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Updated: Apr 5

Insurance Map of Cibali (Source: Salt Research)
Cibali Gate (Source: Salt Research)

Located on the west bank of the Golden Horn, the neighborhood of Cibali sits on the Land Walls with its name deriving from the Cibali gate which serves as the main entrance into the neighborhood. The Gate, though previously referred to as Porta Puteae or Porta del Pozzo, was renamed for the commander Cebe Ali Bey from Bursa who entered the gate during the conquest of Istanbul on May 29, 1453. A plaque on the gate wall commemorates this event. In the Byzantine period, an Orthodox monastery was established in the late 11th century, later the site of the Pantepoptes Church and today the Eski Imaret Mosque. Similarly, the nearby, closely intertwined neighborhood of Ayakapı has been built since at least the late 9th century, when Emperor Basil I built the Monastery of Saint Theodosia, today the site of the Gül Mosque. Throughout the

Eski İmaret (Source: Salt Research)

early modern period, Cibali was home to a large Jewish population in part attributed to its proximity to Balat, one of the centers of Jewish life in the city.  This large Jewish population - predominantly comprised of Sephardic Jews - established centers of Jewish life throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, most prominently the Unkapanı Synagogue. However, by the eighteenth century, the neighborhood’s Jewish population declined primarily due to fires that destroyed many Jewish quarters during the seventeenth century and caused Istanbul’s Jewish population to migrate to other neighborhoods. These fires most prominently include the fire of 1633, which broke out in Cibali before spreading to Ayakapı and Fener, and the fire of 1660, which destroyed a large portion of the city. As with most of the neighborhoods of the city, Cibali was fire-prone, experiencing more than 20 major fires from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

Women working in the Tabacco factory (Source: Rezan Has Museum)

A major turning point for the neighborhood arrived in 1884 with the inauguration of the Cibali Tobacco Factory. The factory was operated by ‘Regie’, a foreign company that had taken over the tobacco monopoly from two Greek bankers and entrepreneurs, George Zarifi and Christaki Zografos, who obtained the tobacco monopoly in 1872. Across the empire, cigarette production was usually associated with prominent Greek families, and by the 1880s, 5 Greek firms controlled 80% of the cigarette trade in the empire. These factories often employed Greek workers.

View from the outside of the factory (Source: Salt Research)

Though the Cibali factory was not operated by a Greek firm many of its workers were Orthodox Greek and Jewish representing the religious make-up of the local neighbors of Balat, Hasköy, and Fener that supplied laborers to the factory. Many of its employees were also recent migrants with records of Greek and Italian-born workers making a living at the factory. The Factory employed more than 2000 men and women, swelling into the largest factory in Istanbul with some even describing it as a small city with workshops, a healthcare unit, a fire brigade, a daycare, and

Inside the factory (Source: Salt Research)

refectories. It employed the largest number of women than any other firm in the Ottoman production sector comprising two-thirds of its workforce. The factory was a center of substantial labor unrest and strikes throughout the early twentieth century, with major strikes occurring in 1893, 1904, and 1911 - the final of which is considered the longest strike of the late Ottoman period with 2,000 strikers. In 1908, Greek and Jewish workers created the Cigarette Makers’ Association which attempted to protect the rights of cigarette makers and packers. 

In 1925, the Turkish Republic nationalized operations and the Factory ran until 1994 when it was left in disrepair. The building was acquired by Kadir Has University in 2001 which operates as the site of its main campus as well as houses the Rezan Has Museum.  Efforts have been made to restore the facade of the building which was designed by Alexandre Vallaury under commission from Sultan Abdülhamid II. Today, the neighborhood of Cibali is a largely Muslim lower-middle-class neighborhood comprised of workers and traders.



Ayrancı, Mehmet, Günşıl Öncü, and Melis Ş. Çalışlar. n.d. “Cibali Tobacco Factory: The Space of Labor.” Google Arts & Culture.

Balsoy, Gülhan. 2009. “Gendering Ottoman Labor History: The Cibali Régie Factory in the Early Twentieth Century.” International Review of Social History 54 (Dec): 45-68.

“Cibali Tobacco Factory | Rezan Has Museum.” 2017. Rezan Has Müzesi.

Işık, A. B., and Yusuf Akyazıcı. 2018. “Cibali District; Investigation of External Facing Material Selection In Architectural Structures.” Journal of Sustainable Construction Materials and Technologies 3:174-190.

Nacar, Can. 2014. “The Régie Monopoly and Tobacco Workers in Late Ottoman Istanbul.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 34 (1): 206-219.

Nacar, Can. 2019. Labor and Power in the Late Ottoman Empire: Tobacco Workers, Managers, and the State, 1872–1912. N.p.: Springer International Publishing.

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