Levantine Heritage
The story of a community
History of the community
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The purpose of these pages is to give a personal impression of the history of the Levantine communities, concentrating on my ‘speciality’ Boudjah, to set the way for others to carry on the research.

History of the communities of
| Izmir | Turkey and beyond

Starting from the 17th century Smyrna gradually changed from a small and quiet west Anatolian town to a rich and cosmopolitan port and a centre of western and other cultures. Amongst the foreign traders one of the best to compete and amongst the richest were the British, though in number they were not the most numerous. Many preferred the then probable Greek hamlets of Boudjah [post-1927 Buca] and Bournabat [Bornova] for their summer and residential homes as they saw it as safe, quiet and healthy for their families.

The “All Saints” church was built in 1866, consecrated in 1868, replacing the chapel founded in 1835 and consecrated with the cemetery in 18432. Between 1839–1925 this church had 7 consecutive ministers and after this date became the second church of the Izmir (Alsancak – St. John) church and in its last phase services were held for special days or when the weather was fine. Contained in the marble tablet on the wall in the church is a text in memoriam to the second chaplain Revd. W.B.Lewis (1870) ‘a token of affectionate remembrance and a tribute to his indefatigable zeal in furthering the building of this church’. Only the 3rd one of these ministers is buried here, John Theodore Wolters 1842-1877. The 6th, Louis Le Bouvier is buried at the Alsancak Dutch cemetery.

The shape of the building is based on a classic cross shape, possibly to mirror the nearby ruins of one of the first churches of Christendom, that in Ephesus / Selçuk. The ‘All Saints’ church building possesses a conical tepee style roof rare even in the west. Possibly the plans for this church were inspired by a similar church in Britain. The long support beams of the roof abut on the short cylindrical stone columns, spreading the load. The attractive green stone of these columns is the same as the material used by the British in the railway lodge and main building at Boudjah, and many other buildings including a nearby house and the present Kemer police station etc. According to Murat Hatipoğlu of the stone-metal institute (within the Rees house), this stone comes from 30 km south of Izmir in Teos, Seferihisar and is serpentine. I speculate that this stone, with which buildings in Izmir were decorated, was usually transported by nearest rail link and have a high likelihood of being British built. The roof is covered in slate, an unusual material to use in Turkey, thus probably imported from Wales, possibly symbolic to the roots of an important benefactor family of the time, the Rees’es. The same family (T.Bowen Rees & Mrs Rees) as detailed on a mini plaque on the organ, that as gratitude for no members of their family being lost during the First World War financed and brought the chuch organ in 1922, by ship and probably by train which by that time had a line to the village. From the church publication ‘Candlesticks’-summer 1956 edition, we know that there was a discussion of transferring the organ to Alsancak church during the visit of the bishop of Gibraltar, but obviously a final decision was never made. The stained glass in the windows today are the modern replacement to the originals which were transferred to the Alsancak Anglican church following serious damage to church during a riotous break-in in November 1964, connected with the Cyprus issue (church records).

From the source book reference p.75, we are informed some churches are round. Actually only the nave (the main part as opposed to the chancel) is round, as in ‘All Saints’ (octagonal in reality). They were built under the influence of the Templar and Hospitalier Knights in imitation of the church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. There are only 4 in Britain: Temple church, city of London, at Cambridge, Northampton and little Maplestead, Essex. Izmir being a seat of one of the 7 churches may have inspired this decision.

In the same book reference p.118, lectern (pedestals for the Bible) types are described. The eagle with outstretched wings is the same design as that existed in the Boudjah church until 1991 (depicted at the time in the ‘tempo’ magazine article) in wood and the one still in use in the Bornova church in brass. Of the brass type (at the time of printing) the book states just over 40 remain with places listed and of the wooden about 20 still exist, thus showing their rarity, thus importance. The popularity of the form of an eagle is thought to be because, it is the symbol of St. John the Evangelist, whose Gospel and Revelation are the most spirited parts of the Bible and like the eagle, soar to the greatest heights.

