Petraki Han – A memoir by Francis Xavier Calleja (1892-1970).

Petraki Han – A memoir by Francis Xavier Calleja (1892-1970).

Frank Calleja, c.1968

This is the charming memoir of a childhood spent in No.4 Petraki Han, Constantinople. It was written by my grandfather’s first cousin, Frank, (Francis Xavier Calleja) in the 1960s when he was by then living in a little flat in West Kensington, London.

The place he describes, Petraki Han, is a 19th century apartment block directly facing one of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks, the Galata Tower.  Frank was born in 1892 to Maltese parents and lived in Petraki Han for nearly 40 years until the early 1930s.

 

Petraki Han: A memoir by Francis Xavier Calleja (1892-1970).

Translated from the French manuscript by Judith Mulcahy and Esmé Clutterbuck. Transcribed and edited by Angela Fry with explanatory notes and comments in […].

These two words, one Greek, the other Turkish, would make no sense to those who do not belong to this region where races and languages eternally dance their ludicrous saraband, these words, which are indifferent to those who read them, yet so soft upon my ear, so full of charm for me and so rich with memories, these are the names of the house where we lived for more than forty years. We, who are we? We! were my maternal grandparents, my parents, four aunts, my three dear sisters and myself. A matriarchal family one would say.

The occupants of No. 4 Petraki Han c. 1905. L-R back row standing: Emily, Josephine, Hortense Callus, Frank Calleja. L-R middle sitting: Therése Callus, Elise, Marie and Joseph Calleja. Front L-R: Irma, Lydia and Elvira Calleja. The second grandmother, Marie Ann Callus, is not present.

Nowadays families so closely linked by a reciprocal affection, by the same fear of God, by a respect for traditions and by a feeling of duty towards family, are few, and the description of such will perhaps make the youth of today laugh.

But it is in this old fashioned and charming setting that the principal events of my childhood, adolescence and a good part of my youth took place. It is this dear chapter of my memoir which I will try to describe.

“Petraki Han” witnessed my first steps, my first words, my first tears. Petraki Han! Magic words to the memories, which you see, awakened in my soul, are magic words to the gentle ghosts of the past and which inhabit my solitude. Be blessed!

Those who are no longer, and whose names are written on my heart in letters of fire; those who are living still, but whom life has thrown to the four corners of the earth, those, the living and the dead will understand me. The others, strangers who read these lines, these indifferent lines, these stringless guitars as I call them from whom no sound echoes, they will smile perhaps and certainly treat me as a romantic.

Aerial view of Galata. Source: SALT online.

The Petraki Han was situated next to the old Genoese tower of Galata, which formed the Northern limit of the ancient province of the Genoese Republic. There stood the old walls, of which a few vestiges remain still today, starting from the tower and descending on one side towards the Golden Horn and on the other side towards the Bosphorus which encircled the ancient quarters of Galata. These quarters had previously formed, before Byzantium, this part of the small, wealthy republic, which used to face the commercial and less wealthy Venetian Province [Province Vénitienne], which was to be found on the other side of the waters of the Golden Horn.

Galata Tower and remaining Genoese walls 1880

Our house was a great square building on five floors, without any adjoining building. Its large terraced roof, like those popular in the orient, was famed in our close circle for the fresh air and the marvelous spectacle of the view.

Petraki Han apartment building opposite the Galata Tower, 2012.

View to the east to Asian shore and Bosphoros.

 

To the east one could see the Bosphorus, with the Asiatic Coast and the beautiful Haidar Pasha station with its turrets reflected in the Sea of Marmara, further off the Moda holiday resort, and in the distance, fading in the mist one can make out the almost green isle of Fanaraki by its great lighthouse.

View south of the British Seaman’s Hospital, Galata bridge and old Stamboul with the Sea of Marmara  beyond.

 

 

To the south and in the foreground is the English hospital, an architecturally imposing building a bit like a Scottish medieval chateau, behind which tranquilly flows the Golden Horn with its two bridges, those of Galata and Azap Kapisi which in the Caucasian language we used to call “the old bridge”. In the background there was Istanbul with its high hills on top of which are the famous mosques silhouetted against the blue sky with their elegant minarets in white marble. Sometimes in the evening in the moonlight you can pick out behind Istanbul a strip of silver, the Sea of Marmara.

To the west of our house, we have the tower of Galata which hides a lot from us but which at least protects us from the winds from the west, the Tarsanali. Further away the populous working districts of Pera spread out in terraces offering us a view of a jumble of disparate houses, irregular roofs and chimney-stacks.

Galata Tower with Petraki Han on the left c.1918.

