Thursday, December 29, 2016


Eminönü, Fatih - İstanbul - Turkey

GPS : 41°01'07.8"N 28°58'09.1"E / 41.018832, 28.969181

Zindan Han & Baba Cafer Dungeon / Eminonu - Istanbul photo babacafer_dungeon102.jpg


The Zindan Han, in front of Baba Cafer tower, is one of the biggest hans amongst which were built in the Western style in the 19th century. Zindan Han built during the Byzantine Empire was used as the first Women Prison in the world by the Ottomans. Restored back to the orginal style, today is the Jewellery Center by Storks exhibiting the uniqe collections of famed products.

The part of the market district just above the Galata Bridge and between the shore road and the Golden Horn is known as Zindan Kapı, or the Prison Gate. This waterfront quarter was one of the oldest and most picturesque neighbourhoods in Istanbul, but in the early 1970s almost all of its buildings were demolished in a project designed to create parks along the shore of the Golden Horn but which here resulted only in a scabrous parking lot. One of the few surviving monuments is an ancient tower behind a late Ottoman commercial building known as the Zindan Han.

This is by far the largest of the few surviving defence towers of the medieval Byzantine sea-walls along the Golden Horn. The tower was for centuries used as a prison (in Turkish, zindan) by both the Byzantines and the Ottomans, particularly for galley slaves. Within the tower, known to the Venetians as the Bagno, is buried a certain Cafer Baba, who, according to legend, came to Constantinople as the envoy of Harun al-Rashid to the Empress Eirene (r. 797–802), but was here imprisoned and died; his grave was rediscovered and restored after the Conques and is to this day much venerated.

At the corner of the city - walls right behind Çardak (Yemiş, Limon, Hasır) Warf, the Byzantine tower is named Baba Cafer Dungeon. The Warf was used in the transportation of fruits and vegetables until the mid 1970s. The tower and the arched door behind, probably are the most important surviving pieces of the Haliç walls of Byzantium. The tower in this neighbourhood, known as Baba Cafer, was one of the defence towers belong to the seawalls over the Golden Horn. However, the seawalls were almost disappeared and only the tower survived until today. The tower was used as a prison both in Byzantine and Ottoman period.

Baba Cafer whose name was given to the tower, was descended from Prophet Mohammed and an ambassador mediating between Byzantine and Abbasids. According to Ottoman sources, two ambassadors called Cafer and Sheikh Maksut, who were sent by Abbasid Ruler Harun Reşit (786 - 809), were put in prison, and executed after worshipping in Hagia Sophia by permission of Emperor Nikoforos I.

They were freed with the help of the prison officer, who converted into Islam and took the name "Ali". The prison officer Ali, saw Cafer destroyed his chains miracuouslly every day. Cafer and Sheikh Maksut died martyrs at the end of combat.

After the conquest of Istanbul, Baba Cafer's grave was found on the second floor. Sheikh Abdurrauf Semedani, who participated in the Conquest of İstanbul and who was descendant of Baba Cafer, found the tomb’s location and remained there as the tomb keeper. The other tomb is believed to have belonged to the Byzantine soldier who was named Ali after conversion into Islam.

According to Evliya Çelebi: “Cafer Baba was buried in a place within the prison of the infidels, where to this day his name is insulted by all the unbelieving malefactors, debtors, murderers, etc. imprisoned there. But when (God be praised!) Istanbul was taken, the grave of Cafer Baba in the tower of the Bagno became a place of pilgrimage which is visited by those who have been released from prison and who call down blessings in opposition to the curses of the unbelievers.”

The tower was restored in 1990 and the supposed grave of Cafer Baba on the ground floor of the tower was opened to the public as a Muslim shrine. Just beyond the Zindan Han are the shattered remnants of an arched gateway from the medieval Byzantine period. The identity of this gate is uncertain, but in early Ottoman times local Greeks referred to it as the Porta Caravion (the Gate of the Caravels), because of the large number of ships which were moored at the pier nearby, the ancient Scala de Drongario.

The tower, also known as Kanlıkuyu in the Ottoman Period, functioned as a dungeon. However, Ottomans too continued to use this tower as a prison for specifically debtors. The prisoner would yell outside the windows for help and every once in while someone would pay the prisoner's debt and get him out of the tower.


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