floods took place in 55 regions. Rainfall that began the morning of August 12, 1994, left close to 300 homes and workplaces underwater. During the rains of July 1995, 1,284 homes and businesses were left underwater, and a woman in Halkali drowned. Ayamama, Küçüksu, Turşucu, and Kurbağalıdere Creeks overflowed their banks; the mud-filled areas that emerged after the floodwaters retreated had suffered significant damage. A flood that occurred on a September morning in 1996 turned roads into rivers, caused numerous traffic accidents, and closed the Bosphorus to traffic for some time. Flooding in January, June, July, September, and November 1997 highlighted the weakness of Istanbul’s infrastructure. Creeks burst their banks, and floods caused the loss of life and property. Rainfall at the end of April 1998 affected Silivri and its surroundings and disrupted transportation in Istanbul. Rainfall at the end of September left houses, schools, workplaces, and even the Halkali Train Station underwater. During the rainfall on the last day of October 1999, 100 traffic accidents took place on the D100, TEM, and connecting roads and highways.26
Rainfall and flooding at the end of January 2000 caused sewer systems to overflow and disrupted traffic. Rainfall amounts above seasonal norms caused creeks on both sides of Istanbul to overflow, disrupting transportation; floods occurred in Gaziosmanpaşa, Kâğıthane, Kadıköy, Maltepe, and Şişli. Creeks burst their banks, clogged drainages, and left homes and workplaces underwater. In August 2004, weather forecasters issued disaster-level rainfall warnings. Alibeyköy Creek burst its banks due to the rain that fell on August 16 and 17. Vehicles were swept away in the flood, and AKOM received 4,500 flooding notifications; the responsible units rushed to help. A total of 170 homes along the riverbed were damaged. In the rain that began on the morning of October 18, 2004, floods were experienced in the areas around Tavukcu Creek in Bahçelievler and Alibeyköy Creek. Kemikli Creek burst its banks on July 4, 2005; transportation came to a halt on the D100 Highway, and the Kartal Coastal Road was left underwater.
During the rainfall that occurred in Sariyer on September 2, 2006, close to 2,000 homes and workplaces were left underwater, and flood-borne soil and debris covered the side streets. Rain in early November 2006 had an impact on Beykoz and Kemerburgaz. With the rainfall at the end of September 2007, Tavukçu, Alibeyköy, Çinçin, and Ayamama Creeks overflowed their banks, and close to 1,500 homes and workplaces were left underwater. One person was swept away by the flood, three people died in traffic accidents, and nine people were injured. Rainfall on October 13, 2007, disrupted transportation on the bridges; 11 people were injured in an accident on Vatan Street, and floodwaters reached the first floor of apartments in Gaziosmanpaşa, Esenler, and Bağcılar. Extreme rainfall on September 18 and October 25–27, 2008, caused floods and traffic accidents. Significant material loss was experienced, trees were uprooted, roofs were torn off, and air traffic was negatively affected.
A disastrous flood began on September 8, 2009, in Silivri and Catalca and reached Istanbul on September 9; 31 people lost their lives in two days.27 When Ayamama Creek overflowed, all the factories next to it were left underwater, and vehicles at the Ikitelli truck garage were swept away by the flood, clogging the creek vent. The Basin Expressway was turned into a lake and vehicles were swept away in the flood; 10 people, including drivers sleeping in their vehicles, lost their lives, and seven women in a service vehicle drowned. With the bursting of Tavukcu and Papaz Creeks in Bağcılar, and Hamam and Kilyon Creeks in Halkalı, many homes and workplaces were left underwater. The İkitelli area experienced 262 kg of rainfall per square meter over four days; in comparison, the average rainfall for the month of September during the previous 80 years was 50 kg per square meter. Significant damage was caused, particularly in the warehouse and customs clearance centers of textile companies located in industrial and trade centers, such as İkitelli, Bağcılar, Sefaköy, and Mahmutbey. The flood affected 3,401 buildings—60 were destroyed, 74 were severely damaged, and another 225 were slightly damaged. Numerous companies suffered losses in raw materials, products, and equipment. More than 100 workplaces and factories were later demolished.
With heavy rainfall amounting to 135 kg per square meter on June 8, 2010, Kücüksu Creek overflowed; tens of vehicles on the Fikirtepe Bridge and on Mandıra Street were submerged, and one person died. Rainfall June 2010 left hundreds of workplaces and homes in Tuzla and Gebze underwater. Rainfall in June 2011 again caused flooding and loss of life. Heavy rainfall in the Belgrade Forest on October 25, 2012, turned into a flood in Sariyer. With rainfall amounting to 110 kg per square meter, sewer systems overflowed, manhole covers burst open due to the pressure, and the level of water on the streets reached 40 cm. Due to landslides, transportation was disrupted in the Paşamandıra, Alibahadır, and Değirmendere villages of Beykoz.
