Art historian and archaeologist Semavi Eyice is considered the pioneer of Byzantine studies in Turkey. For this article he was interviewed by the lyricist and author Beşir Ayvazoğlu.

1- Semavi Eyice: Istanbulite, a lover and memory of Istanbul

Beşir Ayvazoğlu: I would like to talk with you about Istanbul. You are a great expert on the history and culture of Istanbul. And more importantly, you were born and raised in Istanbul. Your family is originally from Amasra. Your grandfather once told his wife: “We have three sons. If we are to stay here, they are likely to become either fishermen or boatmen; it is best that we leave for Istanbul”. And he brought his family to Istanbul and settled in Küçükpazar near Cibali. This means that your family has been residents of Istanbul for three generations. Why do you think your grandfather chose the region around Cibali?

Semavi Eyice: You know, there are certain places for those who migrate from different parts of Anatolia. And the Unkapanı/Cibali region was the place for mariners.

What was the reason behind this preference?

As you know, at the time the Golden Horn was the central harbor in Istanbul. All the wooden boats were anchored there. They would be pulled on to shore for pitching and caulking. To do this work, all the people who came from the Black Sea and Amasra were specifically relocated around Unkapanı. My maternal grandfather was a mariner.

How about the Eyicioğulları?

The Eyicioğulları are my paternal family. As you know, one of them worked as a commander in the navy. Celal Eyiceoğlu was an admiral. My uncle was a retired colonel, a marine colonel. My father was a retired marine officer. But then he became a teacher at the Maritime Academy (then called the Ticaret-i Bahriye Mektebi) which was established by the Ministry of Transportation in 1930. And he worked as a teacher in this school for nineteen years until his second retirement. He taught captaincy.

But, your father did not stay in Cibali, but moved to Kadıköy…

Yes, he said that one could not raise a family in such a neighborhood. After all, he was a naval officer; he bought either a Rum (Greek) or an Armenian house. It was on a street very close to Yeldeğirmeni . He fixed it up nice and settled in and then my brother was born. That was during the years of World War I. Afterwards my mother became pregnant with me. However, a fire broke out in the Haydarpaşa Çayırı in 1922, and with the help of the northeast wind it spread and burned our house to its foundation.

2- The Golden Horn and the shipyard

The most famous fires of Istanbul all grew and spread because of these northeast winds.

This fire came to be known in history as the Fire of Haydarpaşa Çayır... because it broke out in one of the houses in Çayırbaşı and spread further. It broke out on July 29, 1922.

Your next home was also located in Kadıköy...

My father had our same house rebuilt sometime during the War of Independence. I was born in a relative’s house. As a matter of fact, my identity card was issued a year later and so 1923 was written on it. However, the actual year of my birth is 1922.

But the record states 1924.

No, no. My identity card says ’23; my birth in ‘24 is made up. In fact, even the Saatli Maarif (almanac) recorded it wrong. I wrote a letter saying that the actual date is this or write it like that, but nothing changed and it has remained as before. Then I lost interest and just gave up.

Then let us record your actual date of birth with this interview.

My identity card dates back to December 9, 1923. But actually my birthday fell on December 9, 1922. My mother told me, “I was five months pregnant with you when the house burned down, and as our house burned I was in the street pounding my stomach and weeping.!” I asked Mahmut Şakiroğlu in Ankara for assistance and after researching old newspapers he determıned that the fire broke out on July 29, 1922.

3- The view of Unkapanı and its neighborhood at the end of past century

And this shows that you are a born and raised Istanbulite.

I am a born and raised Istanbulite, but I am from the opposite side, the Anatolian side. I never lived for long on the Istanbul side.

Well then, could you please tell us more about Kadıköy during those years, that is to say, the Kadıköy of your childhood and adolescence?

Now you see, I have talked all about this already. There was an event like a symposium held in Ankara, and I presented this story in the form of a thirty-page article. It was even published. Our house was rebuilt once again after it burned down. Of course, lots of things were burned and only a few were saved. Some of the rooms were totally empty, just bare walls. I began growing up in this house, under those circumstances. My father was careful about one thing: he used to say, “If you want to be an important man, then you have to be fluent in a foreign language!” Because of this, when my brother reached school age he was sent to a primary school called the German School, which was built by the Germans on our street across from our house. The Germans had used our street for a workers’ residential area during the construction of the Haydarpaşa Terminal. Later, of course, the school was converted to a Turkish school after the Germans left. It was called the Osmangazi Primary School. When titles such as “gazi” (war veteran) and “sultan” were banished, the name of the school also changed. As you might know, this was being done a lot around 1933.


Even the title “pasha” was removed.

Even the imperial seals were scraped off.

Oh, so many things like this were done. There was Osman Öndeş, a retired marine officer, who wrote a fantastic book called Vurun Osmanlı’ya (Blame the Ottomans). He collected all the inscriptions that were effaced; he could not determine all of them, but collected so many of them, as far as I know. Anyway, that is another story altogether. My father later sent my brother to a French school called St. Louis that was being run by French priests, which was located at the end of our street. My brother then continued his studies at St. Joseph in Moda, which was a level higher. My brother is seven years older than me. When I was old enough to attend school my father sent me directly to St. Louis as well.

You also studied at St. Joseph later on, right?

I also studied at St. Joseph for a year. Then certain campaigns against these schools appeared. Rumors that the children were being subjected to Christian propaganda in these schools began to circulate.

Was it true?

I do not know. I did not witness anything like this, but for example, according to the rumors the girls who studied at the American College in İzmir (Smyrna) were forced to go to church. Another matter that I observed was that a pupil called Sedat from Robert College had left his books at the cinema and did not come back to get them. Then I was given these books. There was a relative of mine working at the cinema. He did not come back for months, for years. The books were textbooks, for sure. The textbooks were part of the syllabus at Robert College. However, there was also a beautiful New Testament among them. It was a wonderful edition, printed on paper that was as fine as silk, and it had quite an interesting and soft cover. There were also pictures printed on glossy, colored paper. It contained both a blank page and quite an embellished introductory page. And below them was the name of the owner of this book. That is how I found out about the name of that kid. The students officially studied the New Testament in Robert College. This is clear proof. In fact, that very same New Testament is still in my possession. My library was sold and you can find it in that collection.

Could you talk a bit more about Kadıköyü? Notice I said “Kadıköyü.”

Properly, the name is Kadıköyü, not Kadıköy. In fact there used to be a fountain there, which was torn down and on it was written, “A pious act of the Kurdish Hasan Ağa, a resident of the Kadı (Qadi) Karye (Town)”. There was a fountain beside the mosque in Kızıltoprak.

Some say the word derived from Khalkedon.

