In every period of its history, Istanbul has suffered from natural disasters. Among the most common events are earthquakes, floods, storms, droughts, famines, severe winters and fires; each of these have affected Istanbul significantly at different points of time, occurring largely outside of the public’s control and causing loss of property and life. The main subject of this article is the effects of earthquakes on Istanbul’s social life. However, it is necessary to state that it is occasionally quite difficult to trace social effects as such, as earthquakes that have been able to be identified date back as far as 6000 BC. Knowledge about Istanbul’s earliest eras is quite new, and a significant part of current information includes only daily life. In addition, the inadequacy of written sources makes the research difficult. Moreover, the majority of sources involving the periods after the seventh century B.C. in Istanbul do not depict the effects of earthquakes on social life, which poses another problem. Nevertheless, compared to other cities, studying earthquakes affecting Istanbul and its effects provide an advantage for researchers, since Istanbul has been a capital city of various empires. Earthquakes influencing the city have attracted the attention of dignitaries, historians, and authors in that period, and they do offer important data even if just a drop.

1a- The front and back of the medallion awarded to those who served in 1894 Earthquake (BOA TŞH, no. 394)

1b- The front and back of the medallion awarded to those who served in 1894 Earthquake (BOA TŞH, no. 394)

Closer to the present day, the challenges we confront in investigating the social effects of earthquakes are relatively few. The increase and diversity in the number of resources providing information on social life and easy access to resources from later periods have played important roles in overcoming the aforementioned difficulties. Thus, it is quite natural that this research, which gives information about the effects of the earthquakes on the communities of Istanbul, focuses on later periods.

During and After Earthquakes

Familiar scenes usually occur in the aftermath of an earthquake’s main shock. These involve sounds of screaming and crying, the melding of animal and human sounds, victims caught beneath collapsed buildings, others rushing out of doors, and still others prostrating or crossing themselves, etc. Whether they occur at night or in day, earthquakes elicit deep fear, even panic. A folk poet, named either Bedros or Petro, described such a moment during the earthquake of 1766 in a heroic language.1 Information provided by sources of the 1894 earthquake clearly revealed the great impact of the diseaster. With the initial shocks hitting Istanbul at noon, people started to run around in a panic. Those caught in hammams during the earthquake rushed out naked for one’s life. While some jumped out of windows, thus injuring themselves, others stood petrified between the wrecked buildings and narrow lanes because of panic. Some, however, squatted in the belief that “a person who falls will not stand up again.” During the earthquake, some of the people in the Grand Bazaar rushed under the dome in the belief that it would provide protection; however, a large number of people died when the dome collapsed. With the impact of quakes, some carriages were overturned. According to the testimonies of eyewitnesses, ferries that were operating during the earthquake were tossed about as if hit by a massive wave. The earthquake caused stampedes in crowded places like schools and Yıldız Palace. Running to the stairs with cries of “Allah, Allah,” the continuing quake made it impossible for the kalfas to come down the stairs. According to Ahmed Reşid Bey, one of the clerks in Mabeyn (the part of the palace where Sultan’s offices are located), Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876-1909) jumped into the garden from his ground-floor room.

2- The state of city walls in the 19<sup>th</sup> century that were damaged by every Istanbul earthquake (Pardoe)

After the main shock of the earthquakes, all places of business would close down. This was not only due to the damage incurred, but also because people wanted to be with their families. In addition, some workplaces closed, as in 1894, because they would close the business in fear that the damage caused could lead to a collapse, whereas others would let the employees go home to help their families. In Yıldız Palace, officials forbade anyone from leaving the grounds; only after a period of time everyone except the guards were allowed to go home. According to a report from the Moniteur Oriental, not even just one shop was open in Galata or Pera after the main shock in 1894. Due to the large number of people who wanted to be with their families, there was congestion on the roads, bridges and even on ferry piers. To solve the problem, officials added extra services for ferries. Şirket-i Hayriye ferries took people to villages on the Bosphorus for free and outside of their regular schedule. Tram and tunnel lines did not work on the first day after the earthquake in case of possible collapse or damage.2

3- The victims who took shelter in the yard of Galata Mevlevi lodge after 1894 earthquake

Ongoing aftershocks and other earthquake-related disasters increased public suffering. Especially, fires caused by earthquakes, has made havoc of the city which has already fell into ruin. To illustrate, the fire caused by the 358 earthquake lasted for five days and brought about not only wiping out the entire city but also extremely high death toll.3 A fire that broke out in Şekerci Han in Fatih district following the 1894 earthquake, which destroyed sixteen rooms, increased the suffering of a number of workers. Both the destruction and subsequent fires turned this catastrophe into a great tragedy. Records from those who were looking to the city from an outside place during the main shock of the 1894 earthquake describe this tragedy in detail. Eyewitnesses, who saw cloud of dust arising from the city, reported that Istanbul vanished within this cloud.4 F. Vercleyen mentions that the historians of the Roman era stated unusual natural occurrences such as rain of fire during the earthquake, as well as floods or the rising sea level that dramatically affected the coastal districts of the city. This situation shows that aforementioned disasters could not be restricted to these.

