Few cities in the world have represented and hosted civilizations as Istanbul has. It served as the capital city of Byzantium and Christendom for about a millennium, and as the capital of the Ottoman state and the Muslim world for about half that length of time. This city, which hosted two great civilizations and has been called by a number of beautiful names, was given its distinctive identity by its founding rulers and administrators who strove to turn it into a perfect city. Although some of these people are known, most of them are nameless heroes. These unknown figures derived great joy from providing important services to Istanbul and its residents.

Many features give this city its beauty and originality. Among the most important are the city’s geographical location, climate, connection with the sea, and natural beauty. In every period of the city’s history, beginning from the Byzantine period until today, there have been people who have fallen in love with the city and appreciated the privilege of living there. Byzantine emperors and Ottoman sultans, aware of Istanbul’s beauty, were keenly interested in the city and established a special administrative organization for it.

In the classical Ottoman administrative organization, which was in place until the Tanzimat period, the administration of the eyalets (provinces) was left to the beylerbeyi (governor-general), the administration of the sanjaks was given to the sancak beyi, and the administration of the kazas (districts) was given to the authority of the qadis. Istanbul had its own special administrative structure within this organization, and no special governor was appointed to it. The primary reason for this was that Istanbul was the payitaht (capital city and seat of the government). It is known that other capital cities of the Muslim world were treated similarly: Medina, Damascus, Baghdad, and Cairo, all of which served as capital cities of the Muslim world in the past, had similar arrangements. Caliph Omar did not appoint a special governor to Medina, and Muawiya did not appoint one to Damascus in 661 when that city was declared capital; they instead dealt with the administration of these cities personally. In Istanbul, the sultan or the grand vizier would preside over the administration of the city rather than a governor, while the judges of Istanbul and the Bilad-ı Selase (the three districts: Üsküdar, Galata, and Eyüp) were responsible for the judicial, municipal, and, to a certain extent, administrative organization and administration of the city.

Thus, it would be more appropriate to categorize the subject into two groups: the authorities who directly dealt with the administration of Istanbul and the administrators who indirectly determined the essential issues related to the city’s administration, or, in other words, those who were in charge of the administration of the city in a narrower sense and those who approached it from a broader one.

Ottoman Sultans and the Administration of the City

Beginning with Sultan Mehmed II, the Ottoman sultanate became aban an jaddin (from grandfather to father); as residents of the city of Istanbul, the Ottoman sultans began to make great efforts to take care of a variety of needs and the development of the city and its identity. Sultan Mehmed II’s world was built around Istanbul. This city was to be the capital of the universal state he had imagined. Even during the conquest, he tried to minimize damage to the city and prevent pillaging after he had conquered it. The destruction wreaked by the Latin-speaking population of the city during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 was still fresh in the minds of the residents.

1- Sultan Mehmed II (Şekaik)

Sultan Mehmed II did his best to develop and build up the city, turning it into a cultural and artistic center and giving it a Turkish-Islamic identity. He strove to ensure safety and order in this multi-cultural, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic cosmopolitan city. In short, he made every effort to develop Istanbul into a city that could act as the capital of a universal state in every respect. The emanname (safety guarantee) he granted to the dhimmis (non-Muslim citizens) living in the district of Galata was an important initiative taken towards the revival of the city.1

2- Sultan Süleyman I together with grand vizier Sokullu Mehmed Paşa (<em>Hünername</em>)

He also took constitutive steps related to the identity of the city, particularly the establishment of his palace near Hagia Sophia on the Historical Peninsula, and the construction of a mosque and külliye (complex) on the hill known by his name. In this way, Mehmet II also became an example for the sultans who were to succeed him.2

Nearly all of the Ottoman sultans and the ruling members of the dynasty who came after Sultan Mehmed II contributed to the development and administration of the capital city of Istanbul. The policies of Sultan Suleyman I are particularly worth mentioning.

3- Sultanate signature of Mustafa III who went out to inspect Istanbul (BOA)

During Sultan Suleyman’s forty-six years of rule (1520–1566), Istanbul attained its Turkish-Islamic identity. Süleymaniye Mosque with its magnificent complex, which was established on one of the seven hills of Istanbul that overlook the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, marked a turning point due to its high scholarly level, curriculum, and architectural features. Sultan Suleyman also made great efforts to find supplies for the city’s considerable water needs. He carried out many grand and costly water projects, repairing the Halkalı and Kırkçeşme water canals and network, installing new water lines, and constructing fountains at various places in the city, particularly the one in the Süleymaniye complex. He personally followed the progress of these projects and gave orders to the people who were in charge of them.

An interesting, significant, and somewhat humorous incident concerning the era of Sultan Suleyman was recorded by the eyewitness Selânikî.3 Towards the end of Sultan Suleyman’s rule, in November 1563, a catastrophic flood hit the city of Istanbul. Heavy rain continued for days and the districts of Halkalı and Kâğıthane were flooded. The sultan wanted to personally inspect the disaster area. While he was walking in the area, he fell into the floodwaters, and a strong young man barely managed to save him, helping him to climb to a higher area. Then the sultan called his chief architect and other officers to discover what could be done to prevent such disasters in the future. The repair and improvement of the waterways thus took its place at the top of the state agenda. When the sultan was informed that a Greek architect, Kiriz Nicholas, was an expert in waterways, he summoned this Istanbul dhimmi into his presence and gave him orders to work under the supervision of Koca Sinan. Sometime later, when the sultan asked why the dhimmi was not coming and giving him information about the progress of his project, he was told that Nicholas had been imprisoned by Ali Pasha. The sultan called the pasha at once and asked him why he had taken such action. The pasha told Sultan Suleyman that he had not imprisoned the architect, but he mentioned his concerns about the water projects. The pasha reasoned that if Nicholas were planning to bring water to everywhere in Istanbul and to build fountains all around the city, all of the Arab and Persian people from the rural areas would flood into the city. Istanbul surely could not support such a high population and thus it would cause disorder in the city. The pasha had only temporarily detained the dhimmi while investigating this matter.4