No, that is not true. You see, when Istanbul was conquered Sultan Mehmed II granted (temlik) this area to the first qadi of Istanbul, Hızır Bey Çelebi. And from that moment on this place became the property of Hızır Bey Çelebi. That is why this place was called the Kadıköyü or Kadı karyesi (meaning the Town of the Qadi). And today it is called Kadıköy in the Rum manner of speaking. For instance, the gates (kapı) of the city are called Belgratkapı, Silivrikapı, and such. Not Edirnekapısı, Silivrikapısı. We name them according to the Rum way of speaking. I have always said this. Learn and teach their correct names. In fact, I was asked to talk in a meeting organized by the Kadıköy Municipality some years ago, and I said this again: I specifically told them not to put up any more signs saying “Kadıköy”. Kadıköyü. There was a road -not used anymore- on which one had to go over hills and mountains to reach İzmit twenty years ago. And there used to be a village at the top where the buses would go for a rest stop. People would have tea there because it was such a long journey. It was nowhere near the standard of the E-5 of our time. And the name of that village was written on a signboard as “Molla Feneri Köyü” (The Village of Molla Feneri)! More correctly Molla Fenarî. The Fenarîzadeler were the most famous scholarly family during the reign of both Sultan Mehmed II and Bayezid II. They, Fenarîzade Alaaddin Ali Efendi, or something like that, used to own mosques, Turkish baths and such in Istanbul. However, we spoil everything as a whole and then we do not know the essence of things. God knows, that signboard is probably still hanging there.

Yes, it must be. They change things to their hearts’ content because they do not know anything about it. The Şehbender Street in Beyoğlu was called Şeyh Bender some time ago.

4- Haydarpaşa and Kadıköy

These streets of Beyoğlu have names left over from the Levantines. Timoni Street, Galioni Street and other such names. In order to update them they changed Galioni Street into Kalyon Street. What does it have to do with a galleon? What is a galleon doing in the middle of Beyoğlu?

Changing the names of the places is a very bad disease in our culture.

I do not know what happened to Timoni Street afterwards. They gave streets weird names that had no connection to the place. But these were the historical people who gave Beyoğlu its character. For instance, Timoni was a famous Catholic family, from İzmir. Members of the family are still alive. They reside in Europe. Truly they should have stayed. After all, they have mansions there, as rich people usually do. I reckon some of them are still standing. Some of them are demolished but some of them have survived. And so, it wasn’t necessary to change the names. Oh well.

Every place is changed.

It was a grand propaganda project... For example, we also had a shabby cinema. One of the earliest cinemas in Istanbul: The Kuşdili Cinema. You would not know of it.

Is it not located in Kuşdili Meadows?

Yes. It was one of the entertainment spots of the time, the meadow. An entertainment spot of old Istanbul was Kâğıthane. As you know, even earlier than that there was Yenibahçe, just below Fatih. Then the Beykoz Meadows became famous in the nineteenth century. Then the Küçüksu Meadows and then Fenerbahçe became trendy during the reign of Abdülhamid II, followed by Kuşdili, Fikirtepesi. Fikirtepesi was completely empty then. There were no buildings whatsoever. We used to go there when we were kids. As a family. we would go there in the morning and sit down, make a fire and roast forest kebab, etc, etc. These were all part of the old traditions of Istanbul.

You were talking about cinema? The Kuşdili Cinema?

Kuşdili Cinema was a wooden cinema used in the winter. It was all wooden, even down to the furniture. In fact, the kids pressed on the knotholes in the wood for fun and the knot became dislodged. The holes opened up. When a stone was thrown inside you would hear the sloshing of the water that had collected at the bottom. We used to go there up until the 1930s when silent films were playing. In front of the stage was a place for the musicians, then an elderly fiddler and a shabby piano. Just like in today’s films, no one could hear what the actors were saying because of the background music. Background music has remained from those days.

Live background music?

Yes, they used to play from the stage. There would be a violin playing and a piano, so that the film was not silent anymore. And when the film would not start for some time we would start stomping our feet. And of course our stomping on the wooden floors became a booming sound. Then we would start chanting altogether, “Will you start or shall we? Will you start or shall we?” The employees of that cinema would come and talk with our priests from time to time in hushed voices. About how there was a film about Jesus and it was going to be shown. And they would sell the one-kuruş or two-and-one-half-kuruş tickets to the students. As you know, the largest amount of pocket money anyone had at that time was either ten kuruş or twenty-five kuruş. They would make that much money off us. And we would go there. Not to watch a film, but just for fun. I mean, they were making such propaganda films. But it was not so direct; no one was required to go.

That was very good to hear about, and also to learn about the Kuşdili Cinema.

That cinema was converted into a tram museum. And they put a few trolley cars inside. I do not know what happened afterwards, or what was inside. It has all changed there anyway. For example, they destroyed the cemetery. Right in front of the station in Söğütlüçeşme was a part of Karacaahmet. There was a large cemetery over there. And there were a few interesting gravestones right at the side of the road. In fact there was one that belonged to a vizier named Ağa Hasan Pasha, who died towards the end of the eighteenth century. Not the famous Ağa Hüseyin Pasha but Ağa Hasan Pasha. He was the oldest of all the viziers. He was in his eighties and hence became the Şeyhülvüzera (sheikh of viziers). This was written on his gravestone. However, God granted him a long life of 90 years. It was such an interesting gravestone.

Did you manage to take a photo of it?

We had a copy of it. I must have a rolled-up copy of the inscription. When the stallholders started setting up the market there they broke the top of that stone. The top had fallen down. It was the top of the vizier grave. Later on, I wrote to the district governor and other officials. I fought with them and managed to have them fix it. But it was broken again from the middle. Right at that time that cemetery was demolished with such haste that they cleared away every single stone. It is no longer accessible because it had been totally flattened, and then they built the Söğütlüçeşme Cemetery. There was a slope at the front. It was the continuation of the Karacaahmet Cemetery. And there were graves lying on that hill. And these were removed during the construction of the mosque on the same hill. There was also an auto center for car services around there. I was having the window of my car fixed when I noticed two turbans knocked from atop gravestones. One of them had apparently belonged to a young lad; there was a single flower in the turban. It had been thrown to the side of the road. I placed them in the trunk and brought them back home. I still have them. One of them is enormous. Who knows whose gravestone it was?

5- Kadıköy Rıhtım Street

At any rate, there were wooden houses and mansions on both sides of this street.

