When the editor asked me to write an article about the preservation of the administration of the city of Istanbul, it reminded me of a few years ago. Firstly, I call myself as a lucky one in the field of antique collectibles for being an historian of art, not only due to I started to run my antique store at the center of the district of Cukurcuma since 1990, but also the business I run is related my profession and offering collectibles related with Istanbul to my guest enabled me to obverse the development of Cukurcuma district. Consequently, this article has been written by my personal experiences.
Çukurcuma, known as "Street of Antique Stores" by collectors, just at lover skirts of the region of Cihangir, was an unknown place until a few years ago. In the point of the view, what amazed me, whose story also set off in the beginning of 1990s in the same district, was the fact of natural developing motion of housing in Cukurcuma. However, it is not possible to define the precise borders of Çukurcuma district, named after Çukurcuma Street and Çukurcuma Mosque, officially, it remains in area bordered by Firuzağa Avenue, Boğazkesen Street, Siraserviler Street, Turnacıbaşı Street and Ağa Hamamı Street. The original location of Çukurcuma is the place called by itself today.
Besides its geographic and topographic definition, it resembles more then its land borders in terms of commerce and social life too. Regarding this commercial and social life, we need to take into account more districts like the passage of Galatasaray Lycee in north, Yeniçarşı Street, Ağa Hamamı Street, Turnacıbaşı Street, Altıpatlar Street and the ramp of Faik Paşa Street.
Although, Çukurcuma is considered as the street of antique stores, it is not only a typical Ottoman Street retaining its character in many ways, having an old mosque and a fountain at its center, but also it is a capable work place.
Because of Tophane-i Amire, cannon foundry, was established near the district of Çukurcuma by Mehmet II, the conqueror, Çukurcuma also gained a military identity for which attracted Muslim settlement to a great extant.
Defining the center of Çukurcuma, the mosque was built by Sinan, the chief Ottoman architect, upon the request of Fenarizade Muhiddin Mehmed (Molla Fenari), Islamic theologian, in 1540. The mosque is known as Çukurçeşme or Muhiddin Çelebi Mosque, having details in Ottoman architectural registration books of Tezkiret-ül Bünyan and Tezkiret-ül Ebniye. Tahsin Öz also mentions that "some parts of the walls and cubic base of minaret of the mosque shows its age of construction" in his book of İstanbul Camileri, Istanbul Mosques.
Though the mosque doesn't have an inscription, it is known that present mosque is the work of restoration took place a fire burned down the mosque in 1st May 1823. Opposite of this mosque, restored by the Funds of Turkish Republic in 1967-68, is a classical fountain, which is dating back to 1720 and composing of cut stones. Ömer Ağa commissioned it, the chief of the treasury during the reign of Mahmut I, the Ottoman Sultan. The latest restoration of fountain took place in1994.
There are also two Turkish baths along the same street. The first one is known as Süreyya baths, which used to be called Sürahi baths. The second one is known as Bostancıbaşı baths. Considered having been built in 1830-31, and commissioned by Nakşidil Valide Sultan after her construction of waters ways of the district, both baths, originally used to be in wood, is assumed to belong a Armenian according to Reşat Ekrem Koçu.
When you take a walk in Çukurcuma, interesting edifices you will notice typical Ottoman style houses and pavilions dating back to 19th century and 20th century besides their less number. Because of the fact that Çukurcuma, a cosmopolitan and multicultural zone, is an observation spot at which you can figure out the social roles of the people from ornamentation style of facades in this district mostly around Çukurcuma, the ramp of Faik Paşa and Ağa Hamamı Street.
Although its neglected historical buildings in Çukurcuma, architectural importance and ornaments of facades will get the attention of guest at first sight. Contrary to Horhor ve Mecidiyeköy districts, where cozy antique stores are situated to a great extent, developing motion of old Çukurcuma along with the demand of antique collectibles are the main reasons of up to date shape of the district. In order to preserve the original face of an Ottoman street, the shop owners of antique stores should be more considerate for the purpose of this district as well.
