Polish Exiles in Istanbul: Living with the Levantines

Polish Exiles in Istanbul: Living with the Levantines

In this third chapter on my Great Great Grandfather Theodore Puchalski’s revolutionary adventures, I focus on his final exile to Istanbul in the Ottoman Empire. Theodore arrived in Istanbul around 1850 and spent the rest of his life there. Although very little documentary evidence about him survives, his life can to some extent be re-imagined through the evidence of other Polish exiles and the events that took place which he would have been a part of.

Arrival in Istanbul

Many of the Poles exiled in France from the 1830-31 revolt took up arms again in 1848 when a tide of Revolts swept across Europe, fighting in campaigns in Italy, Austria and Hungary. We do not know for certain which Theodore joined, except that the vast majority of refugees who ended up in Turkey, were participants of the Hungarian Revolution.

Michał Czajkowski aka Sadyk Pasha. Public domain.

Although initially a refuge, for many Turkey became a permanent home due to its proximity to their main enemy, Russia, and potential further opportunities to make incursions to restore the state of Poland in the future. The Polish government in exile, Hotel Lambert in Paris, did nothing to discourage this and had in fact established the Agency of the Polish Eastern Mission (Agencja Główna Misji  Wschodniej) in Istanbul, headed up by Michał Czajkowski (aka Mehmed Sadik Pasha) to organise the Poles and liaise between Paris and the Sublime Porte (i.e. Ottoman government administration in Istanbul). Michał Czajkowski was the principle negotiator in the purchase of land for the establishment of the Polish colony of Polonezkoy in 1842 and he also established an Ottoman Cossack military unit which saw some action in the Balkans during the Crimean War.


Ottoman Cossacks at Shumla 1854 with Sadyk Pasha

In 1850, Czajkowski was a key figure in securing the transfer of Polish refugees to Istanbul from the camp at Shumla in Bulgaria. He and his wife used their house in Cihangir as a receiving centre for the new polish emigrés, acting as a go between for them and the Sublime Porte. Theodore is not listed in the census of Polish refugees in Istanbul which was sent to the Sublime Porte  in March 18501, so he probably arrived a little later.

Polish Life in Pera

Arriving in the European part of the city, Theodore would have found himself living in a real melting pot of different nationalities, religions and cultures. Paulina Dominik’s review of polish emigré experiences in Istanbul2  provides a detailed account of the Polish community that emerged.  Their arrival marked a massive influx on the local Levantine population which was dominated by French and Italian communities. The number of exiles was estimated to be as high as 7000 in the 1850s. However the Turks tended to see all Hungarians, Slavs, Dalmatians, Romanians and Poles etc as one homogeneous group so the actual number of Poles may have been much lower.

Many of them settled in the Pera district (now Beyoğlu) in an area that became known as leh mahallesi (Polish neighbourhood) which formed around the side street Leh Sokagi (Polish Street or Rue de Pologne, now called Nur-i-Ziya) which was just off the Grand Rue de Pera (now Istiklal Kaddesi). This street used to house the Polish legation to the Sublime Porte and later a recruiting office for Poles signing up for the Russo-Ottoman War in 1877. None of these buildings survive today but the street is still there.

Wooden houses typical of Istanbul. Stéphane Passet 1912.

The emigrés also settled in a number of other districts including Tatavla and Yeni Sehir (now Kurtulus) and the village of Bebek on the Bosphorus which was considered a little Polish colony. Here they built their wooden houses in the Polish style. A few also went to the already established Polish community of Polonezkoy about 15km outside the city.

The Polish community were real nationalists and liked to congregate in Polish bars and cafes such as the Bulbul cafe on Grande Rue de Pera and the family homes of compatriots. Here they would listen to poetry recitals, lectures on Polish literature or discuss politics.

Notre Dame de Lourdes (The Georgian church).

They were mostly Roman Catholic. The churches they frequented included St Antony of Padua on the Grande Rue de Pera, which was also popular with the Italian community, the St Esprit Cathedral, situated around Pangalti/Sisli (the composer Donizetti is buried there), and the Georgian church of Notre Dame de Lourdes, also in the Sisli district north of Taksim Square. The first record found for Theodore in 1853 comes from the church of St Mary Draperis, also on Grande Rue de Pera which suggests he lived in Leh Mahallesi neighbourhood. A few years later family records appear in the St Esprit Cathedral in Sisli/Pangalti.

Click on the icons in the map below for the location of some of these Polish haunts.

There was little social contact between the Poles and their Turkish hosts. The Poles were grateful for the support they received from the Turks and saw them as allies, but had no desire for assimilation. A small number of army officers from the Polish campaigns had converted to Islam in order to protect themselves from extradition and probable execution including Michał Czajkowski. The Sultan encouraged this further by offering them lucrative positions in the Ottoman army, the administration and the major industries but it was very unpopular with the rank and file Polish who regarded this as apostasy and a betrayal of their nationalist cause.

The Poles did however successfully integrate with their Levantine neighbours, through their shared Catholicism and political interests. For instance like Theodore, many of the Poles  had lived in exile in France or fought alongside Italians during the 1848 Revolts so were familiar with their languages and traditions too. Marriages between these communities was not uncommon as exemplified by Theodore’s own marriage around 1852-3.

A New Life and Family in Istanbul

Theodore married Angela Ainis (aka Ainisi) who came from Messina in Sicily. She was very young at around 15 years old while he was about 41. The marriage record has not been found but it is assumed from other records that it took place in Istanbul.

So what was Angela doing in Istanbul and how did she get there? The name Ainis turns out to be quite rare and is almost entirely confined to Sicily, specifically around Messina, apart from a few families in Northern Italy and the USA and a small concentration found also in Indonesia! There are civil records online for Messina3 which so far have turned up three birth records for Angela Ainis/Ainissi in Messina, that tally with dates and her age as recorded on her death register. These are:

  1. Angela born 18 February 1836 to Domenico Ainis and Nicoletta Allegra.
  2. Angela born 20 September 1837 to Giuseppe Ainis and Santa de Francesco, occupation trafficante (translates as dealer). At least one child from this family emigrated to the USA. It seems unlikely family members would migrate in opposite directions.
  3. Angela born 27 September 1837 to Rosario Ainis and Emilia Nascio, occupation proprietor (property or business owner).

So, one possibility is that she was the daughter of a family who migrated and became Levantine traders. There was a major industrialist in Messina called Gaetano Ainis, born 1840. According to the Italian National Biography4, he ran a very large textile business, established in the 1830s by his father, with trade links in the Middle East, but at this stage it is impossible to say if there is any connection to the families above.

Another possibility is that her parents joined the 1848 Revolts and also ended up as refugees in Turkey. One of the first of the 1848 Revolts took place in Sicily and particularly focused around Palermo and Messina. As was observed in my last post however, the Italian refugees were largely dispersed to Gallipoli.

I have commented before on the great age disparities seen in marriages of this period which often amounted to contractual arrangements between families.  By modern and particularly western standards, the very young age at which girls were married off would be considered completely inappropriate, but in those days women and children had the status of “chattels” or property and their own wishes and desires were completely subordinate to the patriarch of the family. Their options were very constrained and their financial security was precarious. The circumstances around Theodore and Angela’s marriage are a mystery. It seems unlikely that this was a marriage for love, but was it for status or protection? What perhaps it does tell us is that Theodore had managed to establish himself as a reasonable prospect by 1853. Many of the refugees had nothing more than the clothes they stood up in when they arrived in Istanbul. A man could not expect to find himself a wife unless he had a means of supporting her.

Theodore and Angela went on to have four children:-

St Mary Draperis in Pera where Christina and Leonard were baptised. Photo: Jude Mulcahy

Christina Josephine (my Great Grandmother) was born 9 December 1853. She was baptised on 22 January 1854 at the church of St Mary Draperis in Pera, Istanbul. Her Godparents were Jozef Ratynski and Regina Ozerski.

Sophia (known as Sophie) born 21 July 1857, baptised 9 August 1857  at St Esprit Cathedral. Her Godfather was Joannes (John) Lizorksi or Zicorski and Godmother Zofia Ratynski (nee Gorcynska, Jozef’s wife).

Maria (known as Marie) born 31 July 1860, baptised 11 November 1860 also at St Esprit Cathedral. Her Godparents were Charles and Maria Theobald.

Leonard Roman born 10 February 1867, baptised 24 February at St Mary Draperis. His Godfather was Placido Ainis (possibly a brother, uncle or cousin of Angela) and his Godmother was his eldest sister, Christina.

By all accounts, the family life of the Puchalskis was for many years quite comfortable. My grandma passed down  stories of hunting trips and picnics in the forest which she thought had taken place in Poland but must actually have been in the Belgrade Forest north of Istanbul or around the wooded farmlands of Polonezkoy.

The children appear to have been well educated with all three girls able to read, write and draw fluently, to sew and to play musical instruments. A photo survives somewhere of Christina with a violin while an old letter talks of Marie playing the harp. As was typical of the Levantine families in the eastern Mediterranean, Christina and her siblings spoke several languages. This was of course an absolute necessity when your mother is Italian, your father Polish, and your community French-speaking. It’s believed Christina also spoke Russian. The language she spoke least well was English!

The Ratynski Connection

Jozef and Zofia Ratynski, Godparents to Christina and Sophia Puchalski. Photo c/o G. Buldrini.

The presence of Jozef and Zofia Ratynski as godparents to two of the children is significant and very interesting. Jozef was another Polish refugee from the Hungarian Revolt who became a prominent and very wealthy entrepreneur and member of the Polish establishment in Istanbul, sufficient to warrant an entry in the 47 volume Polish National Biography5. A key question is whether he was chosen to be a godparent as a family friend or as a patron. Often families would ask a parish priest, doctor or a community leader to be a godparent as a sort of insurance policy for the child.

My feeling is that Jozef was a family friend because he and Theodore seem to have had a few more things in common than just their nationality. Jozef was born in Kamieniec Podolski (then part of Greater Poland, now Kamianets-Podilskyi, Ukraine).  According to one family member (Frank Calleja b.1892), the Puchalskis originally came from the Kiev area, also part of Ukraine on the border with Galicia. He and Theodore both started out in Istanbul as woodworkers, Jozef was a carpenter and Theodore was a cabinet maker. These were valuable skills when they arrived because Polish (and Ottoman) houses were always built in wood and the Polish community had to set to work to build their own communities.