The architectural texture... There were numerous old wooden houses. It was funny that, for example, the street where we lived was called Rasim Pasha Rıhtım İskele Sokağı (dock pier street). That is to say, the dock on the bay in Kadıköy was built before Haydarpaşa, you know it is winding directly towards Haydarpaşa, that bay, and right there was a pier. Some of the cobblestones even ended up in the water. That construction of that dock was cancelled when Haydarpaşa Station was completed. The steep street where we lived used to lead there. That was why it was called Rıhtım İskele Street (Dock pier). It exists under that name in the old records. However, there was a huge 250- to300-year- old sycamore tree at the end of our street. There was a namazgâh (place for worship) and a fountain built by an agha from Ladik. We, the residents of that street, would refer to that place as Çınar Sokağı (Sycamore Street). And we received our letters addressed to number-such-and-such Kadıköyü Çınar Sokağı for the thirty long years that we lived there. However, the official Çınar Sokağı is actually located around Cağaloğlu in Istanbul, one of the names given by Osman Nuri Ergin in the 1930s. Our street was unofficially called Çınar Sokağı. And later, one day, after all the streets were re-organized by Osman Nuri Ergin, we saw a notice that was put up at the end of the street. And what was the new name? Düz Sokak (Straight Street)! First of all, the street was not even straight, for God’s sake! Quite the contrary, it was the steepest slope in Kadıköyü. We used to ride on a sleigh there. We would start from the top and slide until the very end. I had a sleigh and we had a long wooden ladder at home; we would put the ladder on the snow and lie on it. One person would lie face down on it and would shove off the sleigh, while the others would be lined up one after another. We would slide all the way to the end. We would even put up a lantern and sled at night. That was the life back then. Besides, the ground was not even flat, it was cobblestone. Due to the steep slope, the rain would always transform the soil in between the stones into sand and it would pile up at the end. In fact someone won the right to sell this sand. He would gather the sand and sell it. He made big money out of this over the years. Neither the topography nor the surface of the street was smooth. But still it was called Düz Sokak. I was giving a speech recently and someone said, “Sir, this place is still called Düz Sokak!” What part of this street is straight ?

At any rate, there were wooden houses and mansions on both sides of this street.

For instance, there was a house on the left of the entrance to the street that was half buried in a pit. A Rum family resided there. This was what made our street interesting. The neighborhood consisted of such a mixed population. There used to be a Rum family of very old women. And as far as I can remember they had a disabled son or grandson and his gnarled body would be writhing all over. They had a special wooden car built for him and had him sit in it and they would take him to the namazgâh so that he could get some fresh air. It was a wooden house, a typical old Ottoman house. The second house was located on the road on the left that led to Acıbadem via the Altıyol, and it was used as a military recruitment office before I started elementary school. The building had been left behind by the Rums. It was seized by the government and converted into a recruitment office. There was another Ottoman building before the recruitment office. I had a photo but I have never found that photo. There used to be another Ottoman building, which was very old, somewhere over there. However, due to fact that the Levantines and the multi-national non-Muslim community of Istanbul generally lived around these places, two- or two-and-a-half-storey stone houses were built there. And our house was one of them and it is still standing. There were a few more blocks of flats. And those were not higher than three stories. Generally they were four to four-point-five meters wide. In fact my brother wanted to have our house rebuilt and converted to a large building. I said, “If we were to remake this into a large building then we would have to separate each story. Then each floor would have to have stairs at the sides and the remaining space for the rooms would be too little. What can you do? The rooms would only be suitable as rentals for bachelors, etc. Who would be interested?” It was not wise. Then it was sold. Whatever, what I mean is that there are buildings like those that are still standing. They were also registered as antiques and such. All of them are buildings built between 1910 and 1920. There are only a few wooden ones among them. Generally, they are all made of stone, with wooden interiors.

6- Kadıköy Square

But presumably nothing remains from the classical era.

Only a few things from the classical era. A branch of the creek there ran from the middle of the Haydarpaşa Meadow to the Bay of Kadıköyü. And during the reign of Abdülhamid II a stone bridge with a single arch was built over this. Tahere was a marble inscription at the end of that bridge. Even if it was only a tiny little thing, there had to be an inscription for it during the Ottoman period. There was also an imperial seal. And it had a rather long inscription. A very progressive and revolutionary district governor of Kadıköyü had all the inscriptions and seals scraped off. On this bridge too. Someone might wonder: “Didn’t there used to be a name here?” It was the name of Abdülhamid II, carved in stone.

That was when that famous law was passed.

Of course.

7- Haydarpaşa train station which was built as the beginning station of Baghdad Istanbul railway by two German architect, Otto Ritter and Helmuth Cuno in 1908 in a style that did not fit the architectural and natural texture of Bosporus became an inseparable part of the life in Istanbul for centuries by its trains, passengers, machinists, switchmen, and whistle sounds.

In 1926, I guess.

The years of 1926-27. At the time I was doing research in Thrace and came across an interesting case: We went to Uzunköprü. There was a magnificent fountain in the town square of Uzunköprü. I spotted seven or eight fountains like this in Thrace. Fountains of the şadırvan type. These cannot be found in Anatolia.

Like the German Fountain?

Yes. There are none in Istanbul. But there are some in Thrace, in Malkara, Keşan, Uzunköprü, Tekirdağı, and many places. Some of them had beautifully ornamented poems inscribed on them. There is a glorious one in Uzunköprü. It was made during the Tulip Era, and embossed with flowers, and it had a stone for the water jet in the middle. Of course it’s dry now. There was also a two-line poem on it. And what did I see? The whole inscription and that poem had been scraped off. I was busy with it, taking some photos and such. There were also two students with me. Of course everyone gathered around us, wondering what we were doing. I asked, “Who is responsible for this disgrace?” and “Who scraped off the inscription?” Someone from the crowd said, “Sir, it was the Bulgarian infidels, the Bulgarian infidels!” You know, the Bulgarians invaded these places. Then, another voice rose from the crowd , “Why do you say it was the Bulgarian infidels? It was the Turkish infidels, the Turkish infidels!” Then I investigated. Apparently a deputy governor was appointed somewhere around there and he was apparently such a republican that he destroyed all that he found. He had all the inscriptions scraped off and I don’t know what else he had removed. Then they said that there was someone called Gazi Turan Bey, who invaded the south of Thrace and whose father was Pasha Yiğit. They said, “There is a village that belongs to Pasha Yiğit close to Uzunköprü. And there is a mosque there, but it is ruined!” We went and found the mosque. The mosque was in ruins. However, it was interesting to see that the complete minaret was lying on the ground in one piece. In short, the minaret is in Bulgaria, where they knocked it down with the same resentment as in Greece. All the villagers gathered around me again. I said, “Who knocked this minaret down like this?” “There was a deputy governor here and he had ropes attached to it and with trucks pulled it down, sir,” they replied. Please put this in the record. We had such governors.

8- Kadıköy-Fenerbahçe bus stops


They did to the minaret of the mosque in the Paşayiğit village, which Pasha Yiğit had built, what a Bulgarian might have done. And they dare to complain about the Bulgarians. Saying they did this or they did that. Your own man did exactly the same thing. If not the inscriptions, the tughras (seals) of all the fountains in Kadıköyü were scraped off. Say, Halitağa Fountain. That fountain was located on the left on the way to Altıyol, on the street. They dismantled it and took it inside.

The inscription of the Selim III fountain in the namazgah at Karacaahmet was also scraped off.

Everywhere is the same.