It is possible to conclude that the district of Çukurcuma, known as the street of antique stores, haven't been subject to social studies in its history though there are many books relating its ancient character. One of the inhabitants of Çukurcuma is also Tuncay Yalçınkaya, whose father was born in 1895 and settled in Çukurcuma in 1917 when he was at the age of 22. According to his father` s words, regarding oral history of the district, at the heart of the district, there used to be vendors, second hand dealers and handicraftsmen in the street spanning from Altıpatlar street` s ramp to the location of the mosque of Çukurcuma. Especially, handicraftsmen were doing a very fashionable job of using the old clothes, called "Bozma" in Turkish, to create new ones and caskets to sell Armenians and Jews in market of Grand Bazaar in those days. However, this old job is not alive anymore, it was possible to see the last members of this job a few years ago. In the point of view, what has changed is just the name of representatives of this old job from second hand dealer to antique shop dealer. Likewise, what has not changed is the task of these dealers except varieties of collectibles for an antique shop dealer. They can offer their guests new and aesthetic collectibles along with antique ones today contrary to their former task of offering only antique and old stuff. Likely to be the most interesting feature of this street, traditional Anatolian art of wood has been subjected to modern art in a melting pot with a creative purpose. However, the stores, who have got the same principles of a second hand dealer shop on basics, are called antique dealers in a " modern sense" except the stores clustered around the street of Ağa Hamamı. They are ones who are still furthering the old sprit of their ancestors.
The antique stores at the center of Çukurcuma were also present in 1960s but as a second hand dealer. Regarding the fact of being an original inhabitants of this district, for example, the place of gas station and banking, also indicated on Pervititsch` s ground plan for shops and restaurants in 1920, is the same for place for the same functions today.
Mobile gypsies, collecting old clothes, shoes and any kind of collectibles in the old days, used to set for a flea market for these collectibles on sale after 11.00am on sundays. The flea market was not only attracting the locals, second hand dealers but also second dealers of Grand Bazaar. Tuncay Yalçınkaya, one of the inhabitants of the street, says that there used to be mobile street second hand dealers with their donkeys at these markets as well. Not surprisingly, only place where we can see these kind scenes of mobile second hand dealers with mules is just ancient engravings and hangings on the walls. According to his words, these flea markets were enhancing the atmosphere of friendship on each Sunday and likewise the Ottoman style houses of the district are also combining the silhouette of integrity in a peace glass.
The first change, among the multicultural inheritance of Çukurcuma, took place with population exchange between Greeks and Turks and then it gained a high migration rate from Anatolia like the rest of Istanbul. One of the new comers were the people of Bayburt, a little town in southeastern region of Turkey. Thanks to the original inhabitants of Çukurcuma, the atmosphere of tolerance and friendship are still a source of joy for the people living in this part of Istanbul. Furthermore, the children of these antique dealers are helping their family run business at their semester vacations during which they are inheriting the skill of being a antique store dealer naturally. In another word, this is their job training to earn what their families have done before. There is another feature of this district as well. The handicraftsmen like silversmiths, carpenters, cargo firms, upholsterers and varnishers work in a team spirit for the same goal. Lately, because of the demand of the antique market, the new owners of the stores, either by renting or buying the stores of Çukurcuma, are also trying to not to spoil characteristic face of the buildings during their renovation work too. This is another good way of safekeeping the future of this ancient street for next generations. In order to keep this original face, the new owners of old buildings are showing great care for keeping the original face of the structure in all respects. Either they just do little renovation work if the old structure is in good condition or they use compatible structural materials to retain the original. Consequently, the district is having her new guests like sculptors, and painters while it is becoming a cosmopolitan place. Çukurcuma, situated on the skirt of Beyoglu district and a new center for the latest cultural fluctuations, should be preserved in a best way if we want to see the origin of our culture. I hope to preserve the cultural inheritance of Çukurcuma for future while we, a group of volunteers, are trying to establish a fund to lead this spirit forever.
Dr. Ayşe Yetişkin-Kubilay
History of Art