When walking through the back streets around the market areas of Istanbul you will come across street porters carrying massive loads of goods on their back. The men continue a tradition established during the Ottoman Empire and perform an essential task moving cargo around the narrow streets.
Today the porters are organised in 22 troops designated to specific areas of the city where they work. There are around 2,000 porters working in a profession that once employed more than 6,000 in the city. There is a strict hierarchy within the troops from the majordomo to the cashier (kesedar) and the foreman (Kolbasi) commanding around 15 porters. Places within troops are strictly limited and the only way a new recruit can be admitted is to find a retiring porter and agree a fee to exchange positions. The fees run into thousands of Turkish lira and represent a retirement payoff.
Porters carry their huge loads using a “saddle”. This is a specially made timber backpack, harness with shoulder straps made to measure. Each load can be up to 150 kilograms and around 5 to 10 trips per day is normal for a porter. Carrying a heavy cargo around the congested streets and up steep slopes around the Grand Bazaar is a demanding physical job and only suitable for fit healthy workers. The porters earn a flat rate fee for each load transported during the day. Payment is made in cash by the manager and typically amounts to around 50 to 100 TL per day.