Earthquake and Religion

Disasters such as earthquakes bring out the religious sensitivities of society. Indeed, it is possible to see such sensitiveness after each earthquake affecting İstanbul. Vercleyen states that after almost every earthquake a procession would head from Hagia Sophia to the church in which the ritual was to be performed. In this way, people tried to alleviate the pain caused by the earthquake. Many people would take part in this ceremony, praying to God for forgiveness of their sins and expressing gratitude for redemption. People also tried to overcome their fear of death by taking part in these ceremonies.5 As such, these disasters functioned as a means to strengthen people’s religious beliefs. Nevertheless, the opposite was also true. The historian Agathias describing the effects of the December 557 earthquake on the public, writes that the terror caused some people to lose their belief.6

4- The city which turned into ruins after an earthquake

5- Buildings destroyed by 1894 Earthquake (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality,Atatürk Library, Album no. 184)

Earthquakes often reminded people of God, leading them to ask for forgiveness. Religion can therefore be seen to be an effective element in consoling terrified people. As immediately following the 1894 earthquake Abdulhamid II had recited the adhan and Surah Zilzal (99th chapter of the Holy Quran) in Yıldız Palace. After this, he ordered everyone to perform ablution and fulfill their religious duties outdoors; the sultan also issued an edict that people pray that such a catastrophe never happen again. In addition, he sent an edict to Hejaz requesting the governor Hasan Hilmi Pasha have prayers recited in Mecca and Medina, in the hope that this would put an end to the earthquakes. Religious sensitivity increased among the non-Muslim communities as well. In churches, priests delivered soothing sermons, and rituals were performed; it was thought they would help put an end to the shocks. As in the Byzantine period, rituals of gratitude were held in certain churches and prayers were recited. These ceremonies were repeated on the anniversary of the disaster, as there were rumors that a massive earthquake was due to strike.7

Both Byzantine and Ottoman society perceived earthquakes as the wrath of God, or as a divine warning. According to this belief, God would send disasters to earth in order to direct people to the right path. The death of Senator Anatolius, whose head was crushed under falling marble slabs in the 557 earthquake, was perceived as a punishment from God for the senator’s extreme love of luxury. Another example of God’s purported wrath was the damage inflicted upon Hagia Sophia. This sanctuary was a symbol of both wisdom and the bond between the public, the emperor and the God. When the dome collapsed in an earthquake, the public considered this to be an ominous sign.8 For these same reasons, an important Byzantine historian, Ioannes Malalas (b. 491-d. 578) wrote a work on this subject, which he called Theomenia (The Wrath of God).9

6- Çemberlitaş neighborhood after 1894 Earthquake (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Atatürk Library, Album no. 184)

Examples from the Ottoman period are similar to those from the Byzantine period. When Sultan Bayezid II, who travelled to Edirne after the 1509 earthquake, met with another severe earthquake in Edirne, he considered this as a divine warning. That is why he blamed certain dignitaries for the catastrophe. In his opinion, the maledictions among the public led Allah to unleash His wrath.10 In 1766, there were four earthquakes in nine months; this was considered to be a “warning to those in blindness and the sinful.”11

7- Süleyman Paşa Han almost all of which was destroyed in 1894 Eartquake (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Atatürk Library, Album no. 184)

8- The efforts of restoring Ottoman printing house which was destroyed in 1894 Earthquake (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Atatürk Library, Album no. 184)

Disasters occasionally gave rise to opportunists as well. In the aftermath of such events, individuals emerged who were intent on taking advantage of the public’s fears. Many charlatan soothsayers emerged after the earthquake in 557 with a claim of giving information about the future and talked about potential disasters. In order to protect from these disasters, the public would purchase amulets and charms.12 On the other hand, in an effort to support the iconoclastic movement, Leon III (717-741) used the earthquake in 740 for this purpose; and he tried to convince people that the earthquake occurred because they had been worshipping icons.13 These examples are only one aspect of such opportunism. After the earthquake, increases in the costs of materials, such as food and shelter, needed for repairing and rebuilding damaged structures and daily necessities, reveal another aspect of this opportunism. Although officials took some precautions in these matters,14 they were unable to prevent it from happening.