Many floods have been experienced over the course of the history of Istanbul, the capital of empires, a city also known as Byzantion, Constantinople, Kostantiniye, and Âsitane. Ayamama Creek overflowed centuries ago as well, causing significant loss of life and property, while floods in Alibeyköy were also experienced in the past. The disaster zones of the Ottoman period continue to carry the same risks today. Creeks have the potential to overflow, and flooding is inescapable. The sand and debris carried by floods has filled the creek beds, and cleaning them has been costly. Overflowing creeks damage infrastructure systems, jeopardize lives and property, and fill harbors with debris. Today, due to global climate change, floods are formed by sudden rainfall.
As Istanbul grew and changed, valleys were settled and air and water corridors were closed, increasing the threat of flooding. Floods and mudslides continue to change Istanbul’s topography today. Some frequently flooded creeks have been diverted into underground canals. Valleys, with their relative ease of access, have seen an expansion of transportation infrastructure. Increased construction along urban creeks and rivers has constrained their natural flow, making those areas more vulnerable to flooding. Funds earmarked for disaster prevention have sometimes been used for disaster relief as well as to reconstruct the physical environment.
1 Mustafa Cezar, Osmanlı Devrinde İstanbul Yapılarında Tahribat Yapan Yangınlar ve Tabii Afetler, Istanbul: Berksoy matbaası, 1963, p. 60.
2 Kazım Çeçen, İstanbul’un Osmanlı Dönemi Suyolları, prepared by Celâl Kolay, Istanbul: İstanbul Su ve Kanalizasyon İdaresi, 2000, p. 46.
3 Said Öztürk, “İstanbul ve Çevresinde Toplum Hayatını Etkileyen Tabii Afetler ve Ekonomik Kayıpları”, Afetlerin Gölgesinde İstanbul, Istanbul: İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi Çevre Koruma ve Kontrol Daire Başkanlığı Çevre Koruma Müdürlüğü, 2009, p. 393.
4 BOA, C.BLD, 101/5016, 9 Ca 1181.
5 Taylesanizâde Hâfız Abdullah Efendi Tarihi: İstanbul’un Uzun Dört Yılı (1785-1789), prepared by Feridun Emecan, Istanbul: TATAV Yayınları, 2003, p. 162.
6 Taylesanizâde Tarihi, p. 422.
7 Ahmet Cevdet Paşa, Târih, Istanbul: Üçdal Neşriyat, 1973, vol. 5, p. 37.
8 Cevdet, Târih, Istanbul: Üçdal Neşriyat, 1974, v. 9, p. 281.
9 BOA, A.MKT.MHM, 366/57, 23 V 1283.
10 Öztürk, “İstanbul ve Çevresinde Toplum Hayatını Etkileyen Tabii Afetler”, p. 396.
11 BOA, DH.MKT, 1914/86.
12 BOA, İ.DH, 1245/97577, 19/S/1309.
13 BOA, DH.MKT, 1292/115.
14 BOA, MV, 124/4, 1 M 1327.
15 BOA, DH.İD, 41/22.
16 BOA, DH.İ.UM.EK, 123/24, 14 R 1340.
17 Vatan, 22, 23, June 24, 1924.
18 Yaşar Tolga Cora, “1924 İstanbul Seli Bu Sabah Yağmur Var İstanbul’da”, Toplumsal Tarih, 2006, no. 146, pp. 70-73.
19 Cumhuriyet Arşivi, Fon Kodu: 184.108.40.206 Yer No. 10.39.6, 789/125-18, Date: 10/8/1924.
20 Vakit, October 12, 1924.
21 Talha Gönüllü, “Cumhuriyet Dönemi İstanbul’unda Doğal Felaketlere Can Kaybı, Ekonomik ve Çevre Kayıpları Yönüyle Bakış”, Afetlerin Gölgesinde İstanbul, Istanbul: İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi Çevre Koruma ve Kontrol Daire Başkanlığı Çevre Koruma Müdürlüğü, 2009, pp. 459-460.
22 Gönüllü, “Cumhuriyet Dönemi İstanbul’unda Doğal Felaketlere Can Kaybı”, pp. 462-464.
23 Türkiye, May 13, 1974.
24 Cumhuriyet (Government) Archives, edition: 104547, Folder: 99-2561346, Fund Code: 220.127.116.11. Place No: 338614, Date: 4/8/1975.
25 Gönüllü, “Cumhuriyet Dönemi İstanbul’unda Doğal Felaketlere Can Kaybı”, pp. 466-468.
26 Milliyet, http://www.milliyet.com.tr/Milliyet.aspx?Keyword=%C4%B0stanbul’da-sel&aType=ArsivAramaSonuc&PAGE=3.
27 Hürriyet, September 9, 2009, http://hurarsiv.hurriyet.com.tr/goster/ShowNew.aspx?id=12448345.