Istanbul’s māni (syllabic folk quatrains),1 although similar in form and content to examples from Turkish literature that exist in various cultural and geographical basins, has its own notable characteristic differences and qualities.

Istanbul’s folk quatrains can be examined in three groups: düz (plain folk quatrains), ayaklı (first-phrase quatrains), and māni fasıl (quatrain intermezzo). Düz quatrains are not very different from those which were recited in Anatolia; they were recited by both men and women; however, the performance of ayaklı mâni, or the listening to the same, was something done almost exclusively by men. While performing fasıl quatrains was particular to men, the listeners were comprised of men, women, young people, elderly people, children... that is, anyone who could wake up for the sahur (predawn meal eaten in the month of Ramadan).

Plain Quatrains

The verse pattern of plain quatrains consists of four lines; quatrains of this type are generally uttered in a meter of seven syllables (4+3, 3+4 with or without an interval), and most are uttered in the “a a x a” rhyme scheme. That is to say, the first, second and fourth lines usually have assonance, whereas the third line does not rhyme.

Istanbul’s folk quatrains resemble other types of plain quatrains, and in terms of form they do not differ from those recited at any other location within the Turkish cultural geography. Plain quatrains are generally performed by uneducated people or people with only primary education degree, and they have a predominantly anynymous character.2

Hıdırellez (semi-religious spring festival) festivities and henna nights provided the best opportunity for plain quatrain performances. During Hıdırellez festivities in Istanbul, women of the neighborhood in question, whether they were only acquaintances or close friends, would spread their prayer rugs and carpets over the soft grasses in the shade of trees in their gardens, sip their coffee, and draw a fortune that had been written on a slip of paper from crystal jars or china bowls.3 On this occasion folk quatrains would be uttered as well. These festivities and other organized events were, for the most part, undertaken as a means to increase the unmarried girls’ luck to find suitors.4

Henna nights in Istanbul, one of the most essential pre-wedding rituals, were very entertaining, and most of the time would be far livelier than the actual wedding ceremony. Large mansions, summer resort places, such as Çamlıca, Göztepe, and Kızıltoprak, or in spacious and comfortable waterfront mansions witnessed henna nights conducted for the sons and daughters of the social elite, which resounded as a topic of conversation for days and weeks. And plain quatrain masters would make an appearance mostly at such gatherings and recite quatrains about the physical qualities of the bride. If the bride was rather corpulent, they would utter quatrains like: Ben şaşırdım yolumu/Bilmem sağım solumu/Hakka şükür överdim/Ben yosma tombulumu (I’ve lost my way, far and wide/And lost the notion of my left and right/Praise be to God, I’d surely exalt/My coquettish, plump bride). If the bride was very young, the quatrain would be uttered accordingly: Bir körpecik kuzusun/Gönüller yıldızısın/Sen o mutlu kocanın/Alnındaki yazısın (You’re just a lamb/ In the hearts, you’re a glittering star/ Surely you are written/ On the future of your happy husband.)5

Examples of Plain Quatrains:

İstanbul çarşısına
Gün doğar karşısına
Adam gönül verir mi
Kapı bir komşusuna?

(The illuminating sun dawns
Over Istanbul’s bazaars;
How can a man fall in love
With his next-door neighbor?)6

Yağmur yağdı ıslandım
Karaduta yaslandım
Ben yârimin koynunda
Şeker ile beslendim

(It rained and I was soaked,
I leaned on the mulberry tree
And fed on sugar
In the bosom of my beloved)7

First Phrase Quatrains

In Istanbul’s coffeehouses that were frequented by musicians, the first ayak (literally leg, but here word or phrase) of the first phrase quatrains would begin with the set phrase of Adam aman! (Oh man!). Ahmed Rasim describes this situation as follows: “When one mentions quatrains, the first style of recitation that comes to mind is:

“ O man!” It is all about “O man!” We, the children of Istanbul, cannot understand these words in any other way! Indeed, this form - the first-phrase quatrains - are the most suitable form of folk literature for this style. The quatrain is welcomed, taken to the maqam (see footnote 1), and then bid farewell.8

This can be seen in the following example:

Adam aman uyan yâr
Gün ışıdı, şafak attı, uyku isen uyan yâr
Mert ise namert olur, el sözüne uyan yâr

(O man, wake up, O beloved!
The sun has risen, day has dawned; wake up if you’re asleep, O beloved!
Heeding the words of strangers makes a gallant man a coward, O Beloved!)9

Semāī kahvehānesi (coffeehouses) were the most common places where the first phrase quatrains were performed; these were generally located in quarters where the majority population was Muslim-Turkish. Some examples of these quarters were Aksaray, Ayvansaray, Beşiktaş, Beyazıt, Balat, Çukurçeşme, Defterdar, Eyüp Sultan, Hasköy, Halıcıoğlu, İstinye, Karagümrük, Küçükpazar and Üsküdar. The coffeehouse owners had to apply to the police a week before Ramadan to receive permission to open these coffeehouses; which was valid for the entire month of Ramadan.10 Thus, the place would be made ready for the Ramadan festivities and cultural activities; the folk quatrain poets that would participate in quatrain battles and their supporters were already looking forward with great anticipation to these events.

