x0x 'Sahaflar Carsisi,' a cultural center
- x0x 'Sahaflar Carsisi,' a cultural center
Each book read compensates for the evil done by the one before
On June 12, 1954 the writer Nurullah Atac said, 'A few books poison, good
only coming from many of them because each book read compensates for the
evil done by the one before'
Ankara - Turkish Daily News
The "Sahaflar Carsisi" (rare and used book market) is a 500-year-old
walled bazaar tucked away between the Beyazit Mosque and the Grand Bazaar,
trying to survive in the midst of the chaos of Istanbul. One entrance of
this picturesque bazaar faces the Carsi Kapi of the Grand Bazaar and the
other faces the mosque. Many of Istanbul's most renowned antiquarian
bookshops are located in this bazaar.
In the past the word "sahaf" referred to a bookseller of any kind,
although today it is used only for antiquarian or secondhand
booksellers. Istanbul's booksellers used to have their own street in the
Grand Bazaar, but the damage to this area in the earthquake of 1894 forced
them to move elsewhere. In subsequent years they gradually congregated in
this bazaar, which had formerly been occupied by seal engravers. These
booksellers traded in rare books and priceless manuscripts of all kinds,
and the book auctions held every Tuesday and Friday in the Grand Bazaar
were always crowded.
The greatest bibliophile of the time was Kutahyali Ismail Efendi, an
expert on history books in particular. He was paralyzed, and his son used
to wheel him to the bazaar several times a week to value rare books.
Another class of bookseller in the past were known as
"bohcacilar," (hawkers) because they peddled valuable manuscripts at the
mansions of wealthy collectors. These buyers paid slightly above the
market price, and in return the bohcacis would seek out particular books
which they wanted. They would also pay in installments, a ploy to keep the
bohcaci coming back.
The printing press was introduced late to Turkey, partly due to opposition
by the army of scribes, illuminators and other craftsmen who made a living
producing manuscript books, and not until in the early 19th century did
printed books became widespread and replace the more expensive
However the value placed on calligraphy and books as a fine art form was
also instrumental in keeping these crafts alive for so much longer than in
Western countries. Calligraphic inscriptions were collected and hung on
walls in the same way as paintings were in Europe, and the work of
outstanding calligraphers commanded high prices. When combined with the
other arts of the book such as illuminations, miniature painting, marbling
and binding, the resulting manuscripts became precious works of art,
independent of their content.
Antoine Galland, who served as interpreter at the French Embassy in the
17th century, described the Turkish attitude towards manuscripts in his
diary: "I must add that the Turks do not gain pleasure from printed
books. Although they admit that the latter are easier to read, they
nevertheless prefer manuscripts to the finest quality printed books, even
when the former are written in a hand difficult to decipher. I saw a
printed copy of Ibni Sina (Avicenna) in an Istanbul bookshop, but even
though it was printed in the finest Arabic script most closely resembling
handwriting, this book did not find a buyer for a long time. Yet
manuscript copies of the same book sold well at high prices in other
The bazaar was badly damaged by fire in 1950, and the wooden shops
subsequently rebuilt in concrete by the municipality. The new shops had
broad eaves so that books could be displayed on tables outside. In 1981
the bazaar was renovated and a further 18 shops added. At the same time a
bust of Ibrahim Muteferrika (1670- 1745), founder of the first Turkish
printing works in 1728, was erected in the courtyard.
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