Was Salonica a Levantine City? - Philip Mansel, 2012

[Talk given by Philip Mansel at the Thessaloniki Conference of November 2012]

The Levant means ‘where the sun rises’: the eastern Mediterranean. Levant is a geographical word, free from associations with race or religion. It is defined not by frontiers but by the sea. Levantine cities like Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut shared the following characteristics: geography; diplomacy; language; hybridity; commerce; modernity; finally vulnerability. In the nineteenth century Salonica was one of them.

1. Diplomacy

The modern Levant was a product of diplomacy, not conquest. It flourished after 1535 as a result of one of the most successful alliances in history, between the Ottoman Empire and France, between the Caliph of the Muslims and the Most Christian King. It was based on international strategy, on their shared hostility to Spain and the House of Austria.

With the alliance came the capitulations: agreements between the Ottoman and foreign governments which allowed foreigners to live and trade, in the Ottoman Empire, for the most part, under their own legal systems. (This is still a toxic issue today: American soldiers left Iraq in 2011 not to please Iraqi or American opinion, but because the US government refuses to allow American soldiers to be subject to foreign, in this case Iraqi, law). As a result of the French-Ottoman alliance, French consuls – later joined by those of the Netherlands, England and other countries - were appointed to most Levantine ports.

These were the ‘years of the consuls’, to paraphrase the title of Ivo Andric’s 1945 novel about nineteenth-century Bosnia, The Days of the Consuls. Janissaries guarded them from insult or attack. To show equality of status, they often refused to remove their hats in the presence of the local governor. The ports of the Levant became, at times, diarchies between foreign consuls and local officials. Many locals preferred the consuls’ law courts, since they were often more convenient, and less corrupt, than their own. Consuls could be peace-makers. In 1694, and 1770 consuls in Smyrna persuaded the commanders of the Venetian and Russian navies respectively, not to attack the city, in order to prevent reprisals by Muslims against local Christians.

Soon the French-Ottoman alliance acquired commercial and cultural momentum. Consuls acted both as servants of their own government and as local power-brokers and transmitters of technology and information. In the danse macrabre of mutual manipulation which has lasted to this day, outside interference was at least matched by local desire for more of it. Consuls were equivalents of modern international organisations like the World Bank, the IMF or NATO: unpopular but effective. In nineteenth century Alexandria consuls protected criminals of their own nationality from Egyptian courts, but also helped introduce quarantine and fight cholera. They also brought foreign post offices to the ports of the Levant.

The British consul-general played a vital role in the riots in Alexandria which precipitated the British invasion in 1882. He was subsequently the senior British official in Egypt, which he helped to rule for Britain. Consuls played a similar role in Beirut after the French invasion of 1860, helping to run the internationally guaranteed regime in Mount Lebanon, as they did in Crete after 1898. As the power of the Ottoman Empire declined, consuls could facilitate the transfer of Ottoman sovereignty and territory to foreign empires or local nation states.

Salonica after 1800 also had its ‘years of the consuls’. They formed the aristocracy of the town, one of them recalled. A square was called Place des Consuls. As in Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut, they were power-brokers. May 1876 was a time of rising tension in the city, owing to a Christian family’s opposition to the desire of their daughter Itchko to convert to Islam to marry a Muslim called Hairullah. Her family appealed to the main non-Muslim source of authority - the consuls. The French consul-general, and the German vice-consul, a local millionaire called Mr Abbott, entered a mosque during Friday prayers, without protection. In front of the vali himself they were murdered.

In reprisal the great powers sent battle-ships to train their guns on the city. On 16 May around fifty Muslims, many of whom had nothing to do with the murder, were hanged on the quay by the White Tower, watched by officials, consuls, a vast crowd, and British sailors in full dress. As had already happened during a similar public punishment after a brawl between a Frenchman and an Egyptian in Alexandria in 1863, Ottoman authorities had been forced to advertise to the local population their humiliation by foreign powers. The scene was watched by the French sailor Julien Viaud, who published his drawings of it in Le monde illustré (17 June 1876) and, writing under the name Pierre Loti, described it in the opening pages of the novel which made him famous, Aziyade (1879).

