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Restauranteur in Galata, Istanbul occupying the former premises of the British prison, with a passion for history.

As architects and city planners Nadire and Mete Göktuğ bought the building (Galata tower street, no:61) that used to serve as the British prison, and first operated it as an art and culture centre, and today as a restaurant. The purpose of this venture is not merely to make a living but to make new friends and for it to act as a centre for a civic initiative for the quarter of Galata. He has made trips to London to the Public Records Office, examining documents, mostly handwritten to help unravel the history of this building, the nearby British seaman’s hospital and district. He pursues these investigations with pleasure, sharing his unpublished findings and strives to inform the public of the Hellenistic, Roman, Ottoman, Levantine, Galata and Istanbul heritage, all undervalued by the establishment. As an architect and planner, he feels for the sake of modernity, society has lost a lot of treasures, including the destructive road-opening scheme in 1983 in Tarlabasi, which was a major centre of Levantine housing.

Nearby the old prison, where 4 streets intersect (Camekan, Hacı Ali, Bereketzade medrese, Bereketzade cami) was the British school for girls that operated till 1933. On the same date, lower down, by the Banks street, the Scottish mission mixed school, still standing on the left side, was also closed. The nearby to it, Austrian (Sankt Georg) secondary and high school, founded in 1882, still continues its activity in a similar manner. The possible reason for the closure of these British schools maybe due to the fact that the ‘High schools’ for boys and girls (nearby Tomtom street, Beyoglu) were able to cope with the load of the shrinking community.

As a result of his investigation, Mete Göktuğ was able to work out the detailed history of the prison. The building between 1904-1919 was the prison for the British community of Istanbul that had the concessions as part of the Ottoman ‘capitulations’. Between the years 1919-1923 it served as the British military police station for the occupation army in which the British took the major part (13 Nov 1918 – 2 Oct 1923) - example of a police report from the time. The head of the occupying forces, General Harington had his headquarters on the second floor of the now residences building, exactly across from the prison. This information was obtained by an elderly now late Maltese gentleman living nearby, named Mitzi.

 Note: The spelling here may be wrong as from the Internet under ‘Ambassador Morgenthau’s story’, ‘Next to Sir Edwin Pears, the most prominent English-speaking barrister in Constantinople was Dr. Mizzi, a Maltese, 70 years old (1915). The ruling powers had a grudge against him, for he was the proprietor of the Levant Herald, a paper which had published articles criticizing the Union and Progress Committee.’ The Galata resident may be a descendant of the same family. In addition the source, book reference disagrees with the location of General Harington's headquarters and it was almost certainly at Pera Palace hotel.

In the period 1923-1933 the building served as the house for civilian British officials and in 1933 was sold to a Galata merchant, Pierre Fournial for £425. Later the building was used by different people over different times as a workshop, office and flat (the detailed list is presented to the patrons of the restaurant).

A year later (1934) the British consulate transfers ownership of all local buildings including the Seaman’s hospital to the council. The communications in archives shows this act to be driven by release of buildings considered a burden, rather than a diplomatic jest. Despite the later crooked and simple additions to building, the hospital (now attached to the health ministry, ‘Beyoğlu’) still retains its magnificence through size and architecture. The mosaic stonework in the entrance courtyard decorated with naval symbols shows the construction end date as 1904.

According to Mete Göktuğ there was a return to the cost that must have been incurred by the British Foreign Office to pay for this opulence. Coinciding with the period when Britain was at the height of its power, image and prestige were important and at the same time medicine and health care was a market. The building worked on a mass scale like a factory in a manner that was both rational and suitable for the aesthetics of the day. The building bearing elements of the Scottish ‘art nouveau’ fashion was both a product of the industrial revolution and a reaction to its crushing burden on the individual, representing an ideal harmony. Even today the building shows the efficient design allowing for airy space and comfort within the latest technology, science and laboratories of the day. The other importance of this flamboyance was to develop its prestige in Galata and Istanbul on embassy grounds, thus leaving a lasting reminder of British prestige in the form of architecture. The architects of the building were Percy Adams and Charles Brown who were experts on hospitals and were at the forefront of the new architectural trend. The information and plans can be found in Strand in London at the Royal Institute of British Architects (R.I.B.A.).

The British embassy next to the hospital was probably built in the 16th century following the first treaty with the Ottoman government. In those days the chief function of diplomacy was to develop trade and it was natural for the embassy to be situated at the centre of the merchant colony.