This Petraki Han despite fleeting memories, all the same had nothing attractive about it. It was one of these large houses made into flats in a very modest area inhabited only by the lower bourgeoisie without any great wealth, whereas at the beginning and when my family first lived there, the flat was new. I was only 2 then and all my sisters were born there. [Ed. Petraki Han was built around 1895 following a major fire which destroyed most of the buildings in the area]. Thanks to a landlord who was only really interested in the rent, the upkeep of this flat like many others of the same sort, was left to tenants to look after. In the summer we were literally suffocated by a very strong smell which used to penetrate the building caused by a colony of feral cats who lived in the cellars and left the remnants of their food there. The staircases were so dark we used to go up them on all fours because we had an inexplicable fear of going past the large doors that went over the road [Ed. I am not clear what this refers to as the staircases went up the centre of the building, see floor plan below. They were adjacent to a lightwell]. In the evening a smoking gas lamp lit every landing. In winter most of the time, a strong wind whistled and blew through the slightly ajar back door putting out the lamps.  That, for us children made the stairwell all the more sinister and mysterious.

Armenian porter by Edmondo de Amicis, 1883

The old porter, Simon, an Armenian, did not give us cause [for concern?]. He used to wear blue billowing culottes and a Brandebouga gilet, had tufts of hennaed hair sprouting either side of the “Chechia” planted on his head [Ed. a type of Islamic hat] and was nearly always in his little place near the entrance crouched down on an old divan, a trail of smoke coming from his nargile [Turkish water pipe] watching all the comings and goings from the house.

Old ugly incorrigible darling that he was, old Simon was however a really good man. He would ceremoniously accompany the proprietor when he came to collect the rent and always enquired after the tenants’ needs, which despite his promises he always managed to forget. “Something wrong with the kitchen, well how can that possibly be?” “The windows won’t shut you say? But of course we will do everything necessary”. And in a voice that did not admit of a reply, the proprietor gave orders to the faithful Simon who cried out to the Guardian, repeating without ceasing “Pek eyi Efendius! Pek eyi efendius!” [Ed. – sic – Turkish pek iyi Efendi “very good Master”], but naturally he never did anything. These two characters were something of a comedy act.

In spite of the odour from the cats, the dark stairwell and old Simon, the flat where we lived on the second floor was for us sanctuary, where surrounded by the affection of our family we lived happily and carefree. There were cares obviously, certainly there were and many of them, but at this time, they were only ones which our parents took notice of and they did everything possible to protect us from them. The family was large and although the cost of living wasn’t very high we never had anything spare. We couldn’t afford any extras without it having an impact.

Original floor plan of Petraki Han. Source: MA Thesis by
Dilsad Gözübüyük Melek, 2004.

Entering into our house at no. 4 you found yourself in a little rectangular hallway which was quite dark in high summer but practically black in winter. The little light that there was came from two tiny windows one from the living room on the left and one from the dining room opposite, one being completely covered in the winter by heavy door hangings made from wool from Smyrna which father had a penchant for; he had them in all the bedrooms. In summer we took them all down because of the heat and fear of mites. All curtains and rugs were put in a large trunk with naptholine. At the end of October and the beginning of November we began to decorate the apartment again. Everything needed to be ready by the 19th this being a big name day for our good mother. [Ed: The name day is a tradition in some catholic and Eastern orthodox countries. It is similar to a birthday but celebrates the feast day of the named saint, in this case St Elizabeth of Hungary].  Curtains, carpets, trinkets and all other fripperies had to be put back in place for the little ones, and I believe for the big ones as well, an event we always looked forward to! When everything was ready we used to come into the living room on tip toes, proud of our carpet from Brussels, of our beautiful piano, of our large “Glace de St Gobain” [type of mirror], which nearly took up all the height of the room, our Louis XIV furniture which came from our grandfather, and an assortment of goblets and liqueur glasses which at this time were the joy of the whole family. In fact this living room had the air of a museum within which you couldn’t circulate very easily, nothing like this these days.

Cartoon of a Western style 19th century interior. Source: Dilsad Gözübüyük Melek, 2004.

I loved our living room, I took refuge in it but took great pleasure in it when I was bigger and started to learn the piano and with my sisters we received many friends. When we were still little and there were lots of people in it, we were only ever allowed to stay long enough to say hello to the ladies and then sent politely away. This was still the time when children weren’t allowed to hear conversations.

Elvira at the piano with sisters and friends c. 1918.