The members of the dynasty, viziers, and emirs of the sixteenth century made significant contributions to the development and administration of the city during this time of wealth and well-being. Districts where the monuments and külliyes were erected came to be known by the names of the high-ranking officials who were responsible for their construction.5 Thanks to the construction of the Sultanahmet complex by Sultan Ahmed I at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the district known by his name today gained even more importance than it had enjoyed during the Byzantine period. In the district stretching from Fatih through the triangle of Saraçhane–Süleymaniye–Beyazıt and down to Sultanahmet, distinguished neighborhoods were built up where Istanbul’s elites, particularly viziers and members of the ulema, used to live.

The most important evidence that the sultans were closely interested in the administration and problems of Istanbul is the thousands of fermans that were sent to the qadis of Istanbul and the Bilad-ı Selase districts of Galata, Üsküdar, and Eyüp. These imperial edicts were recorded in the mühimme registers (registers of important affairs)6 and the Istanbul qadi sicils (court records). Among the sicils, there are even special registers that recorded imperial edicts related specifically to Istanbul. There are also very important hatt-ı hümayuns (imperial decrees) written by the sultans based on the grand vizier’s talkhis (summarized reports) drawn up after inspections or whenever needed.7

The sultans would patrol the city in disguise, particularly during times when problems, unrest, and complaints increased in number, or in periods of economic crisis. This practice was important for the development of the city as well as for the formation of its identity. This ancient tradition was a good opportunity for the sultans and other authorities to know the public, particularly the population of the capital, and to observe how well their orders were being implemented.

After the sixteenth century, the sultans dressed carefully when they mixed with the public, wearing the uniform of different professions each time; the sultan would make an effort to learn about the public feelings and thoughts. Based on their findings during such inspections, they would make administrative and political decisions. For instance, Sultan Suleyman I and his grand vizier İbrahim Pasha used to patrol in disguise dressed in the uniforms of sipahis (cavalry soldiers).8 We can observe that the young sultans who lived during the seventeenth century and whose childhood had passed behind the bars of a kafes (a latticed room or “cage”) patrolled the city more often in disguise, and thus had a greater opportunity to know the public. Osman II (Genç Osman) used to walk around the city in a bostancı (imperial guard) uniform.9 During the periods of significant social unrest that occurred during his rule, Murad IV paid great attention to walking among Istanbul’s public places in disguise. He would sometimes take his grand vizier, his brother, or other companions along, and patrol in disguise to inspect the janissary corps, checking to see if anybody was disturbing the social order. Anyone who was disturbing the order would be severely punished. Sultan Murad IV’s incognito inspections even became the subject of many tales and legends.

When sultans went out in Istanbul in disguise, they would become involved with the problems they witnessed and take appropriate measures. They gave various punishments, including capital punishment.10 Sultans would take some authorities along with them, especially the tebdil hasekileri (bodyguards for the incognito tours) and, of lesser importance, the tebdil piyadeleri (infantry for the incognito tours). When necessary, these soldiers would also be in disguise as they walked around Istanbul.11

4- Sultan Selim III’s edict about Istanbul (BOA)

Mustafa III, Abdulhamid I, and Selim III have a special place in the history of these incognito inspections. While inspecting the city, Mustafa III once witnessed a dhimmi baker and a Jewish resident who were not obeying the ban on wearing yellow leather slippers and colored clothing; he punished them with siyaset (the death penalty).12 It is mentioned in the sources that Abdulhamid I used to wrap a green band over his turban, and take the silahdarağa (sword-bearer of the sultan), mabeyin ağaları (stewards of the palace), and some sergeants with him during his incognito inspections in Istanbul, traveling within the city walls, bazaars, and marketplaces. These inspections would start in the morning and continue until late afternoon. Documents also reveal that sometimes after an incognito inspection, severe orders were issued regarding people whose activities were related to the bazaars or market places.13

5- Sultan Mahmud II’s sultanate signature (BOA)

After Selim III’s accession to the throne, he walked around the city in disguise in order to inspect and detect instances of misconduct and punish them.14 Sometime in July 1789, when the sultan was walking around the Moda Peninsula in disguise, he was informed that a fire had broken out in Anadoluhisarı. He set out to this region to inspect the problem, but having learned on his way that the fire had been extinguished, he returned to his palace. Again, sometime during the same period, when the sultan came to the Maiden’s Tower in disguise and saw that the warden of the tower was not in his place, he ordered him to be found and thrown into the sea. He then, however, changed his mind upon the requests of the people around him, and spared the warden’s life, firing him instead.15 Once he went to the baruthane (gunpowder factory) and asked the workers why so little gunpowder was being produced; the workers responded, “Sir! Our daily wage is six para. Is it possible for someone to live on a daily wage of six para?” Upon hearing this, the sultan sent an imperial decree to the kaymakam pasha (the district governor) and ordered him to personally deal with this problem.16 When the sheikh al-Islam Mehmed Şerif Efendi casually informed Sultan Selim III that he was worried about the danger of a suicide attack against the sultan during his frequent incognito patrols throughout the city, the sultan was displeased and dismissed the sheikh al-Islam from his newly appointed position.17

It is recorded in the sources of the period—for example, Letâif-i Enderun18 and Câbî Târihi19—that Mahmud II, who was quite interested in the administration of Istanbul and how the country was governed, frequently walked around the city in disguise and gave orders regarding any problems he discovered during his inspections.

