Events - Part 13

posted by mh on 2005/11/20 23:11

[ Events ]

On Friday November 18, 2005, Dr. Alexandra Yerolympos (Aristotle University of Thessalonica) gave a lecture on Urban Transformations in the European Provinces of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 19th centuy at the Ottoman Bank Museum, Istanbul. Due to the significance of her work for our topic, a summary of her presentation is made available below. Organized as part of the monthly seminar series Economy and Society on Both Shores of the Aegean, in collaboration with Alpha Bank and the History Department of Bogazici University, last Friday’s lecture was held by Alexandra Yerolympos, an architect and professor of urban design and planning history at the .

Yerolympos’ lecture was announced to address

the process of change undergone by cities in the European provinces of the empire in their final years under Ottoman rule (1830-1912). Along with its commitment to the Tanzimat reform movement, the state had begun to take interest in the form and fabric of towns and cities and was creating new institutions and instruments to implement policies for city planning. At the same time, the various ethnic and religious groups making up these urban populations were becoming involved in the process, actively demanding recognition of their newly acquired rights and actual participation in the
evolving townscape. By identifying the substantial changes which occurred in these towns, Yerolympos proposes to examine the concept of modernization in itself and its link to urban planning, in the growing role of municipalities, newspapers and citizens' commitees. Indeed, she will suggest that an essential element of the modernization process going on was the attempt to foster "a sense of belonging to the city," which, given the particular political and geographical context in which the changes were taking place, became an endeavor of crucial significance.


After having started the lecture with an introduction to her involvement with the topic, Dr. Yerolympos opened with addressing the causes for urban transformations in the period in question. The incisive changes of the late 19th century not only coincided with the “industrial revolution” in the region but also individuals’ desires to make their presence felt in the densified, modern city (as opposed to the “almost medieval, introverted” city). Beyond the traditional ties of religious community, a sense of belonging to the city developed.

Yerolympos divides the town planning developments in the European Ottoman provinces into two phases. During the first phase (1839 -1869/70), innovation was either sought by local authorities, and often met with resistance by the citizens, or demanded by the citizens while the authorities remained reluctant or even hostile to urban renewal. Triggered by the proclamation of the Tanzimat Edict (1839), granting equal rights to all Ottoman subjects, we witness massive investment in residential and professional building and a subsequent rise of the hitherto very low land values. Another decisive novelty is that the authorities first approve free settlement outside the city limits.

The second phase, starting with 1870, sees crucial developments such as the growth of steam navigation and railroad connections with Europe, the opening of banks, and the establishment and acceptance of new institutions of governance. In 1882 a regulation is adopted, which destines quarters haunted by fires having destroyed more than 10 buildings to be re-planned along rational principles, without compulsorily respecting previous property delineations.
Fires in general, as Yerolympos pointed out, played a crucial role in the modernization of the urban fabric of Balkan cities. Alone in the second half of the 19th century, more than 200 fires ravaged Istanbul, while Yerolympos counts more than 70 in the provincial towns of Ottoman Europe. Due to the fact that most often Christian and Jewish quarters fell victim to devastation, citizens occasionally came to believe that the fires were in actual fact started by the local authorities. The citizens of Ioannina, however, proved to be so satisfied with the partial redesign of 1869 that demands for a new plan for the whole city were raised. Presenting a slide of the main street (Shirok Sokak) of Bitola, Yerolympos illustrated the rebuilding of old market areas – customarily built of wood and thus particularly prone to inflammation - with the important innovation that the building of residential space on top of a commercial ground floor came to be authorized.

Another significant new development was the permission for the foundation of new quarters and towns, often extra muros, by non-Muslim communities. Yerolympos gave the example of Volos, which prior to 1841 contained some 150 mainly Muslim houses in its fortified city. After a few Christian merchants had heard of the new freedoms granted in 1839, they descended from the mountainous hinterlands to erect a new town (quarter) outside the fortifications. Upon consultation with the authorities, this enterprise was then sanctified by the central administration whereupon an engineer was sent to prepare an urban plan. The concerns raised by Volos’ Muslims, however, suddenly brought the development to a halt, for the warehouses to be built in the new town next to the sea threatened the commercial interests of the population dependent on the old port. Eventually, a compromise was reached in also granting Muslims the right to establish themselves in the new town.

The case of Thessalonica, to which Yerolympos had dedicated a whole monograph published in 1996 (see below), was given special attention. While prior to 1869 no settlement had been allowed outside the fortified city, a new generation of well-educated, liberal Valis brought about change. The sea wall was demolished for a new quarter built in contemporary Western architectural styles along straight streets intersecting at right angles. Moreover, 15 “Sultanic” buildings were erected (hence, Hamidiye quarter) to demonstrate to the population the attractiveness of the new architecture. Furthermore, extension plans for suburbs in the East and West of the walled town were commissioned. Due to the lack of legal instruments for expropriation, however, fires often remained the sole opportunity for the modernization of the urban fabric of whole quarters.

Alexandra Yerolympos studied architecture in Thessaloniki and planning in Paris, where she
practiced for many years with architectural and planning firms. She has been on the faculty of the School of Architecture at the since 1976 and is the author of books and articles on the planning history of Greece, the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire. Yerolympos has also participated in urban design projects for the old harbor market of Thessaloniki , the quay and the intra muros city of Thessaloniki. (Source: OB Announcement)

Publications by Alexandra Yerolympos:[.doc]:

  • Urban Transformations in the Balkans 1820-1920. Aspects of Balkan Town Planning and the Remaking of Thessaloniki. University Studio Press, Thessaloniki 1996.
  • "Tanzimat Döneminde Kuzey Yunanistan'da Sehircilik ve Modernleşme"in (eds P. Dumont et F. Georgeon) Modernlesme Sόrecinde Osmanli Kentleri. Tarih Vakfi Yurt Yayinlari, Istanbul 1996.
  • "Conscience citadine et intérêt municipal à Salonique à la fin du XIXe siècle" in (F. Georgeon, P. Dumont, eds) Vivre dans l'Empire Ottoman. Sociabilités et relations intercommunautaires (XVIIIe-XXe siècles). L'Harmattan, Paris 1997.
  • "New data relating to the spatial organization of the Jewish communities in the European provinces of the Ottoman Empire (19th c.)" in The Jewish Communities of Southeastern Europe. From the 15th c. to the end of World War II. Institute for Balkan Studies, Thessaloniki 1997.
  • "Evolution des quartiers traditionnels de commerce dans les villes de la Méditerrannée orientale. Persistance et mutations d'une typologie urbaine" in Petites et grandes villes du Bassin Méditerranéen. Hommages rendus à Etienne Dalmasso. De Boccard, Paris 1998.
  • "Urban space as 'field': Aspects of Late Ottoman Town Planning After Fires" in G. Massard-Guilbaud, H. Platt, D. Schott (eds.) Cities and Catastrophes -Villes et catastrophes. Coping with Emergency in European History. Peter Lang, Europaischer Verlag des Wissenschaften, Frankfurt am Main 2002.
  • "Inter-war Town planning and the Refugee Problem in Greece. Contemporary 'Solutions' and Long-term Dysfunctions", in (R. Hirschon, ed.), Crossing the Aegean. Berghahn Books, Oxford 1999.



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