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Tophane skyline seen from Bosphorus
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The name of the place was derived from the armory known as Tophane-i Amire (Ottoman Turkish: توپخانه امیری; English: Imperial armory), which was built in the reign (1451–1481) of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II. Its main purpose was the manufacturing cannons and cannonballs. Tophane, which could be seen in Melling's (1763–1831) engraving, has not been able to survive to this day. In 1823, during the Firuz Agha fire, the barracks were burned down only to be rebuilt later. In addition to this, during the reconstruction effort, the Nusretiye Mosque was constructed. The oldest remaining military buildings within Tophane were the old General Staff Headquarters and the industry barracks. Both were taken down due to construction to widen the road in 1958. In the place of the barracks, all that is remaining now is the historical clock tower and Mecidiye Mansion.
The Kılıç Ali Pasha Complex in Tophane, built by the Ottoman Kapudan-i Derya Kılıç Ali Pasha and designed by the renowned architect Mimar Sinan, is a külliye (group of buildings) which comprises a mosque, a medrese, a hamam, a türbe, and a fountain that were constructed between 1578 and 1587.
Tophane Square, with the Tophane Barracks on the left and the Nusretiye Mosque on the right, in ca. 1890–1900.
Kılıç Ali Pasha Mosque and Külliye in Tophane.
During earlier times the main population of Tophane consisted of Greeks and Armenians, however from the start of the twentieth century a large amount of migrants from Anatolia arrived in search of jobs as laborers at dockyards and industrial zones. Due to this influx of migrant workers Turkish population became the majority in Tophane. Arab migrants from Siirt as well as migrants from provinces such as Bitlis, Erzincan, Erzurum were added to the population. The people of Tophane have a generally conservative attitude to politics and to life, which is ironic as they are either living or squatting in the homes of former (Non-Muslim) Greek and Armenian minorities.
Tophane building is currently being used by Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts. Every year the first week of March, a traditional dress ball is held to commemorate the founding of the school. Currently there are many sisha houses as well as American bazaars which help bring many people to Tophane.