An expectation eventually emerged among the public that the sultan would personally detect problems and find a solution for them via these incognito inspections. This practice continued until the last Ottoman sultan. In fact, the public, miserable under the poor administration of the İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti (Committee of Union and Progress) wanted to believe that Sultan Mehmed VI (Vahideddin) could intervene in the situation and that he was detecting the problems of the city with incognito inspections.20

Grand Viziers and the Administration of the City

The grand viziers were the absolute representatives of the sultan and they were directly responsible for the administration of the entire country, the administration of Istanbul, and the peace and safety of the city’s residents. They sometimes even found themselves in difficult positions because of the problems related to the order of the city. For example, on one occasion, while walking around the city on his inspections, Sultan Ibrahim saw some peddlers—whom he had banned from walking around the city in a disorderly fashion—and became so upset that he had the grand vizier executed for not following his orders.21 There were, however, other reasons for this heavy sentence, and it is even stated in some sources that Salih Pasha had been making preparations to dethrone the sultan.

6- Şeyhülislam (on the right) and reisülküttab (Minister of Foreign Affairs) (Brindesi)

The most important task carried out by the grand vizier in relation to the administration and inspection of Istanbul was to go on patrols. The order of Istanbul, satisfying its needs, the inspection of tradesmen, and inspections of the accuracy of tools of measurement were all carried out during the grand vizier’s patrols; those who violated the rules and regulations would be severely punished on the spot. Even though the qadi of Istanbul, the janissary agha, and bostancıbaşı (the head of the imperial gardens) were in reality in charge of Istanbul’s safety and security, ex officio inspections by the grand vizier, who had the highest authority, held a very important place; a large group of officials carried out these inspections.

7- Grand Vizier (Sadrazam) (Miller)

8- The council of the grand vizier (d’Ohsson)

The grand vizier’s inspections were held early in the morning; he would set out with a large entourage and inspect the tradesmen and the accuracy of the measuring tools in the neighborhoods of Eminönü, Bahçekapı, Unkapanı, Şehzadebaşı, Divanyolu, and Ayasofya. These inspections would be carried out in a certain order and in a clearly visible way, with participants wearing specific uniforms. The grand vizier would come riding a horse and wearing a selimî turban and an erkân fur coat; the subaşı (police superintendent) would wear a perişanî turban; the asesbaşı (chief watchman) would wear a süpürge sorgucu (helmet with a plume). The çardak çorbacısı (janissary colonel) and the steward of the qadi of Istanbul would accompany them, wearing perişanî turbans. The sergeants of the sultan’s court would walk wearing a mücevveze (a turban with many plaited folds). Behind this group, the qadi of Istanbul would follow, riding his horse and wearing a turban known as an örf; behind the qadi, the head of the janissary corps would follow on his horse, wearing a selimî turban. These patrols were very effective in ensuring the safety and order of Istanbul.22

Sometimes the grand viziers would also inspect Istanbul’s bazaars and marketplaces in disguise. On the subject of these inspections, Topçular Katibi, who wrote a history in the first half of the seventeenth century, states the following:

The grand vizier would tell the authorities that in the event of damage to the stores of someone from the marketplace, it could be charged to his [the grand vizier’s] account. The grand vizier would go out on patrol every night in disguise and inspect the stores and coffeehouses in order to protect the Muslims from any possible harm. The order of the world was built on justice. And nobody would sell higher than the officially fixed prices. And they would apply ahkam-ı şer’iyye [the rules of Islamic law].23

9- Grand vizier and the chief assistant to the Grand Vizier (Sadaret Kethüdası) (Brindesi)

The sadaret kaymakamı (an official representing the grand vizier in Istanbul when he was outside the city on a campaign as the serdar-ı ekrem or the commander in chief) would sometimes go out to patrol in Istanbul along with his associates. In fact, concerning the period when the vizier Hasan Pasha was in Istanbul as the representative and guard of the city while Mehmed III was on campaign in Hungary in 1596, the Târîh-i Selânikî provides a detailed record of the steps Hasan Pasha and his grand vizier took to ensure the safety of Istanbul:[He] did not remain idle for an hour, nor even a moment, and inspected the city twice a day together with his sergeants and guards; he conspicuously passed down all the main roads, showing himself to the public, giving severe punishments to those who did not obey the commands and prohibitions. He sometimes even had them hanged and he spread fear among the public; he also strove to provide the provisions of the city. Likewise, the qadi of Istanbul and the muhtesib, subaşı, and bostancıbaşı would do their best not to let any mischief-maker or opportunist disturb the public order.24

10- Hizir Bey, the first qadi of Istanbul after the conquest and his son Sinan Paşa (<em>Şekaik</em>)