The lack of a local congregation compounded with a pessimistic construction report, forced a decision on the church and consular authorities who agreed to transfer the building to the Buca council in 1965 and it was used for a time as a wedding reception hall amongst other uses. In 1991 it was reorganised as a student art centre and unfortunately the front part of the cemetery was destroyed.

In March 2001 the church was transferred to the Izmir society and minor repairs were started. This led the way for cultural and worship activities under the auspices of the society.

Together with this, the building has become the new focus of Biblical tourism encompassing Izmir. By being situated in the city mentioned in the Bible (Smyrna) as the location of one of the seven churches, all in the Aegean region of Turkey, regular tourist parties from Germany and elsewhere have visited the church and conducted services (year 2001).

For many years it seems the documents for all 3 Anglican churches were kept in the crypt of the Alsancak church where they were discovered in 1996 damaged by humidity. Fortunately these documents were rescued just prior to record floods that completely inundated the crypt. These documents have recently been (May 2001) collated and copied and they form an important part of my investigation. With this register we can work out the relationships of the once church going Buca Levantine community and through synthesis with other sources of information draw up a history of the church.

A detailed inventory of the cemetery has been compiled by volunteers and repairs on some of the headstones has been performed (May - November 2001).

The final official approvals for the transfer of control to the Izmir Independent Protestant Church (The Baptists) was given on the 25th of December 2001, opening the way for the commencement of repairs and restorations subject to the approval of the local Heritage commission [Izmir Röleve ve Anıtlar kurulu]. In the summer of 2002 the roof was replaced and is now waterproof.

There are many theories on the etymology of the word Boudjah, the one favoured by the historians connected with the Izmir municipality is the Greek word ‘Borios’ meaning a village on the corner / edge.

Despite the language of service in the church always being English, in the cemetery we come across names that may be non-English. Using the rough surname survey done in 1960 by Livio Amadeo Missir (now residing in Belgium) it seems that out of a total of 144 surnames, 26 may be non-English. If we consider most French names as of Huguenot origin (such as La Fontaine) we see that approximately 15% of the surnames may be non-English (and Welsh). Following this such a distribution may be possible: 8 German (Eppstein, Hönischer, Köhler, Kreiter, Spath, Votteler, Webber, Wilkenman), 7 French and Huguenot (Cadoux, Duveluz, Escalon, Fonton, Gout, Icard, La Fontaine, Rocca), 3 Dutch (De Jongh, Van Lennep, Vlielander), 2 Greek (Ghelasto, Papadachy), 2 Slavonic (Sandreczki, Svoboda – Polish?), 1 Jewish (Yerushalmy), 1 Italian or Maltese (D’Alessio), 1 Armenian (Chumarian), and 1 unknown background (Incate).

An interesting comparison is that this cemetery is more ‘English’ (in surname range rather than quantity) than the Bornova cemetery (85% as opposed to 65% - ‘nationality’ distribution similar).

This should not be considered as the mixture of non-Muslims of old Boudjah since due to denominational differences other Christian groups could not be buried here (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Gregorian) but may give an idea of the nature of the Protestant community.

Assumptions of ethnic origin based on surnames are dangerous (grave stones with German text are excluded – Köhler, Spath) and I think the persons buried here need not necessarily feel English but would have had to be accepted by the British Levantine community. We feel some members of these non-English became assimilated into this mini community, as from the information gleaned from the tomb stone of Nuremberg born Carl D. Wilkenman 1784-1830, the trader who became naturalised British and became consul for Sweden and Norway. There are other consul graves in the cemetery; as mentioned before the British consul for Izmir Francis Werry’s son Nathan W. Werry. He was for 18 years the Izmir British vice-consul and 20 years the British consul for Syria, died at Alleppo 1855 (like Izmir a trade centre at the time). The Danish, Swedish and pro-consul for America, Robert Wilkinson died at 1822 aged 71. The term of office of Francis Werry was 1794-1829 and the following 2 British consuls are all buried in Boudjah. Their terms of office are in this order; Richard William Brant (1829-1856) and Charles Blunt (1856-1864) book reference (appendix 3).

From a 1926 dated ‘All Saints’ church – Boudjah Report’ by the Consul G.H.L. Rabino we learn there was a Royal Arms crow at the entrance of the churchyard, thus marking it as a piece of ‘Royal’ British property.

