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The purpose of this page is to celebrate the successes of the Levantines, whose non-commercial achievements are often overlooked.
The Legacies
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The Levantines were able to introduce many sports to Turkey, some of which took root such as football, while others were too alien, such as golf and cricket.

There is a good web site detailing the history of football (more detail in this Turkish site), showing how important the Levantines were, and their successes including the team sent from Bornova to the Athens Olympic games of 1906, with their names, showing virtually all were British. Further details here:

For a photo of the Bornova team and an engraving depicting a Cricket match in Constantinople, click here.

For a photo gallery hightlighting the early history of football in Turkey and its modern re-incarnation with the Izmir football team, ‘Levant United’, click here:

Horse racing was also a Levantine introduction and there is an online newspaper article in Turkish dealing with this history, whose translation is below.

Izmir and Horse racing, from yesterday to today – Sabri Yetkin.

Izmir is the city of Turkey where horse racing was born, developed and became organisational. The general view is that organised horse racing began from the early 19th century, by the foreign community who lived in concentrated numbers in the Buca and Bornova neighbourhoods of Izmir. However there are archives that suggest that these events go back to the middle of the 17th century, as two seasonal races, autumn and spring, by the recreational ground along the Meles River [St Anne’s valley].

There are other archives that point to organised horse races in 18th century in the meadows of Namazgah, an important Turkish settlement of Izmir.

With its verdant nature, Paradiso / Şirinyer a district of Buca, was a neighbourhood of British and foreign families and was unquestionably where organised horse racing started in Izmir. Starting from the beginning of the 19th century, due to the industrial investments, a significant number of British started to live in the city. In an attempt to replicate their lifestyles they left in Britain, they built large country houses in Buca, and horsing and horse-racing was also one of the pass-time the British colony wanted to maintain. Horsing also had a traditional element to the Turkish culture, thus in time became a common passion bringing together these different cultures.

The history of named horse racings amongst the foreigners of Izmir goes back to the 1840s. Initially they were not highly organised, however they became regular fixtures for important days.

Sultan Abdülmecit visited Izmir in 1849 and for his honour races were organised. The famous Izmir merchant [Charlton] Whittall organised the races, and the Sultan was most impressed. As a token of a memorial to this day, the horse racing fraternity of Izmir sent to the Sultan in the capital Istanbul one English and one Arab thoroughbred. This event is considered a turning point in the history of horse racing in Turkey.

In 1853 the Sultan returned again to Izmir. Knowing the Sultan showed an interest in horse racing, the local foreign community organised horse races in his honour, separate runs for the English and Arab breeds, with substantial rewards for the winners. In his enthusiasm for the races, the Sultan decreed that an annual donation of 20 gold pieces be given from the treasury so that the races of Izmir could be held in better conditions. From this date onwards race organisers added ‘Sultan’s cup race’ to their program..

From 1856, races took on a more organised state; this was the date the British received the concession to build the Izmir-Aydin railway line. The director of the railway company board, Monsieur [Edward] Purser, ensured the races became a regular fixture in celebration of the concession. With this development, the foreigners of Izmir established the ‘president club’, and inspired by the charter of British Jockey club, set out their founding charter.

In 1866 with the opening of the additional secondary line of Izmir-Aydin line, leading to Buca, the races grew further in popularity with the population of Izmir treating race days like public holidays. The populace would arrive by train from Punta and Kemer [Caravan Bridge], from Eşrefpaşa by horse cart, and by donkey from Paradiso. The diaries of the time would mention that these days the city would virtually be empty. While the Turks would picnic in the shade of trees in the race ground, the Franks would wine and dine within the red and white marquee of Café Costi, watch the races and hedge wagers.

By the 1880s the races were watched by 9-10,000 people. The local press would give wide coverage to the races, listing all the races, owners, the events and critiques of the day.

In this period it was the thoroughbreds of famous merchant families such as the Whittalls, Forbes, Paterson, Aliotti, Pirokako and Balyozyan whose jockeys were Circassians. Prosperous horse owning Turks from Izmir, along with wealthy farmers from Manisa, Torbalı, Salihli and Alaşehir would also bring their horses for these races.

Races were named in honour of contributor organisations of Izmir, such as: ‘Smyrna Quay company run, Banlieux run, the Sultan’s cup, the Director’s run, Aidin railways run, Cassaba railway run, the Sporting club run, etc.’.

The best known chararter of the Izmir racing world was Evliyazade Refik bey. An excellent rider, they would recall in their memories, ‘…would mount his horse in the hippodrome, with the mecidiye [Turkish coin] he held between his knee and saddle, would tour the concourse without dropping the coin…’.

By the beginning of the 20th century, we know the races were further advanced with the ‘Il Idare-i Hususi’ [analogous to the city council] taking on the organisation, with Evliyazade Refik bey being nominated as the chief umpire, and as starter stuarts, Joly and Herbert Whittall.

This sporting and social activity [archive photo] in time spread to many other parts of Turkey, becoming a major sector, attracting the interest of millions of people.

 Note: There is also an on-line newspaper (Turkish daily news from 2001) article on ‘Turco-British relations in all dimensions’ whose section on sports hightlights the prominence of the British in establishing the first sporting tourmanents and clubs, such as the ‘Cadikeuy [Kadıköy] Football Club’, the first football club in the country set up by James Lafontaine and Horace Armitage.

View of the Paradiso Hippodrome early in the republican era

Paradiso Hippodrome, early republican period

A sign of organized tennis matches in Bornova in the past: Silver medal for the ladies single 1904 tennis championship, organized by the Levantines of Smyrna (h: 31mm, w: 28mm)
image courtesy of Aybala & Nejat Yentürk Collection

Silver medals awarded to the second place winners of races in the 5th Panionian Games, which took place in Smyrna in 1901, written in Greek script. Most competitors, but not all, were likely to be of the Greek community in those games.

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