The Introduction of Modern Chemistry into Turkey

Chemistry, physics, botany and zoology were among the modern sciences that emerged as a result of the scientific revolution in Europe and were introduced in Turkey for educational purposes only. These subjects began to be taught at the Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şâhâne (Imperial School of Medicine), opened in 1839. The medical and pharmacy students of the school, as well as the students of the Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Mülkiye (Civil School of Medicine), founded in 1867, took chemistry classes that closely followed developments in Europe. Botany and zoology remained within the context of medical tuition and chemistry was taught to a lesser degree in vocational schools such as Mühendishane-i Berrî-i Hümayun (Imperial Military Engineering School), Mekteb-i Fünun-ı Harbiye (School of Military Arts), Halkalı Ziraat Mektebi (Halkalı School of Agriculture) and Halkalı Baytar Mektebi (Halkalı Veterinary School) in order to provide the required chemistry classes for the professions that were taught in these schools. There was no chemical technology or industry during the Ottoman era and scientific research in the field only began at the end of the 1920s.

Chemistry Education in Various Schools

The first book on modern chemistry was a four-volume work by Hoca İshak Efendi (d. 1836), who was the director (Başhoca) in Mühendishane-i Berrî-i Hümayun. The book was titled Mecmua-i Ulum-i Riyaziyye (Compendium of Mathematical Sciences) and it was published between the years 1831 and 1834. The 25 page chapter, which was the third and last essay in the fourth volume of Mecmua-i Ulum-i Riyaziyye,1 published in 1834, is about “new chemistry”. This is the first published work on modern chemistry in Turkey.2

The first independent chemistry book in Turkey was Chemist Mehmed Emin Dervish Pasha’s (d. 1879) inorganic chemistry book Usûl-i Kimyâ (Elements of Chemistry), published in 1848.3 Modern chemistry in Turkey commenced with this book, which gives a good idea about the level of chemistry of that era.

Aziz Beg from Crimea published the second chemistry book in Turkish called Kimyâ-yı Tıbbî (Medicinal Chemistry) twenty years after the chemist Dervish Pasha’s Usûl-i Kimyâ.4 The first volume of this very comprehensive book was published in 1868 and deals with general chemistry, non-metallic elements and their compounds, and the second volume, published in 1871, is on metallic elements and their compounds.5

The first real analytical chemistry book was Kemmî ve Keyfî Kimyâ-yı Tahlîlî (Quantitative and Qualitative Analytical Chemistry), edited by Mehmet Arif Beg [who later adopted the surname Beylikçi; 1865-1919] and which was published in 1897.6 Mehmet Arif Beg studied in Germany and completed his PhD under the tutelage of the German chemist Jacob Volhard (1834-1910). The book is based on sources in German. It is a well-organized book that gives a very good account of the analytical chemistry developments of that era.

Chemistry Education in Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şâhâne7

The chemistry classes at Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şâhâne were taught by Mehmed Emin Dervish Efendi (Pasha) between the years 1839-1844. Antoine Calleja (1806-1893), who was known as “Kalya Bey”, was invited from Paris in 1844 to teach as lecturer of chemistry. He taught both the classes of the Pharmacy Department and the inorganic chemistry classes at Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şâhâne until his retirement in 1888. He gave interesting lectures and experimental classes,8 first in French and later in Turkish, after the language of instruction changed to Turkish. Following this transition, Antoine Calleja’s lecture notes in French were translated into Turkish by his assistant and student Vasil Naum Bey and published as a two-volume work titled İlm-i Kimyâ-yı Gayr-ı Uzvî-i Tıbbî (Medicinal Inorganic Chemistry) in 1883 and 1884.9 Vasil Naum Bey (1855-1915) became the Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şâhâne succeeding his teacher Antoine Calleja. He wrote a text book publihed in two volumes in the years 1892 and 1894.10 The second edition of this book was published in 1900.11 The first volume is on non-metallic elements and their compounds, and the second volume is on metallic elements and their compounds.