As an example, in 1861, the Georgian church, Notre Dame de Lourdes, was built in the Feriköy/Sisli district of Istanbul. Jozef Ratynski is known to have designed and made the altar piece which includes an image of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa which was paid for by the Polish community (Dominik).

Carving of the Madonna of Czestochowa in the Georgian Catholic Church by Ratynski. Source. A Georgian Church in Istanbul

In an interesting blog about this church its author questioned what a Polish altar piece was doing in a Georgian church and this provides the answer!

Henryk Groppler (1822-87).

Jozef Ratynski soon moved on from carpentry. He went into partnership with another Polish emigré called Henryk Groppler. Now Groppler had a house in Bebek that like Michał Czajkowski’s, also acted as a receiving house for new Polish arrivals. It was also renowned as one of the cultural meeting places for Polish recitals and debates. It seems likely therefore that if Theodore knew Ratynski, he must also have come into contact with Groppler, perhaps in the early days of settlement.  Groppler was a watchmaker and jeweller by trade but he and Ratynski branched out and became co-owners of a marble mine in Bandirma, exporting across the Mediterranean. They both became extremely rich to the extent that they were able to buy their own fleet of ships! When eventually the marble trade went into decline, they moved on to mining gypsum.

Polish Politics in Istanbul

Although we have no further documentary evidence on Theodore’s life in Istanbul, an enduring family legend has been that his involvement in the Polish revolts led to him leaving his children in an orphanage for safe keeping. As we can now be fairly sure that Theodore was involved in the two Revolts (1831 and 1848) that took place before any of his children were born, we can safely assume his interest in Polish politics did not disappear when he settled in Istanbul and it is indeed likely that he participated in some way in the later actions.

Crimean War

Adam Mickiewicz 1842. Public domain.

In 1853-56 during the Crimean war, the Polish national poet, political activist and all round national Polish hero Adam Mickiewicz arrived in Istanbul to meet with Michał Czajkowski. His mission was to recruit Poles in support of the Ottomans against Russia. The bigger picture was to remove Russia from Crimea and then move on to reclaim Poland. Consequently Mickiewicz visited and spoke at many of the Polish cultural haunts and would have been a massive draw for patriotic Poles. It seems highly likely Theodore would have attended one of these meetings and Ratynski and Groppler are certainly believed to have been involved. Did Theodore take up arms again, we don’t know? At that time, his wife was expecting their first child, my Great Grandmother Christina. Maybe on this occasion he provided support in some other capacity.

Unfortunately, on 26 November 1855, Mickiewicz succumbed to the latest cholera epidemic that had broken out in Istanbul and died. The Poles along with the wider Slav community in Istanbul were utterly devastated by the news. A letter from one of his friends describes the scene of his funeral procession down to the port for his transportation back to France6 :

“A pair of oxen pulled a plain casket through the muddy streets of Beyoğlu. I assumed there would be nobody but us Poles taking part in the procession, but it wasn’t long before we understood how wrong I was. A teeming mass of mourners wearing black filed in behind us, covering the street. People from all nations were present, Serbians, Dalmatians, Montenegrians, Albanians, Italians, with Bulgarians in the majority. This was their way of showing respect for the genius of the Slavic poet.”

Temporary grave in Adam Mickiewicz house in Istanbul. Source: Darwinek

Years later Mickiewicz’s wooden house burned down. Groppler suggested building a memorial to the poet on the site but Ratynski was determined to go one better and built a stone replica of the original house. Some of Mickiewicz’s internal organs are buried in a tomb in the basement of the building. The house remained in the ownership of Ratynski’s descendants until very recently. In 1955 it was made into the Mickiewicz Museum and in the 1990s was bought by the Polish government7. Sadly, it has now permanently closed.

Mickiewicz’s house (1880) rebuilt in stone by Jozef Ratynski.

1863 January Rising

“The Battle” – Artur Grottger dedicated to the January Uprising. Public domain.

The January Uprising of 1863-4 was largely a guerilla campaign of Polish insurgents involving numerous small units of badly trained men from the artisan, lower gentry and intelligentsia.  It emerged in the lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as a reaction to greater Russification and suppression of Polish culture culminating in a law forcing conscription of all young men into the Russian army. The Uprising involved around 1200 battles and skirmishes against a standing Russian army of around 300,000.

The leaders found some diplomatic support from the other Western powers but nothing in the way of concrete financial or military help. However in Istanbul, many members of the Polish diaspora did try to help. It was this conflict that I think gave rise to the family legend that Theodore had his young children placed in an orphanage in order for him to return and fight for his country. His compatriot Ratynski was involved in securing munitions and helped to organise a unit to return to Poland. This contingent left Istanbul in 1863 and got as far as Moldova before being beaten back. We just do not know if Theodore was actually part of this action but it is interesting to note that Christina and Sophie would have been 10 and 6 years old respectively while Marie was just a toddler. The story has come down Christina’s line but not Marie’s but she would have been just too young to have any memory of this. As it happens there are no records for any of the children being placed in an orphanage at this time so it appears this story has been mixed up with other unrelated events that happened later on.

The revolt in Poland was completely defeated in 1864 and once again led to massive and very harsh reprisals against insurgents causing a fresh wave of refugees to flood into Istanbul.

Russo-Ottoman War

The last conflict involving the Poles was the Russo Ottoman War of 1877-78 in which the Ottomans were soundly beaten. It seems unlikely that Theodore took any role in this as he was by this time quite elderly. The failure of this campaign and waning support from the Ottoman regime however caused many Poles to give up all hope in further insurrections and become completely resigned to the terminal loss of their homeland.

Final Years

The loss of hope in the Polish national cause seems to have coincided with a decline in the Puchalski’s domestic fortunes, as the family sadly fell apart and into penury.

Angela died aged just 36 in Sept 1873, cause unknown. She was buried in a “temporary” grave in the Ferikoy Latin RC Cemetery, so the family clearly did not have any money to buy a plot and perhaps Theodore was unable to work or make enough to make ends meet.

Christina age 21 (1874)

At this time, Christina was working as a dress designer and living above the shop at Madame Demilleville’s, 303, Grande Rue de Pera. Her sister Sophie was 16 so may have worked there too but she was soon to marry (in February 1874 to a Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Burguy).

This left their 61 year old father with Marie age 13, who had lifelong eyesight problems and was possibly blind, and 6 year old Leonard.  My Great Grandfather Henri Callus had been ‘courting’ Christina around this time, but years passed and by the age of 30 people must have long considered her “left on the shelf”. It is now clear that this was because she had a duty as the eldest child, to look after her father.

St Joseph’s Orphelinat entrance on Boğazkesen (Throat slitter Street)! Istanbul.


In July 1874, Marie was placed in the St Joseph’s orphanage on Boğazkesen Caddesi where she was to remain until March 1876. Her brother Leonard was known throughout his adult life as Leonard Brossart, which makes me suspect that he may have been fostered out or even adopted by another family.


St Joseph’s Orphelinat (now The Secret Garden). Photo: Jude Mulcahy

In the early 1880s scandal rocked the family.  Marie was given an eye operation by a very famous ophthalmologist of international repute and standing called Dr Edwin van Millingen. This took place at the St Joseph’s orphanage where perhaps she had gone back to, to work. In the old fashioned sense of the word, he seduced her and she became pregnant. Marie’s baby called Mary, was born in Graz in Austria in June 1880. As Edwin had done his medical training in Vienna he must have sent her there for her confinement as Marie would certainly not have had the means to do so on her own. Inevitably, when she returned with the baby the truth got out.

It must have been a huge scandal at the time, as for one, Edwin was already married and for two, he resolutely refused to give her up despite the class divide and the approbation of his family and society at large.  He must have set her up in another house because in 1882, they had a second child together, which they called Edwin. It seems (in what must have been quite a rare state of affairs), the seducer did not abandon his quarry because he was in fact madly in love with her. (Her grand daughter Cora told me she also happened to be incredibly beautiful)!

Meanwhile Sophie was abandoned by her husband who went to live in Marseille, presumably with another woman, leaving her with 2 young children to feed on her own and no income. So she found work in the Pera district as a seamstress and “modiste” (bonnet maker).

Both situations must have been very hard for Theodore to take and it seems likely led to estrangement from his youngest daughter. He died in 1882 aged 70 and was also interred in a temporary grave in Ferikoy cemetery.

In 1884 the law in France was changed to allow divorce and Sophie immediately instigated it. The same month her divorce came through, Christina was finally able to marry Henri at the church of St Peter and St Paul in Galata. Unusually the marriage is also registered with the church of St Anthony of Padua and when the couple moved to Cardiff in the UK the following year, they registered the marriage again with the British Registry Office. It seems they were determined to ensure that no impediment would be allowed to separate them again.  Finally in December 1884, Edwin’s Austrian wife Johanna died and just 10 days later, he married Marie (with their third child on the way)!

So what to make of my revolutionary forebear?  It is puzzling that his children did not provide a decent burial although of course it may be that it was genuinely beyond their means. Or it may be that they found their father hard to love – a romantic idealist forever looking back to an imagined golden age and wishing for a future that could never be realised? Such people can be hard to live with; uncompromising in their goals, inflexible and dogmatic in their values and beliefs. Maybe they felt as a family they had already sacrificed enough. Can it be a coincidence that all the children changed their surnames to a Frenchified version – Pouhalski/y apart from Leonard whose name changed to Brossart (also French)! Surely something that Theodore the patriot could not possibly have tolerated in his lifetime?!

Ultimately though I feel rather sad that Theodore and Angela ended up in pauper graves. Theodore was one of many exiles who took big risks, traveled enormous distances across Europe and made great sacrifices for the Polish cause yet died penniless and in obscurity, far from his beloved homeland.  I hope therefore that my retelling of this story will serve as a way of providing some recognition for his and his compatriots’ efforts.


I would like to thank the very long list of individuals who have helped me with this research including: Guido Buldrini, Marie Ann Marandet, Craig Encer, Andrew and Armina Callus, Judith Mulcahy, Archives of St Vincent de Paul & the Sisters of Chariteé in Paris, Paulina Dominik, Beata Page, Magda Glodek at the Bibliotheque Polonaise Paris, members of the Citi-data Forum.


