For a while, four people from Agos, author
Karin Karakaşlı, photographer Berge Arabian, architect Zakarya
Mildanoğlu and I, are visiting the historical inns (hanlar) of
Istanbul. This very special tour is triggered by the curiosity of
Berge. One day, when we are chatting in the yard of Agos, he asked,
“I hear the word 'han' very often, what does it mean?” and told
him that it is not something that can be explained and we should
visit them together. Standing near us, Karin said that she would like
to come and so we formed our trio of travelers.
The first han we visit was Vezir Han in Çemberlitaş. With the guidance of my friend Sarkis Erol, we traveled through the last 50 years of the han, starting from Sarkis' childhood memories. After our visit was published in Agos, Zakarya teasingly said, “What are you up to without even telling me?” Next week, we, 'three musketeers', had D'artagnan with us.
Thus, we started to spend a day in a week in Historical Peninsula, surrounded by centuries-old walls.
Today, inns are no longer economic centers of this gigantic metropolis. Big bazaars and shopping malls have replaced them. However, these buildings don't mean much to us, each of them seeming like a satellite town on its own. We are seeking for the traces of the past. Karin, with her poet sensitivity, collects personal stories and Berge takes pictures that speak, tell and make you think. Being a real archive-worm, Zakarya provides information that surprises us all, sometimes from an old memoir or from a century-old newspaper ad.
Shop-owners that we talked during our visits are nostalgic about the old rush of the inns, which have an apparent calmness about them right now. They are talking about the number of rounds of cloth merchant Sarkis' two horse carriage and hundreds of kilos that porters had been carrying in a day and say that their most important job is to take care of the flowers in pots now.
As you can guess, my duty in these visits is coordination. I am responsible of choosing the han of the week and determining the people that we will talk to.
This week, we visited the famous Kurşunlu Han in Karaköy. When we walked through the door of the thousand-year-old Genoese building, we all felt that we stepped outside of space and time. The buzz and roar of the city suddenly stopped and we became free of that rush.
Dear Ara Suner hosted us and said that there were boiler-smiths in this han before. Now, there are mostly spring traders He is engaged with saw trade. “The rooms in the upper floor, where our shop is also located, were dorms of the workers and porters once. Porters from Şebinkarahisar used to come here to work and sleep there.” The concierge of the han is also from Şebinkarahisar. We also talked about his homeland.
By the way, let me tell you that after we are done with visiting inns, we will start to visit Turkish baths (hamam). We cannot imagine what kind of surprises await us.
This city, which is so attractive that it deserves famous poet Yeğişe Çarents' “universal prostitute” and Tevfik Fikret's “the virgin widow after fourty husbands” epithets, is full of mystery. We, Istanbul-lovers, are carried away by the joy of touching one or two of those mysteries between the walls of thousands-of-years-old streets once in a week.
I think it is the only way to answer the question of Berge, who was born in Qamishli, went to school in Beirut, lived in Canada and then settled in Istanbul.