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26 December 2014  |  0 comment  |  Zeynep Bakir

What other festivities were there in old Istanbul?

I didn’t want to omit old Istanbul customs, ceremonies and festivals I happened upon while writing New Year articles, As you know, in order to share some pieces of information it’s necessary to capture its current version. Let New Year be an occasion for looking at how Turks used to entertain in the old times.

What other festivities were there in old Istanbul?


In old Istanbul, it had become a custom to set up fairs in Bosporus districts such as Çengelköy, Göksu and Kuzguncuk. These fairs, set up for entertainment purposes, generally started on the lost Monday of July, and lasted for three days and three nights.

The most popular of these fairs was the one set up in Arnavutköy, called “kibarene”. According to memoirs of Ahmet Rasim, music halls set up at the fair venue were very expensive. As one entered the village, drum, clarion, yelling, clarinet and dulcimer sounds intermingled. Even walking became difficult.


People celebrated the first rainfall in April like a festival, get out of their homes with their pots and pans in hand, and both filled them and danced on the streets. Afterwards, they made their sick loved ones drink the rain water in those bowls, which they believed would heal them.


In spring of every year, the horses at Hasahır were taken out to Kağıthane Meadow with a festival. This meadow ceremony lasting forty days was celebrated by the stablemen and attendants, and the people also got a share of the pie. Bulgarian people played horon to the accompaniment of bagpipes.


Çilehane was the festival of people working in palaces and mansions, which were quite high in number. Black eunuchs and servant women called “black-skinned Arabs” by the people of Istanbul used to be celebrated at Çilehane in Çamlıca. They sang Ethiopian ballads, put flower crown on their heads and wore hand woven belts on their waists.


In the days of the old, arrival of storks in the city was called “amadan-ı laklakan”. Istanbulites considered storks to be sacred, as they came from holy lands, and called them “pilgrim father”. When the news that storks came spread throughout the city, everyone went out with their families, and started the festival. Majority of the people chose this time of the year to repair nests on chimneys and roofs.


The artisans of Istanbul held grand festivals and feasts almost every year and on certain days, at Haydarpaşa, Küçüksu, Beykoz, Büyükdere meadows and Florya and Kağıthane resorts. Masters and foremen collected a certain amount of money for the artisan festival, while tents to be used by artisans visiting the festivals were given by tent makers free of charge. 

Also, there was a now-extinct custom called loincloth dressing among artisans. After the apprentice learnt intricacies of their profession from his master, guild notables subjected him to a test, and tied a loincloth on his waist if he was successful. After receiving this loincloth, standing for apprenticeship diploma and called ‘şed’, the apprentice went to have fun with his friends that night. The same practice was also used for foremen. If the foreman passed the test, he became qualified to open his own shop…

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