In the Ottoman period, Istanbul was a city from which scholars from all quarters of the country could inform the sultan and statesmen about their scientific studies and where they were able to reach the peak of their career. Both Badr al-Din al-Ghazzî (d. 1577), a scholar competent in religious studies, a man of letters and a poet, and Kutb al-Din al-Makki (d. 1582), famous for his works on Mecca and Yemen wrote down their impressions about Istanbul after their visits. While Ghazzi was primarily interested in the transformation and development that Istanbul underwent with the Ottomans, Makki emphasized the importance of the capital city in achieving unity in the Islamic world.
Born on 23 June in 1499, Badr al-Din al-Ghazzî member of a Damascene family in which various important scholars were raised. As a poet with a divan, a competent scholar in religious studies and having compiled more than 110 works, some of which were written in verse, al-Ghazzi died in Damascus on January 16 in 1577.
He visited Istanbul on May 16 in 1530 with his son Shahab al-Din Ahmad and some friends; he came to make some requests from the palace, and wrote down his experiences en route from Damascus to Istanbul in al-Matali’ al-Badriyya fi al-Manazil (fi al-Rihlat) Rumiyya.His first impressions are about the first place he arrived, Üsküdar; Üsküdar was an important bazaar and settlement. “It is a bright, beautiful city with mild weather, mature trees and rich vineyards. The Bosphorus passes in front of Üsküdar, which has beautiful mosques, large inns, excellent bazaars and commercial buildings.”
Going down the Bosphorus in a boat, Ghazzi summarizes what Istanbul meant as a capital city in the sixteenth century, giving his first impressions: “here is the center of Turkish cities, and the capital city of the sultans. This great city, which is also the center in which destiny spins, the origin of knowledge and learning, the headquarter of the dynasty for the intellectuals and statesmen, the source of fortune, and a place where wishes and desires come true, is where the sun of happiness rises and shines.”
Badr al-Din al-Ghazzi describes this center, a capital over thirteen centuries, this city that was Constantinople for the Eastern Roman Empire, as “the biggest, the most beautiful and the strongest of the cities of malice and infidelity”; he summarizes why its conquest should be regarded as one of the greatest victories not only in the history of the Turks and Islam, but also in world history:
The Byzantines who reigned over this area for centuries bowed deeply in front of the grandness and majesty of Great Fatih and submitted to the dominance of Muslim Turkish forces who entered the city, polishing their bayonets with tekbirs and prayers. Immediately after the conquest, the churches were turned into mosques, Islamic minarets replaced the silenced church bells. They were not satisfied with the sounds of the ezan rising between the ground and the sky, but built madrasas, inns and masjids. In brief, the Qur’an replaced the Bible, Muslim scholars replaced priests and monks, the sun of Islam had risen and Islamic law and order prevailed. Istanbul subsumes Arabic, Persian and particularly Turkish scholars, as well as having a mighty army of which it can be proud.
It can easily be understood from the passage from the account that the idea behind all the activities carried out in the aftermath of the conquest were aimed at enabling Muslim society to perform the requirements of the religion easily and at facilitating life in an Islamic-Turkish city. Although some monuments were derelict and in ruins, these and beautiful resorts added a special feature to Istanbul and displayed the grandness and splendour of the Ottoman capital city. At every opportunity al-Ghazzi emphasizes the importance that Istanbul had gained after the Ottomans’ conquest; he suggests that all the civilized developments in the capital city were directly related to the functioning of educational institutions. al-Ghazzi was truly impressed by Fatih Mosque and külliye, where he was staying; he made important entries on all sections of the külliye, particularly about the maristan. He strongly emphasizes that in no other part of the world were there such high quality doctors or pharmacists, and he praised the service offered to the patients.
al-Ghazzi also writes about Hagia Sophia, which had been transformed into a large mosque after the conquest:
Hagia Sophia, which astounds everyone and attracts attention with its beauty and fine ornaments, is the most magnificent and historical monument in the city. It is so beautiful and has such a unique architectural composition that it makes everyone look on in awe. A cause for concern might be the decay of some of these decorations and the fact that they are beginning to disintegrate. It is not right to compare Hagia Sophia to Sergios-Bakhos Church, which has some typical ornaments and aesthetic values.