The head doctors of the hospital were Ottoman subjects and possibly needed to be so due to agreements. The list of the head doctors is not available, if found would illuminate many details. It is not clear which Sultan gave the permission for this hospital through a firman, since due to logistical problems there might be a long time gap between the dates of permission and start of construction. Mete bey through his knowledge arising from his profession, rates as 100% the architectural aesthetics and workmanship of the hospital. In his opinion, that day or today no hospital in Istanbul has surpassed these qualities. In its construction a hard stone (Hereke?) and probably a 100% imported British workforce was used, as this project in style and complexity would have surpassed a local work crew. The 1905 map shows the police station side of the hospital being occupied by ‘invasive’ shops. But obviously when the hospital became fully operational, these were demolished and the high building still standing was built. It is probable that this section was built by Maltese craftsmen around 1906-1910 in a rapid way since it’s less complicated than the hospital and the stonework is the softer ‘Maltese stone’. This would have served as support services such as laundry. The heating arrangement of the hospital was a dual system, and based on the antique Roman system, hot air channels were built in addition to coal fireplaces in all ward and personnel rooms. Clearly during winter there was a team whose job was to feed these fires.

It is clear that Galata has been inhabited since antiquity. According to the findings of archaeologists, the foundations of the Sankt Georg by the Austrian school a bit down the road from the prison, was a temple, possibly dedicated to Apollo. In the same manner, the base of the building now known as Arab mosque, formerly the St. Dominica church, according to the archaeologist Janel was a Hellenistic Aphrodite temple. In his investigation of the subterranean nature of the prison, Mete discovered the foundations of the building extended beyond 2m., still within the land-fill debris. According to the archaeologists, the thickness of this rubble extends up to 20 m. in Galata and up to 75 m. in old Istanbul, making it a giant tumulus mound.

In the opinion of Mete, the Levantine character of Istanbul is as old as the city and even in the 10th century European merchants were sowing the seeds of this synthesis of a society. The first Sultan to seize this East/West fusion was Abdülaziz, a vision strengthened by his visits to Britain and France in 1872, resulting in the enactment of the Islahat (reform) firman acting as the first constitution for the masses. In this period Beyoğlu/Pera obtained the first Western style councils and the first head was a British Levantine [Edward Blaque, the son of M. Blaque the director of the French language newspaper of the city, ‘Moniteur Ottoman’ published in 1832 book referencep.283]. The second mayor serving between 1872-76 was Osman Hamdi bey, a person of Levantine/European vision. He was instrumental in the establishment of the first archaeology museum and Fine Arts academy in the Ottoman realm.

In its time all western embassies were in Galata. The British embassy in 1870 was transferred to the present consulate location in Tepebasi but the connected former prison remains. The former hospital, Franciscan Memorial existed in 1860 and possibly before, is partially pulled down in 1880.

However the 1905 published detailed city plan for fire insurance purposes, done by Chas E. Goad ltd, shows the Franciscan Memorial hospital over the space of the modern addition, the side building preserved and added to the main hospital building. The old plans of Galata show a larger prison; according to Mete the shrinking of the penal building and the enlargement of the health institution is a reflection of the new needs of a liberalising society post the Islahat firman. Further down the hill on the famous banks street, the British consulate is transferred to its present location in Tepebaşı as the embassy is moved to the new capital Ankara with the establishment of the republic. In previous times the former location of the consulate catered for the need since it handled mostly the affairs of its own citizens who were clustered in Galata.

The 1905 plan was divided into 3 zones (walled city, Galata/Pera and Kadıköy) and this wide coverage and details encompassing 30 sheets could only be completed by a disciplined team working possibly 5-10 years.

 Notes: 1- A separate team from the same company must have been working at the same time in Izmir since its publication date is also 1905. It is clear this company were experts in their field with a wide ranging mobile team as from the Internet one can see listings of maps done by this firm from most cities of America, Canada and Britain.
2- The Goad maps of Izmir (1905 - ref: map 145.b.2 (2)) and Istanbul (1904-06 - maps 145.b.2 (1)) are viewable in the maps section of the British museum library, large sheets arranged in a book, annoted in French. The map shows the former British consulate building to be on rue Voivoda [bankalar cad] adjacent to the famous landmark of the Camondo stairs (still there) on the north side.


All the symbols carefully added around the buildings on the map were all intended to provide information to help insurance purposes, such as metal shutters on windows would reduce its risk of fire. These under-studied plans will aid historians in the future. The headquarters of this survey company is shown as 53 New Broad Street, London and in all likelihood even if the company was later merged, the plans would be in their archives and could be investigated.

 Note: From the map section no 27-Pera together with bank archives and personal interviews a valuable book has recently been published, (Volvoda street from Ottoman times to today) – 2000 – Edhem Eldem – Osmanlı Bankası – [Banking history research and archive centre].

