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Building Technology
 
Plumb bob or şavul
I am very much interested in getting information about a unique type of plumb bob, three specimens of which I present in the attached file. Plumb bobs such as these, made of solid brass, could be found in Greece, where they are called "saouli", from the Turkish word şavul. Most probably they were used by Greek builders who worked during the 19th century in different regions of the Ottoman Empire.
The shape of these tools is very different from any type of plumb bob used in the West and it seems they originate from the East.
I would be very much pleased if anybody can give me information about the origins of these tools, as well as possible bibliography.

Elias Zacharopoulos
Architect - Athens, Greece
Elias Zacharopoulos
Responses
 
Plumb bob or şavul
Kalimera Elias,

I did not know what a plumb bob was until I read your question. :)

I have three dictionaries that I think may have some information, although I will not be able to look into them until I'm back from holiday on the 12th. One is a dictionary of architectural terms in Ottoman and French by Celal Esad Arseven from the 1910s, another is an Ottoman-English lexicon from the 1890s, the third is a recent book by Neslihan Sonmez on Ottoman Terminology of Construction and Architecture, in Turkish. I'll let you know if I find anything.

Best,
Ozgur Basak Alkan
Plumb bob or şavul
"Plumb bobs" were used by the Ancient Romans and most probably by the Ancient Egyptians. Shape varies but the basic is a metal weight (usually lead) with a eyelet at the top for the string.

Note: "Plumb" comes from the Latin word plumbum which literally means lead.

I think (?) there is a picture of one in a a book I have called "Technology in the Ancient World" by Pelican (the brand used by the British publishers Peguin for reprints of classics, etc.)

Another book I have is called something like "Ancient Chinese Technology" and was published in Beijing, China; but I cannot recall if it had a plumb bob.
Frank John Snelling
Plumb bob or şavul
Dear Elias,

I've just had a chance to look into the three dictionaries that I've mentioned.

Based on a quick web search beforehand, I found the following variant Turkish spellings for "saouli", in addition to "şavul", which you have provided:

    savul taşı, savul demiri, salma taş, şakül (most common), çekül, sakül, şakul
Unfortunately, the term does not appear in Sönmez's dictionary of Ottoman construction terminology.

My Redhouse Ottoman Turkish lexicon (1890), however, had an entry for the term, spelled "shin, alif, qaf, waw, lam" and transliterated as "shaqul (vulg.) shaghul or shawul", with the following definition: "A plummet; a plummet and a line, a level and plummet". The origin of the term is given as Arabic, however, a few entries above it an alternative spelling without waw is listed as Persian. Art historian Celal Esad Arseven's "Istilahat-i Mimariye" from 1324 (1906) lists the same spelling "şakül" (although it says that the word is commonly pronounced as şavul "shin, alif, waw, waw, lam").

The newly opened Pera Museum in Istanbul has a unique collection of Anatolian Weights and Measures, which may be of interest: http://www.pm.org.tr/sergiler3_en.html. Their collection has a large number of şaküls.

Hope that some of this is helpful...

Ozgur Basak Alkan
Plumb bob or şavul
Dear Ozgur,

I would like to thank you very much for all the valuable information about the şakűl you had the kindness to post. Since 1990, when my interest on the şakűl originated, I gather data related to it and of course I try to collect any available specimen.
Although information about the form and the use of this tool is very rare, I found evidence that (at least in Greece) the şakűl was considered as one of the professional symbols of master masons. As such, its image is found carved on cornerstones of buildings and tombstones. The attached photograph is from the tombstone of a certain Kalfa Giorgis, dated 1811 March 2, and presents a şakűl with its line, a triangle for checking horizontality and a compass. It is found in the island of Tinos, from where builders and marble carvers had traveled to Istanbul and to Anatolia to work.
The Pera Museum web page is very interesting. The Museum itself adds another incentive to visit Istanbul.
Elias Zacharopoulos
Plumb bob or şavul
Dear Elias,

Your research sounds very interesting.

One of the websites that I ran into while searching for şakül had an article in Turkish about Judaism and Masons (freemasons), apparently also available as a book. It has illustrations of masons' signs and came up in google because one of the signs includes a şakül, accacia branch, compass and square guide pictured here. (Note: This is an Islamicist website with anti-evolution and anti-zionist mission.)

