Water, Firewood, and Disease in Nineteenth-Century Istanbul



This paper investigates the environmental conditions of nineteenth-century Istanbul’s healthscape. A hydroclimate June/July reconstruction of the Old World Drought Atlas (OWDA) shows the city repeatedly suffered from hot and arid summers throughout the century. Excessive heat produced swamps. Vector-borne diseases and waterborne diseases increased. Because of water scarcity and soaring temperatures, sanitary conditions deteriorated. Animals suffered and perished, the workforce declined, transportation costs increased, and living costs became extravagant. In particular, high firewood prices and water scarcity especially increased the costs of public baths. Climate change had destructive effects on the city’s early industrial period. The following text presents the long-term, cumulative stress on living beings and highlights how excessive summer temperatures affected the landscape and economy of nineteenth-century Istanbul.

Author Biography

Özlem Sert, Hacettepe University, Turkey

Dr. Özlem Sert is an associate professor at Hacettepe University. Dr. Sert received her PhD from the Institute of Turkology at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Then she was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. At Hacettepe University, she founded the Urban Studies Center. Her research focuses on urban history, environmental history, peacemaking, identity, and digital humanities.

Kağıthane Valley. Photograph by Jean Pascal Sébah (1872–1947), c. 1884–1905. Public domain.