9- The efforts of restoring the building of Administrative Affairs of the State whichwas destroyed in 1894 Earthquake (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Atatürk Library, Album no. 184)

Debris Removal Operations and the Earthquake’s Toll

After the aftershocks, search and rescue work and debris removal operations would begin. Historian Marcellinus (b. 322-d. 400?) was an eyewitness of the earthquake of 24 August 358 in the Roman period. He writes that the public strove to save their lives, and many people who trapped under the wreckage of buildings waited for days before rescue crews could reach them. According to his account, these people died, not as a result of being trapped in the debris, but out of starvation.15 This shows that search and rescue operations could not properly done or were inadequate. However, it was still possible for crews to find people alive among the wreckage.16 In the earthquake of 1894, for instance, the hope that people could be brought out alive from under the debris, inspired the removal operations; even in the midst of continuing aftershocks. Teams including çavuş, zabıta, gendarme, police and laborers in their subordinates tried to rescue people from the wreckage. Debris removal operations on the one hand and the dead bodies pulled from the wreckage on the other, evoked scenes from a battlefield. Dead bodies removed from the debris were sent to nearby hospitals and gasilhanes (rooms for performing ablutions for the dead) to be prepared for burial. Wounded were referred to nearby hospitals. However, since some of the hospitals were damaged and the number of incoming wounded was high, the government took precautions to act. The Belediye (Municipal) Hospitals, which had closed down after the cholera epidemic had been eradicated, were reopened. Moreover, pharmacy on duty which functions like present-day emergency services, pharmacies associated with the Serasker and, all pharmacies which are closed down because of earthquakes were opened and appointed to treat wounded. Additionally, mobile first responder medical teams were formed to treat wounded. Voluntary health workers helped earthquake victims as well.17

Resources from the Byzantine period do not specifically indicate about number of earthquake victims. Rather, they tend to use terms like “many”, “a huge number of”, or “a high number of”.18 Ottoman resources, however, give approximate information. 1,070 houses were ruined in the 1509 earthquake; some sources state 5,000, while others give a number of 15,000 dead.19 It is likely that the number of deaths is high as the earthquake hit the city at night; still, these numbers are to be considered with precaution. The number of deaths in the earthquake of 1754 is stated as 800.20 In the earthquake of 1766, the number of dead is given as 4,000-5,000.21 However, a Western resource mentions a number far below this, claiming that more than 850 people lost their lives in the earthquake.22 As far as it can be determined, the first official figures for deaths, casualties and homeless after an earthquake in the Ottoman period appear after the earthquake of 1894. The İane-i Musâbin Commission, established after the earthquake to subsidize expenses for the homeless and injured, determined the number of earthquake casualties. According to the lists prepared by the commission, the number of deaths was 161, while the total casualties amounted to 378; the number of homeless was 3,703. According to the findings of this commission, the number of housing units within the boundaries of Istanbul that were damaged in the earthquake is 20,310; 10,171 of these were heavily damaged.23 These figures are quite important, since they portray the damage and effects caused by the earthquake. The earthquake of 1999 caused great damage in Istanbul as well. According to the report published by the Prime Minister’s Crisis Management Center in 2000, 981 people lost their lives in Istanbul.24 3,703 residences and 532 businesses were devastated or heavily damaged; 15,102 residences and 2,510 businesses suffered moderate damage; 17,870 residences and 2,280 businesses suffered minor damage. This figures amount to a total of 41,367 damaged residences and businesses.25 According to this, the deaths in Istanbul caused by the earthquake comprise 18% of the total number of deaths related to the earthquake, while the number of damaged residences and businesses in Istanbul comprised 9% of the total buildings damaged by the earthquake. These figures, percentage of both deaths and damaged residences and businesses, suggest the possible damage that could occur if an expected earthquake strikes in the Marmara Sea in the future.

Provisions and Accommodation

The shortage of water and provisions mostly emerges after an earthquake. Damaged water canals and dams caused water shortages in the city. In the earthquake of 1766, a wall from the castle facing Samatya destroyed the water canal in Silivrikapı, and a number of fountains were damaged or out of service due to either their collapse or damage incurred by falling objects.26 In the earthquake of 1894, water canals of Kırkçeşme, Halkalı and Taksim and their water dams, as well as those belonging to the Dersaadet Water Corporation [Terkos Water Company],which delivered water to the European side on a subscription basis, were damaged and the water supply was cut off. Further, mud merged into the city’s drinking supply, making it difficult to use. Şehremaneti (Istanbul Municipality) met the city’s water need by utilizing water from undamaged dams, water in the pools and fountains that were allocated by Terkos Water Company. In the meantime, the Terkos Water Company used the water frugally and refrained from washing the streets for a few days. It was in this way that the city of Istanbul avoided long-term water shortages.27

Need for food emerges as a significant problem in the periods of earthquakes. Earthquakes damage many buildings such as mills, bakeries, groceries and, bridges and roads providing transportation to city. Moreover, since even certain guilds and shops that were not damaged, closed after the earthquake, the need for food provision increases. Officials would take some precautions in order to overcome this problem. In the earthquake of 1766, priority was given to the opening of roads that led to han where food was stored in, to avoid further food shortages. In addition, it was ordered that bakeries be repaired as soon as possible after the earthquake.28 Following the earthquake of 1894, bakeries and groceries that had not damaged, were opened; upon the edict of Abdulhamid II, groceries were required to provide more food items than normal, and bakeries were required to bake more bread than usual. Furthermore, officials were appointed to provide food aid such as bread, water and cheese for people staying in open areas and public squares. Then, food was distributed to all earthquake victims -poor, rich, Muslim and non-Muslim- without exception.29