Cevri Kalfa Mektebi (School)...

If you notice, the inscription of Cevri Kalfa is half destroyed. It was a primary school and the headmaster had the inscription scraped off. While it was being done, Halil Edhem Bey, who was a minister of parliament for Istanbul at that time, was passing by and asked, “What are you doing?” The man said, “The headmaster ordered me to remove it, sir, and I am doing just that.” The minister said, “Get down here immediately!” Thus, the inscription is only half scraped off.

But there is no seal either. The seal is gone.

He had scraped the seal off and some part of the inscription. But the left side remains untouched. When I was writing the “Cevri Kalfa Mektebi” entry in the Türkiye Diyanet Foundation Encyclopedia of Islam , one of the editors gave the name of a person from Üsküdar, and not Halil Edhem. I said “Upon my word, a person called so-and-so Efendi from Üsküdar would not dare to show such courage.” Halil Edhem had some power. I believe him. But I reckon they slightly changed that sentence in the entry in the Encyclopedia. As far as I know, it was Halil Edhem Eldem who stopped its removal. And there is also another thing. All the documents of the archive were sold for three kuruş per kilo—thirty para in total—to the Bulgarians.

9- The general view of Eminönü from Galata

The famous incident.

The famous incident. They were loaded in wagons and sent to Bulgaria. Some of the documents were caught in the wind, scattered around and landed on the ground in an instant during the unloading on the hill at the Sublime Porte. They were collected by Muallim (teacher) Cevdet. He gave some money to the children and told them to collect them. He collected a certain number of documents like that. But he did not hold so much power that he could later send these to the ministry in Ankara. Someone said, “You should write a petition and inform İsmet İnönü,” who was the prime minister at the time. “I would do anything to get it in his hands!”

Who said this?

Halil Edhem Eldem. Thereupon, he takes five or six of those documents and fastens them together. He says, “Here, these are the documents that were caught in the wind and were scattered around. I collected them. If you call them worthless then anything can happen to them. It is up to you how to use them!” It is in this way that they stopped this process.

What’s done is done

What’s done is done. Then, they decided to take them back. And an investigation was carried out to determine whose responsibility it was and so on, to which he says, “I made money for the state, these documents are rubbish.” But at that time some of our famous historians said, “The great revolution is done, sir. Let us collect all these documents. There are no trees in front of the central building of the university. (It was a training place, as you know.) Let us pile them up and burn them here!”

There were such historians.

Yes. We had so many progressive and revolutionary people who came of age in that period. How old are you?

Sixty years old, sir.

So young. I am ninety. That is the reason I’ve witnessed so many interesting thing. The second guy says, “Sir, Sultanahmet Mosque is out of use, abandoned.” So a meeting is held. The first guy says, “Sir, this place does not function as a mosque anymore, so let us drill the dome, let light in through the top, and put tables underneath and make it into a public library.” And the late architect Kemaleddin Bey leaves the meeting in tears.

I read about that in one of the articles by Cemal Reşit Rey in Cumhuriyet, sir. The proposal was put forward by Çallı İbrahim and Namık İsmail.

Is that so?

This proposition was made at the Sanayi-i Nefise Encümeni run by the deputy minister of education, Necati Bey, the chairman, in 1926. It was stated that the paintings of the artists lacked galleries in which they could be exhibited and so a venue was required that could serve this purpose. The proposed venue was the Blue Mosque. However, due to the lack of light penetrating from the top, the dome had to be drilled in order to have the perfect lighting for the exhibition of the pictures. When Necati Bey was about to consent, the architect Kemaleddin Bey stood up in a rage and objected fiercely. And then it was cancelled.

10- Semavi Eyice while talking about Kadıköy during the years of his childhood

I also know that the architect Kemaleddin Bey left the meeting in tears.

Now sir, let us move on from Kadıköy, if you wish. You were once given a homework assignment to narrate the history of a siege. And you chose the Istanbul siege and with this assignment, your Istanbul adventure truly began. Could you please tell us about that?

I attended Galatasaray for middle school. The military history course was offered there. Military history was a formal course in both middle and high schools.

We also studied it.

For the military history course we had a teacher called Zihni -may he rest in peace- a very good-natured retired colonel who had fought in all the wars. He was such an easygoing, incredibly lovely and great soldier. I am not sure why, but he had sent a lieutenant as a substitute. This man acted as our teacher for a few lessons and was the one who gave me that homework assignment. And I was assigned to study the siege and conquest of Istanbul. And I was curious about historical sources back in those times. I was trying to examine them as much as I could but I knew very little. I never lived on the Istanbul side (the Rumelian side of Istanbul). It was sometime around 1935 or 1936. I was fluent in French as I graduated from a seminary. Because of my father’s fears that the government might suddenly close the foreign schools, he told me not to stay flat on my face but to “pass your exams and transfer to Galatasary,” and I did exactly this. Mamboury has a Travel Guide in French. It is also available in Turkish, using the old script. It is called the Rehber-i Seyyâhîn. The second print edition is much better, though. My late uncle was a doctor but he was very enthusiastic about such sources. He had bought that guide before and he gave it to me. I still have that guide. All the mosques, churches and the main city walls and the like are marked in it. That was my starting point. I prepared my homework and explained how the siege took place, but I also wanted to see the city walls. I had a classmate called Ahmet. I went out to explore Istanbul with him on a Saturday. We had this guide on our hands. Fatih had a fire on that day. In 1918 Fatih had burned all the way from Cibali. Fortunately, it had not reached the mosque. The mosque was saved but all the structures next to the mosque, including Hafız Ahmet Pasha Mosque, had burned down. As you know, it is just outside the mosque. Then the fire crossed Fevzi Pasha Boulevard to the other side and went down the slope. Vali Pasha Mosque and others were all burned down. The field was like a meadow. Bayrampaşa River flows near Vatan Street. Then it spread out to the opposite slope and burned down all that it came across. All the wooden structures were burned down.

Who knows how many times that happened?

