The word “gas” originates from the Latin word chaos and the Greek word khaos. A Belgian scientist, Jan Baptista van Helmont, (1577-1644) was the first to use the word “gas” the way it is used today. In the early days, “gas” was used for lighting rather than heating. This is why several European languages have a term, which can be translated into English as “illumination gas”. For example, the phrase “town gas” is used in English; the phrase gaz de ville, which has the same meaning, is used in French, and the term Leuchtgas, which means illumination gas, is used in German.

In the Ottoman State the term that was used for this innovation was an exact translation. In Turkish the phrase used for illumination by gas (gazla tenvir) also included the word gaz. Other terms and phrases, such as gazhane (gasworks) or gaz fabrikası (gas factory) were used to refer the places where the gas was produced. However, it did not take long for the term havagazı, meaning “town gas”, to be used in Ottoman literature. A short time after European cities began to use coal gas for lighting purposes, gasworks were constructed and this gas started to be used in the city of Istanbul. Coal gas began to be commonly used in Istanbul around the 1850s. Its usage spread with the construction of Dolmabahçe Palace and the Dolmabahçe Gasworks, developing further with the construction of other new gasworks.

The Dolmabahçe Gasworks

In addition to its main structure, the Dolmabahçe Palace, which occupies a massive area of over 110,000 square meters, consists of a mosque, harem and rooms for the shahzades (princes), the mabeyin (room separating the women’s quarters from the men’s quarters), a theatre, the imperial stables, the office of the Serasker (Minister of War), kitchens, the Hazine-i Hassa-i Hümâyun (privy purse), and the department of furnishings. With all these buildings and facilities, the palace resembles a small self-sufficient city. It was necessary to light and heat this massive place which acted as home to the sultan throughout the year. In order to solve this problem, a havagazı (town gas) factory was built by the Privy Purse; this was located immediately behind the construction site of the palace, next to the imperial stables and at the entrance of the valley that stretched towards the district of Nişantaşı. This factory became known as the Dolmabahçe Gasworks because of its proximity to the palace. The construction of the Dolmabahçe Gasworks and the construction of the palace were both completed in 1855; now the coal gas needed for the illumination of the palace could be produced for the first time within the borders of the Ottoman State. The Dolmabahçe Gasworks was directed by the management of the Privy Purse. The first production trials were successful, and within three years there was a production surplus. After the end of the Crimean War and the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the palace and its annexes, which had been completed three years earlier, were officially opened for service on June 10, 1856. The Municipality (the Istanbul Municipality), which was established a short while before the formal opening of the palace, made efforts to illuminate the entire city with the gas produced by the Dolmabahçe Gasworks. With the issuance of an imperial edict concerning the illumination of Beyoğlu and other districts, the management of the gasworks was given to Tophane (the Cannon Foundry), and Major General Halil Pasha, Head of Production, was designated as the production manager by the administration. Ali Efendi was appointed as the director of the gasworks. In 1856, town gas started to be distributed to the district of Beyoğlu. İstiklal Avenue (or Cadde-i Kebir/ Grand Rue de Pera) was the first street to be lit by town gas.

The street was lit by lamps that were installed on poles placed at an interval of eighty feet on one side of the street. These lamps were powered by town gas distributed through a gas line that initially reached from Taksim to Galatasaray, later going from Galatasaray to the region of Yüksek Kaldırım, and culminating in the district of Karaköy. After the illumination of İstiklal Street by town gas, the gas began to be distributed to affluent families living in the Pera neighborhood. The opportunity to use town gas for illumination was soon available in the neighborhood around Galata Tower.

