Traditional Copper Ware
Fire heats, fire melts and fire boils. Fires first plaything was that
brittle but durable metal copper, whose warm red glow arouses the admiration of the
Ahmet Usta first made the acquaintance of copper as a small child, when he
used to watch his father at work in his forge. That was when he fell in love with the
metal which took shape under the rhythmic blows of his fathers hammer, and acquired the
colour of fire as it softened in the flames of the forge. The transformation of the sheet
metal into graceful artefacts enthralled him anew each time.
forty years have passed since those childhood days, Ahmet Usta still feels the same
passionate love for copper. Yet many of his fellow master craftsmen have abandoned the
trade of their forefathers.
As technology has developed, bringing cheaper and faster production
methods, replacing traditional materials with others like plastic, and reducing the human
factor to a minimum at every stage of production, the art of the coppersmith has been
gradually dying away. The coppersmith shops of the Bakırcılar Çarşısı
(Coppersmiths Market) in Beyazıt next to the Grand Bazaar have today mostly been taken
over by shops selling clothes to tourists from the former iron curtain countries. Just two
copper shops survive squeezed between them, and these no longer produce their own wares.
Only one is able to carry out minor repairs, and their stock is confined to decorative
copper souvenirs. The future does not look bright for them.
loss of their old premises over the past few years most of the coppersmiths have closed
down altogether, just four or five moving their forges to İç Cebeci Han in the Covered
Bazaar. There they mostly produce plain rough ware. The finer and decorated ware is still
produced by a few coppersmiths in Gaziantep and other provincial cities, whose output goes
to Istanbul or is exported.
Archaeological finds in excavations of settlements belonging to the many
peoples and civilisations who have lived in different parts of Anatolia have revealed that
copper was first worked 10,000 years ago in this ancient land. As the first metal utilised
by man, copper marks
an important turning point in human history. Its properties differed radically from
materials utilised earlier by human beings, such as stone, bone and wood, since unlike
these it was malleable and could be beaten into sheets and shaped, or melted and poured
into casts. Those communities who possessed copper working technology were able to gain
economic and military supremacy over those who did not. In other words copper was a source
of power, and for this reason the techniques of refining and working copper, and later of
other metals and alloys, were kept close secrets.
Turkey has large reserves of copper ore, primarily in Artvin, Balıkesir,
Bursa, Çanakkale, Denizli, Elazığ (at Ergani), Erzurum, Giresun,
Kastamonu, Kırklareli, Manisa, Ordu, Rize, Sivas, Siirt, and Trabzon. In many cases these copper deposits have been mined for
thousands of years.
When the Ottoman Empire was established at the turn of the 14th century,
Turkey continued to be an important centre of mining and metal working. The large number
of craftsmen producing metal artefacts for a wide range of purposes played a major role in
the urban economy, particularly in the capital city, Istanbul. This was an important
centre of traditional copper ware, which reflected a highly refined sense of form and
decoration. Apart from the ornate ware, often gilded, produced for court circles, simpler
ware for daily use by ordinary people was made in large quantities by coppersmiths in
districts all over the city, in Süleymaniye, Beyazıt, Bit Pazarı, Kumkapı,
Fındıklı, Yedikule, Unkapanı, Beyoğlu, Kasımpaşa, Tahtakale and Mercan.
Not longer than a quarter century ago, every family still possessed at
least one of the traditional semispherical copper pans, but as these were abandoned in
favour of modern aluminium, non-stick and steel saucepans, so the coppersmiths gradually
disappeared. What has survived of the beautiful old copper ware is now used for decorative
purposes or displayed in museums alongside the other products of lost or dying arts.
- Traditional Copper Ware
By Aynur Erdem