The Hagia Sophia library was established in Hagia Sophia Mosque by Sultan Mahmud I. It is remarkable due to its architecture, the rich collection, and the relatively large number of people who were employed there. Although the waqfiyya (endowment deed) of the library was written in Shawwal 1152 (January, 1740) and some of its books were acquired in the month of Sha’ban of the same year, its opening ceremony could not be held until Muharram 24, 1153 (April 21, 1740). In this ceremony, at which Sultan Mahmud I was also present, Bukhari’s work was read from beginning to the end, and prayers for the completion of the reading were recited; muhaddis (hadith scholar) and mufassir (scholar of Qur’anic exegesis) gave opening lectures, and after the sermon of the Hagia Sophia imam, prayers were recited. Following the opening ceremony, the sultan gave gifts to the library employees.

The opening of Hagia Sophia Library also made some impression on the public. For example, in one account about the event, the decorations of the library building were especially emphasized and it is stated that they were admired by everybody. After its opening, Sultan Mahmud I visited the library on several occasions and gave gifts to the librarians, instructors in the library, bookbinders and guards.

According to the reports of the historian Subhî Mehmed, when opened, Hagia Sophia Library had a rich collection of 4,000 books. Some of this collection had come from the Hazine-i Âmire (Imperial Treasury), and another significant part consisted of books donated by the grand vizier, the sheikh al-Islam, the dârussaâde agha and other prominent statesmen. In the meticulously prepared catalogue of the library, there is a prologue about how Sultan Mahmud I had established the library, which is followed by the endorsement seals of the Haramayn inspector and the kazaskars (military judges) of Anatolia and Rumelia. From the catalogues of Hagia Sophia Library which were later prepared, it can be understood that the collection of this library was carefully preserved. There were a total of five catalogues for the Hagia Sophia Library that were prepared during the Ottoman period, four of which are in manuscript form, and one of which was printed.

1- The Hagia Sophia Library

Compared to the other Ottoman libraries, the Hagia Sophia Library had a relatively large number of employees. In addition to six librarians, one book binder, and one kâtib-i kutub (books clerk) and tatbiki-i kutub (application clerk), there also were two noktacı (place holders) who would help people who were reading Bukhari’s work by marking their place at the end of their reading sessions. There were also employees who were responsible for the security and the cleaning of the library, as two mustahfiz (security personnel), two bawwab (gatekeepers), three farrash (sweepers), a mâni‘u’n-nukûsh (responsible for the preventing writings on and clean-keeping of the walls), two meremmetchi, who were responsible for the repair and maintenance of the library, one kurshuncu (lit. caster of lead; responsible for the repair and maintenance of the roofs and domes), and one buhurcu, who was responsible for using incense to keep the library smelling fresh. There were a total of 22 personnel working in the library. The wages of the personnel in the Hagia Sophia Library were quite high compared to the wages of the other libraries.

In the Hagia Sophia Library, “instruction in the library,” which had started in some of the older libraries, became a regular activity. The appointed instructors, such as darsiâm (instructor for the public), muhaddis and sheikh al-qurra (chief instructor for the recitation of Qur’an), would come to the library on certain days of the week and teach classes. In the endowment deed of the library, a certain amount of the budget was reserved for students who attended these classes.

In 1968, the books in Hagia Sophia Library were moved to the Süleymaniye Library.1


1 For more information about the library and resources, see: İsmail E. Erünsal, “Ayasofya Kütüphanesi”, DİA, vol. 4, pp. 212-213.

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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