The Levantines were people of European origin who lived permanently in the Ottoman Empire. Their settlement was enabled by a framework of capitulations, i.e., agreements between their states of origin and the Ottoman Empire to encourage commercial exchange. Companies of European states opened their agencies in Ottoman cities and sent their representatives there. The European merchants were subject to the laws of their protecting states, and not of those of the Ottoman state. They enjoyed numerous privileges in economic, legal, political and social fields.
Originally, the term ‘Levantines’ was reserved for the merchants of Mediterranean origin and Catholic faith, such as the Genoese and the Venetians, who were the first ones who such privileges were granted to in the mid-15th century. In the 16th and 17th centuries, similar treaties were signed with three great economic powers of Europe: France, England, and the Dutch Republic. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the dependence of the Ottoman Empire on capitulations increased significantly and merchants of many other nations, such as Austria, Russia, Prussia, Spain and the United States, were allowed to trade on its territory under similar conditions.
The Levantines contributed a lot to the development of the cities in which they resided. One of the cities that benefited greatly from their presence was Izmir (Smyrna). This city saw a great increase in trade since the 17th century and developed into one of the most important port cities in the Eastern Mediterranean. In the 19th century it was one of the biggest cities in the Ottoman Empire and also one of the richest.
In Izmir, the main area of the Levantines, or Franks, as they were known among the locals, was the so-called Frangomahalas. It was located near the coast south of today’s Freedom Square. In the 19th century, wealthier Levantine families began to move to the outskirts of the city, to the villages of Bornova (Bournabad, Bournabat), Buca (Boudja), Seydiköy (Gaziemir) and Karşıyaka (Cordelio). Their influx to these villages was especially fast in the second half of the 19th century, facilitated by two factors: the new laws which allowed foreigners to buy property in the Ottoman Empire, and the construction of railway lines which connected those villages to the city center and allowed the Levantines to reach their offices and warehouses there. Some families had been able to obtain special permissions from the Sultan to construct their churches and mansions in Bornova and Buca already before that. These villages, even though not exclusively inhabited by the Levantines, soon looked like small colonies of Europe.
The buildings that the Levantines constructed here showed the influence of the contemporary artistic trends of Europe. In the decoration of their mansions and churches they used a lot of materials and works of art imported from Europe. Their mansions are often Eclectic. Some also show features of Ottoman architecture, such as wooden protrusions and ornamental carvings on the eaves. All in all, these buildings served to manifest their owners’ great power.
That power came to an abrupt end in the 1920s. The great fire of Smyrna in September 1922 destroyed almost all the Frangomahalas and the proclamation of Republic of Turkey in October 1923 brought about the abolishment of the Ottoman capitulations – the raison d’être of the Levantines. They lost their privileged status, moved to Europe or elsewhere, or assimilated into the Turkish society.
Today, many Levantine buildings survive in Izmir, most completely in the districts of Bornova and Buca. My portfolio is made up of photos of all the remarkable Levantine churches and mansions in Izmir, with the following exceptions: the Cathedral of Saint John in Konak, the Edward Whittall Mansion in Bornova, the Rees Mansion in Buca, and the Aliotti Mansion in Karşıyaka. This portfolio could be expanded with photos of Levantine schools, hospitals and cemeteries in the city.
In the compilation of this portfolio my two main sources were ‘Levantine Heritage in Izmir’, a dissertation by Onur İnal (Koç University, 2006), and the website of the Levantine Heritage Foundation. I took the photos in October 2018.
You will find the locations of the mentioned sites on the map below.
Part One: Konak
1. Catholic Church of Saint Polycarp
Necati Bey Bulvarı 2
1620s; 1775; 1890s; 1929
The Church of Saint Polycarp is the oldest among the surviving churches in Izmir. It is the most important church of the city, dedicated to Saint Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna and one of the three chief Apostolic Fathers. The church was built at the request of Louis XIII of France with a special permission of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 1620s. The current building was constructed with the support of Louis XVI of France in 1775.
The church is a domed basilica. The nave, covered with a barrel vault, is separated from the aisles by marble columns in Corinthian order. The dome and the vault of the nave are covered with frescoes depicting Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary, the Apostles and Saint Polycarp. These were added during the restoration of the church in the 1890s, when the church also got its chapels. The restoration was carried out by French architect Raymond Charles Péré, the author of the later Izmir Clock Tower. Péré also depicts himself and his family in some of the frescoes.
On the outside the church looks plain. A bell tower is attached to it.
The church was destroyed in the great fire of Smyrna in 1922 and was rebuilt in 1929.
2. Catholic Church of Saint Mary
Halit Ziya Bulvarı 67
1698; after 1889
The Church of Saint Mary, located in the old Frankish neighbourhood, was built in 1698 by the Franciscans. In the 19th century it was under the auspices of the Austrian government, and it was rebuilt after a fire in 1889 with the support of Emperor Franz Joseph I. It is an aisleless church with a dome and a bell tower. It has features of Renaissance and Baroque Revival styles. The interior is elegantly decorated. The most striking element is the roof vault reinforced by metal elements.
3. Anglican Church of Saint John the Evangelist
Intersection of Talatpaşa Bulvarı & Atatürk Caddesi
The first Anglican Church in Izmir was built by the members of the Levant Company in 1625. Many online sources seem to assume that that church was located on the premises of the British Consulate, where the current Anglican church stands, but I haven’t been able to verify this conclusively.
The surviving church is from 1899. It is a small Gothic Revival building with a stone-and-brick facade and buttresses. On the inside, the most important features are the stained-glass windows designed by Charles Eamer Kempe, brought here from the Protestant Church of All Saints in Buca in 1964, following a riot related to the Cyprus dispute. Another church (1843) and the vicarage (1911) also belong to the complex.
4. Dutch Protestant Church
1374. Sokak 24
Late 19th or early 20th century
This church was probably established by the first Dutch merchants arriving in Izmir in the 17th century. The original building was damaged by fire in 1796 and was restored in 1827. The existing building is from the time of that restoration or, more probably, from the turn of the 20th century. It is an aisleless church with a wooden roof, a rose window and pointed arches.
Today the church is used by the Greek Orthodox congregation under the name of Agia Fotini, to commemorate the Orthodox Cathedral of Smyrna, which was destroyed in the 1922 fire.
5. Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary
1481. Sokak 8
Luigi Rossetti, 1903-1904
The Dominican priests arrived in Izmir in the early 18th century. They established their convent in 1755, but it burned down in 1845. The Dominicans acquired the plot of land where the current Church of the Holy Rosary stands in the mid-19th century and built a church dedicated to the apostles Peter and Paul here. At the beginning of the 20th century it was demolished to build a bigger church. The current church is a three-nave basilica with side chapels. Its style is eclectic. It originally had a bell tower reminiscent of an Italian campanile. The church is adjoined by the convent block.