Consuls were again crucial in Salonica in 1912. In the first Balkan war, the Ottoman armies had been defeated by those of Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Montenegro. To protect Salonica and its inhabitants, and ensure a peaceful transition from Ottoman to Greek rule, the municipal council and the foreign consuls seized the initiative: with the Ottoman governor, they decided that, while the Ottoman army would withdraw, the Ottoman police and gendarmes would remain in the city. On 5 November they told the Ottoman commander not to fight near Salonica, on 7 November the foreign consuls went to Greek army headquarters to negotiate the Greeks’ entry into the city. Negotiations were in French. To avoid what he called ‘unnecessary bloodshed’, Hasan Tahsin Pasha, the Ottoman commander agreed with the consuls not to defend Salonica; moreover he knew the Greek army was stronger than his own.

On 8 November Salonica was encircled by Greek and Bulgarian forces. Hasan Tahsin Pasha decided to surrender to the Greeks – in part to stop Bulgarians entering Solon, as they called the city, which some considered rightfully Bulgarian. The surrender took place ‘in a relaxed and friendly manner’. On 9 November Greek forces reached the outskirts of Salonica. Ottoman forces handed over their rifles. 26,000 Ottoman soldiers marched into captivity. On 10 November 1912, led by Crown Prince Constantine, Greek troops entered the city. Greeks sang their national anthem, and trampled on the fezzes they had previously worn. Blue and white Greek flags covered the city. At a thanksgiving service the archbishop cried ‘Hosannah to the glorious descendants of the fighters of Marathon and Salamis, to the valiant liberators of our beloved fatherland! ... The golden rays of liberty must illuminate all the corners of the unredeemed nation’ – in other words Constantinople, Smyrna and beyond. Greek newspapers were printed in blue and white and ended articles with the cry ‘To the city! To Constantinople!’

Consuls had helped ensure a transfer of sovereignty in Salonica, from Turkey to Greece, far less lethal than that which would occur ten years later in Smyrna, without their intervention, from Greece to Turkey.

2. Language

International languages for inter-community communication were another characteristic of the Levant. Before the triumph of English, the Levant used two international languages. First was lingua franca, the simplified Italian ‘generalement entendue par toutes les cotes du Levant’, ‘qui a cours part tout le Levant entre les gens de Marine de la Mediterranee et les Marchands qui vont negocier au Levant et qui se fait entendre de toutes les nations’, as French travellers wrote. A business rather than a literary language, it was rarely written down. It was spoken by slaves and sailors; by the Beys of Tunis and Tripoli; and by Byron, who learnt what he called ‘Levant Italian’ in Athens in 1810. The Gentleman’s Magazine wrote in 1837 of an Englishman in the Levant: ‘he has talked lingua franca till he has half forgotten English’. Lingua franca was proof of the accessibility of the Levant to the outside world. It was not a cultural ghetto.

From 1840, thanks to the spread of schools and of steam and rail travel, French, then the world language from Buenos Aires to Saint Petersburg, became the second language of the Levant. The language of science, as well as culture and diplomacy, it was spoken by pashas, viziers and sultans; by Mustafa Kemal and by the poet from Smyrna, George Seferis; and as an official language of the municipalities of Alexandria and Beirut. Young Turk revolutionaries learnt French in Paris, which they called a ‘star brighter than my dreams’. 5000 French words – like complot, metres, dansös - entered the Turkish language. Another form of integration with the outside world.

Salonica also shared these polyglot habits. Most inhabitants spoke some words of Spanish, known in the city as Ladino or Judezmo, the language of Salonica Jews, owing to their numerical and commercial predominance in the city. The Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid spoke French to Salonica’s Jewish and Levantine notables on his visit in 1859. Although many regretted the subtlety of Ladino, French was so popular in Salonica that all modern schools of whatever religion, even some German schools, taught it. A French language newspaper called the Journal de Salonique, (‘publication bi-hebdomadaire, Politique, Commerciale et Litteraire’) was founded in 1895; soon it had a circulation of about 1,000.

Vidal Nahoum, father of the philosopher Edgar Morin, was born Jewish in Salonica in 1894. Through education in a French (Alliance Israelite Universelle) school he became culturally French, even before becoming physically and legally so, after his emigration from Salonica to France in 1917. Like many other Frenchmen from Salonica, such as the Carasso and Modiano families, although he retained a nostalgia for the Ottoman Empire and his native city, he did not feel ‘dépayse’ in France. His son wrote: ‘la France c’est pour lui la Poésie faite Nation … Le prestige du francais est lié à celui de la patrie de la liberté, au mythe de Paris … l’essor des idées laiques a favorisé la gallomanie laquelle amplifie en retour l’essor des idées laiques.’