1 List of Polish Refugees sent to the Sublime Porte, March 1850, Archives of the National Ossoliński Institute in Wroclaw, AZNiO 6514/I.

2Dominik, P. (2015), From the Polish Times of Pera: Late Ottoman Istanbul through the Lens of Polish Emigration. History Takes Place: Istanbul. Dynamics of Urban Change, (eds.) Anna Hofmann & Ayşe Öncü, Jovis Verlag, GmbH, 2015, 92-103.

3Civil Record Archives for Messina at: Antenati – Gli Archivi per la Ricerca Anagrafica

4Italian National Biography at: http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/gaetano-ainis_(Dizionario-Biografico)/

5Polski Slownik Biograficzny (volumes 30 and 34).

A Georgian Church in Istanbul at: https://georgiasomethingyouknowwhatever.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/a-georgian-catholic-church-in-istanbul/

Letter excerpt from T.T. Jez at https://humaozay.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/adam-mickiewicz.html

7 http://poloniaottomanica.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/polish-seyfeddin-istanbul-tribune-des.html

More maps of Polish Istanbul at: http://polskistambul.blogspot.co.uk/ (English language version no longer available).

The Forty-eighters: Polish Exiles and the Spring of Nations

The Forty-eighters: Polish Exiles and the Spring of Nations

Welcome to the latest instalment of my family history exploring my Polish roots dating back to the late eighteenth century.  My last post started with my Great Great Great Grandfather Theodore Puchalski (born c. 1780s in Poland), in the Polish Partition and Napoleonic eras, then described what happened to his son, also called Theodore (b. about 1812) after the 1830-1 November Uprising and his exile to France. In this post I will explore Theodore II’s possible role in the 1848 Revolutions and how he ended up moving to Istanbul in the Ottoman Empire.

Background to the 1848 Revolts

In the year 1848, a number of revolutions known as the ‘Spring of Nations’ swept across Europe. The first was in Sicily, centred around Palermo and Messina, and made Sicily an independent state for 16 months until it was retaken by the royalists. France followed with demonstrations in Paris which resulted in the abdication of King Louis Phillippe in favour of the Second Republic (Gessner, 1998). These successes inspired nationalist uprisings seeking constitutional change further afield; in Italy, Germany (Prussia), the Austrian Empire which included Hungary and parts of what was formerly Greater Poland (Galicia, Belarus, Ruthenia, Ukraine). To a more limited extent, the revolutions spread to parts of Scandinavia, the Netherlands, the UK (in the form of Chartism) and even to parts of Latin America. The revolutionaries became a cause célèbre across Europe and participants became known as”Forty-eighters”.

Map 1848 Revolutions. Source: ThingLink

Map 1848 Revolutions. Source: ThingLink

Poland as a sovereign nation had ceased to exist by this time, having been absorbed between the 3 major powers of Russia, Prussia and the Habsberg Austrian Empire after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. After the failed Polish Revolt of 1830, thousands of Poles were living in exile, the majority in France (many also in the UK), where they continued to agitate for reinstatement of their homeland through their government in exile, directed from the Hôtel Lambert in Paris.

The Polish exiles were grateful for their refuge in France but typical of refugees’ experience the world over, they were treated with a degree of suspicion and distrust by the authorities and the communities they lived in. Some of the anxiety was, not unreasonably, because there was concern that their political activism might spread and precipitate a further revolution in France.  When revolts started spreading outside of France therefore, the French authorities strongly encouraged the exiles to join up.

In 1837 my Great Great Grandfather, Theodore Puchalski, was one of those Polish exiles living in France at Troyes, about 93 miles south east of Paris, but by 1853, he was living in Istanbul in Turkey, then part of the Ottoman Empire. It is clear therefore that he was one of those who responded to the call to arms. What his life had been like in the intervening years is not known. He was certainly not a professional soldier at the time of the 1830 Revolt, family legend claims he was from the Polish nobility but later documents reveal him to have been a cabinet maker. As he was about 18 years old at the time of the 1830 Revolt, he may have completed an apprenticeship by then or it may be that this was something he took up on his arrival in France in order to start afresh. In 1848, he would have been about 36 years old.


Houses in Troyes, Aube. Source: Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Which Action?

The exiles in France could have joined any number of different campaigns across Europe so trying to work out which one Theodore was involved in and also proving it, is quite a challenge.

The exiles took  their lead from Hôtel Lambert in Paris. For instance, in March 1848, a Polish legion of about 500 men was formed in Rome on the initiative of the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz who also recruited volunteers in Paris. Its aim was the liberation of the Italian people from Austrian (Habsberg) rule (Ref: Wikipedia-Mickiewicz Legion). This detachment of Polish exiles was led by Mikolaj Kaminski.

Another campaign took place in Prussia, where the exiles from France joined the Greater Poland Uprising in Berlin with their leader, Prince Adam Czatoryski.

There was also  a revolt in Austria. The Polish General Jozef Bem was despatched to Vienna in Oct 1848 with a contingent of Polish volunteers from France and arrived just in time to take charge as insurgent forces took up arms against the city. They held out for just a few weeks before the Imperial army surrounded the city and forced their surrender (Gessner, 1998).

My research has revealed however that the vast majority of Poles who arrived in the Ottoman Empire in 1849/50, were those that took part in the Hungarian Revolution.  This is further suggested by church records in Istanbul that reveal Theodore was a close friend or associate of a fellow Polish exile, Jozef Ratynski, who is known to have been a participant in this campaign.

The Hungarian Revolution 1848-9

Lajos Kossuth, President Hungarian Republic. Public Domain.

Lajos Kossuth, President Hungarian Republic. Public Domain.

In 1848, the Kingdom of Hungary was part of the Austrian Empire but had its own parliament, the ‘Diet of Hungary’, and largely  managed its own administration. However liberal idealists drew attention to many of the inequalities in Hungarian society and called for democratic parliamentary representation, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and association, religious freedom, equality in law and taxation, and the abolition of serfdom and other feudal land rights which privileged the nobility and exempted them from taxation. They also called for Transylvania to be reinstated as part of Hungary, an objective not supported by the majority of Romanians who wanted proportional representation and so sided with Austria.

The Revolution was led by Lajos Kossuth, who secured much support in Vienna where he gave a speech shortly after the Paris uprising.   Many of the Polish exiles were drawn to supporting the Hungarian Revolution due to the historical ties that existed between the two nations but also by the fact that the Revolution was directed at two of Poland’s historical adversaries, the Austrians and their supporters, the Russians.

The Polish Legions and the Transylvanian Campaign

Jozef Wysocki by Karoly Rusz. Public Domain.

Jozef Wysocki by Karoly Rusz. Public Domain.

In 1848 two Polish legions were established in Hungary under the command of Generals Jozef Wysocki and Jozef Bem. General Jozef Wysocki published a memoire of the Hungarian campaign in 1850, a copy of which is kept at the British Library and is a public domain publication. Although it seems to be only available in Polish, (which means sadly I cannot read it), it lists over 700 Polish officers, soldiers and civilians who made up his Legion. Theodore Puchalski and Jozef Ratynski are not listed which seems to reinforce the likelihood that these two fought under General Jozef Bem instead.


General Jozef Bem (aka Murad Paşa/Pasha.

General Jozef Bem (aka Murad Paşa/Pasha.

Jozef Bem was born 1794 in Galicia, Poland. He was rather a small man, but he was considered a very charismatic leader. He was educated at the Warsaw military school and joined the Polish division of the French forces.  A veteran of Napoleon’’s Grand Armée, he was awarded the Legion d’honneur in 1813 for his role in the defence of Danzig (Gdansk). He  took part in the 1830 Uprising and escaped to France where he was  a key player in the activities of the Hôtel Lambert. He was also was a mathematician, teacher and an engineer interested in research, and published works on history, technology and the military.

In 1848, after escaping from Vienna, Bem was put in charge of the Hungarian Székely forces in Transylvania. The reintegration of Transylvania as an autonomous region of Hungary was a key objective of the Hungarian Revolution and the Székely were an ethnic sub-group of Hungarians living in Romania who strongly supported this (Encyclopedia at Theodora.com).  This campaign in Transylvania was supplemented by Polish and Italian volunteers.

Although frequently heavily outnumbered, Bem’s forces had some notable victories and recovered Transylvania for Hungary in February 1849. After relieving Transylvania he successfully attacked the Austrian forces in the Southern Banat region around Orşova, but had to return to try to take back Transylvania when Russian reinforcements arrived there. Fierce fighting continued through the summer, but by the end of July his army was annihilated by overwhelming numbers in the Battle of Segesvár (near Segesvár, now Sighişoara, Romania), Bem escaping only by feigning death (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Battle of Segesvar, 1849.

Battle of Segesvár, 1849 by László Bellony. Public Domain.

The Revolution was failing elsewhere too. There was an attempt to consolidate all the Hungarian forces for a final push in August, which failed due to the incompetence of the commander in chief, General Dembinski, who was relieved of his command as a consequence (Szabó, 1999). He was replaced by Bem.

Battle of Temesvár 1849. Lithograph. Public Domain.

Battle of Temesvár 1849. Lithograph. Public Domain.

The last major engagement of the Revolution took part at the Battle of Temesvár (now Timişoara, Romania), on August 9.  When Bem was injured falling from his horse, there was no-one left to take overall command and they were defeated. At this point some soldiers deserted and decided to return home. The Hungarians formally surrendered on 13 August 1849 at Világos in Romania.

Surrender at Vilagos 1849.

Surrender at Világos 1849. Painter unknown. Public Domain.

According to János Szabó, defeat was followed by a large-scale and brutal put down of the Hungarian rebels by the Austrians, whose commander in chief von Haynau declared:

“I shall uproot the weed. I shall set an example to the whole of Europe of how rebels should be treated and how order, peace and tranquillity should be ensured for a century.”

The retribution started with the execution of Hungary’s former first prime minister, Batthyány, who died before a firing squad on October 6 and the hanging of 13 Hungarian Generals. On Haynau’s orders, more than 100 people were executed, 1,200 Imperial officers fighting on the Hungarian side were sentenced to imprisonment, and an additional 40,000 to 50,000 officers and soldiers were drafted into the Imperial army.

