Encyclopedias are works that can be separated, for the most part, into general subject encyclopedias or subject specific encyclopedias, according to the subjects they cover. Such subjects are chosen based on the needs of the era, the target audience, exploration of a specific topic area, and cost and demand, all of which are the most important concern of modern times. An encyclopedic study on a city is considered to be an example of a subject specific encyclopedia category. A city encyclopedia can be described as a study of the historical, political, cultural and geographical features of the city that is subject to examination. When examining city encyclopedias, however, it is not enough to merely define what a city encyclopedia is, or into which category it falls; it is also important to understand that city encyclopedias are not frequently encountered.

As a matter of fact, the introductory chapter of the first volume of Dünden Bugüne İstanbul Ansiklopedisi (The Encyclopedia of Istanbul, from Past to Present), compiled by the Türkiye Ekonomik ve Toplumsal Tarih Vakfı (Economic and Social History Foundation of Turkey), alludes to this, stating that, “contrary to the wide-spread existence of city histories, monographs and touristic guides, the city encyclopedia is not a familiar concept nor a frequent product.”1 This point was also brought up in an article published in 1993; since this time, the awareness of this issue has begun to gradually change. As far as we can understand—apart from the İstanbul Ansiklopedisi, which began to be published by Reşat Ekrem Koçu in 1944, that is, during the years2 when the first volume of Dünden Bugüne İstanbul Ansiklopedisi was published, the sole example of a city encyclopedia was the single-volume An Encyclopedia of London,3 which was compiled for the city of London. This work is an example of a city encyclopedia and offers alphabetically organized entries on historical and cultural elements and settlement areas, as well as the sociological characteristics of the people living in London. Examples of published encyclopedias have increased since then.

Two of these examples are encyclopedic studies on the cities of Chicago and New York. The encyclopedia on New York, entitled The Encyclopedia of New York City, was published in 1995 as a result of collaboration between Yale University and the New York Historical Society. On the other hand, The Encyclopedia of Chicago was published as a result of a joint venture between Newberry Library and the Chicago Historical Society. It would not be incorrect to say that the aforementioned encyclopedic examples were broadly designed as a source of touristic information. Nevertheless, the importance of this increase in city encyclopedic works, in terms of their contribution to the literature and as a source of city history studies, should not be ignored.

It the fact that progress is still quite limited is taken into account, then the first example of a city encyclopedia, İstanbul Ansiklopedisi, which was published in 1944 -a very early period- by Reşat Ekrem Koçu puts Istanbul into an important position. It can be argued that the preparation of an encyclopedia for Istanbul was even encouraged by the fact that the city of Istanbul has been home to different civilizations, acting as the capital of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, all of which left their mark on history.

This article aims to provide information about the contents, characteristics and preparation processes of five separate encyclopedic works, starting from 1944 to 2010, for which the unique city of Istanbul has been a source.

İstanbul Ansiklopedisi
(Alphabetical Register of Istanbul)

İstanbul Ansiklopedisi can be taken as the first significant example of a city encyclopedia. The historian and author Reşat Ekrem Koçu (d. 1975) initiated the work on this encyclopedia in the 1940s. It was first published in 1944, with 11 volumes, up to the letter “G”, being published. Reşat Ekrem Koçu planned to cover the 500-year period following the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks and to include several features of the city. It can be understood that Reşat Ekrem Koçu was an author with a good command of the Turkish language and his own unique style; more importantly, he took up the legacy of “the man who makes people love history” from his teacher, Ahmet Refik Altınay, and through this work he appears before us as a teacher and academic who is devoted to making people appreciate their history.