First phrase quatrains, which would invariably begin with the phrase “O man!”, would often be performed reciprocally; and the performers were usually professionals. In line with the rules of the battle of words, the poets would try to outrival each other. The rivals in these quatrain battles were often tulumbacı (voluntary firefighters); they took place in musical coffeehouses which were opened always with a particular ceremony. These groups of poets would invite rival groups to their coffeehouses and would, as a token of respect, welcome them in the company of music from drums, shrill pipes, and small double kettledrums. A person from the hosts or the guests would utter a couplet, a quatrain, or simply a rhyme, and a response would be anticipated from the other party. The first line uttered by the çığırtkan (reciter) would be taken as the starting point. The lines would be recited accompanied by a clarinet, playing slowly and ponderously. After the clarinet stopped playing, it was the turn of the other party that was expected to come up with an immediate, strong response and to outshine its opponent. The clarinet produced tunes compatible with the quatrains uttered; the hearing of the of the phrase “O man!” indicated the ongoing first phrase quatrains battle.11

Below are two first phrase folk quatrains recited by Haddehaneli Zihni and Benli Mehmed at festivities which were organized in voluntary firemen coffeehouse in Galata Çeşme Meydanı (Çeşme Square); the festivities were to mark the 25th anniversary of the ascension of Sultan Abdulhamid II to the throne. In this battle of quatrains, the çığırtkan initiated the first phrases, and then Mehmet uttered the first lines and Zihni the second ones. Below are two such quartains:

Çığırtkan Adam aman… zihnimi
Zihni -Felek harap türab etti karıştırdı zihnimi
Mehmet - Hak gönderdi yâr tutayım kara gözlü Zihni’mi
Çığırtkan - Adam aman… yedi beni
Zihni - Nişan yedi beladan herifin yedi beni
Mehmet - Kaşlar kara, kirpik kara, vahşi nigâh yedi beni

(Çığırtkan – O man... my mind...
Zihni - Destiny has devastated, ruined and confused my mind
Mehmet - God has sent, let me love my black-eyed Zihni
Çığırtkan – O man... She has devoured me...
Zihni – Received the target, your man devoured me due to troubles
Mehmet - Black eyebrows, black eyelashes, and her wild gazes have devoured me)12

According to “Çalgılı kahvehanelerde pişmiş eski kurtlar” (old hands trained in coffeehouses), the following describes the character of a folk quatrain: it is a representation of meanings, and similar to an out-of-season fruit. Just as a fruit of this kind blossoms on a tree and grows, a folk quatrain should blossom in the chest of the poet, who must treat those around him to freshly grown, newly-ripened, or so to speak, piping hot quatrains, which he plucks from the branches of his own heart.13

There were folk quatrain poets who were well-trained in both extemporaneous recitations and writing; their quatrains were respected by a vast variety of people, from the dungeon to the palace. Most of these were voluntary firemen whose main aim was not to be outdone in putting out fires by the fire brigade of another neighborhood; these men carried their competition onto the literary platform in the coffeehouses, holding battles in folk quatrains. These folk poets had nicknames, for example: Acem İsmail, Arap Hamid, Badik Ömer, Bülbül Bilal, Balıkçı Agop and Balatlı Nesim. The most renowned ones were Çiroz Ali, Kel Ali Bey, and Zil İzzet. Not only were there people who were engaged in writing folk quatrains, there were others who improvised when reciting. The leather-covered notebook of Zübidi Raşid contained over 2,000 folk quatrains. Examples of those who recorded quatrains include Ali Çamiç, Gürcü Nusret, Kadırgalı Kara Cezmi and Vasıf Hiç.14

Examples of first phrase quatrains:

Adam aman …ka…rın…ca…
Yazdan toplar erzakın kışa saklar karınca
Canan bizi affetti yalvarıp yakarınca

(O man... an a n t...
An ant gathers its sustenance in summer and stores it for winter
The beloved forgave us when we begged and besought)15