1- Chemistry class in Halkalı Agriculture School (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Atatürk Library)

The book, which was a turning point in the field of organic chemistry, was Ali Rıza Beg’s (1867-1904) Kimyâ-yı Uzvî (Organic Chemistry), which was published in 1901.12 In this book, Ali Rıza Beg perfectly demonstrated the line and level of development of organic chemistry during his era. In accordance with medical tradition in the Ottoman Empire, Arabic letters and symbols were used when writing formulas and equations, and the French equivalents of the terms and names of the materials were given.

The Chemistry Laboratory at Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şâhâne

While the Medical Department was being moved to Galatasaray, the Chief Physician Ahmed Necib Effendi requested a storage facility for the protection of the physics and chemistry kits. This shows that these were being used even before that date. In the school report of the academic year 1841-1842, it was remarked that the “Chemistry Professor Dervish Efendi requested that a chemistry laboratory to be founded for carrying out all kinds of chemical analyses.” Upon this request, a chemistry laboratory with masonry classrooms was built in 1844. Sultan Abdülmecid visited Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şâhâne on September 20, 1843 to observe the final exams; and he was present while the fourth grade students carried out “natural philosophy and chemistry experiments”.13 All these indicate that there was a chemistry laboratory in Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şâhâne at that time; that it was possibly used for lectures; that experiments were carried out; competent chemistry teachers and students worked in that laboratory; and that various analyses were made.

At first, the chemistry laboratory of Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şâhâne carried out analyses free of charge; however, on the implementation of the imperial decree dated September 29, 1870, it was turned into an institution which worked on generating capital, where analyses were carried out for a fee. Half of the fee would go to the Imperial Treasury and the other half would be paid to the staff who conducted the analysis.14 In the laboratory, medico-legal analyses and tests, such as searching for blood stains on sharp objects and clothes, investigating for poison in the organs of people who were suspected of having been killed by poisoning; pharmaceutical analyses regarding the purities of medicines, volatile oils and chemical substances which were used as medicines; analyses of chemical substances like soaps, soda and kerosene oil that were available in the market; and the analyses of vinegar, cooking oils, bread and various foods, water, and counterfeit money were conducted in accordance with established prices.15

2- The chemistry lab in a school (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Atatürk Library)

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the only official bodies, apart from the School of Medicine where chemical analyses were conducted, were chemistry laboratories of Customs. However, in these laboratories only the analyses of imported chemicals were carried out. With the increase in the number of individual requests, the first private chemical analysis laboratory was opened on May 1, 1891 by the chemist Joseph Zanni, PhD, in the district of Beyoğlu. Joseph Zanni (1854- 1934) studied chemistry at the University of Heidelberg in Germany and he completed his PhD in 1876 under the tutelage of Prof. Robert Bunsen, PhD. After he returned to Constantinople, Joseph Zanni worked as a freelancer and then opened a private analysis laboratory.16

3a- <em>Usûl-i Kimyâ</em>, the first chemistry textbook published in two volumes in Turkey in 1848 by Chemist Mehmed Emin Derviş Paşa

3b- <em>Usûl-i Kimyâ</em>, the first chemistry textbook published in two volumes in Turkey in 1848 by Chemist Mehmed Emin Derviş Paşa

Sultan Abdülhamid II had private chemists and a private chemistry laboratory built in Yıldız Palace. The pharmacist and chemist Charles Bonkowski of Polish origin (b. 1845-d. 1905) and the chemist Kiryako Syngros, PhD, were first employed at this private laboratory. Two German chemists worked there for a short period of time, as well. Also Sultan Abdülhamid II employed Joseph Zanni, the son of Vensan Zanni, who was the personal pharmacist of the Sultan. He also took Joseph Zanni’s laboratory under his patronage. Charles Bonkowski later became a pasha; he and Joseph Zanni were given the title Kimyager-i Hazret-i Şehriyarî (His Majesty’s Chemist).17