11- Molla Hüsrev, the second qadi of Istanbul (<em>Şekaik</em>)

The çarşamba divanları (Wednesday councils), which were headed by the grand vizier, were directly related to the administration of Istanbul. On Wednesdays, early in the morning, wearing their örfi turbans and fur coats, the qadis of Istanbul and the Bilad-ı Selase would come to the grand vizier’s council room in Bâb-ı Asâfi (the palace of the grand vizier.) The qadis of Istanbul and Üsküdar would sit on the right side of the grand vizier and the qadis of Galata and Eyüp would sit on his left side. They would usually talk about provisions and the safety and order of the city of Istanbul and listen to those who had complaints. The council used to adjourn after lunch. When the grand vizier was out of Istanbul on a military campaign, Wednesday councils would be convened under the leadership of the sadaret kaymakamı.25

From the records of the vakayinames (chronicles), we learn that the sultan and the grand vizier would actually go to inspect places that had been damaged during times of natural disasters and crises; they would take precautions and give commands to the officials.

The Qadi of Istanbul and the Urban Administration

When it comes to the matter of the direct administration of Istanbul, the strongest authority was certainly the qadi of Istanbul. The qadi of Istanbul dealt with and was primarily responsible for matters related to the order of Istanbul, its legal and municipal problems, and, in part, for its administrative issues. When promoted to a higher position, the qadi would become kazasker (chief military judge) or the sheikh al-Islam (the highest religious authority). Because of this, the office of qadi was one of the highest rankings among the ulema class, both for its place within the protocol and for the level of authority. It was required that the qadi of Istanbul, who bore such responsibility for the capital city, be someone who had been well educated in a madrasa and who shared the worldview represented by the madrasa. The significance of this requirement is something that should be examined in detail.

The office of the qadi of Istanbul, which had been established in 1453 immediately after the conquest of Constantinople, was essentially based on a Muslim-Turkish judicial system. Because the qadi of Istanbul was the judge of the capital and continuously in direct contact with the sultan and the grand vizier, he had a privileged position and organization. As a major city, the post of qadi in Istanbul was divided into four independent districts, namely the “qadis of Istanbul and the Bilad-ı Selase.” The Historical Peninsula and the part of the city that lay within the city walls constituted the area of the qadi of Istanbul; the area from the outer parts of the city walls up to Çatalca and Silivri constituted the office of the qadi of Eyüp (Havass-ı Refia);26 the area from Beyoğlu to Rumelikavağı constituted the office of the qadi of Galata; and the entire Anatolian side of the city, including Şile, Kandıra, Gebze, and Karamürsel, constituted the area of the qadi of Üsküdar. The offices of all four qadis were high-ranking posts, at the level of mevleviyet.27 Evliya Çelebi states that within the jurisdiction of the office of Eyüp qadi, there were seven hundred villages and in twenty-six of its nahiyes (districts) there were naibs (substitute judges); within the jurisdiction of the office of the Galata qadi there were three hundred villages and naibs worked in forty of the nahiyes at a daily wage of 150 akçe. The Marmara Islands and the Kapıdağı, Erdek, and Bandırma districts were also under the authority of Galata. Evliya Çelebi also mentions that there were many villages in the district of Üsküdar and that there were naibs working in Kartal, Pendik, Gebze, Şile, and Anadolukavağı.28 In order to properly and effectively run the city’s legal, municipal, and administrative operations, over time more than twenty courts were established; the heads of these courts started to work as naibs under the authority of the four qadis.29 The famous scholar Hızır Bey was appointed as the first qadi of Istanbul, and Molla Hüsrev followed him. The subsequent appointment of several famous scholars to this position in the second half of the fifteenth century increased the reputation of the office of the Istanbul qadi. Between 1453 and 1877, about four hundred qadis were appointed, which means that the average length of time in office was about a year.

12a- The qadi of Istanbul (d’Ohsson) or the master of Istanbul (<em>Costumes l’Empire Turc</em>, 1821)

12b- The qadi of Istanbul (d’Ohsson) or the master of Istanbul (<em>Costumes l’Empire Turc</em>, 1821)

It is known that at first, all the appointments to the ulema class, including the office of the qadi of Istanbul, followed a process in which the kazasker would first offer a name to the grand vizier, then the grand vizier would take this name to the sultan, and finally the sultan would approve it. Since the qadi of Istanbul was within the jurisdiction of the office of the Rumelian kazasker, the office of the Rumelian kazasker also had authority in this matter. This practice changed at beginning at the end of the sixteenth century, when the sheikh al-Islam began suggesting names (işaret-i aliye) to the grand vizier for the appointment of high-ranking ulema scholars (mevleviyet). As in all other appointments, it was, however, possible for a person to be directly appointed by the sultan; to do this, he would send an imperial edict to the grand vizier. Beginning in the mid-sixteenth century, when the professions started to became more clearly defined, officials from the offices of the qadis of Mecca, Bursa, and Edirne started to be appointed to the office of the qadi of Istanbul. After their dismissal, transfers from the office of the qadi of Istanbul to the office of Anatolian kazasker took place. After the increase in the number of the qualified ulema and in the number of candidates who were waiting to be appointed to the ulema, a new system, known as paye ve bilfiil, was initiated. According to this new system, more than one candidate could be granted the paye (title) of qadi of Istanbul, but the bilfiil (most senior) would actually be responsible for the position. Another method to please the many candidates waiting in line for appointment was to appoint someone to the mevleviyet positions for the period of a year. Because the offices of the qadis of Istanbul were among the most important government positions, the appointments and dismissals of qadis of Istanbul were always recorded in the chronicles as a news item of some length.With a daily wage of 500 akçes, the position of the qadi of Istanbul was one of the most lucrative mevleviyet positions. Throughout the centuries, the amount of the salary and revenues changed significantly, but the main sources of revenue were the fees from the cases that the qadi handled and the money he charged for various procedures, as well as the kısmet-i belediye (division of inheritance). There are complaints that there were qadis who charged more than the fees established by the kanunnames (codes of laws) as recorded by the Divan-ı Hümayun (the Imperial Chancery of State). It is understood from the sources that around the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries, there were monthly atiyye (grants) for the judges of 500 kuruş;30 these were paid out of the Treasury of Enderun. At the end of the sixteenth century and beginning of the seventeenth century, the qadis were paid 120 akçe or sometimes 200 akçe out of gratitude at the time of their mazuliyet (dismissal). In later periods, some towns were assigned to the qadi as arpalık (a kind of fief). However, they did not usually go to these towns, but rather sent a substitute judge.