Üsküdar, Kâğıthane, Çamlıca, Bağlarbaşı
Cemâlin ayna mıdır, her gelen bağlar başı

Üsküdar, Kadıköy, Çamlıca, Bağlarbaşı
Is your countenance a mirror so that whoever sees it covers their hair?)16

An example from nineteenth-century celerity, Zil İzzet:

Adam aman ne kese
Terziye kumaş geldi
Düşünür ki ne kese
Ölçtü biçti kumaşı
Ne cep olur ne kese

(O man, What a purse
Fabric has arrived at the tailor’s
He considers what to cut
He has measured and cut the fabric
Now it will make neither a pocket, nor a pouch)17

Quatrain Intermezzos

This type of quatrain usually consists of eight syllables per line, and is made up of quatrains, called fasıl (intermezzo or suite) within its tradition. Within a certain order it touches upon a particular topic. Gatherings were organized for these quatrains whose topics ranged from humor, architecture to religious and governmental propaganda. these quatrain intermezzos, depending on the bekçi (neighborhood night watchmen), would begin just before Ramadan and last until the ‘Eid; the recitals of the poetry would be accompanied by a drummer.

In Istanbul these quatrain intermezzos were a deep-rooted tradition; and generally their reciters were men, mostly the neighborhood night watchmen.18

The bekçi would ask for tips, particularly after the 15th day of Ramadan. At the end of the gathering they would ask for their tips quite openly:

Sözlerim bi nihâyedir
Size şirin hikâyedir
Sözlerimin nihâyeti
Bahşiş lutf u atâyadır

(My words are endless
They are, to you, a lovely story
The end of my words shall be
Tips, bounties, and favours19

An example of quatrain intermezzo:

Kız Kulesi
Köhne sözleri nidelim
Tâze edâlar idelim
Bu gice size sultanım
Kız Kulesin medh idelim

Gâyet müferrihdir hele
Zevkini görenler bile
Ortasındadır deryanın
Benzer kafesi bülbüle

Kulesi yapılmış âli
Tatlı su şeker misâli
Bir kere gören âdemin
Gitmez gönlünden hayâli

Her taraf toplanır hâzır
Penceresi bahre nâzır
Bir dud ağacı da bitmiş
Sâyesi gâyetle fâhir

Dört yanını almış deryâ
İhâta eylemiş gûyâ
Öylece nakl eylemişler
Bir kız için olmuş binâ

Yapılmış bir âli fener
Her gece subha dek yanar
Üstadına sâd âferin
Komış cihanda bir eser

Bir tarafı Üsküdar’a
Karşu itmekde nezâre
Ramazan yaz günü olsa
Giderler anda iftâre

Ne zevkdir ârifler gide
Ol mahalde iftâr ide
Döşeyesin seccâdeyi
Kenâr-ı Bahr-i sefîde

Zevkıne hiç doyulur mu
Gönül arzusun bulur mu
Kız Kulesi oldı tamam
Bekçi’ye ihsan olur mu

The Maiden’s Tower

What to do with words, old and stale,
Let’s find manners that’ll never pale
O my sultan, for you, on this very night,
We will praise and hail the Maiden Tower

For its great comfort, there is no measure,
Only those who’ve been there know its pleasure,
A place located in the midst of a sea,
Like the cage of a nightingale

Adorned with a tower, long and sublime,
A tower like sweet water, a tower, prime,
Whoever casts his gaze on it even once,
Shall remember its silhouette all the time

All people gather around it, there, ever present,
Its windows overlook the sea,
And a mulberry tree has grown next to it,
With a shade extremely proud and pleasant

Surrounded by the sea,
Surrounded on all sides
People have related for a long time
That it was built for the love of a girl

On that a beautiful lighthouse,
Burning there ever until every sunrise,
A thousand praises for the wise master,
Who left behind a work without a price,

With one of its sides
Overlooking Üsküdar,
If it is a Ramadan day,
They have a fast-breaking meal
Those who know are aware of its pleasure,
Let them have there a fast-breaking meal
And spread your praying rug,
Right on the bank of the Black Sea

Is it possible to have enough of its pleasure?
Will the heart be united with its desire?
The quatrain about the Maiden Tower is over
Will there be gifts and bounties for the watchman?20


Istanbul lullabies, in terms of their characteristic literary qualities, like other lullabies, developed in the quatrain (mani) style with a few exceptions.21 Yet, a large number of lullabies in which Istanbul is mentioned did not originate from Istanbul. The example, İstanbul’un viranları/Alakoymuş varanları/Gör sen de o örenleri/Uyu da büyü (Istanbul’s desolate areas/ Detain those who have arrived / You too take a look at those ruins / Sleep and grow) belonged to the district Yalvaç.22 However, since this lullaby talks about Istanbul’s being a place of separation and homesickness where newcomers become enraptured and settle for good, it is a lullaby about Istanbul as much as about Yalvaç.