On Sunday evenings in the winter, our father used to play the violin accompanied at the piano by one of the aunts. The modern cacophony called music hadn’t yet made an appearance. This was Viennese waltzes, ballades and nocturnes which charmed the ears of us children. It’s true that this music sometimes made me cry. I sometimes went and hid behind the curtain in my mother’s bedroom, which adjoined the living room. Here no one ever thought to look for me, I could listen while sobbing to the “Song of love”, “After the ball”, “Always and never” or “The military silence” and why was I crying? I wasn’t unhappy, if it’s ever possible at that age, it was a manifestation of the mind, in this day of isms it was something like sentimentalism if it was ever that simple, but what drove me to these sudden melancholic crises, these reminiscences of the mind, in a life that was neither happy nor unhappy? Was it a premonition of what my life was to be later; the agonising passing of time? Could I already have enlisted that that very instant of our lives, once it’s gone is irremediably lost forever? In summary this little living room, which was all orderly, discrete and intimate, will always remain vivid in my memory.

House party Aug 1918.

So it was a wrench when later, when our father died, we had to separate. When we had to sell off all our family heirlooms it was a catastrophe not because of the material value but for sentimental reasons; we lost all these things and the memories attached to them.

Frank’s father, Joseph Calleja

So in order to continue the description of our flat, next to the living room and adjoining was my parents’ bedroom. I can still see when I think about it, the large bed back against the centre of the wall of the room, surmounted by a large canopy with curtains on either side of lace, white like snow; this bed which assisted most of our entrances to this world and was later the witness to the partings of him that I loved. He suffered atrociously and finally left for another world, supposedly a better world, in the pursuit of modest but unrealised dreams. The bed was taken apart and sold to an old antiques dealer as soon as my father left. [Ed. Joseph Calleja died 16 Sept 1930 and is buried in Ferikoy Latin Cemetery].

On the side a little further away in a corner, there was a little bed. This was mine until the age of eight. I was its first occupant and it then became the bed of all my young sisters until the age of eight. One of the sides came down but as I was a bit of a sleepwalker and could not stay still, and was restless even when sleeping, my parents always kept it shut. The ultra religious education at school as well as at home made me a bit of a mystic. I always dreamed of Jesus and the Madonna, the angels with their wings and halos of gold and standing upright in my bed draped in my long white night shirt and although in a deep sleep would whisper unintelligible prayers to the Lady of the Rosary who was at my bedside. My good mother, still awake, used to approach trying not to frighten me and would very carefully calm me down, arrange my blankets and kiss me. I remember this as clearly as if it was yesterday. Such a long time has passed since and this guardian angel who was my mum is no more and has been at rest for a long time now in the little cemetery at Ferikeuy, still very raw in my emotions.

Parnasse studio front

Frank’s sister, Irma with her parents and Aunt Josephine, probably first communion. Date c. 1905.

Later on and when it was my younger sisters’ turn to share my mother’s room, they prepared me a little corner in another room which [?] overlooked a large light well [clair voie – a partition that lets light in]. This room was divided in two. Father constructed a large cupboard with two shelves, which took up a good quarter of the room. All the clutter that all houses collect were gathered there.

A little dressing table and chair were the other bits of furniture in it. In the winter it was so dark we had to have a lamp on all the time even in the middle of the day. Despite this, it was in this little room that I spent my best years, first my school years and then my college years, which meant I spent long hours studying there in the evenings often until eleven o’clock. My little sister used to come in and being a bit of a tease, would come in on tip toe, tickle my ears and then scream to frighten me. This invariably came to a bad end and my sister used to leave crying. Later on, after the college years and the start of my life, my small and modest room continued to represent for me the saint of saints where I still sought refuge with delight.

Frank as young man. Source: J Neave.

The rest of the flat was occupied by my aunts and my young sisters. One large room in the corner looked out on the northwest side, this was my sisters’ room. In the winter it was a real ice box. When we had a lot of snow the wind whistled and sometimes the snow came through the cracks in the windows, which like the rest of the building, never shut properly. At the beginning of the winter we always tried to seal up the windows but the wind always got through to the great despair of my young sisters and the aunts who felt the cold. This room however, although very exposed to the intemperate climate, was to us children the loveliest room which after big snowfalls we got up to admire the blanket of snow and marvelous ice arabesques.

Terliks or handmade Turkish slippers. Source: Etsy.

For the adults and for the children, the harsh winters of Constantinople constituted an important event; Mum and the aunts plunged themselves into their crafts and looked for bits of woollen material, and under lamplight proceeded to make the “terlicks” [Ed. sic. Turkish word is terlik], little slippers to wear outside […] so as not to slip on the ice. The streets, particularly in the little passageways where we lived, were all downhill and treacherous in the winter.

Life at this time was relatively easy. People mostly stayed at home in bad weather and when the snows came, schools were shut and offices too because of the lack of transport. So in nearly every house families gathered together around a brazier to roast chestnuts in a big pan with roast potatoes in the ashes, eating them all smoking.

