The Grand Bazaar Used To Be A Book Heaven

51At a time the Grand Bazaar was one of the most impoıtant book centers in the world. As an antiquarian bookseller, Hasan Coşkun (1) tells us about the cultural magnificence in the Grand Bazaar for a period of time and afteıwards: “Although we may find many verbal narrations about the histoıy of antiquarian booksellers, the written sources are very few, almost none. It is interesting that although the booksellers kept their jobs with many changes over the years, they did not put their history down on a paper. When I wanted to learn the histoıy of my job, I could not access mu ch information. Thereupon, I asked myself w hat I could do with the infannation I collected. My primary research headed me towards further research and study on the locations. First, I started my research on the antiquarian booksellers in Bedestan and the customers to whom they sold their books at this location. Before the antiquarian booksellers’ locations, I want to talk about the Ottoman bookseller briefly. The adventure of antiquarian book trade in Ottoman Empire starts before the conquest of İstanbul. In Ottoman cities, book trade was generally done by the mosque’s wall, on the workbenches which were set up close by to the school. It is known that a man named Mahmut Şevki used to make copies of books by handwriting and sel! them in Bursa during the period of Orhan Gazi. Mahmut Şevki is mentioned as a “Sheik” in many resources. Booksellers were one of the tradesmen groups who migrated from the old capital Bursa to first Edirne and then to İstanbul. During the years of Edirne as the capital, the government tried to move the booksellers to shops but they could not succeed veıy much. After the conquest of İstanbul the Grand Bazaar was one of the first places which started to be renovated. (1460-1 466) In order to stimulate the market the way it was during the Byzantine period, tradesmen who were brought from other cities were placed in the Grand Bazaar. Although it is said that Mehmed the Conqueror ordered the construction of the Bazaar in order to aggregate the tradesmen and inspect the commercial affairs better, it is recorded that there was already a bazaar in this place before. (3) The Grand Bazaar is right by the Beyazıt square which was known as “palace square” during the Ottoman period. The palace which was located where the university is located now kept its status until it got destroyed as a result of a fire in 1541. The Sultan and the dynasty had to move to Topkapı Palace which was built in the same area after the disaster. Since this area was close to the headquarters, Fatih Külliye and many increasing numbers of libraries, it became a place which was often visited by the scholars and students. Most of the books in the Grand Bazaar were brought from abroad. Most of the books in the city were loaded into ships and taken by the escapers during the conquest of the city. According to Vryonis most of the books were moved to Europe and the ones which couldn’t be taken were sold by ten for a coin. Although Byzantine took most of the books, the ones left are very precious ones.

The useful ones from the books left were translated into Ottoman Turkish by the command of Mehmed the Comqueror. Calligraphers made copies of the books in their homes. A few of the calligraphers made the copies of the books which they handwrote page by page according to the purchase orders that they took from antiquarian booksellers. The best customers of the antiquarian bookseller were the notable people of the government. Especially Mehmed II who was a book collector showed moral and material support to antiquarian booksellers. The purchase of books for the foundation libraries shows the importance that Mehmet the Conqueror gave to culture. The importance that is given to books is also related to the cultural policy. (4) One of the Gates of Cevahir Bedestan in the Grand Bazaar was Sahaflar (Booksellers) Gate. Book buyers other than the students and Ottoman scholars used to come to this place. Grand Bazaar became one of the few book places not only in the Empire but in the whole world. This place became the haunt of many Westerners who mn after the Eastern mystery. The customer could only touch the books if the bookseller gives the permission. An Halian descended itinerant named Pietro Della Valle (1586-1652) talks about shopping for books in the September 4th 1615 dated letter in his itinerary.(5) Antoine Galland who is known by his researches on Arabian Nights comes to İstanbul with French arnbassadar Marquis de Nointel in 1670. He talks about the books he purchased from the Bazaar in 1672 in his diary: ‘January 27th Friday: I went to see the head of the booksellers. He showed me a history book. The composition of the book was uncompleted. I was told that he was paying seventy coins in order the notebooks which contained sixteen pages each to be written. He also showed me Iranian Miniatures drawings. Some were very pretty and well drawn. A Roman style miniature drawing seemed spectacular to me. He also said that he had Tabari’s book and Beydavi’s history book in Persian.” (Galland, 1987, page 10) Since Galland also noted the prices of the books he purchased, we know that the prices were low. (6) Galland also says that when he didn’t go to the Bedestan, the booksellers came to the place they live to show him and the arnbassadar the books. Hüseyin Efendi gave his book called Tenkihüt Tevarih to the arnbassadar as a gift. Galland also states that Hüseyin Efendi was a very good friend of the arnbassadar who also received broadcloth and a satin jacket from him as gifts. Galland writes that a bookseller named Mahmut Paşa was seliing beautiful Iranian pictures which were pricy thus the arnbassadar couldn’t afford them. He continued his studies in İstanbul. According to the narrations, the travelers used to get their acquaintances help about the prices and the book that were not shown to them. Holy Qur’an was the only book which was not sold to non-Muslims in the Bazaar.