During his stay in Istanbul, al-Ghazzi met several people including the Anatolian kazasker Abdülkadir Hamidî Çelebi (d. 1548), the third vizier Kasım Pasha, the Istanbul mufti, Sadi Çelebi, Ebü’l-Feth Abdürrahim Şerif el-Abbasî and his sons, the qadis Muhyiddin İbnü’l-Fenarî, Fethullah and Kemal, müderris (lecturer) Semaniye Sheikh Imam Abdullah, Fatih Mosque Hatip Sheikh İbrahim, the trustees of Sultan Selim İmaret, Sheikh Muhammed and Hoca Başa, and Hafız Yusuf Sinan Çelebi, who recited the Qur’an very beautifully.
Due to the absence of the sultan in Istanbul, his sons’ circumcision and the outbreak of plaque in the city, al-Ghazzi went to İzmit for some time. He describes Kartal, where he stopped, as a beautiful and merry town which had a variety of fish, and whose population was partly Christian.
Departing from Istanbul on 9 June, 1531, on a Friday, al-Ghazzi describes the cold winter days and transition to spring as follows:
Strong winds were blowing and storms were raging, continuous and fertile rain was pouring down from the sky; sometimes it was snowing for days. Thus, we came through the long days during which we missed the sun, the cloudy weather of the night and day and sitting by the charcoal burner; now we are face to face with the blossoming flowers, growing grass, and bursting buds on the trees which all herald the arrival of spring.
Kutb al-Din al-Makki, who was the mufti of Mecca and qadi of the Ottoman government, and the first Hanafi lecturer of the Süleymaniye Medrese, died on May 20, 1582 in Mecca. Kutb al-Din al-Makki had mastered the written and oral sources of Ottoman history and culture, was able to use first-hand sources in researching information. His most substantial contribution to Turkish historiography was that he provided introduced Turkish political and administrative terminology into Arabic and historiography.
Kutb al-Din al-Makki set out on two journeys to Istanbul after Mecca came under the subjection of the Ottomans; he recorded these journeys in his work entitled al-Fawaid al-Saniyya fi al-Rihlat al-Madaniyya wa al-Rumiyya.His records on Ottoman Istanbul are mostly based on his second journey, which started on March 30, 1558. In this visit, he observed the functioning of Ottoman bureaucracy closely and had the opportunity to meet important scholars and be involved in bilateral scientific discussions. Although he does not provide any information regarding civilian developments in Istanbul and the transformation of the city, he compiled many valuable records on Ottoman statesmen and bureaucracy.
The fact that he arrived in the Ottoman capital from the Hejaz caused him to attract special attention. He was not just an ordinary ambassador, but a representative of the Şerif family, to which the administration of Haramayn was assigned; this family were descended from Prophet Muhammad. The gifts he brought for statesmen, from the highest to the lowest ranks, attracted special interest as Hejaz mementoes; this was demonstrated in the exchange of gifts between the Haramayn and Istanbul in the sixteenth century. Some of Hürrem Sultan’s gifts were transferred to Mihrimah Sultan, who had not been brought any gifts; this happened due to the cunning of Rüstem Pasha, Mihrimah Sultan’s husband.
al-Makki, who was welcomed as a very special guest, had the opportunity of an audience with Sultan Süleyman I and having a discussion with him. He writes that the sultan “has a shining slender face, is of a certain age, and dressed in green”; he had an audience with the sultan on April 11, 1558. al-Makki also records the sadness the sultan was feeling due to Hürrem Sultan’s disease and how this was reflected on his face and behavior. At the same time, al-Makki mentions that close circle of the sultan, primarily Rüstem Pasha, always behaved as if unhappy, and were anxious due to Hürrem Sultan’s illness. He also writes about Hürrem Sultan and her funeral on April 15, 1558:
On Jumadaa al-Thani 26, in 965 on Saturday, the valide sultan passed away after her failure to recover from fever and pain, from which she had been suffering for a while. She established many charitable foundations and offered gifts for the Haramayn and Jerusalem. She was very influential with the sultan; the resolution of many problems were possible only at her hands. She gave birth to Selim, Bayezid, Cihangir, Mehmed and Hanım Sultan (Mihrimah). Sultan Süleyman, who was deeply attached to her with a great love, was left heart-broken upon her death. Her body was brought to Bayezid Mosque on the shoulders of the viziers. She was buried in Süleymaniye Mosque Cemetery after the funeral prayer was performed by Grand Mufti Ebussuud Efendi. All the people of Istanbul grieved over her death.