Winter streets of Istanbul

Our dining room was in the centre of the flat and adjoined directly every bedroom. I can see it now thinking about it, this central room with its old furniture and tapestries of flowers, where in the evening after a laborious day we all gathered around the large table. How could I ever express what I feel about these intimate evenings. On Saturday night in particular, because the next day was a feast day and we didn’t have to get up early, we extended our evenings to the early hours.

I would read or write, my sisters would be occupied with making embroidery or tapestry while our lovely mum used to sing airs from the opera in a very flute like voice but which still resounds in my ears.

The memory of the night before Christmas those lovely memories of another time are still vivid; when we all used to go to midnight mass at the little church of St. Peter, our parish church [Ed. St Peter and Paul RC Church in Galata].

After the evening meal, always particularly light on that day, we amused ourselves playing dominoes or tombola while waiting for the time when we had to leave for church nearby. Old Aunt Emilie, always the first to signal the time, appeared at eleven thirty, at the door of her bedroom, all ready to go.

Aunt Emily, 1922

It was then when the laughter and teasing began, “Oh Aunt Emilie, you are ready? there’s a good half hour to midnight and the church is only 2 minutes away” but Aunt Emilie didn’t bite, she maintained her composure in all circumstances and said that we shouldn’t run to go and see God but should take our time. And that’s how it was in all things for her until the end of her life, energetic, methodical, and not allowing herself to be impressed or discouraged by anything. She never succumbed to any obstacles.  Her strong character helped her to get through all the vicissitudes of life with courage and there were many of them. She remained always for us a model of a strong and energetic woman, an example to us all.

But coming back to our Christmas Eve, the celebration above all, maintained its particular charm for me, so much so it makes it hard for me to express. When it was time to go to mass, we dressed ourselves warmly and went off with a light step, but carefully because of the snowfall so as not to fall. The road down to the church was steep but that didn’t matter, one fall more or less was of no consequence.

The distance wasn’t great but with the weather dog cold as it always was, we were frozen to our bones, so it was with great relief we went into the little church where there was a large number of the faithful gathered. [There we find] the old organ playing familiar hymns, the large candles on the main alter and the numerous candles on the candelabras making all the precious chalices and sacred vessels twinkle, as well as the tassels on the end of the tapestries that ran around the walls and which were put there to celebrate the great feast day.

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

Entering the church on the left, all down the side there was an enormous straw crib, a masterpiece of old vintage in front of which all the faithful were ecstatic. The donkey and the cow were perhaps disproportionate compared to the other figures who peopled this little corner of Galilee made of glue and papier-mâché. The little houses put there were a bit too like Swiss chalets and had nothing of the local colour. Also in among the papier-mâché were a few beautiful dolls all done out in velvet and lace.  It didn’t matter, no one was looking at the details. The impact of the religious manifestation was above all and just blew away any critical thoughts. We were all in agreement it was a really lovely thing.

Once mass finished, or rather the three masses, because we weren’t able to go home alone and our elders wanted to be part of all three, even though we were falling asleep, we found ourselves back in the street where everything was covered in a blanket of snow. The cold woke us up immediately but the idea of a lovely traditional supper waiting for us was enough to help us forget our tiredness.

Kaimak – Turkish delicacy like a clotted cream. source: Wikimedia.

As soon as we got back we all kissed each other and wished each other Happy Christmas and then sat down to table. Oh the lovely smell of foaming hot chocolate and the exquisite cake made by my mum and the famous Turkish kaimak which always appeared on the table on Christmas Eve after mass. It was so simple but so wonderful.

Once the meal was finished, we exchanged good wishes again and then finally, happy and contented, we went to bed not forgetting to place our slippers somewhere obvious so that Jesus could put some nice things and sweets in them that we had earned during the year. Many times I remained disappointed on finding in the morning when I got up, a piece of coal or onion, indisputable proof because it came from Jesus himself, that I had not been good enough which led to floods of tears, but all swept away when mother suggested that if I made amends, and promised to be good then little Jesus might change his mind – which was always the case!

“Oh, our early days! what would we have become without them?” as Alfred de Musset said in his famous elegy. [Ed. Possibly this refers to the quote “A lively retrospect summons back to us once more our youth, with vivid reflections of its early joys and unstained pleasures.”] I confess it without any embarrassment, I believed in this little legend of Jesus for a long time and in Father Christmas bringing presents to little children who were good and when the time came when I couldn’t believe it any more, it was if there was a real tear (wrench?) inside me, I felt a bit of poetry disappear out of my life and a bit of resentment at having been misled for so long.

