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Samatya: The Old Port of Constantinople



Postcard (Source: Salt Research)

Located inside the walls of the Old City, Samatya or  Psamathia (Ψαμάθεια) in Greek, sits along the coast of the Marmara Sea, bordering the neighborhoods of Yedikule and Langa. Incorporated into the Fatih district in the 1930s, Samatya is now considered one of its six sub-districts. Its main street, one of the most important roads in the district, İmrahor Avenue, runs parallel to the sea and a newly built railway. Its name derives from the Byzantine name of the neighborhood, Ipsomethya (Υψομάθεια) connected to the Greek word “psammos'' for sand or beach, attributed to accumulation of large amounts of sand on this portion of the Marmara coast. 


Hamam in Samatya (Source: Hellenic Library - Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation)

First settled under the Byzantine Empire, the make-up of the neighborhood dramatically changed under repopulation policies in the aftermath of Constantinople’s conquest by Sultan Mehmet II. Vast swaths of the population were resettled in the city from various parts of the empire. Many of the first immigrants came from Kocaeli, Bursa, Balıkesir, Seferhisar, and Menteşe in northwestern Anatolia, and though they were at first mostly Muslim, over time more and more non-Muslim groups moved to the neighborhood. Many of the first Greeks to migrate to the neighborhood were locals living in other parts of the city and were relocated to Samatya.


Page from the 1455 Register (Source: History of Istanbul)

The 1478 tax registers reports that there were 3,151 Greek families living in the neighborhood. Armenians from Bursa and Karaman along with Christians and Jews taken in the Battle of Belgrade were resettled in Samatya and surrounding neighborhoods in the mid fifteenth century. In 1461, the Armenians were given the Theotokos Peribleptos Monastery (Μονὴ τῆς Θεοτòκου τῆς Περιβλὲπτου), an important Byzantine monastery, that was converted into the Armenian patriarchate. Due to this, the early character of the neighborhood

Postcard with view of Samatya (Source: Salt Research)

was very Armenian and Samatya was considered a part of the six major Armenian parishes of the city. By the seventeenth century, most of the Armenian population had moved to other neighborhoods such as Kumkapı following the movement of the Armenian patriarchate in 1641. By the early eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the make-up of the neighborhood had settled with a sizable Greek population moving from the Capadocia-Karaman region to Samatya. 


Samatya’s history has been defined by a series of fires, culminating in the most devastating in 1863 that destroyed 687 buildings leading to a reorganization of the neighborhood planning according to a checkerboard plan. Other major fires occurred in 1660, 1747, 1756, and 1782 and were largely due to the flammability of the wooden buildings of the neighborhood though a few of them are suspected to have been started by criminal activity. Very few of the original structures of most major buildings, such as churches, remain due to these frequent fires.   


Istanbul during the 1863 fire (Source: History of Istanbul)

Economically, the neighborhood was working and middle-class in nature. According to Eremya Çelebi Kömürciyan, an author writing in the seventeenth century, the area in and around the neighborhood was considered a poorer region of the city. Samatya had a tradition of horticulture, which is the growing of vegetables in small gardens rather than fields, continuing a common practice from Byzantine Constantinople where gardens were a common sight within the Theodosian Walls. Additionally, by the eighteenth century, Samatya was home to one of many of Istanbul’s bustling ports with many of the neighborhood's residents working as dockworkers. In 1877, Samatya became a municipal district coinciding with the establishment of a police station, one of five in the city, in 1879. 


Postcards from the port of Samatya (Source: Salt Research)

The neighborhood was organized around its religious buildings, with five Greek churches and two Armenian ones. Each of these churches served a different parish, operating schools, and associations in service of the community. In 1764, the Greek patriarchate recorded that the Church of Saints Constantine and Helen ran an academy and Greek school while another “common school” was supported by all five of the local churches. The Saint George Church (whose parish was located

Church of St. George (Source: Greek Sites of Istanbul)

between Samatya and Langa) operated an all-girls school and nursery. In the nineteenth century, the parish supported a number of guilds including the weavers guild, the barber’s guild, and the gardener’s guild each dedicated to a different saint. Following the era of the Tanzimat Reforms of the late nineteenth century, Armenians began organizing for increased rights centering around these church parish communities. The establishment of the Kırmızı Komite/ Haç Cemiyeti (Red Committee/Cross Community) was one such call for Armenian nationalism which demanded an independent status for the Armenians within the state. Like much of the independence movements of the era, it was repressed by the state.


