The Alfredo Levante family of İskenderun - Osman Öndeş

The roots of the Levante family of the Levant go back to Genoa. Records show that in 1468 there was a ship engineer in Genoa by the name of Nicola Marina, whose son born in 1514 was Antonio Levante who became a military doctor. Antonio Levante’s son was Marco born 1546 Genoa and his son in turn was Lillo born 1578. Lillo Levante and family migrated in 1606 to the town of Larino, east of Rome. Lillo’s son Francesco was a farmer in Larino. The period 1607-1726 is not recorded in the Levante family archives, however Edoardo Levante was able to get internet based feedback from the elicit page he set up. Edoardo Levante takes up the story thus:

“In 1726 Tomasso Levante of Larino was the first doctor in the family. Tomasso had 2 sons, one named Fedele and the other Giuseppe who became a professor of medicine in Larino. Giuseppe who died in 1823 in turn had 2 sons, one Luigi, born 1787 became a military doctor and Tomasso born 1816 who also became a doctor but later chose politics that culminated in him being elected mayor of Larino. Tomasso Levante was also a historian and he left behind a hand written 16 volume history of Larino. The first volume of this treatise is in our family collection, the remainder 15 volumes are in the library of the Larino municipality.

Luigi Levante was the first one of the family to move to the Levant. He was a doctor in 1813 in Napoleon’s army. He died in 1849. In the wars fought on German soil in Lutzen and Bautzen, he writes that over 3 days he had to operate as a surgeon on 180 wounded men. In 1818 he researched the plague prevalent at the time in Ottoman lands and Algeria and his findings are retained in the archives of the Invalid Museum of Paris.

In 1828 he was invited by the French physician Bartelemy Clot, who served the Khedive of Egypt Mehmet Ali Pasha, to work in Egypt. Dr Luigi Levante is the first person to create a meaningful health system in Egypt. He continued his studies on the plague in Egypt as well. In 1831 Luigi left Egypt to continue his medical work in the Ottoman centres of Aleppo, Damascus and Smyrna. However by this stage his health was failing and he then retired to Cyprus and died there in Famagusta in 1849.

Luigi Levante had 2 children in Famagusta, Giuseppe born 1839 and Rosina. Giuseppe started working at a young age and is the first shipping agent of the family. He also engaged in trade, buying agricultural produce and cotton from Aleppo and exporting them to Italy. In those days Iskenderun was the sole port of Aleppo and he would have to do the round trip to buy the goods in Aleppo by camel caravan and the goods could only be loaded on to his sailing ship by rowing boats. In time he realised the impartibility of managing his business from Famagusta and moved to Iskenderun (Alexandretta) on the 28th July 1839. Luigi Levante dies in Iskenderun in 1896.

The son of Luigi, Giuseppe marries in Iskenderun on 1st January 1865 with a French lady by the name of Emilia Béraud and he later set up his shipping agency with the name ‘Levante & Figli’ and as the business developed he opened satelite offices in Beirut, Tripoli (Syria) and Mersin. In the same year they got married Emilia Béraud gave birth to a son, Emilio, however she died within the year. Emilio settled in Mersin and set up the agency named ‘Emilio Levante Successori’. Emilio Levante married Maria, from the Giustiniani family of Smyrna. From this marriage 4 sons were produced: Edmondo (b. 1898), Rinaldo, Livio and Enrico (b. 1908) - more on this branch of the family. Emilio Levante carried on working with his grown sons Edmondo and Enrico, but Rinaldo moved with his wife Tilla to Istanbul. Edmondo Levante married Yvonne Barbour and Enrico Levante again married the daughter of a Mersin Levantine merchant, Rosy Rickards. Emilio Levante who was also the consul for Austro-Hungary in Iskenderun dies in Mersin in 1939. His eldest son Edmondo served in the Italian army during WWI. Edmondo’s daughter Cristina, born 1933, married from Mersin Romolo Babini. Their children in turn are called Patrizia and Paola. The second daughter of Edmondo, Anna-Maria born 1937 marries Roland Essaié and they have 3 daughters: Christine, Domonique and Nathalie.

Rinaldo Levante was the Mersin and Istanbul agent for Navigazione - Assucurazione insurance company. The offices of the company was on Bankalar Street, Istanbul. Rinaldo Levante died in 1990 after which his son Davide Levante established Levante-Mar, a touristic passanger shipping service, however following depression he unfortunately committed suicide in 1999, aged 37.

Enrico Levante, born 1908 worked with his father in the Emilio Levante Successori shipping agency. Through his marriage to Rosy Rickards he had a son, Emilio, born 1937. Emilio in turn married Maryse Chalfoun and had 4 children: Edmondo, Marco, Claudia and Jennifer. In turn Jennifer Levante married Fadi Sayet, from a prominent Iskenderun family and Claudia married Michel Chachati from that prominent Mersin family. In time the name rights of Levante Successori was sold to the Arkas shipping group, headed in Izmir by Lucien Arkas.