In the summer on holidays we assembled on our large terrace with all the people who lived in the block. The adults formed little groups, some chatting, talking politics or fashion [fanfreluches]. The children played ball or flew kites. Sometimes we played “Four corners” [a children’s game] or we danced and sang the old song about le pont d’Avignon. Normally I didn’t join in much with the others; I preferred to shrink into a corner or perch on a wall, my nose in a book. I had a real liking for pink headed books from the library like Le Gribouille or Le General Dourakine or Le Petite Comtesse that I read or reread many times. [These were childrens books written by la Comtesse de Segur born Rostopchine, daughter of the governor of Moskow. She wrote them for her grand children and they were published in a special collection with a red-pink color cover]. These stories from my childhood engrossed me to such an extent that the world around didn’t exist for me anymore. It also meant that I was really annoyed when from a very nearby place I could hear my father or mother’s voice calling me down for a meal.

We gathered together our bits and pieces and went down making a lot of noise on the iron staircase which led from the last floor onto the terrace. Later on this terrace at Petraki was witness to a little love affair without any [good] end it’s true, but which I always remember with much emotion.

Left and Centre – on the roof terrace, with Galata tower just visible. Right – Lydia with puppy (is this Mapi? see below), c. 1920s.

One evening by moonlight I took my little white terrier, “Mapi”, a dog who was afraid of everything and everyone, even his own shadow made him tremble and he would not be comforted. Probably to hide his inferiority complex he made an infernal noise barking at everything everywhere. Some new tenants came to occupy number 7, a German family who were very distinguished, composed of a father, mother, and two young girls, and a young man who was, it seemed at that time, the darling of all the women and young girls of Perote society which meant we never saw him. As always we were very curious to see the new arrivals and that evening my wish was granted thanks to my little dog. The terrace was deserted except for the two young German girls who were alone and admiring the beautiful panorama of the Golden Horn and the minarets bathed in moonlight.

View from the terrace. Image c/o https://www.istanbulplace.com/

Etiquette didn’t permit me to approach them, when my dog, approached by a fly ran towards them furiously barking. I shut him up and went up to them to apologise, which allowed me to present myself and make acquaintances of these two charming sisters. I was immediately attracted to the diaphanous beauty of the older one. She was blonde, very slender, with big grey eyes and a Madonna like look that I would never forget. I don’t know why blondes have always held so much attraction for me because they’ve never brought me much happiness.

Briefly that evening, the great sentimentalist I’ve always been, felt his heart beat a little bit faster and a little more softly. Following that, our respective families got to know each other and met up quite often. Sometimes when we were alone my blonde friend played me waltzes and Chopin nocturnes, which she knew how to embellish.

Both of us had dreams that were never to be realised. The war of 1914-18 arrived to put a stop to our idyll. Forced to leave the country I took refuge in my uncle’s place in Bucharest. [Ed. as Turkey sided with Germany in WW1, the family being British subjects were considered “enemy aliens” and the men risked internment. It was decided they would leave for Romania to stay with Joseph’s brother Octavius Calleja until it was safe to return]. During the first months of my exile I received touching letters but later on our correspondences became rarer and then ceased completely. I heard nothing more about her until my return to Constantinople after the war where I learned that she had married a Swiss German who had lived in our place. This is how the little love affair born on a Petraki rooftop terrace by moonlight ended.

Another memory amongst all the others, is that of the 1st September, the feast day of S.M. Abdul Hamid, given the name The Red Sultan.

Fireworks from the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul. © Photo by Nightstallion03

This day was celebrated every year with great aplomb and significance. [Sept 1st is start of a 4 day public national holiday in Turkey. Called the Sacrifice Feast it commemorates the story of Abraham displaying his obedience to God by offering to sacrifice his son]. The whole of Constantinople was on its feet with parades, military music, and great pomp. In the evening all the public buildings, the palaces, the bridges, the mosques were resplendent with light. Hundreds of lanterns were lit with large candles because even though SM [the Sultan] had electricity within his palace at Yildiz, he refused to allow it for the people in the capital. In the daytime of the 1 September we climbed onto our roof to watch the “karakaula” or guardian of the [Galata] tower set up his decorations with flags and lanterns.

Galata Tower lit up. Image © Ilkin Karacun.

In the upper part of this colossal edifice, a red light was perched. From where we were it gave the impression of little devils up to some sort of mysterious work and our hearts trembled to see it.

In the evening our terrace became the rendezvous for the whole apartment block, from where we would watch everyone circulating all along the Corniche.

Before going up to meet our friends, our father brought down from the old cupboard little packets all wrapped up in paper, where they had been stowed away for several days. We all knew what they contained. We were really proud of possessing Bengal fires, roman candles and firecrackers. Equipped with all these things, we hastily climbed the three floors and let off the firecrackers. Indeed we had great fun at that time and age had nothing to do with it, because the adults had as much fun as the youngsters.

Panorama of Istanbul looking South from the Galata Tower, c. 1877.