13- Topkapı Palace, the center of the government of Istanbul and the empire (Fossati)

According to the rules of protocol written in the Fatih Kanunnamesi, the qadi of Istanbul, one of the important mevleviyets, would sit in front of the defterdar (minister of finance) and thus was equal to a beylerbeyi (governor-general). He was also among the highest rank of figures in many ceremonies, such as the cülus (ascension to the throne), the kılıç alayı (the girding of the sword ceremony), funerals, the mevlid (procession of the sultan to the mosque on the anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday), and circumcision ceremonies. His title was an elaborated form of the qadi title, beginning with the phrase “Akzâ kuzâti’l-müslimîn.” As a uniform, he would wear a fur coat known as an erkân and a turban known as an örf in public sittings, meetings, and ceremonies. Their signature was in the form of their names, followed by the phrase “el-Kâdî bi-medîne-i Kostantıniyye.” In fact, the signature on the back of the register for the official list of fixed prices, dated 1600, is as follows: “Osman b. Mehmed el-kâdî bi-dâri’s-saltanati’s-seniyye Kostantıniyyeti’l-mahmiyye.”

14- Molla Sadi Çelebi who served as the qadi of Istanbul between the years of 1524 and 1533 (<em>Şekaik</em>)

The qadi of Istanbul was an authority for solving multi-dimensional legal, judicial, administrative, municipal, and security issues in Istanbul; in addition, the qadi dealt with disagreements that occurred in the domains of commerce, finance, and trade. To manage all these great responsibilities in a way that was in keeping with a capital city, the qadi had many employees working under his authority, and also received the support of the grand vizier and the janissary agha.In the Turkish BOA there are thousands of judgments related to the size and nature of commerce, art, and finance in Istanbul given by the qadis of Istanbul and their naibs, recorded in the ahkam registers. In a publication and analysis of this subject,31 we can find judgments sent to the Istanbul qadis and their naibs related to 134 different types of Istanbul tradesmen guilds, their transactions, the office of the kethüda, the opening of new stores and their numbers, mastership, assistant mastership, apprenticeship, gediks (trade licenses) and their transfer, fixed prices, production, employment, renting, salaries, taxes, the slaughter of animals, the superintendent of police, their orders, and the problems that arose in dealing with these matters.

15- Kemalpaşazade who worked as Şeyhülislam (on the right) (<em>Şekaik</em>)

Censuses, carried out for several purposes, particularly economic reasons, would be carried out either by the qadi of Istanbul or people authorized by him. It is known that this had been done since the early times. In fact, the census carried out by the Istanbul qadis Muhyiddin Efendi and Zaim Mahmud a short time after the conquest in 1478 was of major importance.32 It can be seen that such censuses were carried out from time to time within the context of certain needs and necessities. It is known that Bayramzade Zekeriya Efendi carried out a comprehensive census at the end of the sixteenth century.33

In regards to the handling of legal-judicial matters, the Istanbul Bab Court, one of the twenty-seven courts in Istanbul that were directly under the authority of the qadi of Istanbul, worked hard to alleviate the qadi’s burden. The substitute judge of the Bab used to lead this court.

16- A sample from the qadi registers which are one of the most important sources of the administrative history of Istanbul

16- A sample from the qadi registers which are one of the most important sources of the administrative history of Istanbul

Either as part of his natural responsibility or based on an imperial edict, the qadi of Istanbul would handle cases related to all types of waqf that fell within his area of jurisdiction, except those whose inspection was specifically excluded from his authority. As matter of fact, in a publication on this subject,34 there are hundreds of rulings related to waqf subjects, including renting waqf properties, icareteyn (consisting of two types of rent, one paid immediately, the other over time) and icare-i vahide (a single rent to be paid), the tenancy of an endowed property, the management of an endowed property, changing a waqf, different types of rental revenues, accounting of the waqfs, the appointment of waqf administrators, custodians, and inspectors, interference in waqf operations, cash waqfs, family waqfs, the restoration of waqfs, abuses related to waqfs, and goods belonging to waqfs. Istanbul’s water-distribution system had a very detailed structure in almost all aspects, and its problems and the distribution of the necessary amount of Istanbul’s water to waqfs, districts, and the mansions of high government officials and affluent members of society were all very important issues. There are thousands of cases that were addressed to the qadi of Istanbul.

