Monday, February 04, 2008

My Little One

I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed:
At first, there is a gentle breeze
And leaves on the trees
Softly away
Out there, far away,
The bells of water-carriers unceasingly ring;
I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.

I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed:

Then suddenly birds fly by,

Flocks of birds, high up, with a hue and cry,

While the nets are drawn in the fishing grounds

And a woman's feet begin to dabble in the water.

I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.
by Orhan Veli Kanik (1914-50), a Turkish poet.

Birds are reminiscent of angels, enchanting men with their lovely feathers and beautiful songs. When our chests constrict with pain, we want to fly away like a bird; when our hearts burst with excitement they flutter like bird's wings.

So we can easily say that birds are the symbol of man's love of freedom, and their wings beat on the flags and coats of arms of many a country and kingdom. Love of animals occupies an important place in the world's cultures and religions. And, love of birds an even more special place in the history of Turkish culture:)

Besides offering a visual feast, we see that the Ottomans, known as the Turkish Empire or Turkey as well, in general have included birds in a special importance for their life, and also regarded birds as sacred in numerous mytholojical tales and belief systems.

Stories involving birds were also accorded an important place in Ottoman illuminated manuscripts of traditional tales such as Kalila and Dimna that also attest to the Turks' great love for the feathered species. Ottoman miniature paintings are particularly rich in bird illustrations. See the flutter of wings in Ottoman miniatures as above, aren't they so beautiful!

The birds, too, have immortal souls and require merciful treatment as well as of all animals. Hence, those beautiful bird houses are a symbol of the value, and importance that Turks place on animals, especially birds.

As a result, the Ottoman love of birds are attested by two important pieces of evidence:

Firstly; Several foundations were founded in the Ottoman period for the care and protection of animals specialized in feeding birds on cold winter days, caring for and treating sick storks, and providing food and water in general meaning. So the bird houses are built for species such as sparrows, swallows, finches and pingeons. First bird houses tended to be simple like this:

In the 18th century, they were transformed into structures of comfort exhibiting a refined aesthetic sense.
Being one of the most beautiful examples of civilian architecture, the bird houses are the centre of attraction on any building. They not only added distinction to the buildings they adorned, they also possessed a certain monumental beauty of their own. Some of them are even some reminiscent of a chateau, or a palace! (Below) Mosque-style bird house built into one of the walls of Istanbul University.

We find them everywhere on mosques, medreses, mausoleums, fountains, caravanserais, libraries, inns, houses, baths, tombs, bridges, churches, synagogues, and even private dwellings, in short in every place that has been touched by human hands. The following bird pavillion at Istanbul Selimiye Mosque, early 19th century.

Secondly; Ottomans' love of birds is the bird catchers that roamed the streets. Catching birds by a variety of different methods, they trained some of them. People who bought these birds and then set them free believed they were doing a good deed that would earn them points in heaven. It was a sin. (Below) Two-families inhabit this 'palace' on the wall of Taksim Water Reservoir, Istanbul.

Some of these tiny dwellings, whose numbers proliferated in parallel with the development of classical Ottoman architecture in the 15th century, indicated that they were being built on a smaller scale already in the pre-Ottoman period. (Below) One of the most highly decorative bird houses, in the inner courtyard of the Imperial Mint at Topkapi Palace, Istanbul.

Bird houses built specially into the fa├žade of the building in the form either a single aperture or several side by side, see above. Tiles, bricks, stone and mortar are the building materials of bird houses. Sadly, any that were made of wood has not survived. Examples of this kind are found in Suleymaniye Mosque, the New Mosque, and Buyukcekmece Bridge. Most of which were built in the 18th century.

More than houses, these are highly ornamental, elegant dwellings reminiscent of palaces or pavillons. The loveliest examples of these bird houses, which are the product of delicate workmanship, are found at the Yeni Valide, the Ayazma and Selimiye Mosques in Uskudar, and the house in the courtyard of the Darphane at Topkapi Palace, see above.

Other important buildings with bird houses in Istanbul include: the Feyzullah Efendi and Seyyid Hasan Pasha Madrasas, the tomb of Mustafa III, Cukurcesme Han, and the Ahrida Synagogue in Balat.

Let me underline that Istanbul is not Turkey's only landlord catering to birds. From Thrace to Eastern Anatolia bird houses (Turkish: Kus evleri) to be found in every point of the country.

The Turks continued to build up these charming bird houses to the 19th century in order to provide refuge the birds, and protect them from storms, rain, mud and the burning sun.

One of the oldest and most important expressions of the love and compassion of animals, these little ''houses'' are built for the birds in Turkey!
Where do the birds live in your country?

The bird catchers have vanished.
The small birds and their little palaces are
still with us in peace... every corner of Turkey:)


  1. such an interesting history and lovely story nihal!! and all these magnicificient turkish bird palaces!! i never knew this!
    great pictures!

    turkey must be bird's heaven!! ;)

  2. Again, you tell a delightful bit of history. I think those bird houses are so beautiful and am just amazed that they are built right on the sides of homes.


  3. Estetik ile sanatin bulustugu Kus Saraylari kesinlikle cok ince dusunulmus,sabrin eseri...eski ustalarimizin ellerine saglik diyorum..

  4. Wonderful story and the Ottoman miniature paintings are awesome. It is so wonderful to say that "Birds are reminiscent of angels". Thank you Nihal for this excerpt of " flying".
    BTW: this winter my husband and I have built a little bird house and placed it on a ranch of a tree in our orchard:).
    Hugs, Sma