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copper5.jpg (12661 bytes)Traditional Copper Ware

Fire heats, fire melts and fire boils. Fire’s first plaything was that brittle but durable metal copper, whose warm red glow arouses the admiration of the onlooker.

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 father’s 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.

copper2.jpg (10413 bytes)Although 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 (Coppersmith’s 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.

copper3.jpg (10362 bytes)With the 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, copper4.jpg (8963 bytes)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.

copper1_s.jpg (9487 bytes)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