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The Contributors
Rose Marie Caporal | Alessandro Pannuti | Ft Joe Buttigieg | Mary Lemma | Antoine ‘Toto’ Karakulak | Willie Buttigieg | Erika Lochner Hess | Maria Innes Filipuci | Catherine Filipuci | Harry Charnaud | Alfred A. Simes | Padre Stefano Negro | Giuseppe Herve Arcas | Filipu Faruggia | Mete Göktuğ | Graham Lee | Valerie Neild | Yolande Whittall | Robert Wilson | Osman Streater | Edward de Jongh | Daphne Manussis | Cynthia Hill | Chris Seaton | Andrew Mango | Robert C. Baker | Duncan Wallace QC | Dr Redvers ‘Red’ Cecil Warren | Nikolaos Karavias | Marianne Barker | Ümit Eser | Helen Lawrence | Alison Tubini Miner | Katherine Creon | Giovanni Scognamillo | Hakkı Sabancalı | Joyce Cully | Jeffrey Tucker | Yusuf Osman | Willem Daniels | Wendy Hilda James | Charles Blyth Holton | Andrew Malleson | Alex Baltazzi | Lorin Washburn | Tom Rees | Charlie Sarell | Müsemma Sabancıoğlu | Marie Anne Marandet | Hümeyra Birol Akkurt | Alain Giraud | Rev. Francis ‘Patrick’ Ashe | Fabio Tito | Pelin Böke | Antonio Cambi | Enrico Giustiniani | Chas Hill | Arthur ‘Mike’ Waring Roberts III | Angela Fry | Nadia Giraud | Roland Richichi | Joseph Murat | George Poulimenos | Bayne MacDougall | Mercia Mason-Fudim née Arcas | Eda Kaçar Özmutaf | Quentin Compton-Bishop | Liz Knight-Gök | Charles F. Wilkinson | Antony Wynn | Anna Laysa Di Lernia | Pierino & Iolanda Braggiotti | Philip Mansel | Bernard d’Andria | Achilleas Chatziconstantinou | Enrichetta Micaleff | Enrico Aliotti Snr. | Patrick Grigsby | Anna Maria and Rinaldo Russo | Mehmet Yüce | Wallis Kidd | Jean-Pierre Giraud | Osman Öndeş | Jean François d’Andria | Betty McKernan | Frederick de Cramer | Emilio Levante | Jeanne Glennon LeComte | Jane Spooner | Richard Seivers | Frances Clegg
Priest at St. Notre Dame du Rosaire church

Padre 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 parish.

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 here.
2. Unfortunately Padre Stefano died in 4 January 2017. May he rest in peace. Obituary:



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