Execution of the Hungarian Generals (update titles)

Execution of the Martyrs of Arad by János Thorma. Public Domain.

The Fate of the Refugees

The majority of the defeated rebels fled south as a single unit, crossing the Danube to reach the border of the Ottoman Empire around the end of August. Among them was General Bem, who although seriously wounded,  managed to escape with his officers.  There, about 5000 of the remaining forces, which included Hungarians, Italians and around 1000 Polish volunteers, were offered asylum by the Turks. Lajos Kossuth, the Hungarian Revolution’s leader escaped on 17th August by a different route but was picked up and escorted to the same camp by the Turkish troops (Csorba, 2002).

On arriving at the border, the fleeing soldiers were met by Ottoman soldiers and officials who asked them to hand over their horses and weapons. A number of memoirs describe this as a traumatic experience even though the Turks promised that they would be returned. For many this added to the humiliation of surrendering to the enemy and also deprived them of their only possessions.  They were interned in a camp in Vidin in Bulgaria while it was decided what to do with them. A number of camp followers including the wives and children of soldiers also made it to the camp and others trickled over the border in the weeks that followed the surrender. They received preferential treatment in the allocation of tents and provisions (Toth, 2014).

However conditions in the camp were terrible. Many soldiers were destitute and for much of the time were cold and hungry. Cholera broke out and many died of this or other disease (Csorba estimates as many as 400-600). The camp was strictly guarded and only the higher ranked officers and civilians were allowed to enter the town of Vidin for any kind of respite. The rest had to spend their time kicking their heels or playing cards (Toth, 2014). About 50 Hungarians tried to escape but were recaptured and brought back. When threatened with court martial for desertion they replied:

“We left, as it were, because we preferred to be shot to death at home rather than die here of hunger, cold or the cholera.” (Veress, quoted in Toth, 2014).

Negotiations with the Austrians and Russians were tense and protracted but it was eventually agreed that the rank and file could return to Austria on condition that the men were conscripted into the Austrian army. On 21 October, about 3156 Hungarian, Polish and Italian soldiers returned home under the Austrian terms (Csorba, 2002).

Apostasy – the Islamic Conversions

An amnesty for General Bem and his officers was however definitely not on the cards. The Austrians demanded their extradition and if they had got their way, then these men would almost certainly have been tried and executed for treason. Instead under international rules, if they converted to Islam and assumed Turkish citizenship they could not be returned.  In all, around 250 refugees took this step including 216 Hungarians, 7 Polish and 15 Italian. They included Bem who took the name Murad Pasha and around 15 women who were camp followers (Csorba, 2002).

The Polish community was strictly Roman Catholic and the decision of some refugees to convert to Islam was not received favourably by their countrymen, at home or abroad, for whom such an action was beyond the pale. It was also seen as a denial of their Polish identity. Many of the converts were derided and ostracised thereafter. General Wysocki forbade any of his soldiers from converting saying it would stain Polish honour for generations to come (Dominik, 2015).

As it happened, the Sultan advised the converts that they would be free to convert back to Christianity in due course but in practice few did because in return, the Turks gave them lucrative positions in the Ottoman military and administration. Jozef Bem was made a Pasha and given the Governorship of Aleppo. He died there of malaria in 1850 but was eventually buried in his birthplace of Tarnow in Galicia.

Moving On: Exile and Settlement

In early November 1849 the remaining Polish and Hungarian refugees were moved from Vidin to Shumla (Shumen, in Bulgaria), while the Italians were transferred to Gallipoli.

Eventually, it was agreed to settle the Hungarians in the Turkish interior where they could not easily make their way back to the Russian and Austrian borders. They were sent to Kutahya and Konya. One of Kossuth’s key concerns was that the Hungarian refugees should not be dispersed. Their revolution, like the Poles, had been one of national identity and culture as much as constitutional change and dispersal would have encouraged assimilation. He wanted to establish a Hungarian colony near Izmir like the one the Poles had established near Istanbul as Polonezkoy but this never came to pass. Kossuth and 50 of his comrades left Shumla in February 1850, arriving in Kutahya in April. Shortly after the American Congress invited them to the USA and about half left including Kossuth. Many also moved to the UK (ibid).

Meanwhile the remaining Poles were directed to leave the Ottoman Empire altogether. The majority of refugees however stayed in Shumla with support from the Ottoman Empire but others made their way to Istanbul. Some of these went to the small Polish colony of Polonezkoy or Adampol which had been established by Michał Czajkowski in 1842 with land bought by Prince Adam Czartoryski from the French Lazarists community near Istanbul.

In 1853 my Great Great Grandfather Theodore Puchalski turns up in the records in Istanbul as a Polish exile along with Jozef Ratynski.  It seem probable that both would have been interned at Vidin and Shumla and come to Istanbul via that route, although some soldiers may well have escaped individually or in small groups and made their own way inland. There is no record of either having lived at Polonezkoy.

So why did he not return to his homeland after an amnesty was offered, or return to France, his original place of refuge? I think the answer must be that many of the Polish exiles still clung to the hope that they might yet get another chance to fight and also many of those who had rebelled back in 1830 did not believe they would be safe returning home. The Ottoman Empire had had many run-ins with Russia and was much closer geographically to the disputed territories for those hoping to fight on. As for France, presumably Theodore did not have any dependents or ties there.


Csorba, György, (2002), Hungarian Emigrants of 1848-9 in the Ottoman Empire, Ankara.

Dominik, P. (2015), From the Polish Times of Pera: Late Ottoman Istanbul through the Lens of Polish Emigration. History Takes Place: Istanbul. Dynamics of Urban Change, (eds.) Anna Hofmann & Ayşe Öncü, Jovis Verlag, GmbH, 2015, 92-103.

Encyclopedia Britannica at https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jozef-Zachariasz-Bem

Encyclopedia at http://www.theodora.com/encyclopedia/b/josef_bem.html

Gessner, P.K. (1998), General Josef Bem: Polish and Hungarian Leader (1795-1850). Website: http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/bem.html

Szabó, János B. (1999), Hungary’s War of Independence. Military History, August 1999. (reproduced at History.net).

Letter: A E Callus to Frank Callus dated 11 June 1965, pp 1-6, c/o Mr A. Callus.

Tóth, Heléna (2014), An Exiled Generation: German and Hungarian Refugees of Revolution, 1848-1871, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 38-9.

Wysocki, J. (1850), Pamiętnik Jenerała W. dowodzcy Legionu Polskiego na Węgrzech z czasa Kampanii węgierskij w roku 1848 i 1849. British Library Historical Print Collections.


The Polish Partitions, Revolts and Great Migration – My ancestral odyssey

Flag of the Polish November Uprising. Source: Wikimedia Commons

This post is the first chapter in a series I plan to publish on my Polish ancestry. It is linked to my main Puchalski/Pouhalski page which provides an initial introduction and overview.

The true story of how my Polish ancestors ended up in Ottoman Constantinople in the mid 19th century, has long been an intriguing mystery. My family has always said that my Great Grandmother, Christina Callus nee Puchalski, (aka Pouhalski), was born in Poland but had to flee with her family to Constantinople (Istanbul), during the Polish Uprisings. It was also claimed that she and her two sisters and a brother, were placed in an orphanage so that her parents could return to continue the fight.  New information has recently come to light which finally places my family’s story within the historical context of Poland’s difficult and fiercely fought struggle for independence and its national identity. Once again, it seems that my family recollections are not without substance after all.

Our story begins with the Polish Partitions…

Background to the Partitions of Poland

“The Polish national movement had the longest pedigree, the best credentials. the greatest determination, the worst press, and the least success.”

(Norman Davies, 1996).

A weak constitution and a civil war in Poland in 1768 made the country vulnerable to attack by its neighbours, the powerful states of Russia, Prussia and the Habsburg Empire. In 1772, each moved into Poland to take over some of its territory in an act that became known as the First Partition.

Territorial Changes of Poland 1772 by Esemono - Own work, Public Domain, Link

Territorial Changes of Poland 1772 by Esemono – Own work, Public Domain, Link

Despite efforts in Poland to strengthen their constitution and defend the nation against further incursions, two further Partitions were made in the 1790s which completely absorbed Poland into its neighbour’s territories and extinguished Poland as a sovereign state, a position it was not able to reverse until the end of World War 1 (Online Encyclopedia Britannica).


Territorial Changes of Poland 1795 by Esemono - Own work, Public Domain, Link

Territorial Changes of Poland 1795 by Esemono – Own work, Public Domain, Link

In 1807, part of Poland briefly re-emerged when Napoleon Bonaparte created the Duchy of Warsaw as an independent Polish state out of the Prussian part of Poland. This became the focal point for nationalist efforts to restore Poland’s former boundaries.

Polish lancers of Napoleon by J. Chelminski. Source: Pinterest.

Napoleon’s Polish lancers by J. Chelminski. Source: Pinterest.

The Code Napoleon was adopted in Poland and the French model imposed for its constitution. The Poles started to pin their hopes on Napoleon for the restoration of their homeland. Many were fervent admirers and Polish troops some of his most loyal legions. In fact, the Poles are the only people in the world to sing about Bonaparte in their national anthem (Nieuwazny, A, 1998)!

There is a story in our family that one of our Puchalski ancestors was a Count who fought and died for Napoleon in one his Polish cavalry legions at the Battle of Waterloo! The most likely candidate would be Theodore Puchalski senior, the father of my Great Great Grandfather, Theodore Puchalski, born about 1812.

There was indeed a Polish officer at Waterloo called Puchalski but his first name was Joseph and he was the Inspector of Military Hospitals (The Army of Grand Duchy of Warsaw)!

Polish lancers bearing a captured standard

Polish lancers bearing a captured standard

However there is another potential candidate referred to just as “Capitaine Puchalski”, who in the 1807 Dirschau campaign (on the west bank of the Vistula) was awarded the Legion d’honneur (D. Chlapowski, 1908). This Puchalski was a member of the Polish legion under Dombrowski, who fought with Napoleon in his earliest campaigns in Italy. Dombrowski was one of Poland’s most famous generals and a cavalry expert.  It would be fantastic if it could be confirmed the Capitaine was Theodore but it needs further research!