God knows how many times!. It had reached Millet Street, the neighborhoods and across from there, Şehreminiand so forth. The fire of 1918 did not move to the west, but to the Marmara Sea, and it lasted for approximately three days before dying out in front of Cerrahpaşa Hospital. The fire stopped on its way to Kocamustafapaşa. All was burned to that point. There was not a single building in sight. Only the burned mosques and minarets without the cones, the four walls, if any of them were left. On mosques that had lead domes, of course the domes were all flaked and their lead had melted. And the fountains... There are hundreds of fountains in Istanbul. They are still standing. The wooden houses were destroyed. Then I moved along to Beyazıt with Ahmet. All of a sudden we noticed an old building with a dome next to Şehzade Mosque. We looked up this building in the guide: Kalenderhane Mosque. An ancient Byzantine church. We decided to see this. An extremely friendly and cheerful imam met us. Back then the Americans and I don’t know who else, or some of our colleagues who were American allies, had not yet seen this mosque. He said, “Hey kids, come on in.” We were kids in short pants. Actually, I had golf pants on. Ahmet even took a photo of me leaning against a dried-up tree. The Kalenderhane Mosque is at the back. The journal NTV Tarih took that photo from me some time ago. Their photographers took a photo of me in the same pose, leaning on the same tree. Then they put the two photos on the middle page and wrote, “74 Years Later.” Me when I was a middle school pupil and clad in golf pants and standing in front of the mosque. Then me as a distinguished gentleman, but again standing in front of the same tree. Then we set off from there and got on the tram and travelled to Fatih. I looked to the right and there stood a ruined mosque behind another mosque. The minaret lacked the top and the mosque did not have a roof. We could not understand what was going on. There is a photograph in the Mamboury guide of İmrahor İlyas Bey Mosque. We thought this was it, considering the similarities. Then we went down and saw something unexpected. It was not a church, but an Ottoman ruin. But the other one was a church. Below it was a field on the left. A double-domed building on a field. Oh, what is this one? Let’s go look: We opened the book, and it was Fedaî İsa Mosque, a church converted into a mosque. It had burned but it had a tightly closed door. We wandered around it. A family lived in a small house behind it. When they saw us wandering around they said, “That place is locked.” When asked “Auntie, how can we get in?” she replied “I can bring you a ladder, you can have a look from the window!” We got the ladder, climbed up and had a look through the window, but it looked like a well inside. Once inside there we would never have come out. We only briefly saw the interior space from up there. We thanked them and got down. That was how my first research on historical locations began.

11- Ayasofya Mosque

Had you been to Hagia Sophia at that time?

I had been to Hagia Sophia even before that, when it was still functioning as a mosque and the carpets were new. I went there a few more times in the following years.

12- A photograph taken inside Ayasofya Mosque before it was turned into a Museum (<em>Yadıgar-ı İstanbul</em>, from the archives of M. Hilmi Şenalp)

What do you think about Hagia Sophia being converted into a museum?

It occurred very suddenly. I also found a document about it from the deputy of the Ministry of Education, Abidin Özmen. When Atatürk was at a table having dinner, he said, “We should also convert Hagia Sophia into a museum!” Abidin Özmen reports that, “Following that conversation, I wrote the first letter to transfer Hagia Sophia to the General Directorate of the Museums and for it to cease functioning as a mosque.” He says that “It was the first letter.” He wrote this himself. It was part of his memoirs. I had a copy of this. The verdict of the Heyet-i Vekile (council of ministers) and such. You see, it was not the verdict of the council, but was decided that night at a dinner table.

But sir, before this verdict there were some experts on the Byzantine Institute, such as Thomas Whittemore.

Despite the fact that Thomas Whittemore is called a professor, those titles are all made up. This person is actually an enthusiast, an enthusiast who would establish associations and accept donations in order to serve Christianity. In fact, his first visit to Istanbul was for the Belarusian refugees. He had a book printed of his memoirs concerning the refugees at the time. There is a photograph of this in that book. Thomas Whittemore was the person who worked on behalf of the Belarusian refugees. I saw a book about him in English.

13- After he finished restoration of Ayasofya Mosque, Fossati had the Italian mosaic master Lanzoni who had been brought from Italy upon Sultan Abdülmecid’s request
    made the sultanate signature seen above from the mosaic pieces fell from Ayasofya during its restoration. This sultanate signature which was taken down from its place
    after Ayasofya was turned into a Museum was put back to its old place during the presidency of A. Haluk Dursun.

So he is not an expert.

Of course not.

Well then, how did they entrust the care of Hagia Sophia to such a person?

When this person saw the fuzzy figures under the veneer.

The icons?

The mosaics. He noticed those. In the meantime, Atatürk visits Hagia Sophia. In fact, there is photograph of the two of them together in one of our magazines. You know, the trees outside of Hagia Sophia. There is a very blurry photograph underneath those trees. He asked Whittemore some questions. And he replied, “There are mosaics here and I will be uncovering these mosaics!” Firstly, permission was given for the restoration of the mosaics in the congregation and entrance areas. The building still continues to be a mosque.

This was probably 1932.

In1933. Then, noticing the large levha (placards), Atatürk says, “These spoil the architecture!” When Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum, all the levha were removed. And they declared that they would hang them up in other mosques. But they did not fit through the doors. Removing them was impossible without breaking them into smaller pieces.

14- Taksim Square in 1930s. The Barracks of Artillerymen (Topçu Kışlası) was still in its place.

The levha were written by Kazasker Mustafa İzzet Efendi.

Yes. Those were removed as well and placed against the wall in the most humid, most unsuitable place, leaning against one another. Then the carpets were folded up. From the minber (pulpit) there was a mahfil (gallery), like a pavilion; the wooden flooring that stretched up to that part remained. And the sajjadas (prayer rugs) laid upon the Hereke woven carpets. In other words, it was a massive carpet, but appearing to be honeycombed with sajjadas . Those were the carpets specially ordered for Hagia Sophia during the restoration made by Fossati. The flooring and the sword in the minber remained. There were two banners at the minber that represented the prediction of the conquest; these are still standing. And they stayed like that. Then, some external forces started manipulating the directors. The sword was removed, the banners were removed and the levha were left to rot away.

They did not dare tear them down.

The last remaining carpets were removed. Only a few dared to worship inside. That was not appreciated either. Then it was decided to cancel it altogether, and nobody was allowed to worship in there after that. It was like that and continued in the same fashion. Whereas some of the well-known, expert Byzantine professors frankly stated that, “The fact that Hagia Sophia ceased functioning as a mosque has disturbed its spiritual quality. This building contained its mystic, spiritual atmosphere even when it was functioning as a mosque.”

It is a shrine, of course.

The French Byzantine professor Charles Diehl of the Sorbonne wrote about it. Professor Schweinfurt, whom I worked with as an assistant, clearly stated, “This is corruption! Hagia Sophia should not be a place of naked marble floor where the tourists wander around, their eyes cast upwards. I came here when it was a mosque, and that spiritual atmosphere was completely different!” And I said this as a declaration at some point, but they started treating me as if I were against the revolution of Atatürk. Someone erupted in a four-columns-long rage in the newspaper Hürriyet. But the author’s name was not on it, just a picture of a man in black glasses. If he had any courage, he should have written down his name. His name was nowhere to be seen.

The story of the seal of Sultan Abdülmecid, which was hung after the restorations of Fossati, is also very interesting, sir. Could you please tell us about it?