As it solved complex and extensive issues related to the city and possessed its own highly developed organization, the office of the qadi of Istanbul also systematically worked in cooperation with the qadis of the Bilad-ı Selase, the grand vizier, the janissary agha, the bostancıbaşı, and all the personnel affiliated with these posts. In addition, the qadi also organized councils. In fact, on Wednesdays, the qadis of Istanbul, Galata, Eyüp, and Üsküdar would convene in the grand vizier’s hall. In these meetings, guests would sit in accordance to protocol and officials, such as the tezkireci (clerk who recorded official memoranda), çavuş (sergeant), muhzır (bailiff), and scribes, would serve the guests. They would handle the legal and religious cases that were presented by the public. The Wednesday councils would convene under the leadership of the sadaret kaymakamı.

In solving the intensive administrative and municipal problems of the city, the qadi of Istanbul would write a maruz (petition) about the matter and address it to the Divan-ı Hümayun; this body would issue a just verdict that adequately addressed the people’s complaints. There are many maruz registers in the şer’iyye sicil archives. Sometimes maruz would be recorded in certain sections of the sicils.

The qadis of Istanbul would spend most of their times in bazaars and marketplaces, in the guilds of tradesmen, and in the locations belonging to the waqfs. The historian Şemdanîzade Süleyman Efendi explains an incident that happened between a tradesmen and the qadi of Istanbul, Tokadî Ebubekir Efendi, in 1764. When Yeni Cami (New Mosque) and the spice bazaar were constructed in Eminönü, the tradesmen of this bazaar agreed to pay 7,000 akçe to the külliye waqf in return for delivering and selling the sugar that came to Istanbul; the sugar first came to the herbalists in the spice bazaar. They also promulgated an imperial edict on this matter, but the tradesmen of Istanbul fell into conflict with the herbalists, saying, “we will get the sugar first from the dealers.” When the case was brought before the qadi of Istanbul, he supported the imperial edict and issued his verdict about the case. Every time the qadi of Istanbul changed, the case went to court again; this happened nine times, and the herbalists in the spice bazaar were found to be right every time, and the right was given to them. The herbalists also had their imperial edict renewed every time a new sultan ascended the throne. Although the tradesmen of the spice bazaar obtained five imperial edicts, nine title deeds, and seven written judgments, the sugar traders opened a new case against the tradesmen of the spice bazaar during the time that Tokadî Ebubekir Efendi was qadi. The verdict issued in the case said, “According to the Sharia, sale transactions are completed by icab [offer] and kabul [acceptance]. Nobody should be hindered in this matter. Whosoever from the tradesmen of the spice bazaar or from the sugar traders makes a contract with the merchant, the sugar is his.” The tradesmen of the spice bazaar presented several imperial edicts, court verdicts, and title deeds to the qadi. Tokadî Efendi replied, “One cannot rule with evidence that is in conflict with the Sharia.” The tradesmen of the spice bazaar then went directly to the grand vizier Mustafa Pasha and showed him the imperial edicts, court verdicts, and title deeds, and complained about the qadi, saying, “Qadi Efendi has dared to rule against these.” The grand vizier became very upset, called the qadi of Istanbul to Paşakapısı, and said, “What kind of a verdict is this? And what do you mean by abolishing five imperial verdicts? Did not the qadis preceding you know the Sharia? What do you mean by abolishing their verdicts?” Tokadî Efendi replied, “I issued my verdict based on your decree, which says to issue verdicts in accordance with the Sharia. This is what is in accordance with the Sharia. If the decree had said, ‘in accordance with the established order,’ I would have issued my verdict based on the old, established order.” In response to this, the grand vizier said, “I will summarize your response to the issuer of the imperial decree” and kept the qadi waiting at the door. When he presented the summary to the sultan, Sultan Mustafa III wrote, “My command is to respect the order of Allah and execute the Sharia.” This judgment was sent to the grand vizier. Upon receiving it, the grand vizier Mustafa Pasha felt extremely ashamed. Thinking that the sugar traders and herbalists would auction the sugar and raise its price, he had them make an agreement and solve the conflict among themselves.

Şemdanîzade, who summarized the incident in this way, adds at the end of the account the following sentence about Mustafa III’s respect for the law: “The truth is that it is obvious that Sultan Mustafa III’s action will be the reason for him to be forgiven.”35

The qadi of Istanbul had a large staff to assist him with all this great responsibility and work. At the head of this list comes several types of assistants, such as the bab/kapı naibi (gate inspector), keşif naibi (supervisory inspector), ayak naibi (service inspector), çardak naibi (tent inspector), yağ naibi (oil inspector), kapan naibi (weight inspector), pastırma naibi (cured-meat inspector), and avarız naibi (emergency tax inspector).36 Other assistants included the muhtesip (superintendent of guilds and markets), mimarbaşı (head architect), ehl-i vukuf (experts), kassam-ı beledi (divider of inheritances), subaşı, çöplük subaşısı (garbage inspector), katips (scribes), başkatip (head scribe), vekayi katibi (incident scribe), asesbaşı (chief watchmen), ihtisap ağası (police chief), terazici (weight-master), and accountants.