Going back in generations to Giuseppe Levante, who had a second marriage in 26 July 1866 to Emilie Sader and from this union they had a son, Luigi Levante born 1867. Luigi didn’t pursue commerce but had a colourful life as consul in Iskenderun. He married the daughter of the locally prominent Catoni family, Lucia and together they had 3 children: Lina (b. 1896), Guiseppe (1898) and Osvaldo (1900). Luigi Levante died 1946.

The member of the Levante family who left his mark by increasing the role the family played in the shipping agency business was third son Edoardo Levante born 1871. Together with his father Guiseppe Levante he set up the agencies in Beirut, Tripoli and Latakia both in Syria. As the company grew it obtained the representations of Lloyd Austriaco, Lloyd Sabaudo, Flotte Riunite etc. shipping companies and later the powerful Italian companies of Lloyd Triestino, Lloyd Adriatica di Navigazione.

Edoardo Levante is great-grandson of that Edoardo Levante and he picks up the more recent family history thus:

“My father Alfredo Levante was at the same time a shipping broker in Iskenderun and was also the consul of Italy, Germany and Spain in that city. He married Paulette from the Makzume family. My father was fluent in Turkish, Arabic, French, Italian and English and he had a strong command of Latin. Between 1915-18 during WWI he served in the Italian army. When my mother Paulette died in 1982 she was 72 years old. I am one of 3 siblings. My sister is 1939 Iskenderun born Maria-Pia who married Ernest Boutros and together they had 3 children: Emil (b. 1962), Paola and Aksel (b. 1965). Emil and Aksel are currently amongst the managing directors of Abdullah Butros ve Oğullari Müessessesi Kollektif Şirketi, shipping agency. My second sister is the 1940 born (Tonia) Antonella, who married 3 times: Michel Auberty, André Wendelen and with William Lee.

For me, with my first wife Renate Ellek I had a daughter in 1959 named Marina and a son Alfredo born 1961. Marina is married to T. Bovay and in 1998 my grand-daughter Célia was born.

My great-grandfather Edoardo Levante’s son Mario was born in Latakia in 1903, lived in Beirut and died in this city (Iskenderun) in 1970. His sibling born 1904 Yola married the famous French General Jean Regnault who in the 1930s when Iskenderun was under French rule was responsible for intelligence. His offices were at Reyhanlı. They met during this period. Third child Carlo born 1908 was an adventurer volunteering for war in Africa. Sister to Carlo Mira born 1911 died 2002. Yola had 2 children, Jacques born 1933 and Fabienne born 1938. When General Jean Regnault was transferred to France the family left and settled in Paris.

I would like to mention some of the interesting family photos of the past in my collection. In one of them dated 1895 taken in Iskenderun shows Luigi Levante, Emilie Sader, Emilio Levante, Giuseppe Levante, Michel Sader, Rudolphie Sader, Marie Sader, Edoardo Levante and some guests and servants I cannot name. My grandfather in that photo, Edoardo Levante shows he was into cycling.

Another family photographed dating from 1907 shows the family group on board ship doing the Iskenderun - Beirut run. In this photograph virtually the entire family and Beard relations through the intermarriage is present: Augustine Catoni, Osvaldo Levante, Giuseppe Levante, Edmondo Levante, Rinaldo Levante, Livio Levante, Alfredo (Fredino) Levante, Mario Levante and Mario Catoni. An interesting observation is that all the children are in sailor uniforms. The identified adults in the backrow of the same photographed are Lucie Levante, Mrs Titine Catoni, Emilio Levante, Luigi Levante, Yola Regnault and Maria Giustiniani. The others are, on the extreme left the kavass of the consul, along with the ship’s captain and other officers.

The Italian families were forced to leave Turkey in retaliation of the Ottoman-Italian War over Triplitania and the Italian Levantines of had to migrate from Mersin and Iskenderun to Cyprus and elsewhere.

A later 1937 dated group photograph is particularly interesting and if all those appearing could be identified it would be a virtual inventory of all the Levantines and European migrants living at the time in Iskenderun. According to my late father Alfredo Levante from whom I have inherited this photograph, this photograph was taken in front of the warehouse of the Forbes company, in the Fener quarter of the city, whose land stood vacant till recent times [now the Hilton hotel complex] and comprises the grouping of the important traders and shipping agents of Iskenderun with their families present. I have been able to identify some, for example, on the extreme left is the founder and owner of Hatay Oils Strati Gylptis and to his left the founder of Catoni Shipping Agency, Joseph Catoni. Other names I can identify on this photo include Marcel Balit, the manager of the Catoni Shipping Agency, Luigi Levante and his wife Lucie, Lila Makzume (mother of Antoine), an engineer for the Forbes Company Watt and his wife, Raymond Makzume (brother of Lionel), Mr Joyce (manager of the Forbes Company), Emil Makzume, Emile Boutros (father of Ernest), Edward Boutros, Antoine Makzume, Henriette Makzume (mother of Lionel) and Mireille Makzume (sister to Lionel).

image courtesy of Osman Öndeş
Edoardo Levante with his son Alfredo Levante in their office at İskenderun.