My co-researcher Sally Gallia, by chance discovered in the store room of the Bornova Anglican church a 1928 dated Buca cemetery map complete with a name listing, but not including the text or dates on tombs. By chance this map was done to the same scale as that of the new map allowing for easy comparison, and first observations suggested some graves may have been moved prior to 1991. Most important of all, since there were no burials after this date, this map shows the complete listing of the cemetery including the destroyed front right hand side.

An interesting non-English tomb is that of G.A.Spath (1834-1882) a German missionary. As stated on the grave stone, he preached the gospel for 20 years to the Jews of Izmir, whose ancestors had escaped the inquisition in Spain around 350 years prior then. Under the old Ottoman laws for a Moslem to convert to another religion was punishable by death, but minorities were excluded from the laws of the sharia. In the year 1856 a relaxation firman was issued by the Sultan. With this decree the ban on change of religion was annulled and non-Moslems were given rights such as being able to join the civil service, freedom of worship and attend military academies.

The Western society of today is removed from the tradition of cemeteries. Most are cremated so no tomb exists, and on those that do have a grave, little information excluding name and dates is given. The lengthy texts on many graves in Buca suggests this community took its religion and culture lot more seriously than present western society. The valuable stone used in the cemetery (virtually all are marble, some are of granite) and the quality of workmanship shows that many people buried here were rich and aristocratic. The designs on tombs may display their roots (Celtic cross), their trade (G.K.Forbes, tree trunk + creeper – liquorish root trader), associations they belonged to (open book form – Bible society) and in writing (Aidin railways chief engineer etc.). I suspect some of this stone and workmanship is imported (granite from Scotland? or Egypt? and ‘Welsh stone’ ?) and with the Greek names (e.g. J. Righo) on the side of some of the marble tombs, along with the occasional spelling mistake, pointing to most or all of the stonemasons being local Greeks.

An interesting tomb text details not the life but the post-mortem ‘adventure’ of the deceased. According to this the captain of a ship name Jura, fearing the added weight threatened the safety of his ship during a storm, throws the coffin overboard which arrives 18 days later at an Aegean island 180 miles away, where the locals plunder it for its lead, and a month later the still perfectly alcohol preserved body exhumed presumably by the Turk who buried it, and a month later still brought to Izmir and buried in Boudjah ‘not yet decomposed’. Unfortunately this slab was found in the bottom of a vault in many pieces (1991 clearance?) and when joined together parts with critical information were missing, such as the name. There is the possibility the name was never inscribed but from the lower script we know she was a woman and ‘a friend of the poor’.

Working out detailed family trees and contacting the living descendants was not a part of this research, however I have viewed the Internet site of a family genealogy (Maltass and connected Werry and Whittall families) and from information given we know when and from where these families came to these regions.

From this site we learn that, due to a clerical error or another reason the surname changes over time, demonstrating one of the potential difficulties of genealogy (the old Saxon sounding Malthus – 1836, instead of the Latin sounding Maltass – 1844). This family originally from Yorkshire, North England, starting from the 18th century, its members were consular staff in Istanbul and merchants in Izmir. Also from the same site it is stated that with the closure in 1825 of the Levant company, private firms such as the Whittall’s gain in importance.

Finally both from this site and tombstone information in Boudjah, we see that for about 100 years (1820-1920) this small community was clearly tightly knit as over generations they virtually all became interrelated through marriages.

Boudjah was only one community in which the Westerners lived, side by side with the varied communities that comprised the Ottoman people mix. Over time the nature, composition, distributions and fortunes of various communities varied. Levantines were only a portion of this dynamic mosaic.

 Notes: A general overview of features in a Victorian cemetery are detailed in the web site:
There are a pair of books written about the neighbourhood of Buca, by Turkish architects, both hard to find, ‘Buca’da konut mimarisi [Domestic architecture of Buca] (1838-1934) - Feyyaz Erpi - Ankara 1987’ and the bililngual ‘Buca, bir ilçenin analizi - the analysis of a town - Ünver Ergün -1980’.

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