Stefano, resident pastor at the Rosary R.C. church since 1976, possesses
an alphabetically ordered list of the Catholic families in Izmir that
he has created and includes addresses and phone numbers. Representing
1,250 persons, he feels ¾ of which live in the neighbourhood
of Alsancak. The names have various different origins; Aliberti is Italian,
Akavi Lebanese, Armao Greek; Balladur, Topuz, Missir and Isaverdens
who sought sanctuary with the help of Dominican friars like himself,
in Izmir in the second quarter of the 18th century escaping pressure
in Nahchivan region from Gregorian Armenians and Moslem Iran.
The 1922 fire affected the zone around the St.
Polycarp church but not the region around the St. Rosary church.
The Punta neighbourhood was a relatively newer neighbourhood, populated
primarily with lower social status (manual labourers, fishermen etc.)
Italians and Maltese. The British preferred the more out of town Boudjah
and Bornobat neighbourhoods.
The Punta Christian populace received the real blow with the enactment
of the 1934 law preventing foreigners holding minor profession jobs.
In the forbidden fields of employment were included fishermen, doctors
and lawyers. Many Catholic families emigrated to the then Italian controlled
island of Rhodes, later some returned. During the Second World War the
British sent hundreds of Maltese to Egypt, India and Australia. Some
returned after the war for economic reasons.
Before the fire the present fair site was the Armenian (Gregorian) quarter,
which included their cathedral of St. Etienne, the area where the 1922
fire originated. The fire extended to the seashore in one end thus destroying
the ‘Frenk’ quarter centred around the St. Polycarp church and the railway
line thus destroying the predominantly Greek neighbourhood of Mortaka
that corresponds roughly with the present area of Kahramanlar. This
neighbourhood also had a Catholic chapel (St. Roc).
Although most landmarks and roads have been altered since the fire,
the northern extent of the fire corresponds to the park in Alsancak,
the present Chinese restaurant, the Ataturk museum by the sea and the
Bozkurt cad. Thus sparing the northern half of Punta, the St. Notre
Dame du R. church was not affected. The older buildings show the areas
not burnt and this is also visible at the southern end where the Gazi
Bulvari marks the boundary, thus Konak was not affected.
Almost miraculously a few buildings survived the fire undamaged. Among
these are the churches of St. Polycarp, the Dutch chapel, the Greek
school (now Ataturk Lycee) and the Greek Hospital (?) (now the Namık
Kemal Lycee). In those days the Catholic churches were under diplomatic
protection, mostly of the leader country, France. This church was under
Italian government protection while St. Maria (Pasaport) was Austrian.
From information handed down from the old folk of Alsancak, after feeble
attempts to extinguish the flames in the early stages of the fire, political
considerations are likely to have played a part in the absence of later
efforts to contain it. Padre Stefano’s hunch is that the Turks not wishing
to make enemies of the western powers took steps to ensure these important
buildings were not also destroyed.
The French hospital building has a date of 1908 on it but it is almost
certain this was predated by other buildings, with the first possibly
being from the 17th century in line with the age of the St.
Polycarp church. The new altered chapel by the entrance of the hospital
was not preserved as it is very recent (1955?) and thus had no artistic
or heritage value. At the time of its handover to Turkish authorities
in 1978, all its staff were Turkish, safe for 5-6 French sisters who
assisted in running the place. Formerly providing a caring environment
to elderly local Catholics, its loss P. Stefano views with disappointment.
The French president at the time, Valerie Giscard d’Estaing (1974-81)
was at the forefront of the shift in emphasis in the propagation of
French culture through cultural centres rather than loss making social
institutions like this hospital.
The French Izmir Consul at the time was a Mason and convincing the diplomatic
core at the time that the building no longer served a useful purpose,
affected the transfer of ownership of the property to Turkish authorities,
without first consulting the local church authorities. Once made public,
the church’s vigorous attempts to reverse the decision were fruitless.
A gift once given could not be reclaimed.
Under the terms of the Lausanne and Montreux treaty of 1925, all communal
Christian property rights were secure, however when disused automatically
reverted to state control. As can be seen in the records much local
property belonging to the Italian Catholic orders, including the St.
Antoine hospital (site of former B.S. hospital), were lost to the community
in 1945-6 following the disorder emanating from their defeat in the
war. With the establishment of the republic, the Turkish state wished
to convert all Ottoman deeds to republican. Churches had a problem complying
since they didn’t have personal titles, nor were they recognised as
associations [dernek]. Thus despite the state’s repeated calls
and extensions (4-6 years from 1925), were not acted upon with the recommendations
of consuls and ambassadors.
Currently there are 3 Catholic religious orders represented in Izmir;
the Dominicans such as this church, the Franciscans (K.Yaka, Bornova
and St Maria in Pasaport) and the Capuchins. The differences in doctrine
are insignificant, but more in style. In the past there were other orders
such as the Lazarites (the school that is now the ‘Ticaret Lisesi’),
the Salesians (arrival 1904/5, 1945 to Egypt, their school is now the
Italian cultural centre), the Jesuits, the nun order sisters of charity
who ran schools (including Centralle till 1935) and hospitals and the
similar sisters of the Conception d’Ivrea. The date of arrival of the
Dominicans to Izmir is 1890, when it was under suppression in France.
The pictorial book concerning the Christian past of Izmir in the library
of the church, ‘Saint Polycarpe et son tombeau – le Pere Jean-Baptist,
Capucin (1911)’, depict scenes in an unrecognisable city. The hills
overlooking the city, now covered in low quality housing [gecekondu],
including the sacred mount Pagus [Kadifekale], had extensive
vineyards cultivated by monks of orders such as the Capuchins and one
of their monasteries was within the walls of the ancient fort of this
hill. Click here for a postcard
view of St. Polycarp’s tomb.
From records it can be seen that across Anatolia there were Catholic
churches and schools most of which closed down by 1922. The two Franciscan
churches of Ayvalık closed down in 1948, but are still standing.
Contradicting Maria Filipuci’s testimony, according to Padre Stefano,
the Bayraklı school was abandoned much later, in 1952/4.
The Catholic church registers mostly survived the 1922 events, and are
still being used. The parish registers include those for Bornova from
1797, Buca from 1831, Cathedrale of St. John in Alsancak from 1875,
Göztepe Notre Dame De Lourdes from 1899, Bayraklı
St. Anthony from 1903, Karşıyaka St. Helen (stretching
back pre its construction) from 1882, Alsancak Holy Rosary from 1904.
The registers for St. Polycarp in Alsancak stretch back to 1807 and
a recently a register book of this church dating from 1782-1787 was
found in Marseilles. The registers for St. Maria church in Alsancak
were all destroyed by the 1922 fire but a serious attempt was made to
recreate them through testimonials, and these non-originals now date
back to the 1820s. The registers of St. Polycarp, the Cathedral and
Göztepe are kept in St. Polycarp church, those of St. Maria in
Alsancak and Bornova are kept in St. Maria church. The registers of
St. Helen, Ss. Rosario and Bayraklı are retained in their own
For more detailed information on the history of the various Catholic
churches of Izmir, click here:
Notes: 1. The Italian
cultural centre in Izmir publishes a quaterly revue, named ‘La Voce’,
with news and views concerning the local Roman Catholic community.
There is a web site in French giving the background to the St. Polycarpe
church and the genealogy of some of the more prominent Armenian-Catholic
families, viewable here.
and a basic web site in Italian / Turkish for the Saint Rosary church
2. Unfortunately Padre Stefano died in 4 January 2017. May he rest in peace. Obituary:
interview date 2001