Did the freemasons simply borrow the symbols of practising masons such as Kalfa Giorgis?

I went to Athens for the first time a few years back. Aside from the trouble of getting visas, the trip was a short 45 minutes from Istanbul and rather cheap :)

One last thing. Issue XVI of Muqarnas has an article by Ömür Bakirer on mason's 'graffiti' on three Anatolian monuments, which may be relevant for its bibliography if not for the article itself. You can download it at http://archnet.org/library/documents/
one-document.jsp?document_id=9705
Ozgur Basak Alkan
Plumb bob or şavul
Ozgur,

Hello. I notice you mention "Freemasonary symbols"; the compasses, set square and triangle.

Firstly, when I was preparing an elective project upon "medieval art and architecture," I came across a picture showing the Christian God holding a pair of compasses as 'Architect of the World'. In other words, medieval masters of building (usually Master Masons)were recognised as being the most important craft when designing and building large masonary buildings. Note: Masonry can mean either a mortared stone or a mortared brick wall.

Secondly, (to my shock and amazement) I have heard in Turkey of this supposed link between Freemasons and Judaism. I suspect this supposed link comes from European Nazi Propaganda, because I believe Freemasons were rounded up and sent to Nazi Concentration Camps. The Nazis were not noted for their logic, as the "SS" (the elite guard for Hitler) used to conduct cermonies very similar to the Freemasons but called it "The Order of Teutonic Knights". Other than that, as far as I am aware, the Freemasons in the UK are Christian, not Judaic in faith. In fact, the Freemasons Lodge was similar to the other lodges which exist in Britain, such as "the order of the Buffalo" or which once existed in Britain such as the Ku Klux Klan but which only exists today in America. originally, the KKK in Britain was simply a mutual self-help society as were (and are) all of the other lodges. When the KKK moved to America it changed into a white, racist, pseudo-political organisation. Likewise, the Protestant "Orange Order Lodge" in Northern Ireland was and is similar to the other mutual self-help lodges, apart from its unique religious-political agenda for Protestantism.

As to the link between the use of the compasses, the set square, etc., probably the origin comes from the fact that the Medieval Master Masons used on-site workshops known as lodges when they were constructing buildngs. As these on-site workshops were also the living quarters of the masons, then the masons would 'lodge' or live there.

In conclusion, I think that these latter-day mutual self-help lodges originated in the old craft guild system, but were in fact the forerunner to the present day trade unions.

Even 200 hundred years ago trade unions were forbidden by law, so that secret lodges came into being instead and acted like todays' offically legal Trades Unions.
Frank John Snelling
Plumb bob or şavul
Dear Frank,

Thank you for the detailed explanation, and the critical reading. :)

Going back to the discussion on stone and brick masons, I'm very interested in the person of Kalfa Giorgis from Tinos, who worked in Istanbul. Was Tinos known for its stone masons, or was he like other men beckoned from the periphery to the urban center for work? (which would have really picked up half a century after Giorgis' time, as Ottoman palaces, aristocratic mansions, banks, military barracks etc. were being built, and later on as well, when entire Beyoglu (Pera) district had to be rebuilt after a fire.) Also, as Athens was being rebuilt after 1834, would the workforce from the islands still be employed in Istanbul?

When he came to Istanbul, was Giorgis a seasonal worker or did he and masons like him stay for a year or two while a certain project was completed? Would they have come to the city as preorganized teams or as individuals? Did they bring their families?
Ozgur Basak Alkan
Plumb bob or şavul
Ozgur,

My own readings were on art and architecture in (Christian) Medieval Europe, but I believe there are parallels. The Craft Guild system which operated throughout Europe (?) meant that there were separate guilds for every craft and the skills of each craft were secret and closely guarded by each Guild. This meant that each craft was a "closed shop" which you either married into or entered through an apprenticeship under a Guild Master (Craftsman). The apprenticeship was in two parts: the apprentice would learn the craft in one place and then later spend time as a "Journeyman" wandering about from job to job gaining experience. Finally, when their work was considered to be the equal of a Master Craftsman, they became a Guild Master member, able to train their own craft apprentices.

