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Ottoman Athens II

Ottoman Athens II

Later Ottoman Athens (1689-1821)

Later Ottoman Athens

Fewer Turks returned after the Venetian occupation than had lived there before. Whereas before the occupation, Turks had formed one quarter of the population, afterwards they carne to about one tenth. Nevertheless, a small mosque was erected inside the ruins of the Parthenon, mostly out of fallen material. At about this time, a company of whirling dervishes took over the Tower of the Winds as their tekke. Their dances, taking place as they did in this unique building, became one of the sights of the city for foreign visitors, one frequently represented in engravings.

In the eighteenth century Athens began to acquire places of learning once more. In 1721 the Medresse, a Turkish religious seminary was founded by Mehmet Fakhri. It carne to be used as a general meeting hall for the Turks. In 1750 Ioannis Dekas, an Athenian who had fled with the Venetians and made a lot of money in Venice, built and endowed a school for twelve poor Athenian children in what is now Deka Street, near Monastiraki.

In 1759 the voivode Tzistarakis built the mosque which bears his name on the present Monastiraki Square. The workmen dynamited one of the columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus to obtain high quality lime for the stucco. The Pasha of Chalkis had him banished for this act, even refusing a bribe of 16,000 piastres which the voivode offered him. The people attributed the outbreak of plague that year to the disease being released by the destruction of the column.

Western visitors continued to arrive in significant numbers for the first time, providing valuable information about the city at that time. Edward Gibbon described the inhabitants 'walking with supine indifference among the glorious ruins of antiquity.' The number of travellers increased after Stuart and Revett published their Antiquities of Athens in 1762. These travellers allow us to glimpse life in Athens in some detail. Thus Hans Christian Anderson reported seeing black Ethiopian slaves belonging to the Turks, who lived high in the caves in the side of the rock on the northern slope of the acropolis. Some of the cave entrances would be partially bricked up for added shelter. The Ethiopians used the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus as a mosque. In 1760, Athens became a malikhane, state land belonging to the sultan, which he would lease to a tenant for his lifetime. The tenant would pay the sultan a lump sum based upon ten times the annual revenue of the property and exercise judicial rights over the inhabitants. His first project after appointment would be to recoup the money he had paid for the lease from the townspeople.

The Tyranny of Hadji ┴li Haseki

In 1772 Hadji ┴li Haseki, an Anatolian Turk in the bodyguard of Sultan Abdul Hamid ╔, purchased the malikhane. After three years he was made voivode. