Fire Insurance certificates

With the high density of buildings in ports, with much wood being used and only rudimentary fire fighters present, and those often only tackling blazes on buildings with that insurance, there was a great need for fire insurance by those who could afford this in the various ports of the Levant. Naturally the rich had more to lose in fires and could afford the premiums and so the Levantines were often prominent in both providing that service as agents of Western companies and also insuring their homes and businesses. Fire insurance maps helped provide the detailed intelligence for the companies as they weighed risks for both individual properties and whole neighbourhoods, depending on construction type, narrowness of streets, proximity to the sea or other available water etc.

This is a fire insurance certificate 1 year extension issued to a Greek resident of Mersin, Madame Helene Chrysostome C. Mavrommati, just before the First World War, 18th July 1913. The insurance company is a Swiss based Compagnie d’Assurances contre l’incendie a Bale, charging in British currency £13.71 (in today’s money ~ £600) to cover assets worth £3,560 (~ £150,000) to include house, furniture, piano with the address given as Rue des Jardines in Mersin, with the contract signed in Smyrna, together with the various stamps, signature of the agent and stampings to make the document legally binding.

The Mavrommati family were one of the prominent business families of Mersin in Ottoman times and the building above was one of the building they owned and they operated it between 1905 and 1933 as a warehouse on the ground level and the upper floor as offices. Between 1933 and 1978 the building on Uray Street was a branch office of the Ziraat Bank. The building ownership was then transferred to the state law courts organisation and in 2011 to the Mersin city municipality. The building has recently undergone some restoration with the intention of becoming an exhibition space on the ground floor and offices for this cultural centre on the upper floor (more information in Turkish). It is likely this family were engaged in the export of cotton and other agricultural commodities from Mersin, and this building acted as their warehouse. The fact that the family didn’t emigrate at the time of the population exchange either points to their privileged status, or the fact they had obtained a Western citizenship by 1923. According to a local source (Mr Tankut Beygu) two branches of Mavrommati family dodged the exchange thanks to one being Russian and the other being Swiss subjects.

General insurance certificates from the Levant: