The Four-Legged Municipality

Street Dogs of Istanbul

European travellers (?) feeding the street dogs (Early 20th century) by Anonymousİstanbul Research Institute

Dogs of the City

Dogs went through two consecutive and distinctly different periods in the urban history of İstanbul. In the four centuries long first period extending from the Conquest until the Tanzimat era, they shared their daily lives with humans. At the heart of this coexistence was the strong faith of the “people’s Islam” that dogs had entered İstanbul alongside the conquering armies of Mehmed II, coupled with the sense of compassion rooted in that same faith. During the classical period, they had been embraced, much like their human counterparts, as residents of the neighborhoods. They had assumed duties of the municipality and the police force, protected locals against foreigners as part of the introverted neighborhood life, and had assumed their places as fundamental figures in urban life. There is no doubt that this was the Golden Age of İstanbul dogs. These happy days of reign were followed by the modernization movement that began to influence the fabric of daily life as of the early 19th century. In this new period, dogs received their share of marginalization from the unoriginal, yet imitative implementations of Tanzimat modernism.  

Street dogs in Pera (Early 20th century) by Anonymousİstanbul Research Institute

Striving to emulate European cities, the streets of İstanbul, much like these other prominent centers of population, was also to be stripped off dogs. Dogs meant poverty, unkemptness, being Oriental. The Tanzimat İstanbul; however, was ready to change this negative image.

A street dog in front of the Hagia Sophia. (Early 20th century) by Anonymousİstanbul Research Institute

The reign ended and the exile began. The tragic adventure of the dogs sent into exile to various Marmara islands upon the orders of Mahmud II continued uninterruptedly until the great decaninization of 1910. In the “extermination” reports drafted by Westerners, dogs were evaluated based on their economic advantages; each dog was deemed worth 4 francs for its skin, hair, fat, bones, muscles, albuminous substances, and intestines. The total worth of the extermination or “decaninization” was 200 to 300 thousand francs.

A market place in Istanbul. Street dogs throughthe eyes of a German traveler (1900) by Anonymousİstanbul Research Institute

The people of İstanbul vehemently opposed this carnage. The rescued dogs were hidden away in barracks and homes by animal lovers. Soon enough, the city was invaded by Western nations that initiated the decaninization. The people’s conscience could not stomach this either. Until the “War of Independence,” a pall of gloom hung over İstanbul.

Street dogs on Grand Rue de Pera (Early 20th century)İstanbul Research Institute

Olivier, 1793

“Although Muslims consider dogs to be impure and never allow them into their homes, they don’t attempt interfere with their reproduction. Another advantage of the dogs is their ability in cleaning the refuse, garbage, and food thrown on the street. Men carrying long poles with livers, hearts, and other offal can be seen walking around on the streets. Hoping to please the dogs of their neighborhoods, the wealthy buy these at a cheap price and feed them to the dogs. Some build small kennels to shelter bitches and their pups, whereas others fill these doghouses with hay for warmth, and feed bread and meat to the dogs every day. Others take it so far as to leave money to a certain number of dogs to make sure they are fed after their death.” 

Street dogs in Pera (Late 19th century) by Anonymousİstanbul Research Institute

Street dogs at the Galata wharf (1910) by Anonymousİstanbul Research Institute

François-René de Chateaubriand, 1806

“We landed at Galata. I immediately remarked the bustle on the quays, and the throng of porters, merchants, and seamen […]. The almost total absence of women, the want of wheel carriages, and the multitude of dogs without masters, were the three distinguishing characteristics that first stuck me in the interior of this extraordinary city […].” 

Street dogs in Tophane (Late 19th century) by Anonymousİstanbul Research Institute

A street dog and a cat waiting to be fed by the street food vendors in front of the Foundation of Koca Sinan Pasha (Late 19th century) by Anonymousİstanbul Research Institute

Alphonse de Lamartine, 1833

“The Turks themselves live in peace with all the animate and inanimate creation—trees, birds, or dogs; they respect everything that God has made. They extend their humanity to those inferior animals, which are neglected or persecuted among us. In all the streets there are, at certain distances, vessels filled with water for the dogs […].” 

Dogs of Istanbul (2013) by Engraver: Julie Salmonİstanbul Research Institute

Beggars and Street dog on the Galata Bridge. (Early 20th century) by Anonymousİstanbul Research Institute

Julia Pardoe, 1836

“[…] I could not avoid remarking the little straw huts built at intervals along the streets, for the accommodation and comfort of the otherwise homeless dogs that throng every avenue of the town. There they lay, crouched down snugly, too much chilled to welcome us with the chorus of barking that they usually bestow on travelers […]. In addition to this shelter, food is every day dispensed by the inhabitants to the vagrant animals, who having no specific owners are, to use the approved phraseology of genteel alms-asking, ‘wholly dependent on the charitable for support.’ And it is a singular fact that these self-constituted scavengers exercise a kind of internal economy which almost appears to exceed the boundaries of mere instinct; they have their defined ‘walks,’ or haunts, and woe betide the strange cur who intrudes on the privileges of his neighbors […].” 

A street dog in Eminönü (1905) by Anonymousİstanbul Research Institute

Helmut von Moltke, 1837

“Dogs are never allowed inside homes, but the streets are filled with thousands of these animals without masters, living on the alms of bakers, butchers, and, of course, their own efforts, for dogs here have taken on the duties of cleaners almost entirely. I must say that there are no poodles, mops, spitz, dachshund, or pinchers here—only a single, despicable breed of some kind. It strongly resembles the wolves and coyotes in the area. In terms of their psychology, I must add that they have been less hostile towards the Europeans since the abolishment of the Janissary corps.” 

A porter and a group of street dogs. (Late 19th century) by Abdullah Fréresİstanbul Research Institute

A street butcher and street dogs. (Late 19th century) by Anonymusİstanbul Research Institute

A European traveler with street dogs (Early 20th century) by Anonymusİstanbul Research Institute

Gérard de Nerval, 1843

“[…] Some hundreds of dogs were howling impatiently on the grass. Soon afterwards I saw some gunners appear, two by two, carrying enormous cauldrons on long poles between their shoulders. The dogs expressed their delight by howls of joy. […] ‘They are serving soup to the dogs,’ said an Italian who was passing. They are in luck’s way.’ […] The favor enjoyed by dogs at Constantinople is largely due to the fact that they clean up the refuse which is generally thrown into the street. The pious foundations which make provision for them; the troughs of water which they find at the entrances to mosques and beside the fountains, are doubtless based upon this fact.” 

A street dog with its puppies in Eyüp (Early 20th century)İstanbul Research Institute

Théophile Gautier, 1852

“As for the subject of dogs, I had marked a large pit in the middle of the street as my reference point to find my way in the first days of my arrival in the city. In the bottom of this pit, a large, aggressive dog was suckling her pups in complete ease, with utter disregard for the passers by and horses.” 

Street dogs in front of the Bristol Hotel (Pera Museum) (Late 19th - Early 20th century) by Editor: Römmler & Jonasİstanbul Research Institute

Mark Twain, 1862

“The dogs sleep in the streets, all over the city. […] In the Grand Rue the dogs have a sort of air of being on the lookout—an air born of being obliged to get out of the way of many carriages every day—and that expression one recognizes in a moment. It does not exist upon the face of any dog without the confines of that street. All others sleep placidly and keep no watch. They would not move, through the Sultan himself passed by. […] These dogs are the scavengers of the city. That is their official position, and a hard one it is. However, it is their protection. They eat any thing and every thing that comes in their way, from melon rinds and spoiled grapes up through all the grades and species of dirt and refuse to their own dead friends and relatives. […]”  

Street dogs in front of the Pera Palace Hotel. (Late 19th century) by Sebah&Joaillierİstanbul Research Institute

Street dogs in Galata through the eyes of a European traveler during a cruise in the Mediterranean abroad Cincinnati (19 February- 3 February 1910) by Anonymousİstanbul Research Institute

Edmondo De Amicis, 1874

“Constantinople is one huge dog-kennel; every one can see this for himself as soon as he gets there. […] They are associated together in a great republic of freehooters, without collars or masters, or kennels or homes or laws. […] Laziness is the distinguishing quality of the Constantinople dogs. They lie down in the middle of the street, five or six or a dozen of them in a row or group, curled up in such a manner as to look much more like heaps of refuse than living animals, and they will sleep away the entire day, undisturbed by the din and clamor going on about them […] They take the place of scavengers, falling with joy upon refuse which hogs would decline as food, willing to eat pretty much everything short of stones. […] The canine population of Constantinople is divided into settlements and quarters, just as the human population is. Every street and neighborhood is inhabited, or rather held possession of, by a certain number of dogs, the relatives and friends of one family, who never leave it themselves or allow strangers to come in. They have a sort of police force, with outposts and sentries, who go the rounds and act as scouts.” 

A European traveler with street dogs at the karaköy wharf during a cruise in the Mediterranean abroad Cincinnati. (19 February- 3 April 1910) by Anonymousİstanbul Research Institute

Paul de Régla, 1893

“One must leave the European quarters behind and stroll through the streets of İstanbul and its environs in order to find the local dogs, the real residents of Turkish cities. Quite conservative, the İstanbul dog hates foreigners and is suspicious of anything that epitomizes modern civilization. It holds its freedom and rights dear, but knows when to conform, at least for the sake of a task. It even possesses a sense of hierarchy, for it recognizes the pack leader of its neighborhood and obeys him. It is as boisterous and menacing as its counterparts in Napoli; it is inclined to turn any disagreement into a fight, but, in fact, won’t even hurt a child.”   