At closer inspection of the maps, it is apparent that city development in Istanbul even in those days was disorderly as the ancient walls and towers extending from the Galata tower in a north-westerly direction are still mostly standing then, but the ramshackle buildings obscure it as they use that wall as a back wall. The walls on the south-western side of the tower are not visible but the trend of the joined buildings suggests the walls were torn down for building material.

 Note: The ancient walls of Galata were pulled down by the authorities between 1860-64 (Internet). Obviously those ‘protected’ by buildings survived thus.

The reason why it took 24 years before the new hospital was officially opened can be explained by the complexity of construction of such a building. It is possible that the British post office was in the same building as the girls’ school, as it has two entrances. Furthermore the 1905 dated Galata (27) section Goad map, shows these two institutions in the same building. With the establishment of the republic the state postal system (P.T.T.) is inaugurated, leading to the closure of this and other foreign post-offices.

 Note: The existing detailed Istanbul maps extend back in time to the Byzantine period (1422, Buondelmonte etc.) but the first survey map for insurance purposes is the 1905 Goad map. This company was founded in 1875 in Montreal, Canada; the maps were rented out with contract to fire insurance companies and were never sold (Internet). The 1877 Hüber semi-survey maps of Beyoglu and Galata are important document (sp.36). Later on Pervititch made excellent detailed insurance purpose maps up to 1937 (p.69). Source: ‘Eski Istanbul’un eski haritaları’ [Old maps of old Istanbul – Istanbul municipality, department of cultural affairs publications, no1 – 1990].

There are 2 main results of the British construction projects of the latter 19th century. The consulate is distanced from institutions inherent with weighty problems, the hospital and prison. Also with the addition of the remnant of the old consular building the hospital is enlarged while the prison is shrunk. In this manner the British adapt to the new circumstances arising from the first constitution reforms and the expected reforms to come (1908).

The cities of Samsun and Trabzon on the Black sea show their importance as ports to the British with the existing former consulates and according to Mete Göktug probably had associated prison, hospital and post-offices in comparative sizes.

The window frames of the police station were edged with stones from Malta, a detail showing the degree to which the British showed importance to appearance. In connection with investigations to the nature of the building, archaeological digs revealed pictures and text written by inmates scratched on the walls during both prison and police station periods. Amongst these are marks and text in both Ottoman and Greek script. Extra information on the prison period can be obtained from the museum of military photographers unit in Rochester outside London.

Even though a listing of prisoners was not available at the P.R.O./foreign office archives in England, court briefs were seen. Of those found, most were of commercial debts/receivables nature.

Today Galata has lost its former influence and in the eyes of the council, lacking an electorate, is a region offering promise of gains through demolitions. The public and neighbourhood awareness forming recently is the best guarantee to resurrect historical buildings and prevent cultural loss. Mete is still passionate about preserving the architectural heritage of Istanbul, despite numerous set backs, and he is often quoted in articles dealing with the subject, as in the online archive newspaper article ‘How to murder a city - Another property scandal hits Beyoğlu’.

 Notes: 1- The name for the Galata district during the Byzantine period, was "Sykai" (Fig field). It was also called ‘Peran en Sykais’ in Greek, which means fig field of the other side. The name ‘Pera’, for modern Beyoglu, as used by the Levantines came from this origin. The origin of Galata was either "galaktos" (milk) in Greek or "calata" (stairway) in Italian. Online article on the Galata and Pera: A Short History, Urban Development Architecture and Today, Afife Batur, 2004
2- One of the lesser well known Levantines of Galata was the ‘sweet poet’ André Chenier, who was born here of a French father and a Greek mother. However his life was cut short by the guillotine of the French revolution (1762-1794)
3 - The island of Malta like Istanbul has had a historically strategic importance to Britain and the history of the development of naval hospitals there undoubtedly followed a similar path, covered in detail in:
4- There is a good web site summarizing the Genoese-Venetian rivalry and background to their merchant colonies including that of Galata. Further insights to the dynamics of the Galata colony can be gleaned from a section of the article here: According to web sites, such as, ‘Catholic families from Galata, such as the Draperis, Fornetti and Testa, would supply generations of interpreters and diplomats for the powers of Europe’.
5 - There is a mini web site for the ‘Galata evi’ restaurant - views
6- There is a web site in French dedicated to the influential Jewish Camondo bank, based in Galata, with a listing of all the occupants of the building in 1914, and their function, viewable here.
7- There is a small body of campaigners apart from Mr Göktuğ who try their best to prevent further encroachment of shoddy developers in the Beyoğlu and Galata districts. Possibly the foremost of these campaigners is Mr Nuri Kaya, a Galata based photographer who has started a cultural twinning project with Genoa, and a formerly online web site details the aims and participators in this project (also an on-line Turkish newspaper article with the title ‘protector of Galata’ here).



to top of page interview date 2001