The eponymous Cemil Bey was born in İstanbul’s neighborhood of Şehzadebaşı in 1867, and went down in history as a confectioner, composer, Qur’an reciter, and oud player. His father Hasan Tahir Efendi, chief prayer leader at the Şehzade Mosque, died when he was only thirteen years old; during the years they enjoyed together, however, the young boy had the chance to advance his knowledge of religion and commit the entire Qur’an to memory. When his father died, Cemil found himself having to provide for his entire family. For a short while he apprenticed with a jeweler in the Inner Market of İstanbul’s famed Covered Bazaar, but then he turned towards two areas that would give his life new directions, one an art and the other a craft. First, he received a license from a master confectioner and joined the ranks of crafstmen, closing his first commercial deal at the age of sixteen. Choosing to stay close to the neighborhood he new well, he opened a shop across the street from the Şehzade Mosque named “Şekerci Cemil Bey” (Cemil Bey, Confectioner). Records for 1901 cite the shop’s address as No. 36, Şehzadebaşı Avenue. Sermet Muhtar Alus, the popular author and keen observer of İstanbul, noted that the confectioner was situated near the Pharmacy Sokrat (Socrates) and next to the Feyziye Market.
Besides business, Cemil Bey’s interest in music led him to a second direction that would light up his life. He began to study the oud with the celebrated musician Mabeyinci Basri Bey when he was fourteen, and then pursued his studies with the singer Enderûnî Ali Bey (“mabeyinci” and “enderûnî” are both titles indicating affiliation with the imperial palace). With this formation, he soon began to compose music; his first important work, the Karcığar Saz Sema’isi (an instrumental form in Ottoman classical music), was completed when he was only twenty-four years old. His students included many future important musicians. One of his vocal pieces, a song in the Bestenigâr mode, began with the words “İstedin de Gönlümü Verdim Sana” (You asked for my heart and I gave it to you); one cannot be sure that it was addressed to Fatma Şerife Aliye Hanım, whom he married when he was twenty-eight, but their union was blessed with four children. Everything Cemil Bey touched turned to gold, and he did not neglect his religious training either. Next to his candy store and oud playing, he eventually became prayer leader in the household of Mediha Sultan, daughter of Sultan Abdülmecid and sister of Sultan Abdülhamid II.
Another song by Cemil Bey, this one in the Hicaz mode, began with the words “Bir Nigâh Et Ne Olur Halime Ey Gonca Dehen” (Take a look at my state, O rosebud-mouthed beauty); these lyrics belonged to Recaizade Mahmud Ekrem, one of the literary greats of his time. As Cemil Bey’s reputation as a composer grew, so did the renown of his confectionery. It had already acquired considerable fame during the nineteenth century, and the influential magazine Servet-i Fünûn published an article in its 8 March 1894 issue that praised the shop in no uncertain terms:
Reviewing the entertainment and pleasure spots of Şehzadebaşı, it is important not to overloook the confectioner’s shop of Hafız Cemil Efendi. Every year he pleases those who have a sweet tooth with tasty jams and syrups during Ramadan, and with candy and confections during Bayram [the religious festival that follows the month-long period of fasting]. This year, too, Şekerci Cemil Efendi has truly exerted himself during the Noble Month of Ramadan.
In 1898, at the age of thirty-one, Cemil Bey became an oud player and teacher in the Turkish Classical Music section of the Muzıka-i Hümayun (Imperial Band). That he was appreciated by the Palace can be surmised from the fact that, when he became ill in 1902, he was taken under treatment on special orders from Sultan Abdülhamid II, and sent to the hot springs of Bursa for a one-and-a-half months.
The Sultan did not, however, approve of Imperial Band members’ part-time jobs, and so Cemil Bey was forced to put the candy store in the name of his very young son Mehmed Ali; this led to the name Cemilzade (Cemil’s Son). Cemil Bey submitted some of his products to fairs abroad, gaining international success; in 1906, for example, Cemilzade won gold medals at the fairs of Bordeaux and Naples. By 1909, advertisements began to appear in magazines. One in Şehbal declared that Cemilzade products were intended “to be sweet to eat and not upsetting to the stomach,” as well as being high in nutritional value. The product line described in the advertisement was certainly interesting: jam, sherbet, ice cream, candy, and cake… And let us not forget candied chestnuts, mentioned by Sermet Muhtar Alus as one of the unforgettable tasty delights of İstanbul in the early 1900s.
The Constitutional Revolution of 1908 brought significant political changes to the Ottoman capital. Many known to have been close to the Sultan lost their posts after the attempted counter-coup of 31 March 1909. Moreover, tastes at the Palace were turning towards western music. Cemil Bey therefore decided to accept the invitation of Salih Pasha, former Chief Justice of Egypt, and traveled to Egypt in 1909. Though he had only gone there for a visit, his hosts insisted that he stay and continue his confectionery business in Egypt. He finally relented after six months and asked his wife Fatma Şerife Aliye Hanım and children to join him. The travel documents they obtained described their relocation as “temporary,” indicating that they had never intended to sever their ties to İstanbul permanently.
While giving music and oud lessons to members of the court in Cairo, Cemil Bey did not neglect his confectioner’s vocation. Together with his sons, he conquered the hearts of the Egyptians with both music and sweets. The sign outside the elegant store they opened in Cairo said, in French, “Cemil Bey Hasan, Ottoman Confectioner” in deference to his father. The store’s renown grew, and so did the volume of business. When it moved to a more central location, the name of Cemil Bey’s son was added to the sign: “Cemilzade Mehmed Ali.” From brochures to packaging, the firm everywhere emphasized its ties to İstanbul and to the Ottoman Empire. The year 1883 as the date of the firm’s establishment, and İstanbul as the home of the flavors it purveyed, were thus certified at this early time.