When we examine the work, it is possible to understand which entries in İstanbul Ansiklopedisi were written by Reşat Ekrem Koçu. All of the entries that offer brief information about the ordinary people who live in Istanbul or the description of any street in the city bear his signature. Most of the entries about the streets, fountains, hamams, mosques and other structures included in the encyclopedia were put together in light of Reşat Ekrem Koçu’s own travel notes. These entries present information such as, “the fountain had dried up in 1944,” as can be seen in the entry about Abdullahağa fountain. Apart from these names or structures, it is possible to encounter individuals in İstanbul Ansiklopedisi, such as Abdi Çelebi (barber), who are depicted as the protagonist of the story and can be considered to add details to the city. Such entries create an encyclopedia that makes one smile, wanting to read more, a work that can be read with ease and without boredom. The most important characteristic of İstanbul Ansiklopedisi is the distinctive language which arouses interest. What lends to this distinctive language is that Reşat Ekrem Koçu depicts the details of human life while making one appreciate the history; the reader feels that the author loves Istanbul and its residents, prioritizing the human rather than dry historiography.

Koçu wrote 15% of the 173 encyclopedia compilations, while the rest were written by other authors. In other words, 2,000-2,500 entries out of the approximately 20,000 entries in the complete encyclopedia were written by authors other than Reşat Ekrem. Given that those entries with a bibliography were written by Koçu, we can arrive at the conclusion that 85% percent of the encyclopedia was prepared by him. However, it is necessary to point out that it is not possible to identify what type of contribution was made by Reşat Ekrem Koçu to those entries that have no name or reference at the end.

The İstanbul Ansiklopedisi has a long and (for the time being) incomplete printing story. When Reşat Ekrem Koçu decided to put together an inventory of Istanbul in 1940, he must have estimated that it would be a long and difficult job. The İstanbul Ansiklopedisi, which is claimed to be a work unparalleled for any other city, and the “register” of Istanbul, was first published in November 1944. Reşat Ekrem Koçu asserted the purpose of the work was: “first and foremost to emphasize the impact of the Turks on this area.” The İstanbul Ansiklopedisi had financial difficulties, as expressed in each issue. Due to these financial constraints, the encyclopedia was left incomplete in 1951, ending in the middle of the fourth volume, with the “Bahadır Street” entry. The encyclopedia resumed publication only in 1958; at this time Reşat Ekrem Koçu was able to secure the necessary financial support. Eventually, Reşat Ekrem Koçu made two attempts to continue publishing the encyclopedia, once in 1944 and 1958; he continued these efforts with self-devotion and vigor until 1973. The encyclopedia, which ended with 11 volumes, and 173 issues, with the “Gökçınar Mehmet”, was left incomplete after Koçu’s death in 1975. No other attempt to finish this work has been made. In recent years there have been newspaper reports that unpublished volumes of the encyclopedia exist; these volumes were prepared with pictures and drawings by Koçu. Mr. Burak Bardakçı clarified these claims in two separate entries. As far as we know today, 70 cardboard boxes of unpublished volumes of the İstanbul Ansiklopedisi exist; these need to be revised before publishing.4 The İstanbul Ansiklopedisi, a work with a long printing history, was intended to examine as many dimensions of Istanbul as possible. The subjects that were to be covered by the encyclopedia are identified in the first issue. It is stated that the mosques, masjids, libraries, tekkes, tombs, hamams, fountains, palaces, mansions and seaside mansions (yalı) of Istanbul would be described; the venues frequently visited by the public, such as cafes, schools, madrasas, theaters and inns, would also be depicted. It is also stated that the biographies of individuals from all segments of society, including statesmen, poets, scholars, artists, businessmen, merchants, doctors, teachers, preachers, dervishes, priests, monks, lunatics, bullies, thieves, drunkards, vagabonds, beggars and murderers would be presented. At the same time, the natural beauty and geography of Istanbul would be described. It is also stated that entries on apparel, slang, pictures, books, novels, travel books and foreigners in connection with Istanbul would be written. Numerous authors worked together with Reşat Ekrem Koçu as “co-authors” during the preparation of the above-mentioned subjects for which we tried to account. This populous group of authors included distinguished historians, artists, academicians, writers and illustrators such as Osman Nuri Ergin, Semavi Eyice, İ. Hakkı Konyalı, Kevork Pamukciyan, Yılmaz Öztuna, Süheyl Ünver, Saim Turgut Aktansel, Mithat Sertoğlu and Haluk Şehsuvaroğlu.