After the first shock, victims encountered with painful realities. An exodus to open areas, gardens and places outside of the city would begin. First and common desire of the people was to reach safety. A safe place was sought by not only homeless people but also people feeling themselves unsafe. In the Roman-Byzantine period, outside of the city walls was generally seen as safe areas.30 Safe place preference of Sultan Bayezid II (1481-1512) was the city of Edirne. Indeed, after the earthquake of 1509, Bayezid II stayed in a tent in the garden of the palace for ten days, but then he traveled to Edirne considering Istanbul as unsafe.31 Mustafa III (1757-1774), after the damage to Topkapı Palace in the earthquake of 1766, spent a few days in a tent, and later on he left the city.32 Although resources do not provide information regarding where Mustafa III went, it is likely that the sultan chose Edirne, like many of his predecessors. Although Abdulhamid II made tents set up for the personnel in the palace garden, he did not leave the palace, choosing his room as safe place.33

10- Direklerararsı after 1894 Earthquake (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Atatürk Library, Album no. 184)

As the city spread outside the city wall, the people stayed in the nearest and safe places, open areas, backyards, public parks, and even cemeteries. Some people set up shelters or tents from items like rugs or materials. After earthquake of 1894, some people set up tents, and some others moved to the houses of their relatives. Wealthier people preferred to stay in hotel rooms or rented houses that was not damaged in the earthquake. Some of Istanbul residents even left the city because of fear of recurring earthquakes.34 Images similar to immigration do not include only homeless people. Even people whose houses were remained undamaged shared the same destiny. Since rumors spread telling much severe and greater earthquake would soon occur, and some severe aftershocks caused slightly damaged buildings to collapse, fears of the people increased. As a result, people whose houses were still standing felt needy as much as those homeless.

This life style was not easy for the people of Istanbul. They couldn’t be successful at conquering fear. Indeed, those staying in tents after the earthquake of 557 did not dare to re-enter their homes, despite of the cold and even snowy winter.35 Thus, between aftershocks and cold, safety outweighed concern for the cold. After earthquake of 1509, the people stayed in their tents for 40-45 days; during strong aftershocks.36

Immigration from the city to the squares, which increased with each strong aftershock, gradually became a serious problem. Increasing demand for tents was a primary concern. Later on, the problem of finding temporary accommodation until the reconstruction and repairs could be completed, and security and health problems brought about by adverse and communal living conditions were also a serious concern of those involved. The risk of epidemic appeared as a different aspect of post-earthquake problems. Factors, such as hunger and the inability to fulfill health and hygiene conditions virtually invited such diseases. Indeed, a plague broke out in the city in the aftermath of the 557 earthquake,37 causing many deaths, impeded recovery efforts and delayed the overcoming the problems. These bitter experiences occasionally provoked officials to take immediate precautions. In the sources we can see that in the aftermath of the 1894 earthquake officials were concerned about epidemics, in particular cholera. The transportation of dead bodies to tebhirhane (disinfection station) with private vehicles and the disinfection of the possessions of the dead people, were direct results of this concern. In the following days, people took further precautions by scattering lime over the debris.38 It is probable that these measures yielded positive results, as no case of cholera was reported from April 1894, when the epidemic ended, until October 1894. Only a few patients tested positive for cholera from this date until January 1895, when the epidemic reemerged. The fact that the first patient diagnosed with cholera was a soldier arriving in Istanbul, and the second one was again a soldier, who had been with him in a ferryboat, demonstrates that the disease was brought to Istanbul from outside.39 This shows that the disease was not the direct result of the earthquake, and precautions taken after the earthquake were successful.

11- The tents in which the victims took shelter after 1894 Earthquake (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Atatürk Library, Album no. 184)

Recovery Efforts and Social Solidarity

Disasters like earthquakes provide equality among people and cause a great deal of harm. However, one positive aspect of such disasters is that they can bring people closer; and a feeling of solidarity helps heal the wounds by bringing people together from any part of society. Even the smallest help during this period of burgeoning social solidarity is very valuable and meaningful for the injured. In the sources there is no indication how such assistance was carried out in the Roman and Byzantine period. During the Ottoman period, and leading up until the 19th century, it is known that social aid activities were generally carried out by waqfs, while a number of needs were met with the help of the avarız akçesi, a kind of civil tax. Avarız waqfs came into effect as a civil initiative. After the earthquake of 1509, the government levied a tax of 22 akçes per household to be spent on the disaster victims and other recovery activities. Construction expenses of the Fatih Mosque, which had been severely damaged during the 1766 earthquake, were met by the Hazine-i Hümayun as the income from the mosque waqf was low.40 Thus, the state treasury met some of the expenses.