Unfortunately for the Poles, when Napoleon’s campaign in Russia failed, their own fate was sealed. After Napoleon’s defeat, 8 of the major powers met at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to decide how Napoleon’s conquests would be divided among them. (These were Russia, Prussia, Austria, Great Britain, France, Sweden, Spain and Portugal). It was eventually decided that the Russian and Prussian areas of Poland would be given up to create the Congress Kingdom of Poland which was to be a nominally autonomous kingdom under Tsar Alexander I of Russia. The Duchy of Warsaw was made a separate kingdom under the sovereignty of the Tsar.

The First Polish Revolt 1830-1

In July 1830, a popular Revolt broke out in Paris. Despite Napoleon’s downfall, Poles still regarded the French as their allies so when Tsar Nicholas I sought to help suppress the Revolt by using his Polish troops, a secret society of cadets in Warsaw staged an uprising and attempted to assassinate the Tsar’s brother, Grand Duke Constantine, who was their Commander in Chief. This was the beginning of the Polish revolt know as the November Uprising of 1830.

The cadets had only partial success but their actions inspired others and the rebellion extended across the former Congress Kingdom of Poland as far as Belarus and Ukraine. Unfortunately for them, although the much smaller contingent of about 40,000 Polish insurgents fought some brave battles (among them many civilians and even women), they did not manage to capitalise on their gains and eventually the superior might of Russia crushed the Revolt, culminating in an attack on Warsaw in September 1831 which caused the insurgents to retreat to Prussia and finally to surrender (Encyclopedia Britannica).

The Great Migration

Meeting of Polish exiles in Belgium c. 1830 xylograph. Public Domain.

Meeting of Polish exiles in Belgium c. 1830 Xylograph. Public Domain.

Thus began what is known in Poland as ‘The Great Migration’ which lasted between 1831-70.  Many exiles fled to the UK. As an interesting aside, Len Goodman, the celebrity judge on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, appeared on BBC1’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ genealogy programme in 2011 and found out that his Great Great Grandfather, Wincenty Sosnowski, was one of the anti-Tsarist Poles who took part in the 1830-1 uprising and ended up in the UK in 1834 after a year in a Prussian prison!  The vast majority of emigres however, made their way to France. In total, it has been estimated that 6000 Poles became political emigres between 1830-70 (Zubrzycki, J. Wikipedia).

Among these exiles was my Great Great Grandfather, Theodore Puchalski. The evidence for this is contained in an almanac published in Paris in 1837 by the Comte de Tabasz-Krosnowski. The Count produced this important document to bear witness to all the Poles forced into exile.  In his introduction he says:

“Several thousand Poles vegetate in exile.  One day history and posterity will send their names. Today even our compatriots left on the native soil want to know the names of those exiles who did not shrink from this sacrifice. To snatch, to forget these martyrs of the most holy cause, to offer their names to the esteem of the nations and to the hope of the country, is the goal which I proposed to myself by publishing this historic Almanach or Souvenir of Polish emigration which contains the list of Polanais spread abroad.  And, above all, in France, in that noble France, which, in the midst of our disasters, remembered its old friendship, and extended to us protective arms. The warriors of the empire will here find brothers in arms emulated by their glory. Twenty five years have triumphed for the same cause on the same battlefield. We also owe a deep gratitude to the other nations, all rivaled with zeal for goodwill in welcoming the Poles. The difficulties which I have had to overcome in the execution of this and the lack of official documents, it was necessary to have recourse to the Poles themselves, but several of them for personal reasons did not wish to appear on this list….”

Paris 3 May 1837. (Translation excerpt c/o Google Translate).

The almanac is arranged by name, place of birth (where known), rank, unit and the town exiled to. There are many individuals with no rank cited suggesting they were civilians, including Theodore. He was exiled to Troyes in the Aube/Champagne region of France along with 30-40 others.

How can I be certain this Theodore was my Theodore? In truth I cannot be categorical but the circumstantial evidence fits with the stories we have inherited. Previous researches I have commissioned from the Russian State Archives have found no other person of this name during this period, suggesting that while the surname may be common, the combined first name and surname are not.

A Government in Exile – Hôtel Lambert, Paris

Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski c. 1830. Public domain.

Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski c. 1830. Public domain.

The Polish government in exile was based in the Hôtel Lambert in Paris and was established by Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski, its leader, with embassies in London and Istanbul. The Hôtel Lambert was a grand mansion townhouse, on the Quai Anjou on the eastern tip of the Île Saint-Louis, in 4th arrondissement of Paris, bought by Czartoryski in 1843. The Hôtel Lambert’s political agenda was in support of the liberal democratic principles of the 3 May 1791 Polish-Lithuanian Constitution and keeping the plight of the Polish cause on the international stage. It also became a safe house for emigres and dissidents. 

Hôtel Lambert, Paris, by Tangopaso (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hôtel Lambert, Paris, by Tangopaso (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Hôtel Lambert also created a centre for the preservation and promotion of Polish culture. Key figures among the emigres were Frédéric Chopin, Zygmunt Krasiński, Alphonse de Lamartine, George Sand, Honoré de Balzac, Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, Eugène Delacroix, and Adam Mickiewicz. In fact, Chopin’s “La Polonaise” was composed expressly for the Polish ball held there every year (Wikipedia-Hotel Lambert).

Ball at Hotel Lambert, Paris, with Chopin playing and Prince Czartoryski observing. Teofil Kwiatkowski [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ball at Hotel Lambert, Paris, with Chopin playing and Prince Czartoryski observing. Teofil Kwiatkowski [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Another important institution created by the exiles was the Polish Library in Paris. It was founded in 1838 and still exists today on the Quai d’Orleans, a short walk from the site of Hôtel Lambert. It also accommodates, next door, 3 small museums to Chopin, Mickiewicz and the sculptor Biegas. It houses over 145,000 books and many thousands of other important historical artefacts relating to Polish history and culture.

Polish Library, 8, Quai d'Orleans, Paris. By Cancre (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Polish Library, 8, Quai d’Orleans, Paris.
By Cancre (Own work) [GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

A Temporary Refuge

Many emigres such as Theodore did not stay in France. When in 1848, a series of revolutions swept across Western Europe, he and many of his compatriots, once again joined the cause in the hope that in the process, Russia, Prussia and Austria would be pushed back out of Poland and Polish national identity and culture restored. This will be the subject of my next post.

Further Information and References

Davies, N. (1997), Europe: a History, (New ed. 1997), Pimlico: London.

Nieuwazny, A. (1998), Napoleon and Polish Identity, in History Today, Vol. 48, Issue 5, 5 May 1998.

For an extensive and very good overview of Polish military history, this website is hard to beat: http://napolun.com/mirror/napoleonistyka.atspace.com/polish_army.html


Chlapowski, Desire,  Memoires sur les guerres de Napoleon 1806-1813. Traduits par M.M. Jan V. Chelminski et le Commandant A. Malibran. (3rd ed., 1908), Plons-Nourrit, Paris (N.B. This is a big file to download as it is the entire book in pdf, patience is needed as it can be slow)!

Diacono Family Tree c.1600-1800

Ragusa, Sicily. © V.A. Leeming

Ragusa, Sicily. © V.A. Leeming

My maternal ancestry from Marie Ann Callus nee Griscti goes back to a Sicilian baron from Ragusa known as Vincenzo Lo Iacono (the deacon) or Diacono. He moved to Malta c. 1600.  It is this pedigree that possibly gave rise to the notion that my Griscti ancestors believed they were descended from the Maltese nobility as the Baron was unlikely to have married into an untitled family.

For more information please visit my new page for Diacono/Lo Iacono which includes the family pedigree from Marie-Ann back to this Sicilian baron.

As an aside, fans of ‘Inspector Montalbano’ will recognise Ragusa as one of the settings for the TV series!

Genealogy Brick Walls – A Callus Family Tree Correction

©Janet Kelly - 2015

© Janet Kelly – 2015

I am taking down my post ‘Callus Family Trees – Malta 1686 – 1811’ due to an error I’ve made attaching the oldest parentage on the family tree. Happily this new post will provide an updated tree which I am  confident is correct.

From time to time every keen family historian will come up against a brick wall. How to get around it can be time consuming and frustrating. Sometimes it just means no more can be done until new records or leads become available and that may mean some time hence or even never. While it is essential to keep thinking laterally to try and find new connections, it is also tempting to sometimes make speculative leaps. The danger is in allowing these to be presented as certainties when they are anything but!

In my post ‘Callus Family Trees – Malta 1656 – 1811’, I fell into precisely this trap.  The oldest record found was a manuscript image of the marriage for Gregorio Callus and Maruzza Faruggia in 1688 in the parish of Zurrieq in Southern Malta (Archdiocese Malta Archives). Unfortunately the state of the manuscript, the illegible handwriting of the priest and the late medieval Latin abbreviations defeated me. I just could not decipher the names of the parents for Gregorio and Maruzza. Without these names, the ability to go back further generations was nigh on impossible. This was my brick wall!

So how did I then come to decide that Gregorio’s parents were Francesco Callus and Margarita Gristi? Well my “work around” the problem was to scan the baptism records for the parish of Zurrieq to identify any Gregorio Calluses between about 1640 – 70. I found only the one so made the leap of deciding that this must therefore be my man. The same logic could not work for Maruzza Farrugia, his bride. Both her first name and surname were SO common in the district, it was impossible to say which baptism might be hers.

Why then, you may ask, do I now think this approach was wrong?  Well, I had to return to the original marriage manuscript to see if the name of Francesco could be discerned in the record and at the time, thought that it could. On a later viewing though I detected a reference to a Joseph of Casal Crendi, (a little village on the outskirts of Zurrieq), and also the name Callus, which sowed a seed of doubt.  I think now the name I took to be Francesco was actually Farrugia!

I eventually decided I would have to try and get to grips with paleography techniques and archaic Latin terms (oh joy)! The National Archives website provides some useful tips on the paleography of different periods with lots of examples (The National Archives Paleography Tutorial).  I also used a couple of books for working through the Latin (Durie, 2009, and Stuart, 1995). These helped me to pick out a couple of possible leads for the parentage; Maruzza’s father appeared to be abbreviated to Gio Domencio Farrugia but her mother’s name remained undecipherable. Gregorio’s father did indeed appear to be Josephi Callus quondam of Crendi (now Qrendi). The Latin term quondam means the late or deceased.