I have tried basing things uniquely on my memory, to give you as accurate description as possible of our life in no 4 Petraki Han.  I have simply decided to mention certain events which I remember very clearly and which made an indelible impression on me. I’ve never intended to put a whitewash on all our daily lives. For forty years a large amount of work and an absence of notes has made this impossible to write and it wouldn’t have interested anyone.

Callus/Calleja family group 1922. Back standing-Hortense-Therese-Frank-Lydia-Harry-Emily-Josephine. Front sitting-Elise-Irma-Elivra-Joseph

In conclusion I would say after 60 years I have only to close my eyes to see it all again. The day when we left the place which saw us all born, where we left this great apartment standing alone and empty – YES empty! But so many memories.

This has been a sort of pilgrimage across the rooms, the desolate empty rooms, a real Stations of the Cross. I’ve stopped at each one and alone with myself I have tried to condense everything that’s been in my spirit; all the events I’ve witnessed. Thus plunged into reminiscing about a happy past I found myself called by the porters who demanded the keys and wanted to lock the apartment. I’ve now left and must never go back there.

Petraki Han side entrance

Today a long way from this place (and there have been a large number of occupants who have gone through towards a better life), all I can do is put my thoughts about Petraki Han on paper and what has happened in front of my eyes is a magnificent vision, a kaleidoscope of marvelous forms which have crystallised in such a way that I’ve had difficulty in discriminating between the past and the present. What has unfurled in front of my eyes is so real that I refuse to believe that the past is really past.

All our acts, all our thoughts, our secrets, our desires, our emotions, all of these are manifestations of our spiritual being which is always there. We form a sort of backdrop in front of which inexorably we are all pushed by destiny and advance without respite and without hope.

The End

Acknowledgements

My thanks go to: Esmé Clutterbuck for sharing Frank’s manuscripts and many family photos, Jude Mulcahy for translating the document into English, Jeremy Neave and Moira McGrother for additional family photos.

Further Information

Daily Sabah, 2017, Magic Slippers: Tales of the Turkish “Terlik”: https://www.dailysabah.com/expat-corner/2017/08/11/magic-slippers-tales-of-the-turkish-terlik

Sultan Abdül Hamid – Hero or villain?

Gözübüyük Melek, Dilsad, (Dec. 2004), New Interpretations of Domestic Space and Life: the Emergence of Apartment Buildings in 19th Century Istanbul. MA Thesis submitted to the Graduate School of Social Science of Middle East Technical University.

In recent years Petraki Han has been fully renovated and a number of the apartments are now available for holiday lets. Modern and luxurious, many original features have also been retained and visitors have free access to the wonderful roof terrace. Go to Istanbul Place Apartments for more details.

 

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The Callus Family of Constantinople in the Mid to Late 19th Century

The Callus Family of Constantinople in the Mid to Late 19th Century

View of Galata from Stamboul. Source: Collection of Maggie Land Blank.

My Great Great Grandparents Andrea Callus and Marie Ann Griscti married in Constantinople in 1848. Both were born in Malta but arrived in the Ottoman Empire as part of a wave of Maltese migration in the first half of the 19th century. In my earlier post on the Maltese community in Constantinople/Istanbul, I described some of the social conditions of their life there. In this episode I will set out a bit more about their family life.

Karakoy Square. Source: Collection of MaggieLand Blank.

Andrea Callus

Andrea was born in 1811 in the town of Cittá Rohan or Żebbuġ in Malta. He migrated to Constantinople in 1829 when he was about 18. Parish records indicate he was a ship chandler but I have not been able to locate any further details in the trade directories of the period. Andrea was about 38 when he married Marie Ann, but it is said they had a model marriage which lasted nearly 50 years!

Marie Ann Griscti

Portrait thought to be Marie Ann Callus nee Griscti c. 1860s

Marie Ann (always Marie Ann in parish records but she may have been known just as Marie at home), was part of a large extended family from Malta who originally migrated to Smyrna (modern day Izmir) around the same time as Andrea. The family moved to Constantinople in 1843 when she was about 12. Her father Joseph was, like Andrea, a ship chandler and so also was her first cousin Antonio and her brother John, so it was probably the family business. Their establishment in 18681 was at 26, Rue Gueumruk (see map below), which is very near the quay by the Galata bridge. At this time her brother Emmanuel had a forge in Rue Chiché Hane but in 1896, he had a shop at no. 19 Rue Gueumruk specialising in rubber goods.

Click here to enlarge: Annotated map of Galata and Pera 1905 pdf (opens in new window).

In the 1860s Antonio and Emmanuel Griscti lived in Rue Chiché Hane, in different abodes with another Callos (sic) as a neighbour. It seems quite likely therefore that Andrea and Marie Ann also lived nearby, as families in these communities liked to stay together. They all attended the parish church of St Peter and St Paul which is on Rue Koule Dibi, near the Galata Tower.

