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Prisons    EN


*Assist. Assoc. Professor,  University of Sinop, Sinop, Turkey

The prison is located on an area, which used to be a shipyard and is inclined to sea, at the south section of the Inner Fortress. The prison was built as a fortress by Sultan of Seljuq Turks İzzeddin who conquered the city on October 3, 1214, as a tribute to the conquest of the city [1]. This area, which was contained by walls on the east and on the west, is contained by sea walls of the fortress on the south, and by an inner wall that separates the Inner Fortress into two sections on the north. The walls are 18 meters high. Many architectural components belonged to Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras have been used as construction materials on these walls which were built during the era of Seljuq Turks. The paths which allowed travelling from one end of the Inner Fortress to the other on the 3 meter wide walls were used by the prison guards as walkways. And there was a shipyard on this area’s sea level south side, and an arsenal on the north side. These sections were renovated by Ruler İbrahim Candaroğlu in 1341 and by Ottoman padishah Yavuz Sultan Selim in 1519 [2]. Afterwards, due to the Russo-Turkish war and the 1853 Battle of Sinop which was carried out by Russians, the north and south walls of the city were damaged; nevertheless, some parts of the Inner Fortress remained intact. The Sinop prison was built by Governor Veysel Pasha with state funds in 1885 at the intact south part of the Inner Fortress where it was used as a shipyard until 1856 [3].

In fact, it is understood by the records existing since the 16th century, that the bastions, which were supporting the Inner Fortress, were used as dungeons. Sinop, along with some other cities, was the locale of people who were sentenced to confinement in fortress and exiles since the 18th century. As old buildings such as old churches and monasteries were used as prisons along with the Sinop fortress, the reorganization in the Ministry of Justice gave the opportunity to Westerners to criticize the Ottoman prisons. This situation led the Ottoman Empire to proceed in the construction of new modern prison buildings. The construction of the prison buildings was part of the efforts of westernization of the Empire, and occurred during the era of Abdülmecit and continued during the era of Abdülhamid II [4]. Thus, the first prison outside İstanbul in the Ottoman Empire was built in Sinop after the 1879 Regulation Code, and was organized accordingly [5]. In this sense, Sinop prison was one of the outcomes of the reorganizations that took place inside the Ministry of Justice and elsewhere [6].

As the prison was being built, the walls were reinforced and the sea gates at the south wall were sealed at the same time. The building was located a few meters from the west wall of the Inner Fortress on the north-south direction in a “U” shaped design [7]. The south-east section of the structure, which was constructed of cut stone, is three-fold and other sections were two-fold. On the third section, there were twenty eight wards [8].

The Sinop prison was thus hidden behind the walls of a thousand year old fortress. The building is quite cold and damp as it is exposed to the Black Sea’s vicious weather and waves. Humidity worsened health conditions, a real punishment place for the inmates. Though the authorities tried to improve the prison’s conditions from time to time, the problems were not resolved. The administrator and author Ebubekir Hazim Tepeyran (1864-1947) [9] made striking observations regarding the Sinop prison’s conditions and the life there in his memoirs called Canlı Tarihler-İdari ve Siyasi Hatıralar(Living Histories-Administrative and Political Memories). He describes the fifth ward which he saw while inspecting the prison as: “...we encountered a truly unbearable and horrible odor. I made them open the window. The sunlight fell on an inmate who was moaning at the corner of the wall. The man was lying on the mat that was stinking because of humidity” [10]. After Mehmet Ali Ayni became the lieutenant governor of Kastamonu, he visited the Sinop Fortress and its dungeons in 1899, he also shared his observations regarding the prison. He described in his memories regarding the prison’s bad conditions with the following: “I was almost going to faint inside a ward of the prison. An unbearable smell was choking me. A Laz hodja was studying geomancy [11] at this ward’s door. A Bektashi Albanian was sitting next to him. An Aynaroz monk was across them. And a little further, there was a turbaned man ... The hodja was surrounded right and left by Rum and Bulgarian thugs. To be brief, this place wasn’t different from Noah’s Ark at all” [12]. The Ottoman government granted here funds in order to improve the health conditions and to restore the old sections. Due to the demands of both the inmates and the inspectors, the prison was repaired and restored between the years of 1909-1915. However, the prison’s health conditions relapsed and the prison was damaged by the bombardments in 1919 [13].