Marriage 1688 of Gregorio Callus and Maruzza Farrugia, Zurrieq, Malta. With permission J. Massa.

Marriage 18 Sept 1688 of Gregorio Callus and Maruzza Farrugia, Zurrieq, Malta. Source: Josyanne Massa with permission.

My next source of help was a call-out to a French Yahoo Group – La Généalogie à Malte run by Josyanne Massa, to ask if anyone had access to any registers for the parish of Qrendi. Josyanne looked up Gregorio’s marriage from her own records first (i.e. the image reproduced above, which is clearer than the one at AMA), and then located him and his family in the census for Qrendi dating 1681. This showed Gregorio age 17 living with his father, Joseph, 69 and mother, Marietta, 58 in Qrendi. She also found a Will for Gregorio’s mother, Marietta, dated 1691 naming her children as heirs which then enabled me to spot one of Gregorio’s married sisters living next door to him in the census (Francesca)! This is genealogy at its best, being able to triangulate different pieces of evidence. The further back in time you go, the less likely such evidence survives.

Family of Gregorio Callus (Parents, siblings and children) 1690s.

Family of Gregorio Callus (Parents, siblings and children) 1690s.

A certain number of assumptions have had to be made in producing the chart above and there remain some queries to be reconciled with the records. These are outlined below.


Caterinella was the first child to be married (in 1660 to Lorenzo Gristi). Girls were married very young and as her own parents married in 1642, I have therefore assumed she was the first child born c. 1643 which would have made her about 17 when she married. However it appears her father Giuseppe, had a previous marriage to Catherina Bugeja in 1640, so although Caterinella’s marriage record states her parents were Giuseppe and Marietta, there remains a possibility that Marietta may have been her step-mother.

Bartolomea and Maltese Slavery Practices

There are some slight anomalies associated with another daughter, Bartolomea. In the 1691 will of Marietta, she is described as the widow of Battista Grech. However by 1691 she had already remarried Pietro Paolo Vella (in 1689). It may be that the Will was written before she remarried and the record date is the date of probate, I’m not sure.

An interesting note about her first husband is that on their marriage record he is recorded as being a baptised slave. The marriage (dated 18 Jan 1671) also records his name as Gio Battista Verrela not Grech. We do not know what his original religion was, but the likelihood is that he was a muslim as the Maltese were known to enslave any muslims they took captive on the high seas or during raids on the North African (Barbary) coast. However Jews were also taken into slavery and of course if Christians were captured by the Turks or North Africans, they could expect the same treatment!

The vast majority of slaves on Malta were male and were recruited to man the galleys of the Knights of St John. In 1632 there were 1284 galley slaves and 649 privately owned. Some slaves were employed as artisans in the manufacture of sail cloth, others to work as agricultural labourers. A survey commissioned by the Knights in 1645 found only 100 female slaves and these were mainly used for domestic service (P.Cassar, 1968).  The Knights were cautious to prevent insurrections so most slaves were locked up at night in one of a number of slave prisons. Private individuals were only allowed to keep one slave at home and these were not allowed out after sunset (G. Cini, 2002).

Slaves could expect brutal punishments for transgressions but might get slightly better treatment if they converted to Christianity, which many of them did. ‘Battista’ of course means ‘baptised’ (Jean Baptiste  and Gio Battista being popular christian names after John the Baptist).  If they were freed (a process called manumission), then they were also allowed to marry. Many would then take the name of their former owner or their Godfather, adding the prefix ‘de’ or ‘di’ which their descendants then tended to drop (S. Vassalo, Malta Genealogy). The name Verrela may have been his slave owner’s surname. In the records, freed slaves are often referred to as manumesso (m) or manumessa (f) but this is not the case for Battista which begs the question of whether he was actually free at this point. Slaves required special permission to marry and it would have been quite unusual to have married a free person and potentially very stigmatising to be married to a slave. Another possibility is that Battista was the son of a slave, which might have given him some expectation of being released. The appearance of a different name seems to suggest this, the choice of Grech, meaning Greek, being a very common Maltese surname, akin to Smith or Jones in the UK.  However just to complicate things even further, on Bartolomea’s second marriage, she is recorded as the widow of Carlo Battandi. This is rather curious. Was she remarried and widowed again between Battista’s death and her marriage to Pietro Vella? I cannot find another marriage record. What is known from the first marriage record is that Battista’s father was called Carlo, so it is possible this may also have been his own original first name and Battandi his original surname.  All of this is, of course, speculation and must therefore be treated with caution.


Now some observations concerning Francesca. She was aged 25 on the 1681 census for Qrendi, while her husband was 32 and her children, Aloisa aged 3 and Joseph, a few months. Yet she married Antonio Tabone only in October 1681! It seems unlikely that she would have had two children by him out of wedlock, so once again, it is possible that there had been a previous marriage with Antonio’s first wife dying in childbirth (but no record found). In those circumstances, widowers were often quite keen to remarry quickly to provide a step-mother for their children. While this might seem quite a surprising and perhaps an unappealing prospect to young women today, to be unmarried at the grand old age of 25 in 1681 was to be considered ‘left on the shelf’. Marriage was essential for any woman without independent means because it provided financial security for her future and gave her status in the community. In such a tiny place as Qrendi, Francesca probably already knew her husband very well and was only too happy to be asked.  However, Francesca left a will in 1692 naming her cousins on her mother’s side as her main heirs. This suggests that the children on the census may have predeceased her and she may have had no further children of her own.

Facade of Hagar Qim by Hamelin de Guettelet

Facade of Hagar Qim by Hamelin de Guettelet (Own work)

The Parish of Qrendi or Crendi

Finally, a note about Qrendi. It was originally part of the parish of Zurrieq but was made a separate parish in 1618. It is a tiny village, very close to the ancient neolithic temples of Hager Qim, which date back to around 3000 BC, and the Blue Grotto, a famous beauty spot in Malta. It is also noted for having a number of defensive towers built to provide some protection against barbary pirate attacks which were not infrequent.


Revised Callus Family Tree c.1600

With the corrections made above, I can now provide a new family tree chart for the Callus descendants of Gregorio’s parents Giuseppe and Marietta born c. 1612. This particular chart starts from Giuseppe born c.1612 and shows all his (known) descendants up to Andrea born 1811.


Maltese Callus Family Tree c. 1600-1800 (All relatives) Click on image to enlarge (opens in new window). Click again to zoom in.

For more information on the descendants of Gregorio, please visit my previous post:

From the Blue Sea I Took my Name’

How far back can the family be traced now?

Incredibly, I have now been able to trace back the Callus family tree to the time parish records began in Malta – the mid 1500s! This does represent quite a breakthrough as it is a rare thing for non-nobles to be able to go back so far.  I will not share the details just now but will make them the subject of a future post.

Unfortunately I was not so lucky with Marruzza Farrugia. Her father’s name has yet to be located in the records and her mother’s name remains a mystery. Without this and with such a common surname it will be very hard to be absolutely certain as to her parentage. If anyone reading this can make out the names from the image above, do please get in touch.

I would like to acknowledge my sincere gratitude to Josyanne Massa for all her help with this research.

Further information

Yahoo Groups – Malte Genealogie

The National Archives – Guide to Paleography

Cini, G. (2002), Horrible Torture in the Streets of Valletta, Times of Malta 10-06-2002

Cassar, P. (1968), A Medical Service for Slaves in Malta During the Rule of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. Med. Hist. 1968 July; 12 (3): 270-277.

Durie, B. (2009), Scottish Genealogy, The History Press, Stroud. (A useful general guide to genealogy not just Scottish).

Stuart, D. (1995), Latin for Local and Family Historians: a Beginner’s Guide, Phillimore, Chichester.

Malta Genealogy – Released Slaves in Malta and their Spouses, (6 Sept 2016).

Griscti Family Tree

Griscti Family Tree

Marie Anne Griscti’s family migrated from Malta to Smyrna and then Constantinople / Istanbul in Turkey, when she was a baby. To see my new page on the Griscti family tree for Marie Anne Callus nee Griscti of Constantinople (c.1830-1908), click on the Griscti name in the menu bar or visit this link.

This initial research covers my Great Great Grandmother’s paternal ancestry back 3 generations to the late 17th century, including her connection to the Xiberras family. The extended family has also been traced through the decades of the 19th and 20th centuries down to the present day. The new web page charts all these descendants and I will write more about some of these families in future posts.

I would like to record my thanks to Marie Anne Marandet for her extensive help in researching the families of Constantinople and to Geneanum for their excellent digital database on the ADAMI records for Malta.




The Maltese Levantines of Constantinople

Galata Tower 2013. Image © A.M. Fry

Galata Tower 2013 © A.M. Fry

In 1829, at the age of 18, my Great Great Grandfather Andrea Callus was part of a wave of Maltese people choosing migration in search of a better life, who went to Constantinople in Turkey. He was born in Zebbug in Malta in 1811 into a fairly affluent family. His father Joseph was the owner of a large cotton spinning mill but in 1813, disaster struck Malta in the form of an outbreak of bubonic plague which claimed the life of his father while he was still a toddler. In the years that followed, the economy went into a sharp decline and the cotton industry all but vanished. Many people went to North Africa but a sizable number chose to go to Constantinople (Istanbul) and Smyrna (Izmir), both then part of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey in Asia 1772 by Thomas Jefferys. Image c/o ancestryimages.com

Turkey in Asia 1772 by Thomas Jefferys. Image c/o ancestryimages.com

When Andrea arrived, he was not alone. A casual glance through the parish registers of the Latin RC churches throws up many Maltese surnames; Azzopardi, Buttigieg, Borg, Calleja, Cassar, Gristi, Pace, Spitero, and many more. Other Calluses crop up, such as Antonio Callus and Francesca Ascathari who married in Constantinople in 1831. It is possible therefore that this couple migrated at the same time as my ancestor and may even have been related to him.  At its peak, the Maltese community in Constantinople was thought to number around 4000.

