An important feature of daily life at Büyük Valide Han (BVH) is the office of the Odabasi who is responsible for providing basic services to the tenants such as upkeep and security. The office of the Odabasi is also interconnected with other operations of economical importance at BVH, chief among these are the running of the coffee shops and the transportation of goods.

The Office of the Odabasi in the first courtyard.

On off-hours, the night watchman oversees the security of the Han on behalf of the Odabasi. Two brothers are in charge of weekday and weekend shifts.

Get Flash to see this player.

The night watchman locks up the main gates after seven pm and retreats to his dwelling on top of the main gate.


Transportation of goods is undertaken by hamals (porters). Hamals are organized under a kol (team) in BVH and a hamal has to buy the title in order to start working as part of the kol. Within the hierarchy of Eminönü hamals, the team is part of a larger bölük (company) which is itself part of an iskele (wharf). All teams have zones designated for them and within BVH this team has monopoly over transport activities. At the head of the team is a Kolbasi (chief) organizing the hamals and dealing with the merchants.

Kolbasi directing a group of hamals.

Up until the 1980’s when the hamals were considered indispensable and essential for transport between the floors of the Han and nearby locations, the team is said to have as many as fifty members. In the last couple of years, their number was reduced down to a mere eight.

Get Flash to see this player.

Hamals at work on the upper floor of the Han.

BVH is served by five restaurants, two small grocery stores and three coffee houses.

The two grocery stores.
The three coffee shops serve different parts of the Han. While patrons mostly use the diaphone system to make orders to the shop on the ground floor, apprentices and phones fulfill this task for ordering to the others. More than a few of the Han’s tenants prefer to take frequent and lengthy breaks from work to have their beverages at the coffee shops.


Get Flash to see this player.

The coffeeshops.
Taking a break from work.
The barber and shoe polisher are amongst the most senior residents of the Han with a presence here of half a century.

The Han has its own resident constructor for renovation and development needs as well as an electrician taking care of lighting and communications systems. For these areas, contracting experts from outside the Han is possible, but a certain understanding of respect and support within these trades can make such interference unlikely.
Various service providers and vendors.


The Han has its residents and its unique networks of support.

From left to right: Abdullah, lived at the terrace of the third courtyard before having to move to a neighboring han.
Adelin, the son of a BVH ironer, lived for the first five years of his life at the Han before leaving for Romania to attend school in his parents’ home country.
Ramazan, a master hat maker who lived for more than fifteen years in a room above the atelier he was employed in. He retired to his village in Malatya in 2008.
“Commando” Ünal, a former BVH ironer for forty years who lived in the Han from time to time and now makes weekly tours visiting old friends.
“The cats’ man” who lives with his cats in a room at the terrace of the Third Courtyard.

Other residents:

After the stray dog colony was removed by the municipality in 2007, cats gained the upper hand in the Han.

Get Flash to see this player.

The impressions of a visitor.

designed by ©ada