The genealogy of Marie Ann’s Griscti family can be found on the Griscti and Diacono pages of this website.

Marriage and Family Life

Andrea and Marie Ann were married on 4 September 1848 at S.S. Peter and Paul RC Church in Galata. The witnesses were Marie Ann’s brother John Griscti and Andrea Maresia.

They went on to have fourteen children so Marie Ann must have spent the most part of her married life either pregnant or nursing! Tragically the first three children died in infancy, Joseph in his first year, Georgio at age 2 and Anna Maria within a few days. It must have been incredibly hard to bear. My Great Grandfather Henri was the first to survive to adulthood. She then had a stillbirth followed by more survivors. Later another two children died in infancy, so she lost six children in all. This was not uncommon for the period before the availability of childhood vaccinations or any kind of state supported health care. Istanbul was a crowded city with regular outbreaks of terrible diseases like cholera and typhus which also took its toll on families. All the children were baptised at S.S. Peter and Paul parish church.

The eight children who survived into adulthood were:

Henri Joseph born 28 March 1854.

Henri J. Callus c. 1900

Henri was the first child to survive into adulthood and was my Great Grandfather. He moved to London around 1870 to train as a marine engineer and lived for a while in Greenwich in London where it appears he worked for the Thames Iron and Shipbuilding Co. in Blackwall.

Later he moved to Cardiff and worked as chief engineer in the merchant navy on various tramp steamers traveling around the Mediterranean and to places like the Baltic.

However he maintained close contact with his family in Constantinople and visited whenever he could such as for important family occasions. He also met his sweetheart Christina Pouhalski (aka Puchalski) in Constantinople and somehow managed to continue his courtship from the UK, eventually returning to marry her in September 1884 at S.S. Peter and Paul RC church in Galata, Constantinople. They then settled in Cardiff and had 5 sons.

Emilia Vincentia (known as Emily) born 28 May 1857

Emily Callus c. 1878

Emily was the first daughter to survive into adulthood. She never married and lived all her life with her sisters. For over 30 years she lived in the apartment building known as Petraki Han, opposite the famous landmark the Galata Tower.

Emily and “the princess” c. 1915-20.

She worked as a teacher and governess. One of her charges was a little girl they called “the princess” but no one knows if this was just a pet name or her real status! She was also Godmother to her little brother Alexander known as “Alfred” who died at the age of 3 in 1874.

Around 1930 Emily left Constantinople to go and live in Malta with her nephew and two of her sisters. She died there on 6 January 1936 aged 78.

Edouard Emmanuel born 27 March 1859

Like Henri, Edouard moved to England as a young man to train as a marine engineer and then worked for the merchant navy. He lived in Gillingham in Kent and on 4 January 1886 married Ada Johnson at Chatham in Kent. Tragically on 3 April that same year he was admitted to  Angelton Hospital County Asylum in Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan (later known as Glan Rhyd Hospital) suffering from acute melancholia and “General Paralysis”(of the Insane)2.  At this time, the link with syphilis was unproven but suspected due to its prevalence in the military and in men in their 30s and 40s living in port towns and urban centres.

Edouard’s admission report described him as of medium height 5’4″, weighing 8 1/2 stone and with black hair and a sallow complexion. It indicates he had been exhibiting symptoms for 2 months. This means it must have become evident almost straight after his marriage!  It also states he had a brother as next of kin and had been staying in Cardiff, so Henri must have had him admitted.

This Asylum had a good reputation as a progressive institution with a non-restraint policy3, but sadly for Edouard, his was a terminal illness with little in the way of effective treatment available. He died there in June 1887 aged just 27 and was interred in an unmarked grave in the hospital grounds. It is assumed he died without issue and we do not know what happened to his poor wife. Let’s hope he did not transmit the disease to her! No photo of Edouard has been found. Although his family would have had no knowledge of the cause of his mental illness, in Victorian times there was a pathological fear of “lunacy” and it was deeply stigmatised. As a result he was probably quietly forgotten and never spoken of again.

Therése Angela born 30 January 1861

Therése Callus c.1878

Like Emily, Therése grew up in Constantinople and worked as a teacher or governess. There were many good quality Levantine schools in Pera where she may have taught although it is thought that all the sisters mainly tutored privately for families.

She never married and lived all her life with her sisters. She moved to Malta with Emily and Josephine around 1930 and died 30 May 1948 aged 87.

 

Ernesto Joseph born 28 December 1862

Little is known about Ernesto, except that he was single. We do not even know what he did for a living. Around the 1880s he went to live in Malta, where he returned to the home town of his father in Żebbuġ. What prompted this move we do not know. He may have fallen out with the family or he may have wanted to return to “the homeland” where perhaps there were relatives who could help him find work.

