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Caiques and Ships of Ottoman Istanbul
2003 / AUGUST

A city at the crossroads of East and West, Istanbul has been capital to the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. This legendary city lies on the shores of the Marmara Sea, the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus, making transport by water as important as that by road. The proximity of so much water tempers the climate to an almost Mediterranean mildness, and with its sea link to the Aegean via the Çanakkale Strait, Istanbul's cultural affinities have always tended to be with the Mediterranean. Meanwhile the Bosphorus winds its way northwards between the coasts of Asia and Europe to the Black Sea. The Golden Horn at the southwest end of the strait is a long winding estuary which is one of the largest and safest natural harbours in the world. Istanbul's geographical position gives the city not only spectacular scenic beauty but key strategic importance, which is why it has been one of the most coveted cities in the world throughout its history. Until the first steamship was acquired by the Ottoman Empire in 1828, during the reign of Sultan Mahmud II, the ships and boats of Istanbul were powered by oars or sails.

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Caiques and Ships of Ottoman Istanbul
2003 / AUGUST

In the 17th century the city's merchant ships alone numbered 2600, not to mention naval vessels and many thousands of boats. Paintings by foreign artists depicting the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus show these waterways crowded with ships and boats. Among the most striking of such Istanbul scenes are those painted by Melling in the early 19th century, showing the slender, graceful caiques with their many oars belonging to the imperial family and wealthy grandees. These lovely boats enhance the enchantment of the Bosphorus scenery. Caiques of several types were used in Istanbul, either for hire by ordinary citizens going about their business or privately owned. The small pereme caique was the most common of the former type, used to ferry people across the Golden Horn or the Bosphorus and for short distances along their shores. This craft had one pair of oars and could accommodate only a few passengers. For longer journeys to Istanbul's islands or villages on the upper reaches of the Bosphorus, sailing boats known as mavna were used.

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Caiques and Ships of Ottoman Istanbul
2003 / AUGUST
The piyade caique, designed for speed and extremely light and slender, was the type preferred by wealthy individuals, and sometimes used by foreign ambassadors and palace officials. Market caiques were the buses of their day, a large heavy boat built for carrying large numbers of people. They were 13 metres long and 2.5 m wide, with raised prows and sterns as buffers against the waves in rough weather. They had three or four pairs of oars and could accommodate 50 to 60 passengers. They were also used for carrying commercial goods or personal effects when people moved house. Male passengers sat at the front and women at the back. When boarding the caique women did not take the hands of the boatmen, but lightly held onto their shoulders to steady themselves. Sometimes a group of musicians and singers would hire a market caique and attract an audience of people in boats. Such water-borne concerts were particularly popular on moonlit nights in summer, when parties of friends would go out on the Bosphorus to enjoy the music, the silvered scenery and fragrant night air.
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Caiques and Ships of Ottoman Istanbul
2003 / AUGUST

The royal caiques were works of art, richly decorated, and with pavilions in the stern for the sultan or members of his family. They were generally 30-32 metres in length and rowed by 16 pairs of oars. The interiors of the pavilions were adorned with mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, ivory and ebony, and set with turquoises. The carvings on the tapering prows were gilded and had figureheads in the forms of eagles with outspread wings or other birds. Some of these royal caiques can be seen at the Naval Museum in Istanbul, the largest and most impressive being that which belonged to Sultan Mehmed IV (1648-1687). It is 40 metres long and 5.9 metre wide, with 24 pairs of oars, each manned by three rowers, making 144 in all. Istanbul's boatmen were strictly regulated, carefully chosen and only hired against warranty provided by a third person. They were expected to be polite as well as capable, and foreign visitors frequently noted in diaries and memoirs how courteous, hard-working, and neatly dressed they were.

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Caiques and Ships of Ottoman Istanbul
2003 / AUGUST
Every caique belonged to a particular landing place, of which there were 21 in Istanbul in the 16th century. The fare depended both on the distance to the destination and on the number of oars. In the mid-17th century there were 8000 boatmen and 4614 caiques in Istanbul, according to the contemporary Turkish author Evliya Çelebi. The first Ottoman naval arsenal of any importance was established at Gelibolu during the reign of Bayezid I (1389-1402). Two years after the conquest of Istanbul, Sultan Mehmed II built a naval arsenal with several docks on the northern shore of the Golden Horn between Aynali Kavak and Kasimpasa. During the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566) this arsenal was enlarged to 200 docks. When Barbarossa Hayreddin Paşa, the greatest Ottoman seaman, was appointed High Admiral in 1534, he hired skilled and experienced shipbuilders from Tunisia and Algeria to build vessels modelled on those of the Venetians and other leading seafaring European nations. Warships consisted of sailing ships and galleys, the latter having sails as well as oars.
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Caiques and Ships of Ottoman Istanbul
2003 / AUGUST

There were 25 different types of galley, the most important being the kadirga with 49-50 pairs of oars, each oar manned by five men. The larger bastard had 72 pairs of oars, each manned by seven men. Galleys were extremely long and narrow vessels, and very low in the water. Sailing ships were of around 12 types, with either two or three masts. The largest of all were the galleons with two or three decks, a three-deck galleon having 80-110 guns. The naval fleet would set out to sea every spring to protect the coasts from pirates and enemies, and return to harbour at the beginning of winter. The sailing of the fleet was a ceremonial occasion that attracted huge crowds. The galleons with sails set would go first, followed by smaller sailing vessels, and behind them the galleys. Guns would fire salutes and the High Admiral would greet the crowds. The return of the fleet was again marked by salutes as the vessels entered the harbour and anchored off the naval arsenal.
* Professor Dr Metin And is a member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences

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