The first comment to be made about the entries included in the encyclopedia is that a great majority of them include a bibliography. Bibliographies indicate that chronicles prepared by state historians working at the center of the Ottoman state, copies of old newspapers, archival documents and travel notes were used as sources of information. In addition to these, some novels also served as sources of information. The İstanbul Ansiklopedisi is still one of the most referenced encyclopedias by the scientific community, due to the detailed biographies, the information gathered by Koçu’s personal observations concerning the physical and spatial structure of Istanbul and sketches of the buildings themselves.

Resimli Büyük İstanbul Ansiklopedisi
(Illustrated Grand Encyclopedia of Istanbul)

This single-volume work, known as Resimli Büyük İstanbul Ansiklopedisi, was the first encyclopedic work offered by an Istanbul newspaper. In 1968, Mithat Sertoğlu was commissioned by Yeni Istanbul newspaper to prepare this encyclopedia and it was presented to the readers as a supplement. The February 4, 1968 issue of Yeni Istanbul explains how this encyclopedia was to be presented to the readers, announcing: “from tomorrow we will present you with a treasure of culture full of innumerous documents, engravings and photographs; we will present you a gift of Istanbul’s history and its age-long social life as the ‘masterpiece’ of your library. When you collect all the supplements that we offer daily, you will own an unprecedented grand encyclopedia about Istanbul. The magnificent gilded covers for Resimli Büyük İstanbul Ansiklopedisi are being prepared as well.” Indeed, the copy of the newspaper published the day after this announcement presented the first four pages of the encyclopedia as a supplement to the inner pages of the newspaper.

Upon review of Resimli Büyük İstanbul Ansiklopedisi it is possible to notice that the entries about Istanbul are not presented alphabetically, but rather are set out in historical and chronological periods. In this regard this encyclopedia is the sole work prepared in this method during the Republican era. The work appears to be a pictorial history of Istanbul. This encyclopedic work consists of 516 pages, including pictures about the subjects, while analyzing Istanbul during different eras, which in turn are described with notable events and individuals.

The encyclopedia is divided into two separate eras. The first is identified as “Istanbul from its establishment to Byzantium” and the second is “Istanbul during the Byzantine Empire.” The third and last era is identified as “Istanbul during the Turkish era”; however, this era was not completed. In addition to these titles, the entry entitled, “Neighborhoods of Istanbul” is included in the second chapter of the encyclopedia and can be considered to be an independent chapter. Although this chapter covers two separate entries, entitled “The Bosphorus during Byzantium” and “Islands,” these entries provide various details regarding the areas located outside the city center, and particularly the history of the Princes’ Islands. Some of the other sub-titles regarding the Byzantine era are directly concerned with the Byzantine Empire. These can be listed as follows, “structures, era of Latin emperors (1204-1261), great fires, earthquakes, cold snaps, sieges, life in Istanbul, and Istanbul during the Latin invasion.” The remaining sub-titles are indirectly related to the Byzantine period; for example, “construction dates of Islamic and Turkish structures contemporary with Byzantine monuments and structures, and Ottoman Turks and Byzantium.” Finally the other two sub-titles are, “chronology of the conquest of Constantinople” and “history of the neighbourhoods and districts outside the city walls of Istanbul.” As apparent from the aforementioned titles, for the most part the city of Istanbul was not evaluated within the scope of the Turkish era in Resimli Büyük İstanbul Ansiklopedisi, which had been commissioned by Yeni Istanbul. As a matter of fact, it can be understood that the encyclopedia was discontinued as a supplement on December 19, 1968; it was announced that the entry Rumeli Kavağı was the final one. This encyclopedia, presented to its readers by Yeni Istanbul, and accompanied a huge advertisement campaign, was left incomplete before the chapter on the Turkish era could be completed.

İstanbul Kültür ve Sanat Ansiklopedisi
(Culture and Art Encyclopedia of Istanbul),
Tercüman Kültür Press

The second encyclopedic work about Istanbul prepared by a newspaper during the Republican era is the incomplete İstanbul Kültür ve Sanat Ansiklopedisi, which was presented by Tercüman newspaper in 1982; this encyclopedia was left incomplete with the “Ozansoy” entry in the fourth volume. The İstanbul Kültür ve Sanat Ansiklopedisi was offered in a way that was similar to that offered by Yeni Istanbul. One page of the newspaper was to be removed and folded, and by collecting these pages the volume was completed.