Lullabies that describe the specific features of various quarters of Istanbul, and reflect particular characteristics of the city, can be much more explicitly characterized as Istanbul lullabies. Yağmura kurdum salıncak/Eyüp’ten aldım oyuncak/Şimdi baban gelecek/Sakın kırma yumurcak (I set up a swing in rain / And from Eyüp, I bought a toy / Now your father will come / Don’t break it, little boy) as well as Ninni ninni demekten/Ben kesildim yemekten/Doktor gelsin Bebek’ten/Ölüyorum yürekten (From saying ninni ninni [to put the baby into sleep]/I can no longer eat/ Let the doctor come from Bebek/I am dying of heart) can be included in this group.23
Some examples:

Ninni ninni iğci baba
Arkasında yamalı aba
Benim yavrum uyuyacak
Gelme bize bekçi baba

(Ninni, ninni, spindle maker,
Wearing a patched woolen attire,
My dear child will soon fall asleep,
So do not come to us, O night watchman)24 *

Ninni ninni demekten
Ben kesildim yemekten
Doktor gelsin Bebek’ten
Ölüyorum yürekten

(These lullabies I’ve been singing and singing
So I’ve been unable to eat anything
Have a doctor come from Bebek
Because I’m dying from my heart)25


Proverbs that originated in Istanbul are, in a general sense, not very different from those from other Turkish cities.26 The fact that Istanbul for centuries has been a destination for immigrants from many different lands - first and foremost Anatolia – but Turco-Islamic cultural sphere as well as non-Turkish and non-Muslim communities, resulted in creating a cultural dynamism and vastly enriching folkloric diversity. This structure, being open to change, demonstrates the appeal of Istanbul; as it also embodies in proverbs reflections of the urban culture.

Another characteristic is that a variety of place names from Istanbul occur in many proverbs. Two examples are as follows: Arasta, Uzunçarşı, tiryaki isen tütün taşı (Arasta, Uzunçarşı, if you’re an addict, carry tobacco with you.)27 Uzunçarşı’nın üst başında bir yalan söyler, alt başında kendisi de inanır (He tells a lie at one end of Uzunçarşı, buys it himself at the other end). In the proverb: Divanyolu’nda fidan büyümez (Green shoots do not grow in Divanyolu) it is implied that there are too many people walking down this particular street, which leads to the Sublime Porte, and consequently, it is better to avoid this street. Other proverbs, such as, Eğrikapı’nın eğrisi, mahallenin doğrusu (Eğrikapı crookedness is the decency of a neighborhood) Okmeydanı’nda buhur yakılmaz (Incense can’t be burnt in Okmeydanı)28 Atı alan Üsküdar’ı geçer, alamayan çukurun kazar (He who purchases a horse crosses to Üsküdar, he who cannot digs a hole) give us clues about Istanbul’s cultural history and daily life.29 And the proverb: Bundan başka İstanbul yok (There is no other Istanbul)30 reflects the great love the people of Istanbul have for their hometown.

Helva sohbet (halwa-sweet conversations), which in Istanbul’s community life presented a good excuse for entertainment, ensured the perpetuity of the city’s cultural memory, as well as providing an opportunity for more proverbs to be created. Describing a helva sohbet from the 19th century, Mehmed Tevfik tells us that invitees played games like tura (coin toss) and yüzük oyunu (hunt the ring); he then takes up the topic of darb-i mesele (maxims). He mentions the game in which the players had to recite proverbs in alphabetical order (according to the Arabic alphabet), i.e. the first proverb had to begin with the letter aliph; this was a game that tested and challenged the vocabulary, eloquence, memory, wit, and improvisational skills of the players.31


Ahmed Râsim, Muharrir Bu Ya, haz. Hikmet Dizdaroğlu, Istanbul: Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı, 1990.

Alsan, Nebil Fazıl (prepared by), Şair, Edip ve Tarihci Kalemiyle İstanbul, Istanbul: Yeni Bahar Matbaası, 1973.

Göktaş, Uğur, “Kâğıthane Âlemleri”, DBİst.A, vol. 4, 172-173.

Koçu, Reşad Ekrem, Türk İstanbul, Istanbul: Cumhuriyet Gazetesi Yayınları, nd.