3. Hybridity

Hybridity and multiple identities were another characteristic of the Levant. The Lebanese American historian William Haddad has written, ‘the nation state is the prison of the mind’. The Levant was a jail break. The Ottoman Empire enforced few of the restrictions and regulations of European governments. There were no ghettos. Travellers were attracted by the variety of races and costumes in these cities and the juxtaposition of mosques, churches and synagogues, inconceivable in European cities before 1970.

In Levantine cities no one group dominated demographically. In Smyrna and Beirut populations were roughly half Christian and half Muslim; in Alexandria approximately three quarters Muslim and one quarter Christian and Jewish. In Salonica in 1850 the population had been about 70,000; by 1906 it had risen to 114,683, of whom 47,017 were Jewish, 33, 756 Greek and 29,665 Muslim (of whom half may have been dönme, of Jewish origin).

Outside the home some men developed multiple identities: in the seventeenth century Sabbatai Sevi, the ‘false Messiah’ of Smyrna, founded his own religion, with Christian and Muslim as well as Jewish elements, and made many converts in Salonica. Dönme, as his followers were called, are still an important element in Izmir and Istanbul. There are three distinct groups: those who believe in Sevi, and his eventual return to earth as the Messiah; those who remain officially Jewish, but secretly believe in Sevi; and those who converted to Islam, but retained certain Jewish practices.

Mustafa Kemal, a Muslim, born in Salonica in 1881, son of an official probably with Macedonian blood, after going to a traditional Koranic school, switched, against his mother’s advice, to the Fevziye school, much frequented by dönme. Then he enrolled in a military school in order to join the army. Many attribute his zeal for reforms, in part, to his Salonica background, on the edge of the Ottoman Empire, exposed to other cultures. At military college in Constantinople, he was at first known as Selanikli Mustafa. I have been assured by elderly gentlemen in Istanbul that he knew, although he rarely used, Ladino.

In public, at places of work or relaxation, from the Cercle de Salonique founded for wealthy businessmen in 1873 to the cafes, taverns and ‘musicos’ of the port, (and in the Federacyon labour union founded after 1908) the male population worked and played side by side. The official journal of the province of Salonica was in four languages: Ottoman, Greek, Bulgarian and Judeo-Spanish. Some chose not only employees, but also wet-nurses and spouses, from other religions. Christians and Muslims visited each other’s houses and made pilgrimages to the tombs of each other's holy men. Christians continued to pray in a section of the church of Saint Demetrius, although it had been turned into a mosque.

Daily coexistence did not, however, exclude eruptions of nationalism – as terrorist attacks in Macedonia, and the Balkan wars, would show. Hybridity affected public lives more than private lives. Religious authorities generally restricted marriages to people of your own community and encouraged people to live near their place of worship. Postcards in Salonica used dress to emphasise national differences: they showed Greek peasant women bedecked in gold coins; Macedonians with thick leggings, white tunics and embroidered aprons; Albanians in massive sheep-skin cloaks; Turks in suits and a fez. The inscription always mentioned the race of the person portrayed. Jobs in the city were traditionally distributed by ethnicity. Grocers and waiters were Greek, yoghurt-sellers Albanian, clothes-sellers Jewish, tram-conductors Turkish, shoeshine-boys gypsies. A French visitor called Canudo admired Salonica as ‘a true crossroads of races …you think you find there the power of life itself, growling, boiling, a human whirlpool in the centre of an ocean of European, African and Asiatic activity.’

4. Trade

Levantine cities were not romantic. They were trading cities, integrated into the economic systems of Europe and the Ottoman Empire. Many were boom cities, which experienced rapid rises in population. Principal hub of a vast network of inland trade routes, Smyrna became the city where Asia came shopping for Europe, and Europe for Asia. From 5,000 in 1600, the population rose to around 100,000 in 1700.

Alexandria became a capitalist El Dorado, attracting a gold rush of Europeans and Syrians in the nineteenth century. In the cotton boom of the 1860’s capital could double every two years. The population rose from 5,000 in 1800 to 100,000 in 1850 and 232,000 in 1882. It became the port linking the economies of Egypt and Europe, with the largest stock exchange outside Europe and North America.

Beirut in 1826 had been described as a republic of merchants, living according to its own law. Its rise was due not only to local merchants but also, like that of Smyrna and Alexandria, to the arrival of foreign merchants and consuls. By 1841 according to the American traveller A.A. Paton, it was ‘a Levantine scala, a bastard, a mongrel’. Its population rose from 6,000 in 1800 to around 130,000 in 1900.