This picture started to change in the second half of the 19th century. Adopting the European model in molding public opinion, the Ottoman State arranged relief campaigns on a volunteer basis during natural disasters and periods of crisis. Until the 1894 earthquake, the government had gained enough practical experience to act efficiently in such disasters. On the day of the 1894 earthquake, the government transformed the İane-i Hastagân Commission, established during the cholera outbreak, into an earthquake relief commission. Fifteen days later, after getting a clearer picture of the vast impact of the earthquake, Abdulhamid II established the İane-i Musâbin Commission, in fear that the former commission might not meet the city’s demand. The sultan was the first person to donate to the commission. Tickets printed by the commission for donations quickly ran out. From sultans to religious functionaries, from bankers to traders, many names competed with one another to make donations. Donations were made both from various regions of the Ottoman State and foreign countries. In addition, charity commissions were established in many European cities, including Anvers, Belgrade, Berlin, Brussels, London and Paris. Some of the funds collected abroad were sent to relief commissions, while others were distributed via the representatives of the country in Istanbul. It is possible that the number of donations increased as a result of a rule in the eighth article of commission regulations (nizamname), promising to award a medal to donators who gave more than 10 liras. It is noted in the sources that some donators gave great importance to these medals. The press also undertook an important role during these activities by publishing both the lists of donators and people who were eligible for the medal.41

12- The works of removing the debris in front of the Ministry of War after 1894 Earthquake (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Atatürk Library, Album no. 184)

A similar phenomenon of solidarity was seen after the earthquake in 1999. Many national and international relief agencies took part in the search and rescue activities as well as social aid. Many people, NGOs, and other organizations provided tents, clothing and food. The government issued a number of decrees and one of these decrees, dated 28 October 1999, stated that earthquake victims would be provided with four sorts of aid: for death, injury and disability, repairment and accommodation for those people whose buildings suffered low damage, and accommodation for the people whose buildings collapsed or suffered medium or heavy damage.42

The Effects of Earthquakes on the Business Sector

The destructive effects of earthquakes are felt in many fields of business, especially trade. Because many workplaces would be suspended in the aftermath of an earthquake and their workers would be dismissed or given a temporary leave. However, the main effect of them were damages occurred on the buildings or the work order, which, in turn, caused an impediment to work. The tsunamis that followed the earthquakes of 365, 1332 and 1343 affected the marine and fishing sectors. As the waves hit the coast, destructing many ships and rowing boats, both those anchored on the pier or along the coast, this destruction hit the sector hard.43 As the most lively site of trade in Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar was negatively affected by earthquakes. After the earthquake of 1894, when both damaged and undamaged sections of the bazaar were closed, trades men had to carry out their business in new places; repairmen of the bazaar took more than five years to be completed, which all of them created a predicament for the guilds. It might take a long time for the tradesmen to adjust to their new locations, and for the customers to get used to this situation.

13- The tents in which the victims stayed after 1894 Earthquake (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Atatürk Library, Album no. 184)

Another sector affected by earthquakes was education. Damage in the buildings of educational institutions such as maktabs and madrasas resulted in the suspension of education. Immediately following the 1894 earthquake, students were evacuated from the schools. Extern students, who lived with their families, were sent home and boarder students who are from outside of the city, stayed in tents set up in the school gardens. Some school principals demanded a large number of tents so that they could continue education. However, the government rejected this demand, claiming that tents were not suitable for education. The problem was solved by restarting education in undamaged buildings or newly-constructed barracks. Istanbul witnessed a similar solution in the earthquake of 1999. Indeed, both in the initial shock on August 17 of 1999 and the aftershock on September13, which was the first day of schooling, 66 of Istanbul’s school buildings were severely damaged. 30,000 students were transferred to other schools.44 Officials followed similar procedures when confronted with problems in hospitals, barracks and government offices.

This process was not easy at all. The fact that earthquakes posed a threat to many public buildings required assessment of risks in all buildings. Damage assessment operations were impeded by aftershocks, and this led to delays in the decision-making process on matters related to public buildings. Additionally, it was difficult to assess the suitability of new locations for those people in need of transfer from damaged or unsafe buildings. In spite of many difficulties when the hospitals, barracks and public offices were moved to safer premises, they began their services which were disrupted in the meantime.45 However, it still took time both for the officers and the public to adjust to these new locations.

Damage Assessment, Reconstruction and Earthquake Reforms

As mentioned above, after the earthquakes, decisions were made rapidly and damage assessment began. In general, officials gave priority to the damage assessment on water sources and public buildings. Following the 1766 earthquake, the assessments, and supervising subsequent construction processes was in charge of the chief architect. After the chief architect’s inspection (keşif ve muayene) for a certain building, a reliable building trustee (bina emini) assigned by Defterdar-ı Şıkk-ı Evvel began the repairment and construction. Both the assessment of damage and the repairmen of many buildings in the aftermath of the earthquake were carried out in this manner.46 Immediately after the 1894 earthquake, technical teams were formed under the supervision of the chief architect Sarkis Bey, and damage assessment operations commenced. The primary aim of these operations was to take necessary precautions toward the possible collapses by removing damaged sections. Although priority was given to the assessment, those conducted in the first days after the earthquake were not very reliable. In the second half of the 19th century, the government established two commissions called the heyet-i fenniye and the inşaat-i fenniye. Both commissions were affiliated to the Şehremaneti to facilitate damage assessment of public buildings, arrange survey books, and to start repairment and reconstruction. On the other hand, the damage assessment of civil structures were carried out by engineers and master-builders working in hendesehane of Şehremaneti.47 By distributing tasks, officials tried to make sure the assessments be made as rapidly as possible.

