Kırkçeşme water-supply system
Kemerburgaz, Istanbul, Turkey
Hegira 971 / AD 1564
Architects: Mimar Sinan assisted by Kiriz Nikola.
Sultan Süleyman ‘the Magnificent’ (r. AH 926–974 / AD 1520–1566).
As the population of Istanbul increased during the AH 10th / AD 16th century, so did its problems with water shortages. Tradition holds that once, while Sultan Süleyman was out hunting, he noticed possible water sources and ordered their investigation. The head architect of the palace at that time, Mimar Sinan, surveyed the area and recommended the construction of a water system to convey water to the city. Süleyman consequently ordered in AH 961 / AD 1554 that construction of the water system was initiated. The project was completed in AH 970 / AD 1563, but parts of it were soon damaged by floods and had to be rebuilt in AH 971 / AD 1564. The system cost about 50,000,000 akches, the main currency unit during the Ottoman Empire.
The system collects water from various springs located about 25 km northwest of Istanbul, in two branches, namely east and west, which join south of Kemerburgaz village and continue as a single line to the city of Istanbul. The system is composed of covered galleries (measuring 55 cm x 175 cm in section and extending about 55 km in total), 33 aqueducts as well as collection and distribution centres, and provided water to the areas of the town below 34 m in altitude. A number of reservoirs were built at a later stage, between AH 1029 / AD 1620 and AH 1234 / AD 1818, and so were further aqueducts. A small section of the water-supply system dates to before Süleyman, such as that extending between Eğrikapı and Cebeciköy, which dates to the reign of Mehmed II. Other parts of the system, such as that of the Kovuk Kemer, were built partially on Byzantine remains.
Of the 33 aqueducts that make up the Kırkçeşme water-supply system, five are monumental, with two or three tiers of arches and of considerable length. Paşa Kemeri or Balıkzade is 102 m long, 16.4 m high and has two tiers. Uzunkemer is 711 m long, 25 m high and is also two tiered.The plastered gallery on top of it is 60 cm x 175 cm and covered with stone slabs. Kovukkemer or Kırıkkemer is 408 m long and 35 m high and makes a turn of 90 degrees. Its first section is single tiered while the second is triple-tiered. Mağlova or Muallak Aqueduct, the greatest part of the entire system, is 258 m long and 36 m high. It is two-tiered with eight large and eight small arches. Güzelcekemer or Gözlücekemer aqueduct is 165 m long, 34.5 m high and is also two-tiered. Other important but single-tiered aqueducts are Ayvad (195 m), Kurt (305 m), Karakemer (62.6 m), Balıklıkemer (125 m) and Valide Kemeri (38.8 m).
The entire system is built of stone masonry and uses bossed stones.
The system originally provided water to over 300 fountains in the city, 135 of which were built as pious foundations of Süleyman the Magnificent. Later additions raised the number to about 580 fountains. Parts of the system located outside Istanbul's city walls have been functioning for over 400 years.
Kırkçeşme water-supply system was built by the great Ottoman architect Sinan on the order of the Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent in order to solve Istanbul's growing problems with water shortage. The system comprises 33 aqueducts and numerous collection and distribution centres. It supplied more than 300 fountains in the beginning but this number later rose to 580. Parts of the system located outside the city walls are still functioning and serving the megapolis of Istanbul.
The dates of the construction for the water system are mentioned in the Tezkiretü'l-Bünyan and in Tezkiretü'l-Ebniye, both of which Sinan dictated to his friend Saî Mustafa Chelebi. Also the Tevzi Defteri, which Sinan wrote, includes detailed information on the parts of the system located within the city.
çeçen, K., Sinan's Water Supply System in Istanbul, Istanbul, 1992.
çeçen, K., “Kırkçeşme Tesisleri,” İstanbul Ansiklopedisi [Encyclopaedia of Istanbul] Vol. 5, Istanbul, 1994, pp.1-4
çeçen, K., İstanbul'un Osmanlı Dönemi Su Yolları [Ottoman Period Waterways of Istanbul], Istanbul, 1999, pp.33-117.
Sai, M.ç., Tezkiretü'l-Bünyan, Istanbul, 1315 (Tezkirat al-Bunyan, in Ottoman script).
Meriç, R.M. (compiled by), Mimar Sinan, Hayatı, Eseri I, Mimar Sinan'ın Hayatına, Eserlerine Dair Metinler [Architect Sinan, His Life, His Works, I, Texts Regarding the Life and Works of Sinan], Ankara, 1965.
İnci Türkoğlu "Kırkçeşme water-supply system" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. 2017. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;tr;Mon01;34;en
Prepared by: İnci Türkoğluİnci Türkoğlu
İnci Türkoğlu has been working as a tourist guide and freelance consultant in tourism and publishing since 1993. She was born in Alaşehir, Turkey, in 1967. She graduated from the English Department of Bornova Anatolian High School in 1985 and lived in the USA for a year as an exchange student. She graduated from the Department of Electronic Engineering of the Faculty of Architecture and Engineering, Dokuz Eylül University, Izmir, and the professional tourist guide courses of the Ministry of Tourism in 1991. She worked as an engineer for a while. She graduated from the Department of Art History, Faculty of Letters, Ege University, Izmir, in 1997 with an undergraduate thesis entitled “Byzantine House Architecture in Western Anatolia”. She completed her Master's at the Byzantine Art branch of the same department in 2001 with a thesis entitled “Synagogue Architecture in Turkey from Antiquity to the Present”. She has published on art history and tourism.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: TR 51
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Water | Water Management The Ottomans | The Ottoman Capital: Istanbul
DownloadAs PDF (including images) As Word (text only)