Salonica was also a trading city. Jews formed around half the population of the ‘Madre de Israel’, as they called Salonica. Therefore until 1923 most shops in the city closed on the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays.

Salonica also became a boom town after 1860. Entrepreneurs from the Allatini, de Botton and Modiano families – often with links with the Mediterranean port of Livorno - helped bring Salonica, in a few years, out of the middle ages into the nineteenth century. Brick, soap and beer factories were opened. Dr. Moise Allatini, Salonica’s greatest moderniser, (whose family founded the famous Allatini flour mill) founded the first French language school in 1858. He offered help and medical care to all, whatever their religion. The city walls were demolished in 1866 and new boulevards created; French or Austrian style villas, such as the Villa Kapandji, appeared by the shores of the Aegean.

One of the main commercial streets, as in Smyrna and Alexandria, was called Rue des Franques The quay was constructed in the 1870’s, at the same time as Smyrna’s; streets were slowly paved, drains finally installed. Railway links to Vienna in 1888 and Istanbul in 1896 opened up the hinterland. In 1888 the Banque de Salonique was founded with French and Austrian money. European fashions began to replace traditional dress.

Another characteristic of Levantine cities was their sense of distance from the hinterland. In an age when sea transport was more important than today, and usually quicker and safer than rail or road, their role as ports facilitated their emergence as commercial and cultural centres. Regular boat services made it easier to travel to other ports than to the hinterland. The corniche, where the boats docked, was the principal meeting-place in Levantine ports.

To many visitors Alexandria seemed part of Europe; Beirut to be the Paris of the Middle East; Smyrna to be a different country from Constantinople, as Halid Ziya author of Kirk Yıl remembered. Similarly many of Salonica’s inhabitants rarely left the city. The mountains of Macedonia were ravaged by comitacis, chetniks and cetes – brigands who used nationalism (Greek, Albanian, Macedonian, Bulgarian or Turkish) as an excuse for pillage and murder: Trains were held up, villages burnt, ‘traitors’ shot.

5. Modernity

Levantine cities also brought education and modernity. ‘Smyrna illuminates like a beacon all the other provinces of the Ottoman Empire’, wrote the Austrian consul-general Charles de Scherzer. It had the Ottoman Empire’s first botanical collections, newspaper, American school, railway, electricity, cinema and football club: Bournabat Football and Rugby Cub, established by English merchants in 1894, fourteen years before the foundation of the legendary Galatasaray team in 1908. Alexandria had the country’s first theatres (Arabic and Italian), feminist newspaper, and brewery and in Cavafy the first publicly published homosexual poet since the ancient world.

Smyrna, Beirut and Alexandria attracted dynamic foreign schools, run by the Mission Israelite Universelle, Jesuits, the Order of Notre Dame de Sion, the Freres des ecoles chretiennes, and many others. Like the American University and Universite Saint Joseph in Beirut, they gave pupils the intellectual weapons, including language skills, with which to fight the cultural imperialism they represented. They were attended by Muslims and Jews as well as Christians.

All these characteristics were also present in Salonica. As postcards at the 2012 exhibition at the Villa Kapandji showed, the city contained German, French, Italian, Jewish, Greek and Serbian schools. Modern Turkey was born not in Anatolia or Istanbul, but in Salonica, birthplace of Mustafa Kemal (and of the great Communist poet Nazım Hikmet). Turks took advantage in Salonica of ‘a measure of freedom unparalleled anywhere else in the empire’, due to a combination of geography and demography. The liberal character of the least Muslim large city in the Empire (Muslims comprised at most 30% of the population), combined with the proximity of the largest army corps in the Ottoman empire, based eighty miles away in Monastir (now Bitola), made Salonica an incubator and accelerator of political change more effective than Constantinople or Smyrna. Some of the best schools in Istanbul today are continuations of schools founded in Salonica which moved, with staff, pupils and charitable foundation, in 1912. The famous Istanbul newspaper Cumhuriyet is successor of the Salonica newspaper Rumeli. The publishers of the Salonica newspaper Yeni Asir (‘New Century’), moved it to Izmir where it is published to this day.

More than other Levantine cities, Salonica became a city of revolutions. The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation was founded in 1893 in Salonica. Believing in ‘Macedonia for the Macedonians’ (though some wanted it to be part of greater Bulgaria, since the two nationalisms were at that time closely linked), it soon developed its own shadow law-courts, armed forces and taxes, like a state within a state. Fanatically anti-Greek, it terrorised villages, most of which would have preferred to remain neutral. On 29 April 1903 in Salonica the office of the Ottoman Bank and the surrounding cafes, as well as a French boat in the harbour, were blown up by Bulgarians, led by a teacher called Delchev, hoping to shake Macedonia out of its lethargy and force European intervention. In reprisal Bulgarians – recognisable by their dress - were killed in the street, until the governor Fehmi Pasha came to restore order in person, despite a bomb thrown at his carriage.

