“Suvardı Âlemi Dest-i Muhammedle Cevâdullah…”
Doç. Dr. Süleyman BERK
Photographs: Mustafa Yılmaz
The famous slogan “Water is life” combined with the sayings of the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings be upon him): “The best of alms is providing water” encouraged the Muslims in aiding this cause by facilitating easy access to clean drinking water.
Sa’d ibn Ubadah was known amongst the companions of the Prophet Muhammed ﷺ for his generosity and the Prophet praised Sa’d for his generosity. Sa’d would often pray by saying “O Allah, provide me wealth so that I can be generous”. When his mother died, he asked the Prophet what he could do in her name. The Prophet said to Sa’d: “Providing water is good, for spending on the needy lightens the anger of Allah, saves mankind from punishment and recovers the ill whose time has not yet come.” Because of these words of the Prophet, Sa’d made a drinking fountain so that everyone can drink from it.
The wife of the Sultan Harun Ar-Rashid, Zubaydah built several drinking fountains in the eight century. These fountains were named after her. She let water be brought from Haneyn to Mecca and built special water-roads all the way to Arafah and Muzdalifah (two important places for pilgrims on the outskirts of Mecca). She provided all of this, despite of its difficulty in that time, just as charity so both the pilgrims and the citizens of Mecca can make use of this water.
In time these water-roads, known as “Ayn Zubayda”, fell into disuse and it was the daughter of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, Mihrimah, who set up a foundation for the roads repair and maintenance. The governor of Mecca sent a report to the Sultan concerning the road falling in disuse and the Sultan ordered his men to find out the costs of the road’s repair. As soon as this finance plan was finished, Mihrimah insisted on fixing it herself by means of her foundation.
The Sultans, their mothers, the Grand Viziers, the important people and frankly anyone who was financially capable, built and assisted in providing water as much as they could.
The impact of the Ottoman empire’s water policies can still be seen in the places the empire reigned. A good examples is Istanbul with its richness in water roads, reservoirs and the like. Till this day on, one can see the traces of this great legacy on the water constructions of Istanbul. Besides the architectural structures which resonate the characteristics of that age, the hand written art has impressed many. This art consists of beautiful verses, narrations of the Prophet and poems written like drawings on the constructions with beauty that fits the beauty of water.
Amongst the drinking fountains of Istanbul are: III. Ahmed Çeşmesi in front of Bâb-ı Hümâyun of the Topkapi palace, Tophane Meydan Çeşmesi, Üsküdar Gülnûş Emetullah Valide Sultan Meydan Çeşmesi (III. Ahmed Çeşmesi), Azapkapı Sâliha Sultan Meydan Çeşmesi ve Sebili, Maçka Bezmiâlem Valide Sultan Çeşmesi, Maçka II. Abdülhamid Çeşmesi, Kadırga Esmâ Sultan Çeşmesi, Gülhane Parkı girişi I. Ahmed Çeşmesi, Eyüpsultan Camii I. Ahmed Sebili, Küçüksu Mihrişah Valide Sultan Meydan Çeşmesi, Üsküdar Gülnûş Emetullah Valide Sultan Sebili ve Çeşmesi, Üsküdar Miskinler Çeşmesi (Hâfız İsa Ağa Çeşmesi), Emirgân I. Abdülhamid Han Çeşmesi ve Sebili, Topkapı Takkeci İbrahim Çavuş Sebili. All of these are worth paying a visit either for their architecture or for their handwritten art.
The fountains generally consist of five categories:
1- Hazne (reservoir)
2- Ayna Taşı (Mirror stone)
3- Kitabe (Written art, calligraphy)
4- Tekne/Kurna (Basin)
5- Bekleme sekisi (column)
These categories can be seen abundantly, however this doen not mean that all fountains consist of exact these five categories.