The city had been the detention colony, the exile place, for every class of white-collar workers, soldiers and civilians from the second half of the 19th century to the start of the 20th century. During the 19th century in Sinop there were more than four hundred inmates of every religion and order, sentenced for various reasons. These inmates used to wear a visible or concealed iron ring on their heels, lived freely in the town and performed their craft. During those years, the prison was also a source of free labor force; and those who opposed it were heavily punished. Especially in 1913, a large group of prisoners was exiled to Sinop to the point of calling the city, as exile city. The exile incident started with the murder of Mahmut Şevket Pasha on 11-12 June 1913. Many well known figures, including authors and intellectuals who opposed the Union and Progress Association, were exiled to the city upon that year [14]. The dissenters to the Union and Progress Association had been also exiled in the past, but this was the first occurrence of a massive exile to a single city found in the records. It is said that more than 200 dissenters were arrested and sent to Sinop via Bahr-i Cedit Boat on 5 June 1913 [15]. Sinop had a cosmopolitan society where people of different groups, class and religion lived together due to all these exiled people.

Consequently, the Sinop prison, which served as a prison for more than a hundred years from its establishment, was important due to its being the first of its kind among prison buildings of the Empire, its architectural features as part of an old fort and its effect on the social life of the city.


[1] Hüseyin Hilmi, Sinop Kitabeleri, Sinop Matbaası, Sinop 1341, p. 74.

[2] Alev Çakmakoğlu Kuru, Sinop Hapishanesi, Atatürk Kültür Merkezi Başkanlığı Yay., Ankara 2004, p.3.

[3] Ibid Alev Çakmakoğlu Kuru, p.11.

[4] Ibid Alev Çakmakoğlu Kuru, p.55.

[5] Ibid Alev Çakmakoğlu Kuru, p. 16.

[6] Aptullah Kuran, “Osmanlı Sanatında Batıya Yöneliş: 18. yüzyıl”, Osmanlı ve Avrupa’da Çağdaş Kültürün Oluşumu, 16 18. yy, İstanbul 1986, pp. 308-310.

[7] Ibid Alev Çakmakoğlu Kuru, p. 17.

[8] Sinop Tarihi ve Kültür Envanteri, Sinop Valiliği İl ve Turizm Müdürlüğü Yay, Sinop 2013, p. 1.

[9] After 1897, he worked as a principal registry officer, county newspaper penman and registry deputy under Abdurrahman Pasha and during those years, he worked as a governor-inspector in Sinop in 1889.

[10] Tolga Ersoy, Sinop’un Hanı (Sinop Hapishanesinin Tarihi ve Edebiyattaki Yeri), Sorun Yay, İstanbul 1997, pp. 21- 22.

[11] Remil, bir takım nokta ve çizgilerle kayıptan haber verme dolandırıcılığıdır. Bkz. Ferit Devellioğlu, Osmanlıca-Türkçe Lûgat, Ankara 1998, p.531.

[12] Ibid Tolga Ersoy, p. 23.

[13] Ibid Alev Çakmakoğlu Kuru, pp. 45-47.

[14] Some of the renowned people who served time in Sinop Prison are given below:

Refik Halit Karay expelled outside İstanbul due to being a dissenter to Union and Progress Association in 12 June 1913, after the assassination of Mahmut Şevket Pasha. He spent his time between the years of 1913-1918 in Sinop, Çorum and Ankara. Mustafa Suphi was sentenced for 15 years to Sinop in 1913 due to his articles criticizing the Union regime. However, he fled to Russia on a boat in 1914. Ahmet Bedevi Kuran was among the people who were banished to Sinop in 1913. Refii Cevat was banished to Sinop in 1913 due to his articles on Alemdar Newspaper. Other than them, Hüseyin Hilmi, Burhan Felek ve Osman Cemal Kaygılı were among the exiles of Sinop in 1913. Sinop Tarihi ve Kültür Envanteri, p.4.

[15] Ibid Tolga Ersoy, pp.36-45; Tarık Zafer Tunaya, Türkiye’de Siyasi Partiler 1 (İkinci Meşrutiyet Dönemi, Hürriyet Yay., 1984, p.51. See also for the list of exiles in Sinop in 1913 Tanin, 6 Haziran 1329 18 Haziran 1913, p.3.