Landmarks

Greek Churches


Church of St. George (Source: Greek Sites of Istanbul)

Hagios Georgios (εκκλησία του Αγίου Γεωργίου): Its original construction can be traced to 1132 but its current structure was rebuilt in 1834 after a fire. According to a description from a seventeenth century source it’s original building had a “Byzantine dome”.


Hagios Minas (Source: Greek Sites of Istanbul)

Hagios Minas (εκκλησία του Αγίου Μηνά): Underneath it lies the Mausoleum of Saints Carpus and Papylus from the fourth or the fifth century, one of the oldest mausoleums in the city. Its original structure burned in a fire in 1782 and its current building was rebuilt in 1833 though it was heavily damaged in the 1955 Pogroms against Greeks in Istanbul.


The Church of St. Nicholas and of St. Menas (Source: Istanbul Atatürk Library)

Hagios Nikolaos (εκκλησία του Αγίου Νικολάου): This small church is thought to have been destroyed during the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829). It was reconstructed in 1834.


(Source: Greek Sites of Istanbul)

Church of the Ascension of Christ (Theia Analipsi): A church stood on this site already in the Byzantine era or at least by 1578, when Stephan Gerlach, a German theologian who was visiting Constantinople, mentioned its hagiasma in his travelogue. As is a recurring theme with this neighborhood, the original church burnt down in 1782 with the current structure from 1832.


(Source: Greek Sites of Istanbul)

The Hagios Constantine and Helen Church (Κωνσταντίνου και Ελένης) was built on the site of a sixteenth century chapel in 1805 and mostly serves the Karamanlide, a Turkish speaking Greek Orthodox peopl native to Anatolia, community. It was heavily damaged during the September pogrom of 1955. It could possibly be connected to the story of St. Helen bringing the Holy Cross into the city through the gate of Psōmatheus.

Armenian Churches


Surp Kevork Church (Source: Google Review)

The Surp Kevork Church (Սամաթիոյ Սուրբ Գէորգ Եկեղեցի) church began as a Byzantine Greek Orthodox monastery known was the Monastery of Theotokos Peribleptos established in the tenth or eleventh centuries. After conquest of the city, it was transferred to the Armenians as the seat of the Armenian patriarchate from 1461 to 1641 after resettlement by Sultan Mehmet II in 1458. Due to this history the place has been disputed by Greeks and Armenians over ownership of the church. The church burnt down repeatedly in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with the current building completed in 1887. There is a second Armenian church called the Surp Anarad Hığutyun Church which is the most recently built of the churches in Samatya having been built in 1857.  

Schools

Samatya is home to many schools serving various communties. The Sahakyan Nunyan School Armenian school was established as a boys school on the grounds of the monastery established by the Armenian patriarchate and in 1831, a girl’s school was added. In 1866 a fire burned the building down but it was soon rebuilt.  During WW1 it functioned as military barracks and was a shelter for armenians fleeing genocide in anatolia until 1923. The Akabyan Girls Boarding School opened in 1872 in Samatya. The Yedikule German School, one of many such schools, was opened by the engineer Teres in 1875 between Yedikule and Samatya. One of the six American schools operating in the early twentieth century was in Samatya.


 

References


Armenian Sites of Istanbul.” 2016. Grande Flaneria.

Canatar, Mehmet. “Districts and Neighborhoods of Istanbul (1453-1923).” In History of

Istanbul. Vol. 3.

“Greek Sites of Istanbul.” 2016. Grande Flaneria.

İnalcık, Halil. 2019. “Sultan Mehmet The Conqurer's Istanbul.” In The History of

Istanbul. Vol. 1.

Külekçi, Cahit. “Istanbul Armenians: Church and Tradition.” In History of

Istanbul. Vol. 5.

18th Century.” In The History of Istanbul. Vol. 3.

Vyzantios, Skarlatos D. 2019. Constantinople: A Topographical, Archaeological &

Historical. Translated by Haris Rigas. Vol. 1. N.p.: İstos. Andrianopoulou

Konstantina, "Psamathia (Samatya)",

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