During the family’s sojourn in Egypt, while the shop in Cairo was conducting business, the commercial yearbook entitled Annuaire Oriental mentioned a confectioner’s shop named “Cemilzade Mehmed Ali” at No. 26, Şehzadebaşı. The author Samiha Ayverdi writes in her memoirs that the shop had been taken over by a certain Nureddin Bey during the family’s absence. Furthermore, a document preserved by Satvet Cemiloğlu indicates that Mehmed Ali Bey came to İstanbul in 1925 in order to take care of his military service obligations. During that trip, he opened a store in the well-known commercial building Dördüncü Vakıf Han in the Bahçekapı neighborhood near Sirkeci. However, he soon rejoined his aging father in Egypt, having been unable to resolve disagreements with his partner. Perhaps this was an attempt on the part of a homesick family to find a way back home? It could not have been easy for them to live under British occupation during World War I, followed by the new Kingdom of Egypt. While there is no evidence that Hafız Cemil Bey personally requested government help, “the teacher Hafız Cemil Bey” does appear among the Ottoman subjects to whom the Ottoman governments provided traveling expenses for repatriation in 1919.
Mehmed Ali Bey, representing the second generation active in the business, brought new dimensions to Şekerci Cemilzade. Thanks to his confidence in the quality and taste of his products, he did not hesitate to compete and promote the firm internationally. In 1926, his entries in the fairs of Liège and Paris were once again awarded gold medals. Likewise, their products were greeted with enthusiasm at the Ideal Home Exhibition in London, organized since 1908 by the Daily Mail.
Şekerci Cemil Bey died in 1928, after which the family began to reconsider its presence in Egypt. Although the British occupation had ended in 1922, the newly proclaimed Kingdom of Egypt had not been able to achieve stability. In 1937, Mehmed Ali Bey and his brother Nureddin Bey finally decided to permanently return to Turkey, and thus the confections of Cemilzade began their journey back home. That year, the family opened the Cemilzade store on Muvakkithane Avenue in İstanbul’s district of Kadıköy, where they once again served traditional sweets. Soon, Mehmed Ali Bey was joined by his son Satvet Bey, to whom he had imparted the secrets of his unrivaled candy. Cemilzade regained its popularity so quickly in Kadıköy that it was as if they had never left. The historian and playwright Adnan Giz recalled Cemilzade as “a small confectioner’s shop once famous as much for its palace lemonade and sour black mulberry syrup as it was for Turkish delight and candy.” Describing the store at No. 25, the journalist Deniz Kavukçuoğlu wrote that the almond and pistachio pastes they produced in their workshop across the street would be sold out the very same day, and that they would serve apple, orange, and peach juice during the Summer months. “Residents of Kadıköy had their first taste of ‘pure,’ undiluted fruit juice in this store.”
During these, perhaps the most select years of the Asian side of İstanbul, Cemilzade became the stuff of fairy tales. Narrating the nostalgia they felt for the old İstanbul of their childhood, many writers could not help but mention the shop. In Füruzan’s Sevda Dolu bir Yaz, for example, the reward promised the little hero Şehrazat in exchange for curbing her naughtiness was bergamot-flavored candy: “We bought the bergamots from Cemilzade. They wrapped the box carefully.” Indeed, Cemilzade’s meticulously chosen and designed packaging was as famed as its candy. The journalist Eser Tutel once compared the past with the present by describing how, instead of the soulless plastic bags now given out by stores, “Cemilzade’s delicious almond paste would be placed in elegant paper pouches.” Selim İleri counts Cemilzade among the riches that we should never lose, saying that “it objects to our prodigal extravagance.”
While there still existed a workshop in Kadıköy during the 1940s, the building was eventually sold and so production moved into the lower floor of the house in which the family lived in the neighborhood of Acıbadem. This allowed Saliha Makbule Hanım to take care of the house and also be her husband Mehmed Ali Bey’s greatest helper. Their son Satvet Bey learned the art of candy-making in this family environment —part work, part play. Having made Cemilzade a landmark of Kadıköy, Mehmed Ali Bey died in 1977. Thereafter, the mission of fulfilling the desires of the store’s fans fell upon their sons Mecdet and Satvet Cemiloğlu. That store closed its doors in 1985.
This could have been the end of the saga, but this time Satvet Bey’s wife Fatma Cemiloğlu wouldn’t have it. An entrepreneur of some repute, Fatma Hanım stepped in and induced Satvet Bey to do the same, until their son Barış Cemiloğlu took over the Turkish Delight cauldrons in the 2000s. Satvet and Fatma Cemiloğlu opened several stores, one on Cemil Topuzlu Avenue in Selamiçeşme (1995), another on Bağdat Avenue in Şaşkınbakkal (1997), a third in the neighborhood of Etiler (February 2001), and a fourth in Nişantaşı (July 2010). Thus, the old flavors of İstanbul were once again available to Cemilzade’s friends on the European side of the city.
From the confectioner and oud player Cemil Efendi to his fourth-generation descendent Barış Cemiloğlu, the firm Cemilzade has preserved its tradition of natural, delicious, and high-quality goodness. Since 1883.
Store 2: Bağdat Cad.No:367/A Şaşkınbakkal / Kadıköy – İstanbul
Store 3: Bebek Yokuşu Sok. No:3/1 Etiler / Beşiktaş – İstanbul
Store 4: Prof. Dr. Orhan Ersek Sok. No:2/B Nişantaşı / Şişli – İstanbul
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