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Introduction to the Neighborhood Profiles

Updated: 3 days ago


This project centers around a series of neighborhood profiles of the historic Greek Orthodox communities of Istanbul. These profiles were researched and compiled by UC Berkeley undergraduates with the research apprenticeship program (URAP) using a combination of both physical and digital English, Turkish, Greek, and Armenian sources. The neighbors covered in this project derive from Evangelia  Achladi’s article on the Rum communities of the city. The profiles detail the neighborhood’s founding, history, and evolution over time focusing on the social and economic circumstances and cultures of its inhabitants. Some neighborhoods have many parish churches while others may only have one. Due to the overlap between formal administrative communes and informal flexible neighborhoods, there is often a lack of clarity of where one neighborhood ends and another starts. This is further complicated by modern districting that has sometimes combined two distinct neighborhoods into a single modern municipal entity.


The Rum Neighborhood Project grows out of a paper by Evangelia Achladi entitled “Rum Communities of Istanbul in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: A Historical Survey” which contains a list of the existing Greek Orthodox neighborhoods and parishes. roughly in between 1821 and 1924. A Greek Orthodox presence in the city was nearly continuous before and after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. Though the original Greek Orthodox population of the city fled during the conquest, Mehmet II’s repopulation of the city brought in migrants from across the empire and even old residents through a forced relocation policy that attempted to renew the population of the devastated and desolate city. These Greeks were relocated to specific districts along the Marmara Sea within the land walls and especially along the Golden Horn. In later centuries a significant Greek population would settle along the Bosphorus and on the Prince’s Islands.

While the city was divided into mahalle or neighborhoods along religious lines, in the later eras of the empire a new administrative system framework called the millet system was established. The Millet system granted non-muslim communities a degree of autonomy and self-governance in the matters concerning their community. For the Greeks, each parish complied with the decrees of the Patriarchate who served as both a spiritual authority and the sole means of contact to the Ottoman government. Throughout the Empire’s long duree, nearly 50 administrative communes were established each with its own unique histories and cultures. While some grew out of existing Byzantine churches and neighborhoods predating the Ottoman Empire, churches were being built into the 20th  century as the city expanded spreading out along the shores of the Bosphorus. Each neighborhood is associated with different waves of migration from other parts of the empire and even from within the city itself. Even with established neighborhoods, their boundaries were porous and constantly in flux responding to changes in the city’s environment responding to fires, epidemics, administrative reforms, economic dynamics, and the ever-expanding borders of the city swallowing up villages along the coast of the Bosphorus.

For the Orthodox Greek communities, the smallest unit of analysis is the parish, an ecclesiastic unit centered around a single church. These parishes either became their own commune or fused with nearby parishes to form a large administrative unit. For the most part neighborhoods and commune will be used interchangeably throughout this project but the term commune refers to the clearly delineated administrative unit while neighborhoods are much more flexible and relative units that often include other religious groups within the same space. Many of these religious communes were formally established (for the most part) between 1821 and 1924. Beginning in the mid-19th century in the context of modernizing policies called the Tanzimat Reforms, a restructuring of the administration of these communities took place where each commune codified and published their historical customs and statutes followed by the community including regulations for guilds, schools, or charitable societies.

Further Readings:

  • Rum Communities of Istanbul in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries : A Historical Survey, Evangelia Achladi

  • Orthodox Christians in the Late Ottoman Empire: A Study of Communal Relations in Anatolia, Ayse Ozil 

  • Empire of Difference: The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective, Chapter 4: Maintaining Empire: An Expression of Tolerance, Karen Barkey 

  • Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire: The Functioning of a Plural Society, Volume 2

  • A Rome of One’s Own: Reflections on Cultural Geography and Identity in the Lands of Rum, Cemal Kafadar

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