1- Dolmabahçe Gasworks in 1940

In 1859, the areas around Galata and Tophane also started to be lit by town gas. In 1861, town gas was distributed to the districts of Talimhane and Saraçhane by way of Imperial Cannon Foundry. In 1864, a gas pipeline was installed from the gasworks, and it passed by the Maçka Armory, reaching the districts of Teşvikiye and Nişantaşı. It is known that the large lamps that lit the gates of the Military Academy at the time, which is now used as the Military Museum, were powered by town gas. In the same year, Pangaltı Avenue, which runs from Elmadağı to Harbiye, and the neighborhood around it were lit by the gas produced in the gasworks. In the same years, Beşiktaş Avenue was also among the places lit by the gasworks. Within about ten years, the districts of Beyoğlu, Beşiktaş, and Harbiye and the places around them were lit by town gas. All the costs of installing the pipelines to the new districts and other related construction were met by the administration of the Dolmabahçe Gasworks and the Imperial Cannon Foundry.

Using town gas for illumination had become so common that it started to also be used to light the important places of worship on special nights and holidays. Sultan Abdülmecid also ordered the illumination of the Naum Theatre with the gas produced by the Dolmabahçe Gasworks.

From the time it was established until 1874, the Dolmabahçe Gasworks functioned as part of the Privy Purse. By 1874, many streets, avenues and houses in the district of Beyoğlu already benefitted from the comfort of town gas. However, despite all these positive developments, the gasworks could not keep up with the technological innovations in gas production and could not even properly repair the broken or worn parts in the facility. This caused a significant amount of waste in gas production and thus inflated prices. In addition, because the boilers were built using outdated methods, a malfunction on one of the boilers could cause a serious catastrophe. This all contributed to the gas produced in Europe becoming cheaper than the gas produced in Istanbul, and thus people started to use petroleum gas called sulu gaz (watery gas) as it was cheaper.

2- Gasometer in Dolmabahçe Gasworks

Based on the reasons mentioned above and maintaining that the gasworks served the city, the Municipality applied to the palace, requesting that the administration of the gasworks be transferred to the Municipality; this would be better than the continued management by the Privy Purse. This request was granted on July 8, 1874. After transferring to the Municipality, new machinery and equipment were set up to replace the old ones in order to modernize the gasworks. In the process of replacing the equipment of the gasworks and taking care of its needs, it was even thought to improve the state of the local industry and the gas pipes needed in the gasworks were constructed within the structure of the Imperial Cannon Foundry.

After operating the Dolmabahçe Gasworks for about sixteen years, the Municipality gave over its administration to the Imperial Cannon Foundry. The government regulation, which was approved by Sultan Abdülhamid II, which ordered the repairs and maintenance of the gas pipelines, as well as the completion of all kinds of necessary innovations and the provision of services to customers, was carried out by the Imperial Cannon Foundry after March 1890.

The management of the gasworks was carried out by Tophane Müşirliği (Ottoman Field Marshalcy) for about twenty years. As a result of the steep increase in gas prices during this period and rumors about the poor management of the gasworks, the Municipality took the matter to the palace; with the approval of the palace it was decided on November 12, 1909 that the administration of the gasworks would be transferred back to the Municipality. However, the transfer process took some time and the gasworks was only transferred back to the Municipality on June 23, 1913.

The second period of the administration of the gasworks by the Municipality did not last very long. In those days, it was a common practice to transfer the administration of such institutions to foreign companies. Thus, after a long period of correspondence and negotiation with the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as well as with the office of the Prime Minister, the Municipality decided to privatize the Dolmabahçe Gasworks. On February 17, 1914, the right to operate the gasworks for a period of fifty years was transferred to the Beyoğlu-Yeniköy Turkish Incorporated Gas Company, which was jointly owned by the Parisian banker Octav Bezanson and Louis Boer.

3- Stock certificate of Dolmabahçe Gasworks

After the company took over the gasworks, it started to modernize by updating the layout of the machinery and the buildings. The illumination of the main streets in the Beyoğlu District and the maintenance of the street lamps were carried out free of charge. Although there were some problems after the introduction of electricity, the area using town gas expanded; it was used in kitchens and bathrooms, even being used to run refrigerators.