The Education of Chemists in the Ottoman Empire

Against the increasing need for chemists, two options arose for their training. The first was to travel to various European countries in order to study chemistry and the second was to specialise in chemistry. However, the number of people who did this was very few. We do not know with certainty how many people were taught chemistry in Europe during the Ottoman era and who they were; however, we have precise information on people who had PhD degrees in this field. The student who went to Europe, mostly to Germany, to study chemistry can be divided into two groups: those who went on their own and those whom the government sent. Some of the people sent by the government were sent to specialise in chemistry and some of them were sent to directly obtain a degree in chemistry. After the Second Constitutional Era, there was a significant increase in the number of people who were sent to Europe to be trained in chemistry.

The second way that would commonly be chosen for educating chemists was to have enthusiastic and talented students attend the chemistry laboratory at Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şâhâne during their education and giving a “Certificate of Qualification” to those who were taught there in practical work in the area of chemical analyses. They later received the title of chemist and worked as such. This method originated in Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şâhâne and it was also used in the schools which had laboratories and whose curriculum involved the Analytical Chemistry course, such as Eczacı Mektebi (School of Pharmacy), Halkalı Ziraat Mekteb-i Alisi (Halkalı College of Agriculture) and Baytar Mekteb-i Alisi (Halkalı Veterinary College).18

4- <em>İlm-i Kimyâ-yı Gayr-ı Uzvî-i Tıbbî</em>, the book published by translating Antoinealleja’s French lecture notes into Turkish by Vasil Naum Bey

After chemistry instruction began in 1917, the number of “diplomaed chemists” started increasing towards the end of the 1920s. The “certified chemists” were afraid of losing their status and their jobs and the people who supported them showed significant resistance to the “diplomaed chemists”.

Chemistry at Darülfünun-i Şahane (The Imperial University)

On the 25th anniversary of Sultan Abdülhamid II’s accession to the throne, it was decided to reopen the Darülfünun (University) for the fourth time and on August 12, 1900, Dârülfünûn-ı Şâhâne Nizamnâmesi (The Imperial University Regulations) were issued.19 Darülfünun-ı Şâhâne consisted of three faculties: the Faculty of Higher Religious Studies, the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences and the Faculty of Letters. According to the Dârülfünun-ı Şâhâne Nizamnâmesi, the chemistry courses which were going to be taught at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences were determined as Organic Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry and Biochemistry. When the curriculums and course hours of all the University faculties are examined, it is clear that the purpose was only to give a superficial general education.

The courses, the evaluation system and the diplomas of the university, which moved its building to the Zeynep Hanım Mansion in 1908, were reformed in 1913 and a type of certification system was introduced. At that time, the number of courses increased significantly. According to a reform made in 1913, the chemistry courses that were taught at the Faculty of Science were Inorganic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Analytical Chemistry and Biochemistry. The chemistry laboratory of the Faculty of Science was founded between the years 1912-1915 through the endeavours of Ömer Şevket (who later changed his surname to Öncel) and Sûzî Osman (who later adopted the surname Bleda)

German Professors

The Ottoman Empire’s economic and cultural relations with Germany, its ally during the First World War, strengthened, and around twenty German professors were brought to Darülfünun-i Şâhâne. The German chemistry professors who came to the Faculty of Science within this framework were as follows: for the Inorganic Chemistry course there was Fritz Georg Arndt, PhD (1885-1969), who was an assistant professor at Breslau University and taught chemistry to medical students, for the Organic Chemistry course was Egon Richard Kurt Hoesch, PhD (1882-1932), who was an assistant professor at the Charlottenburg Technische Hochschule (Charlottenburg Technical College), and for the Industrial Chemistry course there was Georg Gustav Anselm Fester (1886-1963), who was an assistant professor at Frankfurt University. All of them were given the title of professor regardless of their academic positions in Germany. Fazlı Faik (Yeğül) Bey (1882-1965) was employed as a teacher under Prof. Fritz Arndt; Sûzî Osman (Bleda) Bey ( 1886-1948) was employed as a teacher under Prof. Gustav Fester; and Ömer Şevket (Öncel) Bey (1880-1950) was employed as a teacher under Prof. Kurt Hoesch. All of these Turkish teachers had studied in Germany.

The Founding of the Chemistry Institution

One of the first initiatives of the German professors was organising the faculties as institutes, especially the Faculty of Science. As a result, the founding of chemistry institutions was decided upon soon after the German professors came to Constantinople. Accordingly, the Organic Chemistry Institute, the head of which was Prof. Kurt Hoesch, was going to move into the old laboratory in the Zeynep Hanım Mansion and continue its academic work there; and a new building was going to be found for the institutes of Prof. Gustav Fester and Prof. Fritz Arndt.

Having realized that constructing a new building was impossible under existing circumstances, Prof. Fritz Arndt searched for one that was already built and he later found a building which was still under construction. The building was originally being built for the Training School for the students of the Darülmuallimin (School of Male Teachers). As a result of Prof. Fritz Arndt’s efforts, the building was assigned to the Chemistry Institutions and it was completed accordingly. As a result of the interior arrangements made in accordance with the suggestions of Prof. Fritz Arndt and Prof. Gustav Fester, the building was completed as follows: on the ground floor, two big laboratories with sufficient space for 40-50 people; on the first floor, a lecture hall with enough space for 100-120 students with a counter for class experiments, next to the lecture hall, a preparation room for class experiments, which was also the personal laboratory of Prof. Fritz Arndt, a library, and the Inorganic and Industrial Chemistry Laboratories; on the second floor, an Industrial Chemistry Laboratory and the principal’s room. The interior arrangements of the laboratories were modelled on the laboratories of German universities and they had enough space for 100 students to study.20

While construction work on the new institutes was continuing, the required laboratory equipment was ordered from Germany in the middle of 1916. A great amount of items and materials were brought; however, there were not enough students to use them. The institute was near the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı), therefore, it was called Yerebatan Darülmesaisi (Basilica Institute) and later the Yerebatan Chemistry Institute (Basilica Chemistry Institute). The Inorganic Chemistry and Industrial Chemistry courses, which were previously given at the Zeynep Hanım Mansion, commenced in this new building in the academic year 1917-1918. The two institutes remained in this building until 1952.

The Founding of the Chemistry Undergraduate Program

The chemistry institutions were originally founded in order to teach chemistry classes within the Faculty of Science’s program and to run the Faculty’s laboratories. For almost one year, Prof. Fritz Arndt taught the Inorganic Chemistry class and Prof. Kurt Hoesch taught the Organic Chemistry class within this framework.

After the Chemistry Institute was founded and inaugurated, the issue arose of beginning independent chemistry instruction at the Faculty of Science, possibly as a result of the German faculty members’ efforts. To this purpose, the Chemistry Undergraduate Program was founded for the first time in 1917 to educate chemists. In the preamble that was prepared for it, it was stated that the goal was to give the students who were to graduate from this program the necessary education and practicum so that they could work as freelance chemists; another goal was to train chemists for the future chemical industry; and related classes were included in the program in accordance with these goals. This program consisted of three years of education in addition to a fourth year which was completely devoted to industry. According to the program, the students who completed the first three years would receive a “chemistry” diploma. The ones who completed the fourth year would become “industrial chemists”. However, the fourth year of the program most probably wasn’t implemented. The chemistry courses began in the academic year 1917-1918; however, there were problems finding students because of the war. The first students were Kasım Efendi, Kudsi Efendi and Cavid Efendi who were among the Turks that came from Russia and Romania. They had previously studied at the Natural Sciences Department of the Faculty of Science for two years; therefore, they began in the second grade and graduated in 1918. The first direct enrolments to the Chemistry Program were made in 1918 and this class graduated in the academic year 1920-1921 with seven graduates.


1 İshak Efendi, Mecmûa-i Ulûm-ı Riyâziyye, Istanbul: Matbaa-i Âmire, 1250 [1834], vol. 4.