There used to be a magazine called Sanatsal Mozaik (Artistic Mosaic), and in it I wrote about the story of the seal of Sultan Abdülmecid. Then Haluk Dursun published the same article by. He was the director of Hagia Sophia not long ago. He found the same article and published it in a book with a colored photo on the cover. I found out about the existence of such a seal during my research in the archive of Fossati in Switzerland. Sultan Abdülmecid was very curious about the restoration of Hagia Sophia and continued visiting. He saw the mosaics and asked whom they depicted. When he heard the reply that, “This is Constantine, who built Constantinople, and Justinianus, who built Hagia Sophia,” he said, “How I wish I, as the one who restored Hagia Sophia, would also have my picture hung here!” However, that was not possible, of course. “The sultan had such a wish,” says Fossati. The recovered mosaics were collected and an Italian mosaics expert was brought in, a man named Lanzoni, who was instructed to engrave a round, marble seal.

I saw the seal itself.

The base is gold but these are Byzantine mosaics. The assembled pieces are gold. And the seal of Sultan Abdülmecid is in the middle. I do not know where they got it. Fossati had it prepared. He also made reference to it in his notes. I found them in his archives. He says, “I had a seal made such as this.” But this seal is no longer around. And nobody has seen it. And the directorship of Hagia Sophia is not stable. The director changes and new ones are appointed and so on and so forth. I had a friend called Sabahattin from my childhood, Sabahattin Batur. He became the director of the Atıf Efendi Library. He had studied philosophy and appreciated archaeological history, but was not an expert on it. And he was likely an extremist left-wing supporter, who worked as a philosophy teacher in İzmir. That is why he was sent back to the libraries. He was quickly promoted from directorship of the Atıf Efendi Library to the directorship of Hagia Sophia when Ecevit was Prime Minister. We grew up together in Amasra during our childhood. His father was a mineworker.

I met Sabahattin Batur, sir.

One day I went to Hagia Sophia. After we sat in his office for a while he said, “Come with me down to the basement.” There were large spaces that were used for storage. We went into one and saw something interesting. All kinds of things were stacked in piles. They were not used, nor valued, but broken and tattered. There is no inventory for them. But the round marble on the floor drew my attention. It was like a table. I saw the signature of Lanzoni written in black ink on top. Of course, I remembered. I know of this through the archives, the archive I examined in Switzerland some time ago. We asked the janitors to move it. And I saw the seal. “For God’s sake, why do you throw it down here? Put it in its place and keep it there!” Whatever director I asked replied, “That is the problem, sir. We can’t put it there!” I say this to every single director. None can do anything. Then one of my pupils becomes the director. I say the same thing to him and he replies, “I will do it, sir!” That placard was taken from there in a mere three days and brought into Hagia Sophia. Well, good. “Sir, where shall we put it?” and I said, “Put it beside the door. And put a notice beneath it stating, ‘The mosaic seal made by the Italian craftsman Lanzoni during the restoration made by Fossati on the orders of Abdülmecid.” And it was written both in English and Turkish. It was then placed below it. I did not visit Hagia Sophia for a few years. A lady named Jale became the director. She called me and stated that she wanted to consult me on some things. I went there and the seal was gone. It had been removed. Where is the seal? I asked, “Jale, there has to be a seal in here. It used to be nailed on the wall.” And she replied, “I swear I do not know anything about it!” It was removed, gone! We searched and found it in storage.


Then it was brought in. But this time Jale did not dare to have it hung on the wall, so she had a special display case made for it where it could be displayed. Then Jale left and the seal was again lost. The last time I looked, Haluk Dursun had become the director. I told him the exact same story. But that luxury magazine I mentioned, Sanatsal Mozaik, was still being published at that time. I guess it was in business for sixteen issues. I submitted an article about this incident to the magazine. We also had a color photo taken of the seal. It was also published in the magazine. Haluk Dursun had it put up on the wall. He asked me, “Where was it?” I told him about its earlier location. He had it placed in the same location with the notice below it. He said he was publishing an almanac. When he was preparing that almanac he also searched for my article. All the magazines were sent to SEKA. And all were disposed of. Haluk found it and put it on the first page of that almanac and that color photo on the cover… But Haluk resigned. That secret power that removed the banners, the sword...

Have they removed it once again, sir?

They could have. Like they removed the minbar of Kariye Mosque.

I guess Byzantine experts are interested in it.

But our directors, too, they would sacrifice everything for the sake of a journey to the United States or Europe. That is to say, I was writing an article on Byzantium, and some of the artifacts were in the museum. “I prepared the article, it is going to be published in Europe,” I say. “Let us take photos of these pieces!” They say, “No, sir, we cannot do that!” I have never come across an attitude like this. You do not have to go far back. Just last year the festschrift for Aydın Yüksel was published by the Istanbul Fetih Cemiyeti. I wrote about Sinan’s small kulliya (building complex) comprised of the İbrahim Paşa Madrasa and Masjid for this book. There is an endowment for it at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum. I asked for a photocopy of it. No, it appeared that they could not do this! Fortunately, that endowment was published in an article by someone who worked as manager at the Islamic Arts Museum, and I quoted from it. And I also wrote and said, “Unfortunately, as we are not allowed access to the endowment, I submit the copy taken from the publication.”

No one is allowed, sir. Do you think they want to write about it themselves?

But if a foreigner asks for it they give it to them. They would not write about it. I am writing an article on the şadırvan fountains of Thrace. I found a beautiful one in Tekirdağ that was broken and tossed into a storage garden. A watchman told me, “Sir, if you are wandering around here then you should have a look at the şadırvan in the garden of the storage areas of such and such places.” I went and saw the pieces lying on the ground. They were heavy pieces whose reverse sides I could not easily photograph. Thus I took photos of them lying on the ground. A few years later, when it was time to write the article I heard that a museum had been established in Tekirdağ and that stone was taken from there and placed in front of the museum. All four sides of it could be seen. In the meantime, we had a photographer among our students, and I sent him, saying, “Go and take photos of all four sides of it.” A manager of the museum said, “Oh, Semavi takes all of these and publishes them.” Well, do it yourself then! It is right in front of you. Why do you not care?

It is impossible to understand such an attitude. How are they made managers?

15- Karaköy pier… The city line ferry approaching the pier. The ticket booths are on the front

That’s for sure. Whatever, the student was insistent. He took the photos and brought them to me. I wrote an article called “Public Square Şadırvans in Thrace” for the festschrift prepared for Arif Müfit Mansel Hoca, and I put them in it. But it used to have more pieces when I first saw it—those are now missing. Those were stolen, lost.

Sir, when your interest in Istanbul began, you started frequenting bookstores, which must have been in the 1930s.


Could you talk a bit about those bookstores now?

The book market had two centers: The Sahaflar Çarşısı (second-hand book market) and Yüksek Kaldırım. Yüksek Kaldırım was especially for foreign books. The booksellers there were generally Rum and actually they were second-hand booksellers. Various things could be found in these places. The foreign books came from from the people of Beyoğlu high society. All of them were second-hand books. These sellers used to collect them and I would contract to buy them. The Sahaflar Çarşısı was a little out of the way. The most important bookseller there was Nizamettin. Nizamettin Aktuç. As a matter of fact, he was the landlord. He would always acquire and sell the best books. He also had strange habits. He would be stubborn about certain things. And there was Muzaffer, who used to be a mosque caretaker and then started working as a bookseller at the mosque in the corner.