The ones who wanted to get the Qur’an used to ask for their acquaintances’ help. The Ottoman intellectuals were the most important customers of the booksellers and they helped to enable the communication between itinerants and booksellers. One of these intellectuals was Ahmet Vefik Pasha (İstanbul, 1823- 1891). The books in the Bazaar were in different languages and about different topics. Along with the Islamic books, manuscripts about history, philosophy, politics, geography and literature books could also be seen in the Bazaar. Some of the books were war pillages which included the valuable manuscripts which were pillaged during the Iranian Civil War. It is said that most of these books were sold for cheap in İstanbul and some were purchased by Greek priests and taken to Ayvanoz Monastery. (Gülersoy, 1979). In 1728 A.Sevin who came to İstanbul on behalf of the King of France Louis XV in order to collect antique works and manuscripts bought six hundred books for the royal library. The number of the books which were purchased from the Grand Bazaar and taken to Europe until the beginning of the 18th century is estimated pretty high. In his letters, the Austrian arnbassadar Busbeck in İstanbul in the 16th centlııy tells about the books the purchased from the booksellers. According to his writings, he took the Greek books he purchased to the imperiallibraıy in Venice. Majority of the bibliophiles were not happy that the valuable books were being taken abroad. Bibliophile Damat Ali Pasha enacts an edict in 1716: Travelers who visited the Bazaar or people who migrated to İstanbul for various reasons used to bring books from their countries time to time. It is said that the Spanish books which were brought by the Jews who migrated from Andalusia in 1492 were translated and copied.

White these types of translations used to stimulate the book market, they also contributed directly to science and literature world. Ottoman intellectuals who showed up in the Bazaar often used to be the primary buyers of the translated and non-translated manuscripts. Along with the daily sales of stores in the Bazaar, auctions used to take place in particular days of the week. (8) It became a rule for the Booksellers Guild to take the precious manuscripts which were going to be sold in the auction to the steward’s room first. These auctions were mostly estate sales. First the books of the deceased bibliophile along with his other belongings used to be registered to the judge’s records and the things that are suitable for sale used to be brought to the auction. It was the steward’s job to manage the sale of the estate book which was brought from the court. Booksellers used to let poor students read the books that they could not afford in the shop and make copies of it. In the Bazaar there were also booksellers who rented the books out. The fact that some booksellers, who rented novels and stoıy books out, did only this job shows us that they were able to earn a living by renting. This tradition made some foundations lend books for reading. Sahafs were not only booksellers but editors too. They used to make calligraphers write the books that are ordered by the customers and later check the pages of the books and bind them. Generally the calligraphers would not sign the book they had written. Signature tradition started later on. After the transition to published bookselling, the names of the Booksellers’ names were indicated by stamps orseals on the front page of the books.

If we  Jook at Evliya Çelebi’s writings to get some information, he lists two types of booksellers: The group of three hundred people with fifty stores used to seli mostly religious books. The second group was colpoıteurs of anather two hundred people with sixty stores who were known as “peddlers” or “walking bookstores”. Çelebi mentions of the same group with booksellers, binders and ink makers in his book of travel. (9) Peddler booksellers used to take the precious manuscripts to the homes of wealthy bibliophiles. The buyers would want the peddler booksellers to visit them frequently so they used to pay more than the market value for the books. However, they would split the payment into installments. Mantran indicated that booksellers were Muslims. Mantran’s reasoning for that statement was that the majority of the books that are being sold were Islamic and Muslim booksellers did not want non-Muslims to touch those books. So, tl1at made it difficult for non-Muslims to profess as booksellers. The socioeconomic status of the booksellers in the Ottoman Empire is not veıy far from the intellectuals’. Charles White’s narrations about two famous sahafs who lived in 19th cenh.ııy have the characteristics of a document which predicates his statements: “The first one of the two most famous booksellers and bibliographers in Constantinople is Süleyman Efendi; he is known by his expertise on philology. He was one of the historians along with his father, who became the military judge in Rumelia in 1843, and an expert on Janissary histoıy. The other famous bookseller is Hacı Efendi. Although he is blind he is the best manuscript expeıt of the time. Addition to that, he is veıy knowledgeable about literah.ıre and hard science.” (White, 1846, pg. 157) The diaıy of Charles White reflects some interesting observations about the booksellers in the Grand Bazaar: “Booksellers sit on the cushions with frowned faces and never seem inviting to the customers. Their shops stay open; the books are either placed on the shelves behind tl1em or hidden in a seeret place. There is nothing pleasing to the eye around.” Charles White also wrote that the booksellers were greedy and pricing the books for veıy high. According to his narrations, when people talked about stingy people, they used to say “worse than a bookseller” in order to explain that person.

 Hasan Coskun


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