It is necessary to mention that the commentary in the foreword of the encyclopedia declares that the work was aimed at demonstrating how Turkish the city of Istanbul was and how the “Constantinople of Byzantium” had been made into the “Turkish Istanbul” by the Turks. This evaluation of being Turkish is clearly related to the nationalist-moralist publishing perspective of Tercüman. In the “explanation of the work” section, which followed the foreword, the encyclopedia was introduced as consisting of 15 titles. These titles are listed as history, art, literature, bibliography, biography, medicine, folklore, neighborhoods and tourism, institutions-organization, history and art expressions and terms, press, sport, music, theatre and cinema-TV.

It is possible to understand that the encyclopedia’s perspective regarding the entries on history would be presented through events and biographies. In particular, the first two volumes, covering letters “A” and “B”, allocate a wide space for biographies; a large space is set aside for these entries. Moreover, entries about events or individuals include color or black-and-white photographs, or when photographs were not available, various sketches and engravings, all of which enriched the entries. Another detail that is noticeable in the biographies, as mentioned in the foreword section of the work, is that the inscriptions on gravestones were added to the content to support biographical entries. When the entries on art are taken into consideration, it is possible to understand that mainly works on architectural art have been taken into account. The current state of the relevant architectural work and the changes that it may have experienced over time, during both the Byzantine and Turkish era, are illustrated via photographs. Literature is addressed by presenting the biographies of Turkish authors. Although the relevant section of the encyclopedia does not include an entry about literature, there is a section on “neighborhood and literature”, which attempts to cover this topic with several entries concerned with neighborhoods of the city. In this regard, the position of Istanbul neighborhoods within the scope of literature is analyzed; in other words literature is examined within the context of other subjects, such as “The Islands in Literature”, which can be found at the end of the entry on “Islands.”

When we examine the subject of neighborhoods and tourism, as handled in the encyclopedia, it is possible to understand that the situation of some neighborhoods in Istanbul are explored under the title of tourism. There are also pictures and engravings that illustrate historical events, fires, earthquakes and changes we can observe today. The entries which describe the Byzantine Hippodrome and several sports played during the Ottoman era (hunting, shooting, archery, etc.) are included in the sports entry. Moreover, some sports clubs that were established during the Republican era are also mentioned. Finally, the encyclopedia includes entries that can be classified as music, theatre and cinema-TV.

Although the encyclopedia was originally intended to consist of eight volumes, only four volumes of the encyclopedia were published. At first, the entries under “A” and “B” were printed in larger type, and the section which includes these two letters continued until the middle of the 3rd volume of the encyclopedia. However, starting from the letters “C” and “Ç,” both the size and the number of entries diminish and eventually the encyclopedia is left incomplete, ending with the letter “O” in the fourth volume. It is remarkable that the final volume of entries is also notably poorer in terms of pictures and engravings than the remaining volumes. The lack of the name of the author or authors at the end of the entries is also a deficiency. In addition to the fact that some entries do not offer a bibliography at the end, while the bibliography offered in the final volume is very small weakens the academic-scientific dimension of the encyclopedia. However, the most significant negative aspect of this encyclopedia is that although some entries were taken from İstanbul Ansiklopedisi by Reşat Ekrem Koçu, this source is not cited.

Dünden Bugüne İstanbul Ansiklopedisi
(The Encyclopedia of Istanbul, from Past to Present)

Dünden Bugüne İstanbul Ansiklopedisi, published in eight volumes, is a joint enterprise by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and the Türkiye Ekonomik ve Toplumsal Tarih Vakfı (Turkish Economic and Social History Foundation). After mentioning that the preparation of this work was inspired by the extraordinary features of the city of Istanbul, it is stated that “a comprehensive collection or an encyclopedia that is beyond the scope of single books or research has virtually been compelled by the city’s location, history, rapid development and problems that have led to the loss of some of characteristics and beauty.”