Another organisation of revolutionaries opposed to the Sultan, called the Committee of Union and Progress, was established in Salonica in 1904. Its nucleus was two young officers, Enver and Cemal, and Talaat bey, a telegraph employee. Like IMRO, the CUP also created a state within the state. The army was infiltrated; even the Inspector-General Huseyin Hilmi himself was sympathetic. Like many others from Macedonia, the CUP had the ultra-nationalism of the frontier. Niyazi was of Albanian origin. Enver had a Christian Turk or Gagauz, Talaat a Pomak or converted Bulgarian, background; Cemal came from the island of Mytilene in the Aegean; Cavid, head of the Salonica school of arts and crafts, was a dönme. Dr Nazim, born in Salonica, had studied in Paris. All were united in hatred of what Enver’s uncle Halil called ‘the imbecile rule of the palace’ – which, moreover, failed to pay the troops on time.

The presence of foreign consuls in Salonica favoured revolutions. The CUP communicated with political exiles in Paris, and smuggled in subversive men and books, using Greek consuls and foreign post offices as well as their own networks. In Salonica they planned revolution in the cafés near the White Tower or at the Café Cristal Salonica was a political as well as a racial time- bomb.

In July 1908, fearing investigation by the Sultan’s police, the CUP officers staged a military coup in Monastir. As more soldiers joined, or refused to suppress the coup, the movement turned into a constitutional revolution. On 24 July the Sultan capitulated and announced that elections to the Ottoman parliament would be held in the autumn. In front of the Salonica konak Huseyin Hilmi read out the Sultan’s decree. Three times he called for cheers for the sultan; each time he was greeted by silence. On the main square, Enver Bey, the handsome young leader of the revolution, proclaimed: ‘we are no longer Turks, Greeks or Bulgarians but brothers. Long live the fatherland! – the nation! – liberty!’ Speeches, ovations, flag-waving processions – one led by a virgin dressed in white, to symbolise the purity of the Ottoman constitution – succeeded each other.

In the following days, the city appeared to be politically united. Bristling with cartridges, pistols, and daggers, brigands laid down their arms (or rather those too old to be useful) and proclaimed their love of Liberty, Fraternity and Justice, from the balconies of the Olympos Palace Hotel and the Cercle de Salonique. Their photographs were sold by Salonica studios as postcards of ‘brigand bands’ or ‘bandit chiefs’, titled ‘Hassan Cavus’, ‘Livanos’, or ‘Paulos with his companion’. As in Constantinople imams, priests and rabbis embraced each other. The number of murders in Macedonia fell from 1768 in 1907 to 291 in 1909.

The whole city seemed to be wearing cockades or ‘liberty ribbons’ in the white and red colours of the Young Turk revolution: white to show that Turkey must be pure – red to show willingness to shed blood to make it so. Until 1912 the ruling revolutionary party the Committee of Union and Progress held its congresses and published its newspaper Yeni felsefe (new philosophy) in Salonica. Everything was discussed: the organisation of labour; women’s rights; the settlement of Bosnian Muslims in Macedonia; and the reform of the Turkish language. A group of Young Turk writers called Genç Kalemler - young pens - was formed there, including the Turkish nationalist Tekinalp (born Moise Cohen) in 1911.

The Young Turk revolution was an international event. Salonica was hailed as the holy city of the revolution, ‘le berceau de la liberte ottomane’. Olympos square was renamed Place de la Liberte; there were plans to rename Salonica itself ‘the kaaba of Liberty’. Few Muslims considered it might soon be lost to the empire. The ancient family of Evrenoszade, which had helped conquer the Balkans for the Ottomans in the early fifteenth century, decided to restore its ancestors’ tombs, in what is now Giannitsa (Greece) forty kilometres west of Salonica, in 1908, as if they would be there for another five hundred years.