14- The ruined state of Edirnakapı Mihrimah Sultan Mosque after an earthquake (Gurlitt)

After the number of aftershocks decreased and the damage assessment operations had been carried out, reconstruction activities could begin. Now people who were afraid of the disaster have gone, and turned to the people who were busy trying to repair and build. At this point, a central problem arises in the supply of construction materials. In the Byzantine period, the most needed materials were bricks and stones.48 After the conquest of Constantinople, a new concept of city building, reflected in civil buildings and neighborhood, affected the construction sector by bringing other materials to the fore. Indeed, from this period on, poorly baked brick and wooden buildings replaced the buildings made of stone and brick.49 On the other hand, stone and marble blocks were preferred in the official buildings, religious sites and military institutions. In Istanbul, the supply of bricks posed a major problem even in normal periods; this problem became greater in times of disaster.50 An additional problem in the Ottoman period was the difficulty of finding timber. Most civil buildings, houses and shops were made of wood, even in the 19th century. Since wood was relatively inexpensive as compared to the other construction materials, demand for it was greater. Although the government made attempts, after earthquake of 1894, to decrease the use of wood because of fire risk, the laws intended to prevent fires could not be implemented successfully.51

15- Inside Edirnakapı Mihrimah Sultan Mosque after an earthquake (Gurlitt)

16- Barracks constructed for the earthquake victims

Another problem experienced in the construction sector was worker supply. After the earthquake of 1509, decrees sent to the qadis of Anatolia and Rumelia ordering a worker be taken from each twenty houses. As a result, 69,000 workers, 3,000 of whom were foremen, were brought to Istanbul. The main duty of these workers and foremen was to repair public buildings, waqf buildings and the city walls that had been damaged in the earthquake.52 Following the earthquake of 1754, 80,000 people were employed as workers.53 After the earthquake of 1766, workers in the hamam and dülgers (carpenters) from Kayseri and nearby areas were brought to Istanbul, as well as bricklayers and workers from Şile, Yalova, Gemlik, Riva and İznik, carpenters from Kınalıada and Heybeliada, and stonemasons from Aleppo and nearby areas.54

One of the problems that was to be overcome after an earthquake, was economic aspect of repairment and reconstruction. Following the 1509 earthquake, officials attempted to overcome this problem by imposing a temporary tax of 22 akçes per household.55 After the earthquake of 1894, Expenses for governmental buildings, such as government offices and barracks, were met by a loan of 250,000 liras taken from the Ottoman Bank. The expenses of the civil buildings such as houses were met through money collected by the İane-i Musabin Commission, which was established with the aim of financial aid to earthquake victims. Expenses for the repairment of religious institutions were covered by the donation of 2,750 liras Abdulhamid II made to the Evkaf Ministry, and from additional payments made to the ministries by the government. Guilds were also encouraged to undertake part of the expenses for the repair of the Grand Bazaar. The cost of the 1894 earthquake to the government amounted to more than 350,000 Ottoman liras.56 In the Marmara earthquake of 1999, the government tried to solve this problem by additional taxes.57 All of these efforts meant great fiscal burdens on both the state and the public. For this reason, catastrophes such as the earthquakes can inflict severe economic damage. Foreigners also observed the economic depression in the aftermath of earthquakes.58

It is difficult to say that the earthquakes have caused serious changes in the structure of the state. After earthquake of 1894, however, for the first time, the government wanted to get earthquakes studied scientifically. For this aim, Eginitis, the director of the Athens observatory, was invited to Istanbul. In addition, Agamemnon, a professor from the observatory in Rome was assigned to establish a department of the observatory that would be concerned with earthquakes, and to provide instruction on the use of a seismograph. In the neighborhood of Maçka, a department of earthquake depended to the Rasadhane-i Amire was established. Nevertheless, all these efforts became insufficient. Moreover, the government’s attention to this issue was short-lived.59 The restarting of seismic studies within an observatory was only carried out after the foundation of the Republic. And the 1999 earthquake can be considered to be a milestone in this field. Compulsory insurance of houses against earthquakes by the Doğal Afetler Sigorta Kurumu, steps taken to develop a national seismic network system, the implementation of urban transformation projects and changes made in the regulations related to the risks of earthquakes are just some of the improvements.

Finally, earthquakes had a great negative impact on the social life of Istanbul, and they brought many other problems with them. The greatest impact, however, was on the memories of the people. For many years, people have been unable to forget the pains and griefs associated with earthquakes, and these memories have been often traumatic. Their sufferings have been the subject of epic legends and poetry as well. Works giving significant information about the terror and sufferings experienced by the people in the earthquakes, are the only sources articulating the feelings of the people.


