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Samatya: The Old Port of Constantinople

Updated: Apr 5

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: Travelogues Traveler’s Views)

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 minority 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 census 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 15th 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 was very Armenian and Samatya was considered a part of the six major Armenian parishes of the city. By the 17th century, most of the Armenian population had moved to other neighborhoods such as Kumkapı following the movement of the patriarchate in 1641. By the early 18th and 19th 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, an author writing in the 17th 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 18th 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 Samtya and Langa) operated an all-girls school and nursery. In the 19th 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 19th 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.


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 17th 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 4th or the 5th 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.

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

Hagios Nikolao (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 16th-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




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

Canatar, Mehmet. n.d. “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. n.d. “Istanbul Armenians: Church and Tradition.” In History of

Öz, Mehmet. n.d. “The Population of Istanbul from the Conquest to the End of the

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)",

Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Constantinople

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