Whose name? Well, that of Damat İbrahim Paşa, grand vizier and son-in-law to Sultan Ahmed III and the man behind one too many Tulip Age parties (too many, because ultimately they probably paid a role in the overthrow of the sultan and the death of his grand vizier in the Patrona Halil revolt of 1730). More to the point, for those of us who live in Cappadocia, İbrahim was the man behind the development of his village birthplace into Nevşehir, the “New Town” that is our provincial capital and the place to which we must head to sort out all our paperwork.
Last week I was reading up on an area of Fatih in İstanbul once known as Direklerarası, or “In Between the Columns,” which was where Ramadan used to be celebrated in years gone by just as it is now in Sultanahmet and Beyazıt. Direklerarası was the eastern end of Şehzadebaşı Caddesi, today a nothingy part of town with a few lokantas and shoe shops and a couple of large hotels. Once upon a time though it was the place to which people would head after iftar (the fast-breaking meal) to ooh and aah at a myriad of entertainers, including singers, wrestlers and Karagöz puppeteers. The fun and games spilled out from between the arches and extended right up to Saraçhane at the start of what is now Fevzi Paşa Caddesi. From such beginnings this was a part of town that came to host some of the earliest theaters and cinemas before they jumped ship first to the shores of the Golden Horn and then to Beyoğlu in the 1950s.
So what has any of that to do with our man İbrahim? Well, what I had always assumed to be an extension of the big Sinan-designed Şehzade Cami up the road turns out in fact to have been an extension of the much smaller Damat İbrahim Paşa Külliyesi, a side-street complex that usually goes uncommented except for a corner sebil (water dispensary) that was much admired (and sketched) by artists in the past. It was in the small graveyard here that the grand vizier was laid to rest after his untimely death, his tombstone run-of-the-mill and surprisingly inconspicuous for a man who had laid the foundation stone for so many impressive buildings.
İbrahim was a man of letters, so in 1728-29 when it came time to design an arasta of shops to support his complex financially he seems to have decided to take the ancient world as his model. As a result, this part of town was once graced with a double arcade of 82 shops fronted by elegant porticoes as is thought to have been the case for the streets around Çemberlitaş and Yerebatan in Romano-Byzantine times.
So what became of the arcades and columns? In a familiar, if nonetheless depressing, story, they fell victim to urban “improvements” in easy stages between 1864 and 1957. Now the only reminder that anything interesting ever happened here is a large shoe shop which, when you step inside, turns out to be housed inside an old cinema.
Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.