Among the assistants of the qadi of Istanbul, the muhtesib (the superintendent of guilds and markets) was a very important official. The duties of this individual are clearly explained in that Istanbul Ihtisab Kanunnamesi. The muhtesib’s duty was very important, as he supervised the tradesmen in a highly populated city like Istanbul; he established and inspected the prices37 and verified the accuracy of the scales and measures. He would mainly inspect these matters by patrolling the city. He would sometimes go out for patrol together with his own men, or he would join the companions of the grand vizier. The mühimme registers, in which the decisions of the imperial council were recorded, include many muhtesib rulings. The following sentences are from the Istanbul İhtisab Kanunnâmesi:

Most of the time, the head of the İhtisab [the office of the muhtesib] goes out on patrol, trading with tradesmen who work with all kinds of scales and measurement devices,38 and punishes those who are using inaccurate measurement tools by flogging them or beating them with a stick, depending on their crime. And he sends those who deserve a more severe punishment than being beaten with a stick to prison.39

Ensuring the Order of Society

The duties of the janissary agha, subaşı, asesbaşı, and bostancıbaşı were very important in ensuring the security of the city. The bostancıbaşı had very important tasks concerning the buildings in Istanbul and the incidents that occurred in them, particularly buildings on the coast of the Bosphorus, close to the Black Sea. The bostancıbaşı would supervise the task of putting out fires with the help of the janissary agha.

It was also very important that the gates that gave entrance to and exit from Istanbul were supervised; this task fell to the bostancıbaşı, and the bostancıs under his authority played important roles as well. People who were coming into the city from Anatolia had to apply to the officials at the Bostancıbaşı Bridge, and those who were coming from Rumelia had to apply to officials at Küçükçekmece Bridge. They could not enter Istanbul before registering their names and declaring the purpose of their visit. They also had to inform the officials about the names of their guarantors as soon as possible. They would be given a certificate of passage and could then walk freely around the city with these certificates. In the registers, the bostancıbaşı would include important and detailed information about the owners of mansions, their locations, fields, etc. Almost all the Istanbul libraries contain various bostancıbaşı registers. The construction of new buildings and collection of taxes from existing buildings and mansions also fell under the supervision of the bostancıbaşı.40

In short, the Ottoman universal capital—which was like a miniature version of the entire state, with a large population and a multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and multi-traditional social structure—truly became a world city. These characteristics were protected after the conquest of Constantinople, and thousands of imperial decrees were issued concerning the city’s needs and its development, housing, safety, and economic and social life. Although the sultans and grand viziers certainly made important and multi-dimensional contributions to the governing of the city, it was the madrasa-trained qadi of Istanbul, a high-ranking scholar, who was the real authority and responsible official in the city.


1 Sultan Mehmed II’s emanname began with the sentence: “I am the Sultan and shahinshah [king of the kings] Sultan Mehmed II, the son of Sultan Murad Han. By Allah ….” The document laid out the commercial and agricultural rights of the dhimmis, as well as their rights related to their assets and taxes. Provided that they did not ring the church bells, it was promised that they would be able to keep their churches open, and that these would not be turned into Muslim places of worship. Dhimmis would be able to freely fulfill their religious duties. The echoes and effects of this document continued for some time. A. Akgündüz, Osmanlı Kanunnâmeleri ve Hukukî Tahlilleri, Istanbul: Fey Vakfı, 1990, vol. 1, p. 477.

2 Halil İnalcık, Fatih Devri Üzerinde Tetkikler ve Vesikalar I, Ankara : Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1954; Halil İnalcık, “Mehmed II”, İA, VII, 506-535; Halil İnalcık, “Istanbul”, EI2, IV, 224-248; Halil İnalcık, “İstanbul”, DİA, XXIII, 220-239; Halil İnalcık, “Istanbul: An Islamic City”, Journal of Islamic Studies, 1990, vol. 1, pp. 1-23; Halil İnalcık, “Ottoman Galata”, Premier Recontre Internationale sur l’Empire Ottoman et la Turquie Moderne, ed. E. Eldem, Istanbul: The Isis Press, 1991, pp. 17-105.

3 Selânikî, Târih, ed. M. İpşirli, Istanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi, 1989, pp. 1-4.

4 This precaution can be interpreted in two ways: it is possible that the problems of order and various other problems that we experience today could have been experienced in those days; on the other hand, it is also possible to think how absurd it would be for a grand vizier to hinder the development of a city in his care due to such thinking.

5 That the word “pasha” is part of the name of many districts in Istanbul today is the best evidence of this.

6 Ahmed Refik Altınay (İstanbul Hayatı, I-IV) has selected the judgments from the muhimme registers (records of the Imperial Assembly of State) related to Istanbul and published them in four volumes.

7 E. Z. Karal, Selim III’ün Hatt-ı Hümayunları: Nizam-ı Cedit 1789-1807, 2 vol., Istanbul: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1942-1946.

8 Quoted from Âlî Mustafa Efendi, Künhü’l-ahbâr; İ. H. Uzunçarşılı, Osmanlı Devletinin Saray Teşkilâtı, Ankara : Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1945, p. 59.

9 Kâtib Çelebi, Fezleke, Istanbul: Ceride-i Havadis Matbaası, 1287, vol. 2, p. 9; Uzunçarşılı, Saray Teşkilâtı, p. 60.

10 In fact, during one incognito inspection, Sultan Murad IV did not find Çıgalazâde Mahmud, Yusuf, Sultanzâde Mehmed, or Vizier Mustafa Pasha in their offices; he became angry and ordered those pashas to be put on ships and exiled to Cyprus. See: Topçular Kâtibi Abdülkadir (Kadrî) Efendi, Târih, ed. Z. Yılmazer, Ankara : Türk Tarih Kurumu, 2003, p. 1081.