Muzaffer Ozak Efendi.

Yes, for example he did not understand anything about books. And I bought a really valuable book from him for 25 liras. He was not even aware of what was happening.

Were you acquainted with Raif Yelkenci, sir?

Raif Yelkenci: his shop was outdoors. He could be found in a small shop he owned just beside the entrance of the market. He always had guests visiting him and he would chat with them. I was not a frequent customer. Only bought one or two books. His shop contained books and manuscripts in Ottoman Turkish. However, he lent me a few books. I returned then as soon as I finished them. Only one of them stayed with me. He passed away in the meantime. It stayed with me, and I had it rebound and it became part of my library. The book was İhtifalci Mehmet Ziya’s Bursa’dan Konya’ya Seyahat (journey from Bursa to Konya). It was the memoir of the late Mehmet Ziya. Then there was the ever-polite İsmail Efendi from the Ottoman State, but the poor thing had no capital nor any stock. His shop was one of the first ones when you passed the toilets and walked up the hill. I would ask him, “Hello, do you have anything?” and he would reply, “Only me.” He had a puppeteer friend. An old guy, Efendi so-and-so. He gave me as a gift some wonderful and old volumes a few times. I bought a few books in Ottoman Turkish, for instance Mecmûa-i Tekâyâ. It’s a tiny booklet. However, it is hard to find. He provided me with it. And I shopped a lot at Nizamettin’s. And there was an Armenian, Nişanyan, on top of the old walls. He was an interesting bookseller.

16- Tramway station right in front of Karaköy prayer house

Among the shops opposite the Pharmaceutics Faculty.

Right on top of the walls, beside the Power Administration. This Kirkor Nişanyan was an interesting person. I met him and used to go to his shop; the shop was like an academy. Everyone who went to university used to gather there. There were no places to sit. Everywhere was crammed with books, but nothing happened to them. They were neither given nor sold. They were not good for anything. He did not have a place to sit either. There was a table, but it was full. There was just enough room to leave your coat on, to not eat and to not spend any money. You would go there and ask, “Do you have something on hand, Nişanyan?” He would not say anything. He would grab a book from somewhere in his room and put it on the table. He would know who would be interested in what. For example, he would keep up with the publications of all the Anatolian firms, such as the publications of the Halkevleri (public printing house). Assuming that there were ten buyers in Istanbul, he would bring ten books for the ten customers. But if the actual price of those books was fifteen kuruş he would sell them for twenty-five kuruş. You would walk into his shop and ask, “Nişanyan, do you have anything?” He would get those books and put them on the table quietly. If you were to say “Well, I will buy these, but I do not have enough money!” he would reply, “You can pay me later.” He would later on tear a piece of paper, a part of a wrapping paper, a corner of a paper bag. He would write down some things with his tiny pencil. Apparently he then later transferred them into his book at home. We found this out when we started to get to know him better. But something happened: I was a student. But from then on I would always come there to buy books. He also found and brought European books, and such.

Did the debt accumulate, sir?

The debt accumulated. You would go to the shop, he would bend his head and ask, “Are you going to make a payment today?” “To be honest, I have not got any money except for five lira!” And he would say, “Well then, give that then.” Then he would write that five lira on a piece of paper. I said to him, “For God’s sake, Nişanyan, when I owed you that debt I was a student and I went to Germany. You do not know who I am or my address. Why are you trusting me when you do this?” And he told me, “Before leaving for Europe you gave your friend some money and told him that you owed me and to pay it for you. And that friend came back and gave me that money. For you this note I have written will suffice. You can take whatever you want from here.” So the shopkeepers of the time were like this.

On the other hand, sir, there were the booksellers of Yüksek Kaldırım in Beyoğlu.

There was a Rum to begin with, he switched places a few times. In fact, there was an elderly bookseller further down there, his son. He had studied law in Athens but did not graduate. The most essential books could be found in his shop. This also was the type of person who would not eat or drink. There were a few old Rum houses that had a view of Taksim Square and he used to live in one of them. Those houses were burned down later. I suppose that the house was his own property. He once took me to his house. It was filled with lots of books. If he came across valuable books he would keep them for himself and not sell them. He was a great Byzantine enthusiast, I mean, he would have a number of books on history and arts of the Byzantine Empire circulating in his shop. I witnessed very precious items circulating in his shop. I bought some of the more affordable ones. But I could not afford most of them. For example, there was a book in French, Tunnel de Constantinople (Istanbul’s Tünel) by the French engineer Eugene-Henri Gavand, who built a subway tunnel in Istanbul. It was the same size as the table, enormous. He had somehow found it. He said, “I am going to sell this to the Tunnel Tram deputy general manager, Celalettin Germiyanoğlu. I cannot give this to you!” And he did not. Celalettin Germiyanoğlu also attempted to become an amateur historian by writing the history of Göztepe and the surrounding area. He wrote an article about it, but it did not go any further. Then he died. I do not know what happened to that book. The Istanbul Electricity, Tramway and Tunnel General Management managed to get a small-scale facsimile of it by making a photocopy from the sample in the Archeology Museum a few years ago. Then I contacted the people who made the facsimiles and said, “For God’s sake, one can only come across the original copies of this book very rarely in the market; why did you not make copies of it?” They said, “We did not see it.” They do not have it. In short, he would get his hands on books like these and he switched between three or four shops. The latest one was the shop located beside the gate of the Galata Mevlevîhane. There was an elderly lady who never ate or drank anything -I do not know if they were relatives or whatever- who would drop by the shop to bring some food in a container, clad in a coat, they had not even put a stove in the shop. That shop was full to the brim with the most valuable books. There were even one or two books that I insisted on. Someone brought a book to sell when I was in the shop: Monuments Turcs by Albert Gabriel. And he demanded a very small price. If he were to come out of the shop I would have said, “I can give this much more than him, give it to me!” but he did not come out. Finally he sold it for such a small price. He took them and brought them straight to his house, of course. Then those famous incidents of September 6 and 7 broke out. They raided all the Rum houses. His shop was left untouched that night. But in truth, this guy was a Greek citizen. There was another guy called Yani, who was a sherbet maker and one of the Rums of Karaman, one of the Greek Orthodox Christians of Turkish origin. His shop was smashed up that night. The following day he said in his Karaman dialect, “Look what happened. They left that infidel’s place untouched, but burned down and messed up my poor shop.”

17- Semavi Eyice

The Rum from Karaman calls the other an infidel. Very odd.

He calls him an infidel and says, “Neither plate, nor bowl, nor glass is left”. He works as a sherbet maker and he does not have a lot. For capital he has nothing but his sherbet jar. The students who studied at the German school would buy some lemonade from him to have with their sandwiches. His shop was torn apart.