1 K. Pamukciyan, İstanbul Yazıları, Istanbul: Aras Yayıncılık, 2002, pp. 72-73.

2 Sema Küçükalioğlu Özkılıç, 1894 Depremi ve İstanbul, İstanbul: Türkiye İş Bankası, 2015, pp. 19-22.

3 Işın Demirkent, “IV.-XI. Yüzyıllarda İstanbul ve Çevresinde Depremler”, Tarih Boyunca Anadolu’da Doğal Âfetler ve Deprem Semineri 22–23 Mayıs 2000, Istanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Tarih Araştırma Merkezi, 2001, pp. 60-61.

4 Özkılıç, 1894 Depremi, pp. 19-22.

5 Frank Vercleyen, “Bizans Döneminde İstanbul’da Depremler: Halk Üzerindeki Etki”, translated by Feda Şamil Arık, TAD, 1997, vol. 19, no. 30, p. 301, 306.

6 Demirkent, “IV.-XI. Yüzyıllarda İstanbul”, pp. 60-61.

7 Küçükalioğlu Özkılıç, “1894 Depremi”, pp. 21-22.

8 Vercleyen, “Bizans Döneminde İstanbul’da Depremler”, pp. 304, 309-311.

9 Şehrazat Karagöz, Eskiçağ’da Depremler, Istanbul: Türk Eskiçağ Bilimleri Enstitüsü Yayınları, 2005, p. 55.

10 Orhan Sakin, Tarihsel Kaynaklarıyla İstanbul Depremleri, Istanbul: Kitabevi, 2002, p. 100.

11 Deniz Mazlum, 1766 İstanbul Depremi Belgeler Işığında Yapı Onarımları, Istanbul: Suna ve İnan Kıraç Vakfı İstanbul Araştırmaları Enstitüsü, 2011, p. 34.

12 Vercleyen, “Bizans Döneminde İstanbul’da Depremler”, p. 303.

13 Georg Ostrogorsky, Bizans Devleti Tarihi, translated by Fikret Işıltan, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 2011, p. 151.

14 Küçükalioğlu Özkılıç, “1894 Depremi”, p. 168; Taylan Akkayan, Yüksel Kırımlı and Tülin Polat, Deprem Yardımından Yararlananların Değerlendirme Raporu, Istanbul: Edebiyat Fakültesi Yayınları, 2001, p. 36.

15 Demirkent, “IV.-XI. Yüzyıllarda İstanbul”, p. 55, 63.

16 Vercleyen, “Bizans Döneminde İstanbul’da Depremler”, p. 301.

17 Küçükalioğlu Özkılıç, 1894 Depremi, pp. 73-78, 271.

18 Demirkent, “IV.-XI. Yüzyıllarda İstanbul”, p. 53, 58, 61; Esin Ozansoy, “Bizans Kaynaklarına Göre 1200-1453 İstanbul Depremleri”, Tarih Boyunca Anadolu’da Doğal Âfetler ve Deprem Semineri 22-23 Mayıs 2000, Istanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Tarih Araştırma Merkezi, 2001, p. 3, 16.

19 Kevork Pamukciyan, “Depremler”, DBİst.A, III, 34; Sakin, Tarihsel Kaynaklarıyla İstanbul Depremleri, p. 48.

20 N. N. Ambraseys and Caroline Finkel, Türkiye’de ve Komşu Bölgelerde Sismik Etkinlikler, Tarihsel İnceleme, 1500-1800,translatedby M. Umur Koçak, Istanbul: Tübitak Yayınları, 2006, p. 125.

21 Erhan Afyoncu and Zekai Mete, “1766 İstanbul Depremi ve Toplum Yaşantısına Etkisi”, Tarih Boyunca Anadolu’da Doğal Âfetler ve Deprem Semineri, 22-23 Mayıs 2000, Istanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Tarih Araştırma Merkezi, 2001, p. 85.

22 Ambraseys and Finkel, Türkiye’de ve Komşu Bölgelerde Sismik Etkinlikler, p. 133.

23 Küçükalioğlu Özkılıç, “1894 Depremi”, p. 43, 89.

24 Retrieved from arsiv.ntvmsnbc.com/news/24312.asp/Accordingtoofficialfigures (03.03.2013), the death toll was 17,480. However, according to TBMM Parliamentary Research Commission report this number is 18,373. (03.03.2013, http://www. tbmm.gov.tr/).

25 Seyit Ali Kaplan, “Binaların Depreme Karşı Güçlendirilmesinde Yasal Engeller ve Öneriler”, 05.03.2013, http://www.imo.org.tr/resimler/dosya_ekler.

