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Kumkapı: Heart of Armenian Constantinople


Fismongers in Kumkapī, circa 2016. (Source: Salt Research)

“When I was a lad, I remember visiting Kontoskali…I thought I was in Greece, because there were so many Greek flags.”

- Greek journalist Stephanos Papadopoulos, describing Kumkapı at the turn of the twentieth century


Map of Kumkapī, circa 1572 (Source: Wikimedia Foundation)

The neighborhood of Kumkapı, Kontoskali in Greek, was settled in the early Byzantine period, rooting itself just as much in Byzantine history as in later Ottoman history. In its first use under the Byzantine Empire, the harbor of Konstoskalion, the likely namesake for the neighborhood, was used as a landing stage during the reign of Constantine the Great in the fourth century. Later in the sixth century, Konstoskalion became an important harbor under the reign of Justinian with the Konstoskalion Gate serving as an important gate at the Sea Walls of Constantinople. Surviving fourteenth-century inscriptions from the Sea Walls of Constantinople immortalize the repair of a tower in the neighborhood after the end of the Latin occupation of Constantinople in the thirteenth century. Records also indicate that the Palaiologos dynasty, the last Byzantine dynasty, built a shipyard at Kumkapı in the early fifteenth century.


The Kumkapı Panyia Elpida Church. (Source: El Viajero Experto)

With the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, Konstoskalion's harbor was gradually eclipsed by other neighboring Bosphorus harbors, falling into disrepair and eventually being filled in by the construction of other buildings by the mid-seventeenth century. However, the neighborhood continued to thrive and boast a substantial Greek Orthodox population for centuries after the port's destruction. For example, the first iteration of the Kumkapı Panayia Elpida Greek Orthodox Church, which still exists today, was built as early as, and possibly earlier than, 1576, the earliest year a written document refers to its existence. Two public fountains were built in the late sixteenth century, an indication of the neighborhood’s population growth.

Kumkapī coast and city walls in the early 20th century. (Source: Salt Reasearch)

By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Greek Orthodox population became supplemented by Armenians, attracted to the neighborhood after the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople relocated there in 1641. The neighborhood became an important center of Armenian culture over the next centuries. For example, the Armenian Bezciyan Private School was established in 1790 and played an important role in the development of Armenian nationalism within Turkey. Though the originals of these buildings have since burned down, nineteenth-century reconstructions of these buildings stand to this day. In the nineteenth century, after a massive fire burned down the majority of the neighborhood, the government reorganized the neighborhood according to a Western-style grid. It also built several new public fountains and a railway ran through the neighborhood. By the turn of the twentieth century, Kumkapı was a bustling urban neighborhood with an early railroad connection, dense with Greek taverns, Armenian schools, and various other pillars of communal Greek and Armenian life.

The Armenian Bezciyan School (Source: Foursquare)

However, the Greek and Armenian communities in Kumkapı greatly declined in the twentieth century. Most prominently, the Armenian Genocide beginning in World War I and deportations of Greek Orthodox in the 1920s substantially reduced these minorities' populations in the city. Greek populations were further reduced by anti-Greek pogroms in Istanbul in the 1950s. As a result, today there are very few remaining Greeks still living in Kumkapı. Despite this, Kumkapı retained its reputation as a Greek and Armenian fishing neighborhood until the 1970s, and large numbers of Armenians still live in the neighborhood, where the Armenian Patriarchate remains to this day.


 

References:

“Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople.” Wikipedia, June 23, 2023.

Herzog, Christoph, and Richard Wittmann, eds. Istanbul-Kushta-Constantinople: Narratives of Identity in

the Ottoman Capital, 1830-1930. Routledge, 2018.

“Istanbul Armenians Fear for Their Safety amid Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict.” Duvar English, October 2,

Järvik, Jürgen. “Armenian Sites of Istanbul.” grande flânerie, March 31, 2019.

Konstantina, Andrianopoulou. “Kontoskali (Kumkapı).” Translated by Tsokanis Anna. Encyclopedia of the

Hellenic World, May 6, 2008. http://constantinople.ehw.gr/forms/fLemmaBodyExtended.aspx

lemmaID=11402#endNote_44.

“Kontoskalion.” Wikipedia, August 6, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kontoskalion.

“Kumkapı.” Wikipedia, March 25, 2023. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kumkap%C4%B1.

Öztürk, Hüseyin S. “Inscriptions of the City Walls.” Istanbul City Walls. Accessed July 7, 2023.

https://istanbulsurlari.ku.edu.tr/en/essay/32/inscriptions-of-the-city-walls.



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