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  • Pera, Kasımpaşa, Sewers, and Maps:Representing Infrastructural Entanglements in the Nineteenth-Century Istanbul
  • K. Mehmet Kentel (bio)

Infrastructure, Istanbul, Kasımpaşa, Maps, Pera

In the nineteenth century, the Pera (Beyoğlu) district of Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, became an internationally recognized center of commerce, finance, culture, art, and recreation, in the context of the empire's rapid integration into world capitalism. The district's built environment changed radically, manifested in newly erected apartment buildings, arcades, gardens, and monumental hotels and embassies. This change has been studied as an experiment in municipal governance, modernization in urban space, and cosmopolitan sociability. The critical study of infrastructures, on the other hand, reveals that it was first and foremost a material process, which remade a complex and extended geography within and beyond Pera's boundaries in fundamentally unequal ways.

In this piece, I first introduce Pera's nineteenth-century sewers as a gateway to exploring the district's interconnections with its surrounding geographies, which requires a close study of infrastructural plans. I then propose the methodological virtues of juxtaposing these with insurance maps, frequently utilized in the conventional histories of the district. I argue that a critical reflection on the way we use these visual sources is helpful to dissect the limited frames that structure our understanding of the district's history, geography, and layers of social topography.

Terkos and Kasımpaşa as Loci of Pera's History

In the nineteenth century, rapid urbanization, growing population, changing mentalities and sanitary concerns, especially with respect to frequent cases of cholera outbreaks, 1 made the efficient circulation of water and sewage an [End Page 405]

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Figure 1.

Paul Boutan and Hubner, Carte topographique du lac de Derkos et des vallees d'Alibey et de Kiahathane. Atatürk Kitaplığı (AK), Hrt. Gec. 1875, 1877, 1878, 1879.

essential necessity of public and individual life. 2 In Pera, this meant a growing dependence on, and intensified biopolitical connections with, other geographies of Istanbul. The rise of Pera was thus dependent on natural and urban resources beyond the district's borders, and this dependence, in turn, produced spaces and reconfigured human and nonhuman relations outside of the district.

The Terkos Waterworks, which was constructed by the Compagnie des Eaux de Constantinople (Dersaadet Su Şirketi) and which began providing water to Pera in 1885 with an exclusive opening ceremony symbolically held in the Jardin des Petits-Champs in the heart of Pera, altered human and nonhuman geographies around the Terkos Lake and its connected waterways in the northern fringes of Istanbul (Fig. 1). 3 As interventions began into the flow of water in this area, villagers' access to their traditional water sources was hindered, the adverse effects of excess water on their lands increased, and their fishing activity was obstructed; the Ottoman army, hunters, and picnickers poured into the area, mapping the environs of Terkos as a geography of risk as well as of natural leisure.

The unequal entanglements created by this infrastructural intervention in Istanbul's countryside underlined and extended existing inequalities among the populations residing in and around Pera, most prominently in the adjac e nt working-class neighborhood of Kasımpaşa. The water network was concentrated in the wealthy parts of the municipal district, and almost completely [End Page 406]

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Figure 2.

Paul Boutan, Plan de la Canalisation générale de le Ville et de l'assainissement du quartier du Kassim-Pacha. BCA, 230.0.0/68.2.1 (8 May 1884).

avoided poorer areas like Kasımpaşa. The concentration of water infrastructure in the uphill areas of Pera placed a further burden on Kasımpaşa's residents as the increased downhill flow strained the capabilities of the neighborhood's sewers and cesspools. The relocation or complete erasure of cemeteries between Pera and Kasımpaşa, which had done a lot to absorb the rain and wastewater coming from the uphill neighborhoods, only increased the latter area's problems, as it had to carry the burden of Pera's increasing urban water consumption. 4 The sewage crisis of Kasımpaşa was...