After the collapse of the Ottoman State and the founding of the Turkish Republic, the contract with the Beyoğlu-Yeniköy Turkish Incorporated Gas Company was still valid. As a result of a decision taken by Belediye Meclisi (the Istanbul Municipality Assembly) in 1955 to expand the İnönü Stadium, the gasworks was gradually moved to its new location in the neighborhood of Poligon, in Kâğıthane. The part of the stadium that faced the gasworks had open bleachers built, and some of the facilities of the gasworks and the administrative buildings were torn down. Between 1955 and 1962, the entire gasworks was disassembled and moved to Poligon. The production of the Dolmabahçe Gasworks ended on August 15, 1960.

In 1964, the contract with the Beyoğlu-Yeniköy Turkish Incorporated Gas Company expired and it was not renewed. The administration of the gasworks was taken on by a Turkish-French partnership on March 16, 1964; this company continued to operate as the Beyoğlu Provisional Gas Company. In accordance with the regulations regarding local administrations, the gasworks was placed under the authority of the Istanbul Electric Power, Funicular, and Streetcar Board (İETT), and were governed by the İETT until June 13, 1993, when the gasworks stopped production.

The Kuzguncuk Gasworks

The effort to illuminate the streets, roads and historical places of the Anatolian side of the city, which was one of the priorities of the modern municipality, bore fruit for the first time with the establishment of the Üsküdar Kuzguncuk Gasworks. This gasworks, which was one of the earliest industrial facilities on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, started to be constructed in 1862 by a French town-gas company on Kuzguncuk Baba Nakkaş Street and was completed in 1865. The region of Kuzguncuk was chosen for this gasworks so that Beylerbeyi Palace could be illuminated in line with modern standards; this region was not far from the palace, and the coal that would be used as the fuel in the gasworks could be brought to the docks along the Bosphorus by small boats and barges.

The Kuzguncuk Gasworks consisted of a main building which formed the main structure of the factory and held the machinery and other equipment, an additional building that contained the administrative units and management center, and two medium-sized gas storage tanks that stored and distilled the gas. The gasworks factory occupied over ten acres and was used to store the byproducts of the processed coal that was used in the production of gas, such as coal dust, ashes, and tar.

It is possible that the surplus town gas that remained after the Kuzguncuk Gasworks provided the necessary gas for the lighting and heating of Beylerbeyi Palace was used primarily for the lightning of the streets of the Kuzguncuk district, because of its proximity. It was later used for the illumination of the streets of the Beylerbeyi district and the tunnel, Üsküdar Square, and the streets of the Abdullah Ağa, Küplüce, Burhaniye and Fıstıklı districts. As in other districts, the streets were lit with lamps that were located in various places.

4- Town gas bills

4- Town gas bills

The Kadiköy Gasworks, which officially came into service in 1892, began to produce town gas for the district of Üsküdar under the name of the Üsküdar-Kadıköy Gaz Şirket-i Tenviriyesi (Üsküdar-Kadıköy Gas Lighting Company); this company was established on January 6, 1892. With the establishment of this new gasworks, the Kuzguncuk Gasworks slowly became obsolete due to its outdated technology and the introduction of electricity throughout the Anatolian side of Istanbul after the 1920s. Finally in 1940, production at the Kuzguncuk Gasworks, which had continued for seventy-six years, came to a halt. The reusable metal parts and machines in the Kuzguncuk Gasworks, one of the earliest facilities in Turkish industrial history, were disassembled and moved to the Kadiköy Gasworks to be used there. The surviving stone walls of the main and auxiliary buildings of the gasworks and the storage tanks were considered to be an extension of Beylerbeyi Palace and were declared to be first-class historical monuments by the Anıtlar Yüksek Kurulu (Monument Commission).

Although what happened to the gasworks between 1940 and 1992 is not clear, according to information obtained from the residents of the Kuzguncuk district, soon after the gasworks was closed down, a mushroom farm opened in its place and mushrooms were grown there for a long time.