Were there any other booksellers, sir?

It was the first shop of our Yani, and then Nomidis bought it. Nomidis was actually a woodsman, a Rum woodsman who emigrated to Romania. But he wanted to work as a bookseller. Despite the fact that he was Greek Orthodox, he was very close with the Catholics, or perhaps he converted to Catholicism. When he bought Yani’s shop, there were very valuable books about Istanbul in the shop window. But none of them was for sale. It seems that he borrowed them from the Catholic Organization’s library to provide a start-up for his shop! Nomidis was also a cartographer and he used to do drawings. The archeologists used to consult him. He provided assistance on a few books. Drew the maps, sketches, etc. Then, there was Sergiadis on the way to Tünel, on the right. But he only had medical and technical books brought from France and he sold them. He also had a section of the shop window reserved for French soft pornographic books. He would import them, put them on display in his window, and the enthusiasts would buy them from him. I did not shop at his shop. Then on the right, there was a Rum girl, who was a fluent in German, studied at the German school, and never married. This ugly Rum girl, Mademoiselle Venetia, opened a bookshop. She most certainly received a good amount of capital from her father, and a huge number of books, books that were given to him. But it was very hard to get books from her. Once she got her hands on a valuable book on the history of the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires in Istanbul, she immediately took it to the shop of Patriarkes and asked him, “What is this?” He used to exaggerate the value of the item to her. Then nothing could be bought from her. That woman worked as a bookseller for such a long time. She went through a large number of books.

Was Hachette around during those days, sir?

Hachette was located on the opposite side, it was spectacular. It had nothing to do with old books. Every single new book launched in France was brought to this shop. They would be placed on the desk. There was even a section for books on the history of the Ottomans, Istanbul and the Byzantines. However, there was a service at the back, one floor above, where the Rum girls worked. They would take your order if you were looking for an old book from France. The headquarters of Hachette was located in Paris. They would handle orders from all over the world and respond to them. I asked for a few rare books, and they sometimes told me, “Not available.” But sometimes, “It has arrived!”

Do you remember the year Hachette opened?

Hachette has been around since my childhood. There also used to be large tables in the middle. Different magazines would arrive in the shop and would be placed on top of them. Hachette was closed down ten to fifteen years ago. It was completely done away with. It also contained a few Turkish books. A few official publications used to be available. In fact, I had a subscriber’s drawer there. I was a subscriber to some things. For example, Ülkü magazine and some foreign publications and such. I would get them from my drawer, pay for them and leave. I also remember an elderly Rum named Yerasimos who had a tiny, narrow, gloomy shop across from German Club on the right as you walked down toward it. Although all the shelves were filled with books, I do not think I ever came across anything useful. However, when I gave the names of the few books I was looking for they would find them and give them to me after some time. One of those books was called Constantiniade, and was written by Konstantios (Constantine), the Patriarch of Istanbul, when I was a middle school pupil. When I found the copy of this book, published in Istanbul in 1846, Yerasimos asked me for three liras. I was angry that the price was higher than it was worth and I left the shop without buying it. And I did not go back. I guess it has been a year since I last went there. I had spent New Year’s Eve night at a relative’s house. The next day when I was walking down from Beyoğlu to Karaköy and doing some window shopping someone said, “Happy New Year,” and extended his hand for a handshake. The old bookseller Yerasimos. We walked up to his shop together. And he brought the book that he had ordered for me from beneath the counter and said, “Give me as much as you can!” To my surprise he had saved the book for me. The older generations were like this, you know, the Turk, Armenian, Rum. It was a brand-new, recently bound copy. I made a few more purchases after that. The most important among them was Küçük Asya, which was written by Charles Texier, on the geography of Anatolia.

The Turkish translation was published in three volumes seven or eight years ago.

Yes, and in fact I edited it, too. Ali Suad Bey also translated it in the past. It was the second book to be published by the Republican Government. Between 1923 and 1924. But it is incomplete. As far as I can remember the new one is by Hasan Duman.

Sir, are there no bookshops that you have not visited or bought books from?

There are not. There were other shops, too, I must have bought some things from all of them. Now we’ve come to the stairs at Yüksek Kaldırım. Those stairs were originally made of cobblestones. The municipality changed these into very nice concrete in 1937 or 1938. All the stairs were made with great care and nosings were added in front of them and iron railings were put in the middle for porters to hold on to. And a highly modern and marvelous rest area with stairs was built for those who would be going up or coming down. I do not know who might still remember it, but they completely dismantled the street, namely Yüksek Kaldırım, after twenty years with the promise of opening it to traffic! For goodness sake, can that steep slope be open to traffic? Firstly, when it snows that road freezes. If a car were to start skidding, it would be a disaster!

Cars cannot climb up that street even under normal circumstances.

Even under normal circumstances. I once attempted to come down the stairs and one simply cannot, that is how I know! That road was ruined just like that. I have a book on Istanbul and there are photos of it. All three of its stages: the first cobblestone version of it, then the more civilized one and then the damaged one. It is interesting, no one thought of it in terms of the history of culture: One of the Christian houses near the staircase functioned as a Captain School for a short time. I found this out through someone; there used to be a marine magazine written there. I had a look and found the building, and it bears some evidence from that era. And what do we see? An anchor made out of iron, sheet iron, was nailed to the door. They converted the building into something else approximately ten years ago and removed that anchor. How did they think of starting a Captain School in Yüksek Kaldırım? Anyway, to the right before that house again, there was a bookshop of a Jew that contained nothing but novels. I have never come across anything in there. I only found two books there: One of them was a French novel, Boğaziçi Atmacaları. It was about Komnenos Seigniory in Trabzon and written by an unknown French author. I bought that and a German book called Bizans Efsaneleri. However, the interesting part of the book was the two French poems on the blank page when you open the book, written in such fine handwriting in ink. One of them was a poem by Henri Desire Landru, the murderer who targeted women. And the other one also by a criminal. The copy is written very neatly. I do not know if these books belonged to them.

Do you still have them?

In my library. If you are interested, go and have a look. The German book Bizans Efsaneleri is a serious one. But there are two poems inside.

Someone interested in the topic, apparently.

I honestly do not know, and the other one was a criminal. His signature is also there in the book, and he whined about the view he saw in the gardens of his quiet home, something very romantic . I do not know; were they allowed to go free as if they were not guilty? And there is that. For example, there is a bloke called Jack the Ripper, he ripped out the stomachs of many people and killed them in London for a long time, but he could not be found. According to rumor, it was a prince from the British Dynasty. He would go out and commit crimes such as these from time to time. They figured it out but never made it publicly known.

Even Sultan Abdülhamid II was concerned with it because there was a blackmail letter. Abdülhak Hâmid explains it in his memoirs.

Is that so? I did not know about that.

Sir, I realize I must have made you tired.

A bit.

Thank you very much.

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