So yes, masons and other skilled craftsmen moved from place to place, and depending upon the size of the work may have spent years working on one building. A master craftsman would probably gather others in his craft for large buildings, and master masons took the role of Mimar (master builder) as overseer, foreman, etc. Again, as they could spend years in one place on a large building, then most probably the families went with the craftsmen.

The only variation in this pattern is that very probably the workers in stone quarries would also move about in order to work or carve stone during the construction of buildings.

Another thing to consider is that very large buildings such as a cathedral could take several generations to build because the power available was either man or animal and "machine technology" was weights, rope pulleys, levers, etc.

On a sidenote to the above, another known technology was sailing, or wind-powered ships. I mention this because as Istanbul was a major seaport, then both stone and craftsmen could arrive by boat or ship. So this Giorgis of Tinos (is Tinos an island?) could easily have come from an island where stone was quarried for use in Istanbul.

I have been recently to Enez (Ainos) which is a small town and seaport at the entrance to the delta of the Marika River (the border between Turkey and Greece), and I noticed that most of the traditional houses and garden walls are made of a great many different types of stone in many different colours and textures. This is amazingly strange and leads me to suppose that most of this stone was imported into Ainos/Enez as ballast in sailing ships; and I would like to know if this is the case?

A last point: recently Professor Aysun Ozkose of the Zonguldak Karaelmas Univ. school of architecture in Safranbolu worked with a Greek collegue in presenting a cultural paper upon the exchange of Greek and Turk populations at the end of WW1. One thing I noticed was that one or more Greek families who once lived in the Safranbolu area were known for being stonemasons, and so, as the Ottoman Empire was cosmopolitan in culture and population, perhaps stone masonry may have been a Greek craft tradition?
Frank John Snelling
Plumb bob or şavul
Dear Ozgur,

I really enjoy this conversation that leads to questions I had to face during my research on the şakűl.

Now, some short answers: Tinos Island in the Aegean has been well known since the 18th century for its marble quarries, skilled marble workers, and sculptors. The tradition of marble working that started in the later years of the Venetian occupation of the island (1204-1715) has lasted up to the present time.

Definitely Tiniotes worked in Istanbul and the Anatolia. According to records, marble workshops owned by men of Tinos existed in Izmir until 1922. Izmir is much closer to Tinos than Istanbul, and it is known that a sizeable community of Tiniotes existed there. Sculptors and marble workers from Tinos also worked on the construction of public and private buildings in Athens.

It is no wonder that Tiniote-owned marble workshops even existed in Romania before WWII.

Kalfa Giorgis comes from a village on Tinos called Plateia, which in the past provided stone builders. The inscription on the marble tombstone, which lies in the yard of the church that he presumably built, next to the tomb of the donor, actually states that the tomb belongs to him, not that he was buried there. It is very probable that Kalfa Giorgis died away from his native village, maybe when working abroad.

It is well documented that Greek builders, mainly from the infertile regions of Northern Greece, organized in groups called "bouloukia," from the Turkish word bőlűk (is the spelling correct, Ozgur?) traveled to different parts of the Ottoman empire to take part in construction works.

Each group was well organized, guided by a master craftsman (some describe him as the first among equals), with several craftsmen and apprentices, all men, and a number of animals. They usually departed in spring on Saint George's day and returned to their villages in autumn on Saint Demetrius's day (26 October).

The regions of Northern Greece where the builders originated were under Ottoman rule until 1912. The fact that the word "saouli" is still recognized by older people and that specimens of şakűl could be found there made me draw the conclusion that these tools have a direct link with the traveling group of builders and their journeys to different cities of the Ottoman Empire.
Elias Zacharopoulos
Plumb bob or şavul
Hello All,
I'm a hobby plumb bob collector although I'm practising medicine in Istanbul/ Turkey. I would like to share and enhance my knowledge about this topic, thank you,
Dogan
Dogan Basak
Plumb bob or şavul
I think the best way to share facts about plumb bobs is to publish pictures of specimens in this web forum. I expect that comments related to the form and the specific use of such tools will follow.
Elias Zacharopoulos
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