In 1992, the ten-acre area located in Nakkaştepe/Kuzguncuk, part of the Beylerbeyi Palace Kuzguncuk Gasworks, which is under the management of TBMM Millî Saraylar Daire Başkanlığı (the Turkish National Assembly’s Directorate of National Palaces), was leased from the Millî Emlak Genel Müdürlüğü (General Directorate of the National Estates) by the Mülkiyeliler Birliği (the Association of the Graduates of the Department of Political Science, Ankara University) for a period of forty-nine years. This association took over the land, which had twenty-nine shanty houses on it, from the Millî Emlak Genel Müdürlüğü (General Directorate of National Estates). Those twenty-nine houses, some of which were built on a piece of land that belonged to the military forces, were demolished, one by one. After the plans for the restoration of the gasworks were drawn up, the restoration began. The plans for the restoration of this three-block facility, which occupied over 2,500 square meters, were drawn up by Gökhan Avcıoğlu.

The project was approved and construction began after a three-year approval process; this process took place at Boğaziçi İmar Müdürlüğü (the Boğaziçi Development Directorate), the Commission Number Three for the Protection of Cultural and Natural Resources, and the Üsküdar Municipality. The restoration of the Kuzguncuk Gasworks was influenced by the reconstruction and restoration of the Vienna Gasworks in Austria and was thus expanded.

The abandoned gasworks in Nakkaştepe, which was an important step in the history of Turkish industry, will be producing “culture” in the future rather than “town gas.” The towers of the storage facility of the gasworks, which will be restored by the Mülkiyeliler Birliği as a cultural center, will serve as a cafeteria and restaurant.

The land where the remnants of the gasworks, which were registered as extremely important historical monuments by Anıtlar Yüksek Kurulu (the High Commission of Monuments) working under the General Directorate of National Estates, are not only a part of Beylerbeyi Palace, but also hold a very important place in the history of Turkish industry.

5- Town gas lamp

The Yedikule Gasworks

As a result of the Dolmabahçe Gasworks’ success in lighting the streets, avenues, and buildings, the idea to illuminate more of the city of Istanbul with town gas came about. In those days, the illumination of the part of the suriçi (the city within the walls) in line with modern standards was only possible with town gas.

As a result of feasibility studies conducted by Municipality, the Yedikule district was chosen as the most appropriate place to build a gasworks to give the places in the Suriçi, included within the district known today as Fatih, the benefits of modern standards of illumination.

In order to regenerate social life, and satisfy the daily lighting needs of the residents and the streets and avenues of the districts within the Suriçi region, which had been the administrative center of the Ottoman State for centuries, the idea to establish a gasworks in the district of Yedikule developed, based on the findings of the preliminary reports.

6- The opening ceremony of Yedikule Gasworks in 1881

6- The opening ceremony of Yedikule Gasworks in 1881

The most important reason for the establishment of the gasworks in Yedikule was probably its seaside location. The ease of transporting the machinery and equipment needed for the construction of the factory by boat, the ease of transporting the coal needed for the production of gas, and the area’s low population density were also important reasons. When the pollution that might be caused by the gasworks is considered, the Yedikule district appears to be the most ideal location for its construction within the Suriçi region.

The Municipality began the construction of the gasworks factory in the Yedikule district in 1873. The gasworks, however, were only completed in 1880; with the facility opening for service in the same year. The Yedikule Gasworks, built by the French, was the first gasworks established in Istanbul for social purposes (street, avenue, and indoor lighting). The gas produced by this facility was primarily used for the illumination needs of the residents of Istanbul.

The construction of this project started in 1873, but was neglected and was not completed for many years. It was brought onto the agenda again in the early days of Sultan Abdülhamid II’s reign. The government that oversaw the issue decided on the construction of gasworks by the Municipality, as the illumination of the streets with town gas had become one of the primary responsibilities of the municipalities in modern society. Unfortunately, this was not yet common in Istanbul, with the exception of Dolmabahçe and the areas surrounding it, and İstiklal Street, Galata, and Kuzguncuk; however, Sultan Abdülhamid II wanted the Ottoman State to become acquainted with the modern lifestyle; as a result he ordered the Municipality to make the preparations for the illumination of the rest of the areas within the intramuros by town gas. The gas produced in this facility would be carried to Langa in pipes. Then it would to be carried in the pipes with same size over the tram route from Bahçekapısı to Beyazıt, with a third line extending from Aksaray to Şehzadebaşı via Beyazıt. About 350,000-400,000 franks were needed for the construction of the gasworks. This was not considered a high price, as the streets that were to be illuminated with town gas were the most important parts of the city. Moreover, because government offices, private houses and railway stations were going to be illuminated with the excess gas, the cost would easily be covered with the prices that would be charged for gas consumption.