2 İshak Efendi, Mecmûa, pp. 508-532.

3 Mehmed Emin Derviş, Usûl-i Kimya, Istanbul: Matbaa-i Amire, 1264 [1848].

4 Kırımî Aziz Bey, Kimyâ-yı Tıbbî, II vol., Istanbul: Mekteb-i Tıbbiye Matbaası, 1285-88 [1868-71].

5 Tarık Artel, “Tanzimattan Cumhuriyete Kadar Türkiyede Kimya Tedrisatının Geçirdiği Safhalara Dair Notlar”, Tanzimat, Istanbul: Maarif Matbaası, 1940, pp. 491-510.

6 Mehmed Ârif, Kemmî ve Keyfî Kimyâ-yı Tahlîlî, Istanbul: Âlem Matbaası Ahmed İhsan ve Şürekâsı, 1313 [1897].

7 Emre Dölen, “1870’li Yıllarda Mekteb-i Tıbbiye Laboratuvarında Yapılan Analiz ve İncelemeler”, II. Türk Tıp Tarihi Kongresi: İstanbul 20-21 Eylül 1990 -Kongreye Sunulan Bildiriler-, Ankara Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1999, pp. 71-81.

8 Sultan Abdülmecid attended one of Calleja’s lectures and applauded the phosphine experiment that he was conducting at the time.

9 Antoine Calleja,İlm-i Kimyâ-yı Gayr-ı Uzvî-i Tıbbî, tr. Vasil Naum, II vol., Istanbul: Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şahane Matbaası, 1299-1300 [1883-1884].

10 Vasil Naum, İlm-i Kimyâ-yı Gayr-ı Uzvî-i Tıbbî, II v., Istanbul: Tıbbiye Matbaası, 1310-12 [1892-94].

11 Vasil Naum, İlm-i Kimyâ-yı Gayr-ı Uzvî-i Tıbbî, Istanbul: Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Şahane Matbaası, 1318 [1900].

12 Ali Rıza, Kimyâ-yı Uzvî (Tıb ve Fenn-i İspençiyârî Tatbîkâtını Hâvîdir), Istanbul: Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Mülkiye-i Şâhâne Matbaası, 1319 [1901].

13 Rıza Tahsin [Gencer], Tıp Fakültesi Tarihçesi: Mir’ât-ı Mekteb-i Tıbbiye, Istanbul: Özel Yayınlar, 1991, pp. 20-21.

14 Dölen, “1870’li Yıllarda Mekteb-i Tıbbiye”, pp. 74- 75.

15 “Tecârib ü Tahlîlât-ı Kimyeviyye ve Sâire Resm-i Kalemiyyesi Tarifesi”, Düstûr, Birinci tertip, Istanbul: Başvekalet Neşriyat ve Müdevvenat Dairesi Müdürlüğü, 1289 [1872], vol. 2, p. 824.

16 Emre Dölen, “Kimyager-Eczacı Dr. Joseph Zanni (1854-1934)”, IV. Türk Tıp Tarihi Kongresi: İstanbul 18–20 Eylül 1996: Bildiri Özetleri, Istanbul: Türk Tıp Tarihi Kurumu Yayınları., 1996, p. 34.

17 Naşid Baylav, Eczacılık Tarihi, Istanbul: Yörük Matbaası, 1968, pp. 183-184.

18 Mehmed Ali Kâğıtçı, “Türkiye’de Kimyagerlik-2”, Tarih Konuşuyor, 1968, vol. 8, no. 58 (1968), pp. 3975- 3976.

19 Düstûr, Birinci tertip, Ankara: Başvekâlet Devlet Matbaası,1941, vol. 7, pp. 659- 664.

20 Gustav Fester, “Zur Organisation des Chemischen Unterrichts in der Türkei”, Zeitschrift für Angewandte Chemie, vol. 32, no. 16 (1919), p. 62. “It was a convenient structure where both institutes were located together and which resembled an average German institute with its equipment and its study area for 100 people.”

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