However on 9 September 1890 the British Consul in Constantinople arranged for him to be admitted to a mental health hospital following the manifestation of  symptoms of mania (an old term for bi-polar disorder). Why this required the intervention of the Consul is a bit of a mystery! He remained there for the rest of his life, eventually dying of TB in 1914 aged 52. No photo of him has been found, possibly due to the same reason as Edouard.

Elisabeth Josephina (known as Elise) born 1 December 1864

Elise Callus c.1886

Elise was the only daughter to marry. Her husband, Joseph John Calleja, was the son of another Maltese Levantine family from Constantinople. Joseph’s father was an architect and importer of Maltese and Italian marble. His mother was the daughter of a Sicilian tailor. It is thought that Joseph worked as an administrator for the British government in Constantinople.

L-R: Lydia, Elise, Irma, Frank, Joseph and Elvira Calleja c. 1920.

Elise and Joseph had six children, two of whom died in infancy; Francis Xavier, Elvira (died in her first year), another Elvira, Irma, Edouard (died aged 1) and Lydia.

After Joseph died in 1930 the family had to move out of their apartment at which point, Francis Xavier took three of his aunts to live in Malta. Elise stayed on in Constantinople living with just her younger sister Hortense. She died in 1941 during the 2nd World War and is buried with Joseph in the Ferikoy Latin cemetery in Istanbul.

Joséphine Maria born 2 May 1869

Joséphine Callus c.1905

Joséphine was the third unmarried daughter who worked as a teacher or governess in Constantinople and returned to Malta with her sisters. Little else is known about her although a few photos survive. She died 6 June 1942.

 

 

 

Rosalia Ortentia (known as Hortense) born 10 November 1875

Hortense Callus c. 1895

Hortense was the last child of Andrea and Marie Ann. Her godfather was her brother Henri who was more than 20 years her elder. A number of letters between her and Henri and his son Arthur survive suggesting she was the one who maintained strongest contact with Henri’s Cardiff family. During WW1, Turkey and the UK were on opposing sides and the two families were cut off from any news of each other. Two very brief and poignant telegrams between them trying to find out if everyone was alright, now rest in The National Archives in Kew, London4, because these had to pass through the British Government’s War Office.

Hortense c. 1920

Hortense was also a teacher and never married. She stayed in Constantinople for most of her life, eventually moving to Portsmouth in England to be near her niece Lydia, after the death of her older sister Elise in 1941. Exactly when she moved is not known. She may have had to wait until the end of WW2. She died in 1950 and is buried in Portsmouth.

Andrea and Marie Ann – End Days

As for their parents, in the dying days of the 19th century, they moved with their four spinster daughters, their married daughter Elise and her family and mother in law, into a rather smart apartment block facing the Galata Tower called Petraki Han. The lease was taken by Andrea’s son-in-law Joseph Calleja. My earlier assumption was that the family had done rather well to be able to afford this place. Certainly members of Marie Ann’s family had become very wealthy but the likelihood is that actually the Callus family were somewhat poorer. They were more likely to have been what Theresa May would describe as ‘Just about managing!’  Recently a family memoir of life in this apartment has come to light which I plan to publish in due course.

Andrea died at Petraki Han in Constantinople at the grand old age of 87 in 1898 and Marie Ann died in 1908, aged about 78. Their funeral notices are shown below. They were both buried in temporary graves in Ferikoy Latin RC cemetery which are now lost.

Andrea Callus’s funeral card 1898 c/o Moira McGrother.

 

Marie Ann Callus’s funeral card 1908 c/o Moira McGrother.

 

Acknowledgements

My thanks to Francis and Irina Osborn for their initial searches in S.S. Peter & Paul parish records, Moira McGrother and Esmé Clutterbuck for family documents and photos,  Marie Ann Marandet for multiple parish record searches.

Sources

1 L’Indicateur Oriental Annuaire du Commerce (various eds. 1868-95). SALT Galata, Research at http://saltresearch.org/primo_library/libweb/action/search.do?vid=salt&dscnt=0&dstmp=1521833686969&backFromPreferences=true

2 Glamorgan County Records Office, Cardiff. Website: https://glamarchives.gov.uk/

3 An account of the grounds and care regime at the Bridgend County Asylum (Angelton/Glan Rhyd) https://hchroniclesblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/bridgend-asylums-south-wales/

4 The National Archives – Foreign Office (1917), Turkey: Prisoners of War and Aliens Dept: General Correspondence from 1906, Ref. FO 383/344.

 

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.

Religion

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.

 

 

 

Sources

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.