Arabic calligraphy has been an important part of all water constructions throughout the history of the Ottoman empire. Many of the drinking fountains, old and new, have been beautified with inspiring words, poems, short prayers and even verses from the Quran and sayings of the Prophet Muhammed concerning water. This beautification is both through the art of calligraphy as well as the beauty of the meaning of the words. Some of the verses and texts that can be found on the drinking fountains of Istanbul are:
The verse in chapter al-Anbiya 21/30 of the Quran: “We made from water every living thing” and this verse can be found on many fountains: On the fountain in the Validebend of the Belgrad ormanı, written in the celî sülüs and müdevver art of calligraphy forming a circle in the crown part of the fountain and decorated with leaves and branches motives, I. Ahmed Çeşmesi at the entrance of the Gülhâne Parkı, Kocamustafapaşa Hekimoğlu Ali Paşa Çeşmesi, Ağa Camii Çeşmesi, Üsküdar Şeyh Camii Çeşmesi, Üsküdar Ahmediye Çeşmesi, Çengelköy II. Mahmud Çeşmesi, İstinye Ahmed Şemseddin Efendi Çeşmesi; The same verse along with the Basmalah can be found on Dolmabahçe Emin Ağa Çeşmesi, Tophane Kılıçalipaşa Sebili, Süleymaniye Abdullah Ağa Çeşmesi, Üsküdar İnâdiye Çeşmesi, İçerenköy Mahmud Bey Çeşmesi, Salacak Silahdar Mustafa Çeşmesi, Eyüp Mihrişah Valide Sultan Çeşmesi and is written on the talik art of calligraphy on the Cağaloğlu Yokuşu Çeşmesi. This verse is also written in the form of the Sultan’s monogram on the Aişe Hatun çeşmesi. This fountain dates 1794-1795 and the signature has “Sadakallahu” written in the inner white part which means ”Allah spoke the truth”. The verse is also found on a fountain in the Kaptan Paşa Mektebi Sokağı in the Süleymaniye district, however the writings have undergone some damage.
Yet again this verse can be seen on the Eyüp Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Çeşmesi, Galata Bereketzâde Çeşmesi ve Kasımpaşa Abdi Kaptan Sebili. On these fountains the verse comes in the form of “We made from water every living thing. Then, will they not believe?”
The verse of chapter al-Insan 76/6 of the Quran says: “A spring of which the [righteous] servants of Allah will drink; they will make it gush forth in abundance.” This verse can be found on Üsküdar Ümmü Gülsüm Hanım Çeşmesi and the Sultanhamam II. Vakıf Hanı cephesi. The verse without the “they will make it gush forth in abuncance” part can be seen on Süleymâniye Meydanı Çeşmesi and Eyüp Vezîriazam İbrahim Paşa Çeşmesi.
The verse of chapter al-Insan 76/21 says ”And their Lord will give them a purifying drink” can be found on Emirgân I. Abdülhamid Han Çeşmesi, İstinye Ahmed Şemseddin Efendi Çeşmesi, İstinye İskele Çeşmesi, Ayasofya Üçyüzlü Çeşme, Kara Davud Paşa Çeşmesi (against the wall of the garden of Aksaray Muradpaşa Camii), Üsküdar Ahmed Şâkir Efendi Çeşmesi and the Üsküdar Sîneperver Vâlide Sultan Çeşmesi.
The verse of chapter al-Insan 76/17 says ”And they will be given to drink a cup [of drink] whose mixture is of ginger” and is used on the Ayasofya Üçyüzlü Çeşme.
The verse of chapter al-Insan 76/18 says “From a fountain within Paradise named Salsabeel” is written on Süleymaniye Meydan Çeşmesi, Fatih Sofular Ahmed Hulusi Paşa Çeşmesi, Vefa Recâi Mehmed Efendi Çeşmesi, Galata Bereketzâde Çeşmesi’nde and Kireçburnu II. Mahmud Çeşmesi.
Verse 22 of the same chapter says “Indeed, this is for you a reward, and your effort has been appreciated.” And is written on the Süleymaniye Meydan Çeşmesi in the sülüs style.
The verse of chapter al-Mutaffifeen 83/28 says “A spring from which those near [to Allah] drink” and can be found on one of the fountains in the courtyard of the Eyüpsultan Camii.
The verse of chapter a;-Muzzammil 73/20 says “and whatever good you put forward for yourselves – you will find it with Allah” and is written on the celî sülüs art on the Vefa Recâi Mehmed Efendi Çeşmesi.
The verse of chapter as-Shura 42/19 says “Allah is subtle with His servants” and is written on the Vefa Recâi Mehmed Efendi Çeşmesi as well.
The Prophet ﷺ has many sayings which encourage people to do good and some of these have been written on the drinking fountains: “The best of wealth is that which is spent on the way of Allah [i.e. for good causes]”. This saying can be found on Eyüp Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Çeşmesi , Beşiktaş Râmiz Ağa Çeşmesi, Aksaray Olanlar Tekkesi Çeşmesi ve Maçka Bezmiâlem Valide Sultan Çeşmesi.