A European traveler with street dogs (Early 20th century) by Anonymousİstanbul Research Institute

Cage of execution by gas asphyxiation (20 June 1923) by Jacques Boyerİstanbul Research Institute

Director of İstanbul Pasteur Institute Dr. Remlinger, 1910

“With its skin, hair, bones, fat, muscles, generally albuminous substances, and even intestines, the value of a street dogs ranges between 3 to 4 francs. There are 60,000 to 80,000 dogs in İstanbul, the total value of which amounts to 200 to 300,000 francs. Is it not possible to call for tenders to eliminate the dogs and to establish slaughter homes outside the city for processing the skin, meat, and fat for economic purposes? These slaughter homes can include airtight rooms connected to a gas chamber and a cutting up room for preparing selective manufacturing compartments for skin, fat, bones, and what not, all to be extracted from canine carcasses. The animals can be secretly captured at nighttime and can be transferred there in caged carriages similar to the ones in Europe. If ten slaughterhouses are established, each can process a hundred dogs a day. In two months the decaninization or dog cleansing can be accomplished, the earnings of which can be assigned to the charity works of the city.”

Caging the captures street dogs. (Early 20th century)İstanbul Research Institute

A market place in Istanbul. Street dogs throughthe eyes of a German traveler (1900) by Anonymousİstanbul Research Institute

Pierre Loti, 1910

“Yes, everything is to my heart’s content, yet there are no dogs in sight—those harmless, docile dogs, sensitive to the slightest touch, whom we are used to seeing everywhere.   They used to guard the side streets of the neighborhood at might, clean the pavements, look out for small children. The dogs that came here along with the armies of Mehmed II had thought they would settle here forever; they fully trusted the people who never hurt them until now. Yet, they had not taken into consideration the Levantines and the Party of Union and Progress; although they never hurt anybody, they were condemned to a massacre most disgusting after four or five hundred years of loyalty.” 

Capture of the street dogs. (1923) by Sem (Georges Goursat)İstanbul Research Institute

Pierre Loti, 1910

“The process of the elimination of dogs did not proceed well; people sitting by me in the morning said no Turk wanted to undertake this demeaning task that would bring bad luck to the Ottoman Crescent; vagabonds (gypsies) were recruited for its execution. These men captured the dogs with large iron thongs; they caught their poor victims from their necks, legs, or tails, throwing them on top of one other into the caiques that would take them to Hayirsizada. Screams, cries, heated arguments were heard all across İstanbul for days. The Turks were irate and resisted the operation. Poor dogs! People hid as many as they could in their homes.”     

Dogs of Istanbul (2013) by Julie Salmonİstanbul Research Institute

İstanbul with Dogs  

Street dogs... They have been with us for centuries.  They assumed an important role in the social adventure of İstanbul, established their independent rule, expanded their conventional values, and embraced the notion of coexistence with unfaltering faithfulness. Much like the people of İstanbul, they were strangers to privileged classes; they represented not a given standard, but a cultural blend. With people of all ages and backgrounds, everyone’s own “neighborhood” in İstanbul was their home. These small worlds or neighborhoods constituting the universe of what was the İstanbul, the city, spun the cocoon of our way of living around a common sense of compassion.

Machine to kill dogs by electrocution (1923-06-20) by Jacques Boyerİstanbul Research Institute

İstanbul without Dogs

During the reign of Mahmud II (1808-1839) the exile of dogs from the city life begins. The formalist implementations of modernization bore consequences that deranged the public in unexpected ways. The extermination of dogs was the most striking one of these. The streets of the city had created the dogs of İstanbul; however, as of the Tanzimat era, these streets were regarded as a historic scene that displayed the poverty and squalor of the Orient. Dogs were made part of the project of ridding streets of unpleasant images.  The decaninization of 1910 even shook public opinion across the rest of the world. The heartbreaking barks of the dogs exiled to deserted islands or, in a sense, the “other neighborhood” and the ways in which they ate each other out of starvation was nothing more than a tiny, visible part of the immense tragedy caused by the Ottoman modernization based solely on imitation.


Credits: Story

Curator: Ekrem Işın
Advisor: Catherine Pinguet
Project Manager: Gülru Tanman
Translation: Melis Şeyhun Çalışlar
Digital Adaptation: Başak Arifoğlu, Irmak Wöber
Pierre de Gigord
Ayşe Yetişkin Kubilay, Galeri Alfa
Emre Sarıkuş
Serge Avedikian
Sinan Cansel

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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