A city at the crossroads of East and West, Istanbul has been capital to the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. This legendary city lies on the shores of the Marmara Sea, the Golden Horn and the Bosporus, making transport by water as important as that by road as well a safe and strategically important natural harbor. Until the first steamship was acquired by the Ottoman Empire in 1828, during the reign of Sultan Mahmud II, the ships and boats of Istanbul were powered by oars or sails.

In the 17th century the city's merchant ships alone numbered 2,600, not to mention naval vessels and many thousands of boats. Caiques of several types were used in Istanbul, either for hire by ordinary citizens going about their business or privately owned. The small pereme caique was the most common of the former type, used to ferry people across the Golden Horn or the Bosporus and for short distances along their shores. This craft had one pair of oars and could accommodate only a few passengers. For longer journeys to Istanbul's islands or villages on the upper reaches of the Bosporus, sailing boats known as mavna were used.

The piyade caique, designed for speed and extremely light and slender, was the type preferred by wealthy individuals, and sometimes used by foreign ambassadors and palace officials. Market caiques were the buses of their day, a large heavy boat built for carrying large numbers of people. They were 13 meters long and 2.5 m wide, with raised prows and sterns as buffers against the waves in rough weather. They had three or four pairs of oars and could accommodate 50 to 60 passengers. They were also used for carrying commercial goods or personal effects when people moved house.

The royal caiques were works of art, richly decorated, and with pavilions in the stern for the sultan or members of his family. They were generally 30-32 meters in length and rowed by 16 pairs of oars. The interiors of the pavilions were adorned with mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, ivory and ebony, and set with turquoises. The carvings on the tapering prows were gilded and had figureheads in the forms of eagles with outspread wings or other birds. Some of these royal caiques can be seen at the Naval Museum in Istanbul, the largest and most impressive being that which belonged to Sultan Mehmed IV (1648-1687). It is 40 meters long and 5.9 meter wide, with 24 pairs of oars, each manned by three rowers, making 144 in all.

Every caique belonged to a particular landing place, of which there were 21 in Istanbul in the 16th century. The fare depended both on the distance to the destination and on the number of oars. In the mid-17th century there were 8000 boatmen and 4614 caiques in Istanbul, according to the contemporary Turkish author Evliya �elebi. The first Ottoman naval arsenal of any importance was established at Gelibolu during the reign of Bayezid I (1389-1402). Two years after the conquest of Istanbul, Sultan Mehmed II built a naval arsenal with several docks on the northern shore of the Golden Horn between Aynali Kavak and Kasimpasa. During the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566) this arsenal was enlarged to 200 docks.

There were 25 different types of galley, the most important being the kadirga with 49-50 pairs of oars, each oar manned by five men. The larger bastard had 72 pairs of oars, each manned by seven men. Galleys were extremely long and narrow vessels, and very low in the water. Sailing ships were of around 12 types, with either two or three masts. The largest of all were the galleons with two or three decks, a three-deck galleon having 80-110 guns. The naval fleet would set out to sea every spring to protect the coasts from pirates and enemies, and return to harbor at the beginning of winter. The sailing as well as the return of the fleet was a ceremonial occasion that attracted huge crowds. The galleons with sails set would go first, followed by smaller sailing vessels, and behind them the galleys.

Reference: Professor Dr Metin And / Skylife

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