One of the most important people that al-Makki met in Istanbul was Grand Vizier Rüstem Pasha, who was at the height of his career at that period. An important detail he provides us with is that Rüstem Pasha, who had great affection for him in Istanbul, accepted material, but not gold or jewelry from the gifts al-Makki had brought from Mecca. He describes the second vizier (Semiz) Ali Pasha, whom he met after Rüstem Pasha, as more jocund, merciful and straightforward than the grand vizier. This is quite important in terms of determining the accuracy of some information about these two statesmen that is contradictory in the Ottoman sources.
The mülazemet (a probationary period of a judge) that al-Makki received upon meeting Ebussuud Efendi paved the way for his assignment as the mufti of Mecca upon his return. Among the people that al-Makki was influenced by, Ahmed Çelebi, the son of the sheikh al-Islam, had a special place. The following observations about the scientific knowledge of Ahmed Çelebi, whose hauteur and arrogance were a maxim among Istanbul people, are important in terms of portraying the education level of Ottoman Istanbul in the sixteenth century:
He is a smart, intelligent, jocund, soft-spoken and witty man. His Arabic was quite fluent and clear. He told me that he made tahmis by adding three lines to each verse of al-Mutanabbi’s Kasîde-i Tannâne. His expressions and al-Mutanabbi’s words harmonize with one another in such a way that even great Arabic scholars would have difficulty in achieving this. A Turkish boy was reciting these; he was a Turkish scholar who had never been in the Arab lands, has never rested under the shade of beech and poplar trees, has not chewed sticks from the miswak tree, and has not ridden at full speed in ömür meydanı.
Hekim Çelebi one of the Naqshibandi sheiks, had a vast background knowledge in esotericism and exotericism and was a respected figure in the Ottoman Palace; he was one of the people al-Makki met in Istanbul. His tekke served homeless and poor people, as well as dervishes, and was a primary location that was significant in the cultural life of Istanbul.
Mekkî was one of the ardent advocates of the Ehl-i sünnet concept, which the Ottomans tried to establish as state policy in the early sixteenth century. Although he acknowledged the fact that the political unity of the Islamic world had a direct relationship with the Ottoman government, he did not hesitate to express his discomfort after the execution of Şehzade Mustafa. He gives the following information about Yahya Çelebi, whom he introduces us to as the “milk brother” of Sultan Süleyman I:
This esteemed scholar was in a retreat in his garden in Beşiktaş after abandoning earthly affairs. Here he provided food for the homeless. He had a great reputation in the eyes of the statesmen and had a voice. He would intercede with the authorities for the people who had business with the state and help them have their work done. His relationship with the sultan worsened after the fratricide of Şehzade Mustafa, he was offended with the sultan as he uttered strong words and they had a falling out. I was honored to know and be received by this Sufi personage.
Ebü’l-Feth el-Abbasî, whose lectures al-Makki attended, Shihab al-Din Ahmed al-Nuaymi from Fatih Mosque, imams, the third vizier Mehmed Pasha, the fourth vizier Pertev Pasha, the Rumelian kazaskers Hamid Efendi and Sinan Efendi, the Anatolian kazaskers Bostan Efendi and Celalzade Mustafa Çelebi, whom al-Makki met in his mansion in Eyüp and with who he discussed the Ottoman State, can be counted among the statesmen, scholars, and intellectuals that al-Makki met in Istanbul during his stay in the sakabaşı’s house in the Mahmut Paşa district.
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