The French, who made the first offer to construct the Dolmabahçe Gasworks, also bid to construct the Yedikule Gasworks. A French engineer, who at the time was working on the İzmit railways for a monthly salary of 1,000 franks, had constructed gasworks in many towns in France. According to the information he provided, the gas produced by the gasworks was to be used for the illumination of the city by means of 6,000 lamps placed throughout the intramurals. At first, the amount of gas was enough for 2,000 lamps, which would be used for illumination, and the rest of the gas produced would be sold to the government offices, important residents, shops and railway stations at a profit. Production started with two furnaces and three more were to be added. Additional profits were made from the byproducts of town gas production, i.e. tar and coking coal. As a result of this, in 1880 Sultan Abdülhamid II ordered that the construction of the Yedikule gasworks, which had not yet been completed, was to be put out on tender. After being opened for operation in 1880 by the Municipality the gasworks, which could provide fuel for 400 lamps and then be expanded to include Eyüp, Bakırköy, and Yeşilköy, started to function. The Municipality operated the gasworks until August 25, 1887, when its operation was taken over by Hasan Tahsin Efendi, a tradesman from the Sirkeci port; the latter would continue to manage it for the next forty years. According to the contract, Hasan Tahsin Efendi was to deliver gas to the aforementioned districts and light 200 lamps for free. In return, the Municipality guaranteed that they would buy the gas to illuminate 500 lamps from him. A twenty-article contract and a nineteen-article agreement were signed between the Municipality and Hasan Tahsin Efendi. With this contract, the delivery of gas to all places within and outside Istanbul, including Eyüp and also to Makriköy (Bakırköy) and Ayestefanos (Yeşilköy) was stipulated. On June 19, 1888, Hasan Tahsin Efendi transferred the privileges of the operation of the gasworks to the Istanbul Şirket-i Tenviriye-i Osmaniye (Istanbul Illumination Company), of which he was a shareholder.

7- Gasometer in Yedikule Gasworks

8- Yedikule Gasworks

In 1926, when the Üsküdar-Kadıköy Gas Company, which operated the Kadıköy Gasworks, bought the Yedikule Gasworks, the operating privileges of the Istanbul Şirket-i Tenviriye-i Osmaniye Company came to an end. The gasworks came under the authority of the IETT, and the latter continued to maintain it. In 1993, the gasworks, along with all other gasworks, ceased to operate.

There were workers from various European countries in this multi-partner corporation. One of these workers was a Belgian named Eugène Autrique. Today, the famous Belgian architect Victor Horta’s work Maison Autrique can be seen in the district of Brussels, Schaerbeek; this area is also known as “the Turkish District”. Eugène Autrique was the first owner of this house and the Belgian archives show that between 1910 and 1912 he worked as a secretary for the Société du Gaz de Constantinople, in which several foreign investors were active.

The Yedikule Gasworks was established solely to meet the illumination needs of the residents of Istanbul.

The Kadıköy (Hasanpaşa) Gasworks

After the Kuzguncuk Gasworks failed to satisfy the needs of the residents of the Anatolian side, preparations for the construction of a new gasworks started; the idea to construct a new gasworks in the district of Hasanpaşa, Kadıköy developed. The preparations for the establishment of this new gasworks, at least as an idea, had been on the agenda long before the construction started. The first gasworks built for social purposes on the Anatolian side of the city was the Kadıköy Hasanpaşa Gasworks; this was completed in 1891. The gas produced in this gasworks was used to illuminate the Anatolian side. The first bids for the construction of the gasworks in Kadıköy and the gas privileges were made in 1891, two years before the actual privileges were granted.