Another sizable colony lived in the port city of Smyrna (Izmir). This is where the other half of my Maltese ancestry came from, as around the same time, the family of my Great Great Grandmother Marie Anne Griscti, also migrated to Turkey, while she was still a baby.

In this post I shall focus on the origins and development of the Maltese community in Constantinople in the first half of the nineteenth century; who they were, how and where they lived and how they related to the other communities around them. I will write about the Smyrniot Maltese community in a future post.

Map of the parts of Europe and Asia adjacent to Constantinople (1781).

Map of the parts of Europe and Asia adjacent to Constantinople (1781).

Earliest Maltese Settlers

It might seem strange that so many Maltese would choose to migrate to the territories of their historical arch enemy, the Turks. In truth there were probably always a number of Maltese seafarers in transit around the ports at Constantinople and Smyrna, but because Malta’s rulers, the Knights of St John (Knights Hospitallers), never made peace with the Ottomans, very few settled there. Indeed they would not have been welcome as the Maltese, under the Knights, were heavily engaged in piracy all around the Aegean (Borg, A.). If any muslims were found on ships they boarded they could expect to be sold into slavery by the Maltese corsairs (although this was a fate that was reciprocated).  Unsurprisingly, the Maltese were considered unruly ruffians by the Ottoman Turks, a reputation which proved hard to shake off all along the Eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean as far as Egypt and as late as the early twentieth century. The few Maltese that did live in Turkey may well therefore, have had good reason not to want to return home.

Charles Macfarlane by William Brockedon. Licence: Commons

The Scottish traveler Charles MacFarlane visited Smyrna and Constantinople in 1828 and wrote extensively of his trip. He made several remarks about the quarrelsome and disreputable behaviour of the Maltese lower orders who he also feared were not to be trusted after dark! In fact, so bad was their reputation that the local governor or bey of Galata arranged for several hundred Maltese and Ionians (who were considered just as bad) to be rounded up and summarily shipped off to the Dardanelles.  The bey got into trouble however, when a prominent Ionian doctor got caught up in the sweep and complained to the British Consul who then waded in to the rescue (MacFarlane, 1829)!

The make up of Maltese residents probably only started to change when Malta became part of the British Empire in 1814, because Britain, as one of the western states granted “capitulations” by the Sultan, had a completely different relationship with the Ottoman Empire.

A Brief History of Western European Settlement in Constantinople

Constantinople has always been one of the great cultural melting pots of the world. The city was founded as a Greek colony in about the 7th century BC, then became the capital of the christian Byzantine Empire under Constantine the Great in 324 AD when it was known as Byzantium.

Mehmet II the Conqueror - Gentile Bellini (Public Domain)

Mehmet II the Conqueror – Gentile Bellini (Public Domain)

The Byzantine period continued virtually unbroken until the city was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 under Mehmed II (the Conquerer).  In the final years however the Byzantines lost most of their territories outside the city and trade was taken over by the Venetians and Genoese (Mansel, 1995).  After the conquest, the sultan built his palace at Topkapi and his administration, known as the Sublime Porte, in Stamboul (also known as Sultanahmet). This is the area most visited by tourists today and is where you will also find the Blue Mosque, Haghia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar.

The European side of the city is however, dissected by an inlet called the Golden Horn. On the opposite side of the Golden Horn lie the districts of Galata and Pera, where the majority of Christians who stayed on after the conquest lived. This included the semi-independent colony of Genoese traders who became established in Constantinople in the 13th century. Their base was the triangle of land at the entrance to the Golden Horn, enclosed by thick protective walls and the eponymous Galata Tower which was built in 1349. Although the galatian Genoese had long been allies of the Ottomans, they did actually fight against them during the conquest. Despite this the Sultan recognised the prosperity they brought into the city so allowed them to stay on under his protection as long as they swore loyalty and paid a poll tax. The sultan’s indulgence was also partly motivated by the knowledge that the Venetian navy was more powerful than his, so having a resident community of Italian seafarers provided some additional protection (Mansel, 1995)!

The map below looks out across the Bosphorus from the Asian side of Constantinople to the European side. The water on the left is the Sea of Marmara, the land in the middle is Stamboul. The Golden Horn is the water inlet on the right and the land to the right of it is Galata (surrounded by its walls) and beyond is Pera (Pera means beyond)!

Byzantium sives Constantineopolis by Valvasorri 16 Century. 51-2570, Houghton Library, Harvard University

Emergence of the Levantine Community

As early as the 15th century the Ottomans opened up new trading opportunities to westerners in the form of capitulations (or chapters). The first state to be granted capitulations with the Turks was Venice in 1454. France followed in 1569 and England in 1581.  They were gradually joined by other countries such as Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Poland (Mansel, 1995 & 2012).

The terms of the capitulations granted each state the right to trade freely and to manage their affairs according to the laws of their home nations. This meant that British people who wished to settle in Turkey lived under the jurisdiction of the British Consul. They were exempt from local taxes, were governed by British law and could freely practice their religion. The arrangement was mutually agreeable to the administrative powers in that it provided powerful incentives for traders and entrepreneurs while making things less comfortable for the undesirable elements and runaways from the home countries!

In time these settlers formed a distinct cosmopolitan sub-culture that came to be known as the ‘Levantines’, from the French levant meaning ‘rising in the East.’  Often coming from the better off and more educated classes, a key feature of Levantine society was the niche position it acquired in  the development of trade between East and West.

Up until the 1840s most Levantines spoke Italian or Lingua Franca, (i.e. a simplified version of Italian with ‘loan words’ from other languages widely used around the port cities of the Med.), then French became the dominant language. However the Levantines were also renowned as a polyglot community, most people speaking at least 4 or 5 languages including Greek, Italian, French, Hebrew and English and many also conversant in others such as Turkish, Persian, Armenian and Serbo-croat. This made them useful as go-betweens in the ports and trading districts where they worked as interpreters (dragomen), negotiators, shipping agents, merchants, bankers and so on. Working between Turkish officials, local and incoming  traders and travelers, they often profited from both parties in the exchange. It was precisely these types of roles however, that meant they were perceived as not properly belonging to either East or West. This is typified by the way that visiting compatriots referred to them as ‘Franks’ and worried that their dependency on these middle men meant they might be cheated, while the Turks called them ‘Giaours’, meaning infidels. Many Turks quietly resented the Levantines because they felt that the terms of the capitulations were overly generous to the outsiders! As a result the many different ethnic communities making up the Levantines welded themselves into a single multi-cultural sub-group that looked out for each other, while at the same time looked inwards in terms of passionately preserving their own particular cultural identities and traditions.

The Maltese Community in Galata

Port of Galata, Constantinople. Source: Levantine Heritage Foundation.

Port of Galata, Constantinople. Source: Levantine Heritage Foundation.

The new Maltese migrants were part of this milieu. Although there were many Maltese working as sailors and dockers in Constantinople and Smyrna in the first half of the nineteenth century, increasingly others from the merchant and educated classes started to arrive and establish themselves in the Levantine trades and professions. They included doctors, lawyers, writers and artists and small business entrepreneurs such as my Great Great Grandfather Andrea, who set up business as a ship chandler in the Galata district.

By the mid 1800s he and many others were well established and successful. For instance, some of his Maltese relatives included Emmanuel Griscti, his brother in law, who owned a forge in Galata and his wife’s cousin, Antonio Griscti, who also owned a chandlers. Andrea’s daughter Elise, married Joseph Calleja, whose family also originated from Malta. Joseph and his brother Antoine worked for the Imperial Ottoman Bank which was based in Galata. Meanwhile Joseph Callos (sic, possibly related), was an importer/exporter of window glass. Unusually, his business was based in Stamboul in Eminonu (near the Spice Bazaar) and he lived in Pera.

Prominent examples of Maltese Levantines included Lewis Mizzi, a polyglot of a dozen languages who was the owner and editor of two newspapers; ‘The Levant Herald’, and the ‘Eastern Express’. Mizzi became a famous lawyer in Constantinople in the 1870s, but he was also a scientist and minerologist. When he retired, he returned to Malta, where he became a member of Lord Strickland’s political party.

Count Amedeo Preziosi. Portrait by Nadar 1860-70. Public Domain.

Count Amedeo Preziosi. Nadar 1860-70. Public Domain.

There was also a famous artist, Count Amedeo Preziosi. Born into a noble family in Malta in 1816 he moved to Constantinople in about 1842 at a time when “orientalism” was becoming fashionable, after studying art in Paris. He became famous for his romantic portrayal of oriental scenes in watercolour or pen and ink which were popular with travelers wanting souvenirs. As a typical Levantine, he spoke Turkish, Greek, English, French and Italian and worked for a time as a dragoman as well as a painter. He married a Greek and had 4 children. His studio was in Hamalbasi, opposite the British embassy in Pera but in later years he moved to the quieter district of San Stefano (Yesilkoy). He died in 1882 after a hunting expedition when his rifle accidentally discharged, spraying him in the chest with shrapnel, as he handed the gun to a servant.  He is buried in the catholic cemetery in Yesilkoy.

“In a Turkish Park” by Amedeo Preziosi – Christie’s, LotFinder: entry 5221684. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons 

Life in Galata

Galata (today called Karakoy), accommodated the larger part of the Levantine trading and working community down at the port.

New Quay, Galata. Image c/o LHF.

New Quay, Galata. Image c/o LHF.

Until 1836, there was no bridge across the Golden Horn so local boatmen ferried people to and fro in small boats.  The consequence of this was that most of the inhabitants each side tended to stay put, only crossing when needed so there was a limited amount of intermingling and certainly no socialising between the muslim and christian communities.

Vue de Port. Before construction of the first Galata bridge in 1845, crossing the Golden Horn was via ferrymen manning small crafts. Image c/o postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck.

Vue de Port. Before construction of the first Galata bridge in 1836, crossing the Golden Horn was via small craft manned by ferrymen. Image c/o postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The first bridge was built in 1836 a little way upstream from the current bridge. The second bridge was commissioned in 1845 by Sultan Abdulmecid’s mother, the Valide Sultan, and crossed at the mouth of the Golden Horn in the same location as today’s. It has been rebuilt several times since.

