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Antique Taps Guardians of the source of life
2002 / October

Water has always been the life source of civilisation. History writes of rivers that nurtured civilisations just as they nourished the soil around them, of gardens of paradise in climes tempered by the sea, of cities grown prosperous with trade and agriculture. Whether as sparkling seas or rivers like silver ribbons, water enables life of all kinds and human culture to flourish.
Water has therefore been regarded as sacred by human beings, and is the subject of innumerable legends and creation myths all over the world. In ancient Greek mythology the rivers of the world were created by the goddess Tethys and god Oceanus. The Tigris and Euphrates created the fertile lands of Mesopotamia; the Pactalus not only watered crops but was the source of the gold on which Lydian civilisation grew rich, and is associated with the fabulous treasures discovered in the tombs of Lydian kings.

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Antique Taps Guardians of the source of life
2002 / October

Battles have been fought over the possession of water sources, and whole peoples have migrated in search of them. Supplying cities with water has inspired feats of engineering throughout the history of civilisation. Channels lined with stone, clay pipes, dams, cisterns and fountains have been built for this purpose for thousands of years.
In Anatolia, cradle to many civilisations, there is a rich heritage of water culture, of which Istanbul provides some of the most remarkable examples. As an imperial capital whose history goes back thousands of years, all the civilisations which have flourished here have poured skills and resources into the supply of water for the inhabitants. Dams have been constructed, channels to convey the water into the city, and cisterns to store it.

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Antique Taps Guardians of the source of life
2002 / October
In ancient cities water was piped right into the houses, and this practice continued into early Byzantine times, but was abandoned as the population grew and the empirst economic strength waned. In Istanbul the water supply became insufficient for the growing population, and water could be piped only to the imperial palace and its environs. Ordinary people had to carry their water needs from open and underground cisterns within the city.
After the Turkish conquest in 1453, Istanbul's water system was rebuilt and enlarged. Maps of three of the city's main water lines, the Üsküdar, Süleymaniye and Beylik, that are preserved at the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts and Topkapi Palace show not only the water lines themselves but depict the buildings and landmarks along their routes. These maps are therefore like aerial panoramas of the city and its outskirts.
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Antique Taps Guardians of the source of life
2002 / October

They show streams and rivers, dams, aqueducts, water towers, street fountains, and the public institutions, mosques and palaces which had their own water supply. Occasionally they illustrate the houses of privileged individuals allowed to have piped water, a mark of favour that was granted only by imperial decree. From ancient times into the sixteenth century water was allowed to flow freely from fountains, the water pouring out of stone gargoyles in the form of plain spouts or carved animal heads. But the expense of supplying water and its increasing scarcity prompted the search for a convenient way to control the flow, and so prevent this valuable resource running to waste. For this purpose an early type of tap known as a burma lüle, in the form of a rod cut like a screw, was developed. When twisted into the pipe these screw taps cut off the flow. Their use commenced during the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent, but met with strong opposition from the water carriers, as we see from an edict issued by the sultan to the kadý of Istanbul asking that measures be taken to prevent the vandalism of taps.

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Antique Taps Guardians of the source of life
2002 / October
Taps were at first cast from bronze and later from brass, which was cheaper. While some were plain in form others were made in ornate shapes with engraved decoration. For the palace and other important buildings, taps were made of silver, silver alloys or gold plated bronze, and richly decorated in various techniques such as engraving, openwork and chasing. The wide diversity of Ottoman tap forms include heads of animals, such as snakes, dragons and rams, and geometric and floral shapes. All reflect the tastes and styles of architectural decoration of the period.
During the 18th and 19th centuries taps made for outdoor and indoor use at palace buildings and mansions became so elaborate that their function was subserviant to their decorative role.
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Antique Taps Guardians of the source of life
2002 / October
 

Since taps require frequent maintenance they are necessarily removable, which has meant that few original taps have survived in situ. Many were melted down, converted to another use, or moved from their original position. So where the taps that have survived are concerned, we can only guess at the buildings and structures to which they originally belonged.
Antique taps reflecting the water culture of Anatolia during the Ottoman period are a fresh reminder of the importance of water in our daily lives. Water is indeed a sacred resource on which our own civilisation today depends, no less than those of the past.


* Cihat Soyhan is an art historian.

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