11 Uzunçarşılı, Saray Teşkilâtı, p. 475.

12 Şem‘dânîzâde, Müri’t-tevârîh, ed. Münir Aktepe, Istanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi, 1978, vol. 2/A, p. 12.

13 Fikret Sarıcaoğlu, Kendi Kaleminden Bir Padişahın Portresi: Sultan I. Abdülhamid (1774-1789), Istanbul: Tarih ve Tabiat Vakfı Yayınları, 2001, pp. 47-55.

14 Sema Arıkan (ed.), III. Selim’in Sırkâtibi Ahmed Efendi Tarafından Tutulan Rûznâme, Ankara : Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1993.

15 F. M. Emecen (ed.), Taylesanîzâde Hâfız Abdullah Efendi Tarihi: İstanbul’un Uzun Dört Yılı (1785-1789), Istanbul: TATAV Yayınları, 2003, pp. 52-53.

16 Karal, Selim III’ün Hatt-ı Hümayunları, vol. 2, p. 63.

17 Mecmua, TTK Lib., no. 58, s. 68; İ. H. Uzunçarşılı, Osmanlı Tarihi, Istanbul: İskit Yayını, 1959, vol. 4/2, p. 499.

18 Hızır İlyas, Târîh-i Enderun: Letaif-i Enderun, Istanbul: Dârü’t-tıbâati’l-âmire, 1276.

19 Câbî Ömer Efendi, Târih, ed. M. Ali Beyhan, Ankara : Türk Tarih Kurumu, 2003, pp. 396, 453, 455, 703.

20 İsmail H. Danişmend, İzahlı Osmanlı Tarihi Kronolojisi, Istanbul: Türkiye Yayınevi, 1972, vol. 4, pp. 442-443.

21 Uzunçarşılı, Osmanlı Tarihi, vol. 3/2, pp. 393-394.

22 İ. H. Uzunçarşılı, Osmanlı Devletinin Merkez ve Bahriye Teşkilâtı, Ankara : Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1948, pp. 141-147.

23 Topçular Kâtibi, Târih, p. 378.

24 Selânikî, Târih, pp. 616-17.

25 Uzunçarşılı, Merkez ve Bahriye Teşkilâtı, p. 140.

26 The title given to the qadi of the Eyüp district in Istanbul before 1908.

27 M. İpşirli, “Bilâd-ı Selâse”, DİA, VI, 151-152.

28 Seyahatnâme, Istanbul: İkdam Matbaası, 1314-18, vol. 1, pp. 363, 432, 440, 462-463, 472; vol. 2, pp. 289, 293, 485; vol. 5, p. 295 and quotations from them by Uzunçarşılı, İlmiye Teşkilâtı, pp. 133, 134.

29 Unlike the case of any other city in the world, the surviving registers and court records that belonged to the office of the Istanbul qadi, dating from the beginning of the Ottoman rule up until the twentieth century, provide a uniquely rich resource for researchers to examine the city from all aspects. Microfilm and digital copies of these very valuable sources have been obtained by the Turkish Religious Foundation’s Center for Islamic Studies (ISAM) Library in Istanbul and have been made available to researchers.

30 BOA, C.ADL, no. 5661, 5546, 5417, 5200.

31 Ahmet Kal’a et al. (eds.), İstanbul Ahkâm Defterleri: İstanbul Esnaf Tarihi I, Istanbul: İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi Kültür İşleri Daire Başkanlığı İstanbul Araştırmaları Merkezi, 1997.

32 TSMA, no. E. 9524.

33 Zeki Arıkan, “Şeyhülislam Zekeriyya Efendi’nin İstanbul Sayımı (985/1577-78),” Tarih Boyunca İstanbul Semineri, Bildiriler, ed. Mübahat S. Kütükoğlu, Istanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi Basımevi, 1989, pp. 39-57.

34 Ahmet Kal’a et alia (ed.), İstanbul Ahkâm Defterleri: İstanbul Vakıf Tarihi I, Istanbul: İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi, 1998.

35 Şem‘dânîzâde, Müri’t-tevârîh, vol. 2/A, p. 72-73.

36 Naib (deputy) is the post who handled cases based on complaints.

37 They would open cases about those who collected the awariz (levies), and those who did not pay would be prosecuted.

38 M. S. Kütükoğlu, Osmanlılarda Narh Müesssesesi ve 1040 Tarihli Narh Defteri, Istanbul: Enderun Kitabevi, 1983; M. S. Kütükoğlu, “1009 (1600) Tarihli Narh Defterine Göre İstanbul’da Çeşitli Eşya ve Hizmet Fiyatları”, TED, 1978, no. 9, pp. 1-85.

39 Ziya Kazıcı, Osmanlılar’da İhtisab Müessesesi, Istanbul: Kültür Basın Yayın Birliği, 1987, pp. 78-80.

40 A. Özcan, “Bostancıbaşıların Beledî Hizmetleri ve Bostancıbaşı Defterlerinin İstanbul Toponomisi Bakımından Değeri”, Tarih Boyunca İstanbul Semineri, Bildirileri, prepared by Mübahat S. Kütükoğlu, Istanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi Basımevi, 1989, pp. 32-34.

This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.

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