View across to Galta from opposite side of bridge. GH to gal LHFconstantinople28

View across to Galata from Stamboul side of bridge. Source: LHF.

Galata Bridge view pre 1894 with original police station building on the right. Source: LHF.

Galata Bridge view pre 1894 with original police station building on the right. Source: LHF.

Rue Karakeuy, Galata. Source: Levantine Heritage Foundation.

Rue Karakeuy, Galata. Source: Levantine Heritage Foundation.

Julie Pardoe, writing in 1839, observed that Galata was a prosperous enclave, being the focus of European commerce in Constantinople.

“Many of its streets are of considerable width, and some of its houses are inhabited by the principal Frank merchants, of even princely dimensions.”

The Camondo Palace on the shore of the Golden Horn. It is now owned by the Turkish Navy.

An example of one of these “principal Frank merchants” was the Jewish banker Abraham Soloman Camondo. He was the main banker for the Ottoman Empire until the formation of the Imperial Ottoman Bank in 1863 and was fabulously wealthy, owning much property in Galata and Pera. Abraham also built the Camondo steps in Galata c. 1870-80.

The Camondo Stairs in Galata © A. Fry

The Camondo Stairs in Galata

Maltese Houses

Typical balcony of Valletta, Malta. Image c/o V. Leeming 2015.

Typical balcony of Valletta, Malta. Image c/o V. Leeming 2015.

The Maltese tended to own their own houses and built them in their traditional style, which often featured a style of enclosed balcony very typical in Malta.

Maltese balcony in Felek Sok, Galata, Istanbul. Image c/o Maistora. All rights reserved.

Maltese balcony in Felek Sok, Galata, Istanbul. Image c/o Maistora. All rights reserved.

The example on the left is from Malta. It is thought that this style of balcony originated in Moorish  Spain and developed to enable muslim women, who were not allowed outside unaccompanied, to watch what was going on in the streets from a seat in the window.

The balcony on the right can be found on Emre Han, Felek Sokak, next door to the former synagogue now known as Schneidertempel Art Centre, just off Bankalar Caddesi in Galata.

Other examples can be found all over Galata.  This one is unusual in having  Maltese cross symbols on each side.

Yuksek Caldirim, Galata (steps up to top of Galata). Undated. Image c/o Maggie Land Blanck.

Yuksek Caldirim, Galata (steps up to top of Galata). Undated. Image c/o Maggie Land Blanck.

The majority of the population lived up from the Port among the many narrow streets and steep ‘staircases’ lined with houses mostly built of wood. The area was notorious for frequent outbreaks of fire.  The Galata Tower, at the top of the hill was therefore used as a watchtower for fires. In 1829 MacFarlane observed that this was manned by a guard of two or three men night and day to give the alarm when a fire broke out, which they did by beating a tremendous drum suspended in the upper gallery.

Wild fire brigade Istanbul by G Berggren 1835-1920.

Wild fire brigade Istanbul by G Berggren 1835-1920.

The Galata Tower along with the original medieval walls,  marked the boundary between Galata and Pera. However the walls were removed in 1860 in order to enable the development and enlargement of Pera as a fashionable new residential and shopping district for the Levantines.

Francis Bedford - Constantinople - Tower of Galata and Portion of a Turkish Cemetery, May 21, 1862. Source: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Francis Bedford – Constantinople – Tower of Galata and Portion of a Turkish Cemetery, May 21, 1862. Digital image c/o the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Both Pera and Galata were renowned for being over run with packs of feral dogs which prowled the streets and sprawled out in the middle of the roads. At night they kept up a fearful cacophony of barking and howling. The muslim population believed they brought good luck to the city so fed them, but the christians considered them a menace and chased them away or poisoned them. At one point, Sultan Abdulmecid had them all rounded up and shipped off to an island in the Sea of Marmara but there was such an outcry from the Turks that he had to have them all brought back (Mansel, 1995).

Feral dogs in Rue Boujouk-Hendek, Galata, undated. Image c/o postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck.

Feral dogs in Rue Boujouk-Hendek, Galata, undated. Image c/o postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck.

Packs of dogs on Grande Rue de Pera c. 1906 c/o postcard collection Maggie Land Blanck.

Packs of dogs on Grande Rue de Pera c. 1906 c/o postcard collection Maggie Land Blanck.

Dogs on Hamel Bachi, Pera. c/o LHF.


The Maltese community were predominantly Roman Catholic and most frequented the parish church of the apostles St Peter and St Paul in Galata.

Interior of S.S. Peter and Paul RC Church, Galata.

Interior of S.S. Peter and Paul RC Church, Galata.

There has been a church on this site since about 1600. The church that stands today was built by the Fossati brothers in the 1840s and is built into part of the remaining medieval Genoese walls. It is still used today by the Maltese community of Istanbul with masses conducted in Italian.

Inner courtyard of S.S. Peter & Paul RC Church in Galata. The Ottoman Empire did not allow Christians to build churches on top of hills or fronting directly onto any streets.

Inner courtyard of S.S. Peter & Paul RC Church in Galata. The Ottoman Empire did not allow Christians to build churches on tops of hills or fronting directly onto the streets.




In 1848 Andrea Callus married Marie Ann Griscti at this church. They went on to have 14 children who were all baptised here. Like many Levantines, the Maltese preferred to marry into their own community and marriage was seen very much as a way of cementing alliances with and improving the financial security of families. Romantic unions did occur but were not usually the primary concern. There was a 20 year age difference between Andrea and Marie Ann and it is probably no coincidence that both the Callus and Griscti families ran chandlers businesses.




102_0393 Callus memorialAs for deaths, at the other end of the spectrum, the majority of Maltese were interred at Ferikoy cemetery, a few miles north of Pera. There are a few memorial stones within the courtyard of S.S. Peter and Paul, including two Callus’s, and a few burials within the crypt of the church. However most Christian churches simply did not have space for many burials.  This memorial to Filomena Callus is one of the tombstones in the courtyard. Filomena was the daughter of Antonio and Francesca Callus who were married at this church in 1831. They may have been related to Andrea Callus.

The other church used by the Maltese community was St Mary Draperis in Pera.

The other church used by the Maltese community was St Mary Draperis in Pera.

 Social and Geographical Boundaries – Life in Pera

British Embassy Building in Pera.

British Embassy Building in Pera.

The Levantines who lived in Pera enjoyed a different status. On being granted capitulations, each country established an embassy from which to manage and administer its interests. These were built on the hill behind the port area of Galata in the district known as Pera (in Turkish Beyoglu).

Russian Embassy in Pera.

Russian Embassy in Pera.

 In its heyday in the second half of the nineteenth century, Pera became known as the Paris of the East; its main street was called the Grande Rue de Pera and was full of grand and elegant buildings. Alongside the embassies were theatres, grand hotels, fashionable shops selling luxury goods, cafes and bars. Pera was therefore considered the aristocratic or more genteel quarter.

When my Great Great Grandfather arrived in the city in 1829 however, the area had a very different aspect. The general environment was undeveloped as many of the hotels and shops were not yet built. Instead at the top of Pera lay the Grands Champs de Morts, a vast Turkish cemetery with magnificent views across the Bosphoros but which MacFarlane described as:

“a dense grove of gloomy cypresses with crowded white tomb stones glaring from its recesses”.

Constantinople from Grand Champs de Morts, Pera. Engraving by R, Wallis after WH Bartlett pub 1833. Image c/o antiqueprints.com

Constantinople from Grand Champs de Morts, Pera. Engraving by R, Wallis after WH Bartlett pub 1833. Image c/o antiqueprints.com

When MacFarlane first climbed the hill up from Galata to Pera he was struck by how quiet the streets were and how sullen and suspicious the inhabitants looked. He also observed with interest that nearly every third doorway was painted red. The reason he discovered was that in January 1828, the Sultan had expelled all the local Armenians, (their persecution in this city something of a prevailing theme in the history of the Ottomans). The red doorways identified their vacated dwellings which were to be appropriated by the Turks. This expulsion followed on from the rounding up of the Maltese and Ionians. The immediate consequence was an almost complete absence of trade and activity in the district. Such acts must surely have caused some disquiet to new arrivals such as Andrea. There was also a prevailing sense of anxiety in the city about a threatened Russian invasion. It could not have been an auspicious start to his new life.

As for the higher echelons of society, MacFarlane found the Embassy community lacking culture and living a stultifying life. They rarely ventured out of their grand houses except to visit each other at the occasional soiree and had as little to do with the merchant class Levantines as possible.

Even so, any self respecting Levantine trader who wanted to show off their rising social status and wealth did so by moving house up the hill! The further up into Pera you went, the higher your social status!

Petraki Han opposite the Galata Tower. Built in the 1890s and home to Andrea and Marie Ann Callus.

Petraki Han opposite the Galata Tower. Built in the 1890s and home to Andrea and Marie Ann Callus.

As for my great great grandfather, by 1898, he was living with his family in an apartment in Petraki Han, a large, new and fashionable neo-classical style apartment block right opposite the Galata Tower. In true Levantine style, he had made it to the top both topographically and symbolically! Apartments in this building are today available as holiday lets at Istanbul! Place. One of these “Petraki II” is quite possibly the actual apartment of my forebears!

petraki han en face de la tour

In a future post, I will return to the subject of life in Galata and Pera in the latter half of the nineteenth century with more details about my Maltese ancestors and their families and associates.

For my next post I will discuss the life of the Maltese Levantines who lived in Smyrna, another Turkish port city south of Constantinople on the Aegean coast, which had quite a different aspect and culture.





Borg, Alexander, From Sworn Enemies to Fellow EU Applicants: Contradictions, similarities and differences between Maltese and Turkish Societies.

Levantine Heritage Foundation website

MacFarlane, C., (1829), Constantinople in 1828: A Residence of Sixteen Months …, Saunders & Otley, London. (Public Domain – Digitised by Google)

Mansel, P. (2010), Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe in the Mediterranean

Mansel, P. (1995), Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire. Penguin: London

Pardoe, Julie, (1839), The Beauties of the Bosphorous, London.

Ekenci, E.B. (2014), Travellers journal: an-exotic-community-in-the-ottoman-empire-the-levantines

Maltese Balcony Origins

Traditional Maltese Balconies

Uncredited images are the author’s own.