Ali Bey Çeşmesi in Beşiktaş Yıldız has two sayings of the Prophet written in the form of two medallions in the celî talik handwriting, these sayings are “The best of alms is providing water” and “Hindering the utilization of water is prohibited”.
All these verses and sayings on the drinking fountains are either preceded by the basmalah or by a short supplication, but the writings on the fountains are not restricted to these two categories. One will find poems and even proses written on all kinds of water constructions. It is not possible to present all these writings in this short essay and it is neither necessary because there are several books regarding the writings on fountains in Istanbul.
Numerous artists have made an epigraph of the verse “We made from water every living thing”; Among the epigraphs in the Celî sülüs handwriting are: Ömer Vasfi Efendi (1880- 1928) on the Kısıklı Çeşmesi, Hattat Mâcid Ayral (1891- 1961) on the Bâyezid Camii Çeşmesi and Hattat Ömer Fâik Efendi (1855- 1919) on the Bâlâ Tekkesi Sebîli Çeşmesi. Epigraphs of the same verse is written in a different handwriting by İsmâil Hakkı Altunbezer (1873- 1946) on the Erenköy İstasyon Çeşmesi and by Mehmed Nazif Bey (1846- 1913) on the Yakacık Veli Dayı Sokağı Çeşmesi. An epigraph of the same verse in the celî sülüs and müsennâ handwriting on the Fatih Nakşıdil Çeşmesi is written by Hattat(calligraphist) Mustafa Râkım Efendi (1758- 1826). Mustafa Râkım made a huge reform in the handwriting of celî and an epigraph with his signature is present in the archive of the Türk ve İslâm Müzesi(Turkish and Islamic art Musem). He has also written the epigraphs in the celî talik style writings on the Üsküdar Miskinler Çeşmesi and Başçuhadar Seyyid Ömer Ağa Çeşmesi. Mehmet Nazif Bey wrote the verse “And their Lord will give them a purifying drink” in the form of a column on the Fatih Vâni Mehmed Efendi Çeşmesi; Macid Ayral wrote it on the Kara Davud Paşa Çeşmesi at the garden of Aksaray Muradpaşa Camii. The very same verse is written on the Unkapanı Hacı Kadın Sokağı Çeşmesi by Muhsinzâde Abdullah Efendi. Neyzen Emin Efendi is a famous artist and his works like the verse “A spring of which the [righteous] servants of Allah will drink; they will make it gush forth in abundance” written in a mesmerizing manner on the Sultanhamam II. Vakıf Hanı çeşmesi has become an example of this fine art. Moralı Beşir Ağa is one of the most influential artist in the history of calligraphy and his influential work can be observed on the Beşir Ağa Çeşmesi in the Ayasofya Meydanı. The celî handwriting of the famous calligraphist Hocazâde can be seen on the Topçubaşı Çeşmesi on the hill of Tophane Kadirîler.
The Yenibend epigraph and the Nusretiye Camii Sebîli epigraph of “Yesârizâde Mustafa İzzet” are just two of his many works on reservoirs and fountains. The writings on the Emirgân Çeşmesi in the celî talik handwriting do not have a signature, however, it is recorded that the artist is Durmuşzâde Ahmed Efendi. The writings on the Şehzâdebaşı Damad İbrahimpaşa Çeşme and Şehzâdebaşı Damad İbrahimpaşa Sebili in the celî talik are attributed to Şeyhülislâm Veliyüddin Efendi.
Calligraphy is a fine art with a rich history, anyone who wants to understand this art should, besides working hard, read the works of the important calligraphist. It is important that the calligraphy student travels and pays a visit to the writings on the fountains if there is no published writing available in book form. It is essential that the student examines the style of the letters and the shapes of the writings in order to grasp this art.
The purpose of providing water to people is to serve humanity and to gain the pleasure of Allah. Using this fine art while trying to earn the pleasure of Allah helps in creating a mindful society. When the Prophet ﷺ saw a man being buried in a grave which was without measure and neatness and he urged that the grave would be corrected. The Companions argued that it would not matter for the dead person on what manner he is buried to which the Prophet replied: “It will annoy the living people”. We should not forget that the saying “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty” is also from our Prophet.