On 13 April 1909 there was an attempt at counter-revolution in Constantinople by troops faithful to the Sultan and horrified by the Committee’s alleged irreligion. In Constantinople many supported the Sultan. Salonica, however, remained true to revolution. 30,000 demonstrators in Liberty square promised to protect the constitution. The ‘operation Army’ under Shevket Pasha, Enver and Mustafa Kemal, with volunteers from Albanian, Greek, and Bulgarian brigand bands, advanced by train to Constantinople. To win popular support they had to promise to protect the Sultan. Instead on 23 April the troops surrounded Yıldız palace and deposed him. He was sent, again by train, to exile in Salonica, where he lived under house arrest in the Villa Allatini. He was replaced by a younger, more liberal brother, who reigned as Mehmed V.

6. Vulnerability

Salonica also shared the vulnerability of other Levantine cities. A riot or a change of regime could change it overnight. After the entry of the Greek army and the king of the Hellenes on 29 October 1912, Salonica was the first major city to be de-levantinised, before Smyrna or Alexandria. The Mausoleum of Galerius, which had first been transformed from a Roman temple into a church, then after 1430 into a mosque, in 1912, like many other mosques, became a church again. Shop and street signs henceforth had to be in Greek. People talking French in the streets were sometimes assaulted for doing so – already in Constantinople since 1908 Greek diplomats had been trying to persuade local Greeks to leave French schools, stop speaking French and hellenise their shop signs.

The assassination of King George of the Hellenes in Salonica on 13 March 1913 led to ‘reprisals’ against Muslims and Jews, often by Greek policemen and soldiers. Many died. After the Bulgarian school was attacked, and fighting broke out between Greek and Bulgarian soldiers on 1 June 1913, Bulgarians fled the city. Although they kept some privileges such as exemption from military service, and the right to keep accounts in Spanish, many Jews regarded the Greek ‘liberation’ as worse than Ottoman rule. Many left for France. Identity was not immutable. Many Salonicans preferred, when possible, to abandon their old identity, emigrate and become American or French. An unknown number, whether Jewish, Muslim, Dönme, Slav or Albanian, changed religion and language and became officially Greek and Orthodox (as, for self-protection, Czechs in Vienna became Austrian, Slavs in Trieste Italian, or the people of Strasbourg switched identity four times between France and Germany in 1871-1945).

Thousands of embittered Muslim refugees fleeing Bulgarian terrorism in the country side – descendants of Christian converts to Islam, as well as Turks – as well as Salonica Muslims, including Mustafa Kemal’s mother, moved to Constantinople or Izmir. Perhaps as many as 150,000 Muslim refugees arrived in the Aydin vilayet alone in 1912-14. Beginning with Mustafa Kemal himself, Balkan refugees, living proof of Turkey’s European roots, would provide much of the driving-force behind its modernisation.

British and Austrian proposals for Salonica and the surrounding area to become an autonomous, neutral city or province, like Tangier or Mount Lebanon, protected by international guarantees and an internationally officered gendarmerie (as Macedonia had possessed since 1903) were supported mainly by Jews. Joseph Nehamia, author of Salonique la ville convoitée (1913), believed Salonica should be a new Venice, ‘the threshold of central Europe’, the great port between Germany and Suez. Few others, however, put their city before their nationality.

Once the commercial dynamo of Turkey in Europe, Salonica sank to being the second city of Greece, cut off from its former hinterland by the newly imposed frontiers of Albania, Serbia and Bulgaria. The creation of nation states weakened its trade, its hybridity, its multilingualism, and the power of the consuls.

Again benefiting from its geographical distance from the capital, however, Salonica again played a role as revolutionary capital in 1916-17. The revolution was led by Venizelos against King Constantine in Athens, as in 1908-9 it had been led by the CUP against Abdulhamid in Constantinople. As a result the city experienced a last international incarnation, as headquarters of the allied Armee d’Orient. Its streets filled with troops from Annam, India, Senegal, Serbia and Russia, as well as France and Britain. Levantine ports, being accessible to foreign navies, were easy to occupy, as Beirut (in 1860) and Alexandria (in 1882) had already discovered.

In conclusion Salonica between 1850 and 1918 shows the political as well as the cultural and commercial independence of cities. Geography, demography, trade and diplomacy can empower them to play an independent role, often against the orders of their state and its capital. Through the flight or transfer of its Muslims, and above all the destruction of its Jews by Germans in the Second World War, the history of Salonica also shows, that as one Salonican who emigrated to America, Leon Sciacky, wrote, civilisation was but a thin crust, a layer so tenuous that one dared not trust it.

Salonica quayside in early 1916. At that period, the Entente forces had put on for public display, in front of the city’s White Tower the emblem of a German airplane as loot of war - more Salonica views.

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