1 In every land where Turkish is spoken, folk quatrains (mani), a poetic style particular to Turkish literature ha become widespread, albeit under different names; rarely have the quatrains come to us from known sources. In most cases the origins are anonymous. They are performed spontaneously within a particular maqām of classical Turkish music [i.e., rast, hijāz, sabā, bayātī, etc] or with a pre-composed melody. They are composed orally and performed individually.

2 Abdulkadir Emeksiz, İstanbul Mânileri, Istanbul: İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi Basın Yayın ve Halkla İlişkiler Daire Başkanlığı, 2007, p. 21.

3 Sadri Sema [Aydoğdu], Eski İstanbul’un Hatıraları: Meşrutiyet’de İstanbul, unknown publishing place: Vakit Yayınları, 1955 p. 409.

4 Aliye Muazzez, “İstanbul’da Hıdırellez Merasimi”, Halkbilgisi Haberleri, 1930, issue 11, p. 19.

5 Ercüment Ekrem [Talu], Dünden Hatıralar, Istanbul: Yedigün Neşriyat, nd., p. 14.

6 Mehmet Halit Bayrı, İstanbul Folkloru, Istanbul: A. Eser Yayınları, 1972, p. 68.

7 Bedri Güneri, “Çatalca’dan Derlenmiş Maniler”, Halkbilgisi Haberleri, issue 80 (1938), p. 176.

8 Ahmed Rasim, Muharrir Bu Ya, prepared by Hikmet Dizdaroğlu, Istanbul: Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı, 1990, p. 167.

9 Tahir Alangu, Çalgılı Kahvelerdeki Külhanbey Edebiyatı ve Numuneleri, Istanbul: Ahmed İhsan Matbaası, 1943, p. 55.

10 Nurullah Bilgin, “Semai Kahveleri”, Şair, Edip ve Tarihçi Kalemiyle İstanbul, ed. Nebil Fazıl Alsan, Istanbul: Yeni Bahar Matbaası, 1973, p. 197.

11 Samiha Ayverdi, İstanbul Geceleri, Istanbul 1952, pp. 73-74.

12 Reşad Ekrem Koçu, İstanbul Tulumbacıları, Istanbul: Ana Yayınevi, 1981, p. 293.

13 Sermet Muhtar Alus, Onikiler, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 1999, p. 15.

14 For further information on the performers and poets of Istanbul’s folk quatrains and on the particular qualities of the performances, see Emeksiz, İstanbul Mânileri, pp. 56-97.

15 Halit Fahri Ozansoy, Eski İstanbul Ramazanları Bütün Adetleri Eğlenceleri Hatıraları Fıkraları, Istanbul: İnkılap ve Aka Kitabevleri, 1968, p. 80.

16 Alangu, Çalgılı Kahvelerdeki Külhanbey Edebiyatı, p.46.

17 Sadi Yaver Ataman, Türk İstanbul, ed. Süleyman Şenel, Istanbul: İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi, 1997, p. 58.

18 Emeksiz, İstanbul Mânileri, p. 21.

19 Amil Çelebioğlu, Ramazannâme, Istanbul: Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı Yayınları, 1995, p. 82.

20 Sabri Koz (ed.), Ramazan Fasılları Bekçi Baba, Istanbul: Kitabevi, 1998, pp. 75-77.

21 Amil Çelebioğlu, Türk Ninniler Hazinesi, Istanbul: Kitabevi, 1995, p. 14.

22 Çelebioğlu, Türk Ninniler Hazinesi, p. 128.

23 Saim Sakaoğlu, “Ninniler”, DBİst.A, vol. 4, p. 80.

24 Çelebioğlu, Türk Ninniler Hazinesi, p. 343.

25 Çelebioğlu, Türk Ninniler Hazinesi, p. 315.

26 M. Sabri Koz, “Atasözleri”, DBİst.A, vol. 1, p. 380.

27 Kerim Yund, “Atasözlerimizde Geçen İstanbul Yer Adları ve Açıklamaları”, Türk Folklor Araştırmaları Yıllığı, 1976, p. 173.

28 Yund, “Atasözlerimizde Geçen İstanbul Yer Adları”, p. 188.

29 Koz, “Atasözleri”, I, 380.

30 Yund, “Atasözlerimizde Geçen İstanbul Yer Adları”, p. 181.

31 For the games played during helva (halwa) gatherings, the guests, and examples of the proverbs, see Mehmed Tevfik, İstanbul’da Bir Sene, edited by Nuri Akbayar, second edition, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 1995, pp. 62-65; Uğur Göktaş, “Helva Sohbetleri”, DBİst.A, vol. 4, pp. 48-49.

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