26 Afyoncu and Mete, “1766 İstanbul Depremi”, p. 88.

27 Küçükalioğlu Özkılıç, “1894 Depremi”, pp. 81-84.

28 Afyoncu - Mete, “1766 İstanbul Depremi”, pp. 88-89.

29 Küçükalioğlu Özkılıç, “1894 Depremi”, pp. 84-88.

30 Indeed, in theaftermath of the 25 September, 437 earthquake, thepublicgathered in the “Campus” outsidethecitywalls. Afraidtostayeven in thestrongbuildings, peoplesettled here andprayedfortheshockstoend. (Demirkent, “IV.-XI. Yüzyıllarda İstanbul”, p. 55).

31 Sakin, Tarihsel Kaynaklarıyla İstanbul Depremleri, p. 47, 49, 100; Pamukciyan, “Depremler”, p. 34.

32 Ambraseys and Finkel, Türkiye’de ve Komşu Bölgelerde Sismik Etkinlikler, p. 135; Pamukciyan, İstanbul Yazıları, p.79.

33 Ayşe Osmanoğlu, Babam Sultan Abdülhamid (Hatıralarım), Istanbul: Selçuk Yayınları, 1994, pp. 102-103.

34 Küçükalioğlu Özkılıç, 1894 Depremi, pp. 15-17.

35 Demirkent, “IV.-XI. Yüzyıllarda İstanbul”, p. 60.

36 Sakin, Tarihsel Kaynaklarıyla İstanbul Depremleri, p. 100, 102.

37 Vercleyen, “Bizans Döneminde İstanbul”, p. 301.

38 Küçükalioğlu Özkılıç, “1894 Depremi”, pp. 75-80.

39 Mesut Ayar, Osmanlı Devleti’nde Kolera, İstanbul Örneği (1892-1895), Istanbul: Kitabevi, 2007,pp. 197-198.

40 Joseph von Hammer, İstanbul ve Boğaziçi, translated by Senail Özkan, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 2011, vol. 1, p. 29.

41 Küçükalioğlu Özkılıç, “1894 Depremi”, pp. 111-141.

42 Akkayan, Kırımlı and Polat, Deprem, pp. 27-31.

43 Ozansoy, “Bizans Kaynaklarına Göre 1200-1453 İstanbul Depremleri”, p. 12, 14.

44 Hürriyet, October 4, 1999, 03.03.2013, http://hurarsiv.hurriyet.com.tr.

45 Küçükalioğlu Özkılıç, “1894 Depremi”, pp. 101-110.

46 Mazlum, 1766 İstanbul Depremi, p. 33.

47 Küçükalioğlu Özkılıç, “1894 Depremi”, p. 46, 56, 151.

48 Tamara Talbot Rice, Bizans’ta Günlük Yaşam: Bizans’ın Mücevheri Konstantinopolis,translated by Bilgi Altınok, Istanbul: Göçebe Yayınları, 1998, pp. 176-177.

49 Zeynep Çelik, 19. Yüzyılda Osmanlı Başkenti Değişen İstanbul, Istanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, 1996, p. 22; Metin And, 16. Yüzyılda İstanbul, Kent-Saray-Günlük Yaşam, Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2012, p. 29.

50 Metin And, in his work on the daily life of Istanbul in the 16th century, mentions that 100 donkeys could only carry two carriage loads of Stone and for this reason the constructions cost a great deal. (And, 16. Yüzyılda İstanbul, p. 29). Similar problems occurred in the 18th century. Indeed, after the earthquake of 1766, ten Albanian Stone masons were sent to Karamürsel to deliver 300 stones, However, some problems were experienced in the transference of the stone. Upon this, it was decided that ships suitable for transfering the stones be sent from the Marmara shore (Mazlum, 1766 İstanbul Depremi, p. 50).

51 Küçükalioğlu Özkılıç, “1894 Depremi”, pp. 171-172.

52 Sakin, Tarihsel Kaynaklarıyla İstanbul Depremleri,pp. 98-99.

53 N. N. Ambraseys and Caroline Finkel, “İstanbul’u Sarsan Depremler”, İstanbul, 1999, Earthquake edition, no. 31, p. 83.

54 Mazlum, 1766 İstanbul Depremi, pp. 48-49.

55 Sakin, Tarihsel Kaynaklarıyla İstanbul Depremleri, p. 47.

56 Küçükalioğlu Özkılıç, “1894 Depremi”, p. 281.

57 Additional income tax, additional corporate tax, interest tax, additional estate tax, additional motorized vehicle tax, special communication tax, special transaction tax were all imposed after the earthquake. See: TBMM Investigation Committee Report, Ankara 2010, pp. 81-82, http://www.tbmm.gov.tr/sirasayi/donem23/yil01/ss549 (03.03.2012).

58 In Germany, Allgemeine Zeitung investigated the causes of the economic depression in Turkey under the title “Economic Crisis in Turkey” in the 8 November 1894 issue, see: Küçükalioğlu Özkılıç, “1894 Depremi”, p. 264.

59 Küçükalioğlu Özkılıç, “1894 Depremi”, pp. 174-186.

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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