9- Gas tanks

The illumination of the Anatolian side of the city by town gas was put into practice with a contract dated July 28, 1891, signed between the engineer Anatoli Barcil on behalf of the Parisian iron producer Mr. Sharl Jorji, and Istanbul’s şehremini (mayor) Rıdvan Pasha on behalf of the Ottoman State. With this contract, the gas needed for the lighting and heating of the districts of Kadıköy and Üsküdar, as well as the region along the Anatolian coast up to the border of the Eight Municipality District (which was in Beykoz) would be produced from coal by this gasworks. The term of the privileges was set as fifty years.

The Kadıköy Gasworks, which actually started to function in 1892, continued to provide services as Üsküdar-Kadıköy Gaz Şirket-i Tenviriyesi (Üsküdar-Kadıköy Gas Lighting Company). This company operated continuously until World War I. Although from time to time it stopped operating during and at the end of the war, any interruptions in services tried to be prevented by using olive pits instead of coal, the main material used in the production of town gas.

The fuel produced by the gasworks was used for street and indoor lighting. Lamps were installed on the streets at sixty-meter intervals. The Municipality paid a 733,333 kuruş lighting fee to the Üsküdar-Kadıköy Gas Company for 2,170 street lamps. Between 1900 and 1914, town gas was used to illuminate the streets, avenues, palaces, mansions, villas and mosques of Üsküdar. Even though electricity was produced in Istanbul for the first time in 1914, the streets were not lit with electricity until after the 1920s. The Üsküdar-Kadıköy Gas Company installed 2,989 town gas lamps for the illumination of the streets and avenues. Seventy of these were lit without charge, while a fee was charged for lighting the remaining lamps. It cost the Municipality around 85,000-90,000 kuruş to replace the wicks and light and maintain the lamps. Between 1910 and 1914, 8,742 lamps lit the streets of Istanbul at night. During the same period, 2,316 oil lamps and 277 gas lamps (lüks lambası) were used in the offices of the municipality. All these gas lamps were installed in places selected by the Municipality.

10- İstiklal Avenue Gas Company (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Kültür A.Ş.)

The lamps were lit twenty minutes before and turned off twenty minutes after a time determined by the municipality. The employee who was in charge of lighting and putting out the lamps was called a fenerci (lamplighter). Lamplighters would wear seasonal uniforms with the number of the gasworks written on their collars. The lamplighter would take the lamp’s cover off with a long stick and then turn the gas valve on. He then lit the gas with the stick, which had a piece of flint attached to it. He would finally put the glass cover back on. If necessary, the lamplighter would clean the lamp’s glass and repair it.

After the end of the Ottoman State and with the founding of the Republic of Turkey, the contract was extended for another fifty years with a supplementary contract signed by the government in 1924. This contract was signed between Şehremini Emin Bey on behalf of the government of the Republic of Turkey and one of the members of the company’s management board, Arif Hikmet Bey, on behalf of the Üsküdar-Kadıköy Gas Company. The old contract was altered and a new one was drawn up. According to the new contract, the area of the company’s privileges covered everywhere within the borders of the municipalities of Kadıköy, Üsküdar and Anadoluhisarı. New privileges were given for the Bostancıbaşı docks from the Kadıköy side and to places within the borders that were created the by Bostancıbaşı Stream up to İçerenköy, Merdivenköy, Libadiye, Muhacirköy, Çakalköy and the Göksu Stream; the region extended from here to the villages of Akbaba and Kabakoz and down to the Şehitlik and Anadolu Kavağı.

The company operating the Yedikule Gasworks bought the Üsküdar-Kadıköy Gas Company in 1926 and continued to operate it as the İstanbul Havagazı ve Elektrik Teşebbüsatı Sanaiye Türk Anonim Şirketi. After the 1920s, with the introduction of electricity, town gas started to lose its significance. The Kadıköy Gasworks continued to exist as a separate entity between 1938 and 1944. It was brought under the management of the İETT in 1945 and continued to provide services until it was shut down in 1993.


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