The preparation of the encyclopedia was initiated in accordance with this idea. It was published as weekly issues between 1993 and 1994, and later printed in volumes. By 1994 seven volumes of the encyclopedia were completed. An index volume was added in 1995 and the encyclopedia was completed with eight volumes. The importance of this encyclopedia is that it is the single complete encyclopedic work on Istanbul to date. This encyclopedia also includes an index, setting it apart from the other encyclopedic works mentioned here. Along with the index of entries, the index includes two separate indexes on visual materials (photographs, engravings and maps), the content of entries and contributing authors. Moreover, a “Right-Wrong Table” is presented, indicating any incorrect information that might be found within the entries.

The visual materials, which are an important feature of this encyclopedia, cover one-fourth of the total Dünden Bugüne İstanbul Ansiklopedisi. These materials, 4,300 items in total, consist of photographs, engravings, drawings, maps, plans and statistical tables. The encyclopedia, prepared in accordance with alphabetical listing, includes 10,000 entries from the letter A to Z. The encyclopedia aims to cover the change and transformation experienced in the city during the Republican era and the elements of Istanbul in the modern era (modern life, institutions, change and problems). Thus, the encyclopedia, printed on glossy paper, and consisting of 4,608 pages, is the only encyclopedia that offers information about recent times in Istanbul.

The editorial board of Dünden Bugüne İstanbul Ansiklopedisi included Semavi Eyice (president), Doğan Kuban (president), Nuri Akbayar, Çağatay Anadol, Ekrem Işın, Necdet Sakaoğlu, Orhan Silier, Özkan Taner and Zafer Toprak. 336 authors contributed to the encyclopedia, and these entries were controlled by the editorial board. Furthermore, some entries are published with a signature that reads “ISTANBUL.” This is thought to be because they were subject to significant changes by the editors. The academic nature of the work can be seen in the fact that the authors sign the entries and by the existence of a bibliography for each entry. Indeed, it is thanks to these characteristics that we can consider Dünden Bugüne İstanbul Ansiklopedisi to be a good reference guide. The subjects covered in the entries are as follows: physical spaces, natural structure, geography, districts, neighborhoods, streets and structures, ranging from mosques to fountains, yalıs to castles, and palaces to köşks. These entries make up 45% of entries. Almost 30% of the entries are on culture, including history, religion, literature, fine arts, music, press, education, folklore, museums, etc. The remaining entries consist of subjects concerned with social structure, life and biographies. In conclusion, this encyclopedic work, which was supported by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and prepared by the Türkiye Ekonomik ve Toplumsal Tarih Vakfı, with its prestigious and experienced editorial board, the expertise of the contributing authors and its academic nature, is a thorough reference guide.

NTV- İstanbul Ansiklopedisi

This work is the final encyclopedia of Istanbul to date. NTV Publications printed it in 2010 when Istanbul was the “European City of Culture.” This work, which occupies a prestigious place among the several cultural activities carried out in 2010, for the most part reveals a delightful portrait of Istanbul. Described as a very special İstanbul Ansiklopedisi by the consultant to the work, Enis Batur, this work is remarkable in that it includes subjective impressions rather than objective or academic analyses.

The encyclopedia, in which the entries are edited as a book or a collection of delightful essays, rather than objective information regarding Istanbul, consists of 350 entries and 1,010 pages. The work also shares the imagery of Istanbul during the 2000s. Several events not only concerned with contemporary Istanbul, but also with the Byzantine and Ottoman eras are presented in this work, thus illustrating the fact that the history of Istanbul goes back beyond what had previously been known; this became particularly relevant following the Yedikule excavations.


1 DBİst.A, vol. 1, p. IX.

2 Since the first volume of the work was published in 1993, its content covered a period starting from 2000 years ago to 1990s.

3 DBİst.A, vol. 1, p. VII. This encyclopedia was first published in 1983. Three separate revised versions were published later on.

4 Murat Bardakçı, “Reşad Ekrem'in Ansiklopedi Macerası: 1,” Habertürk, August 20, 2010; same author, “Reşad Ekrem'in Ansiklopedi Macerası: 2,” Habertürk, August 23, 2010.

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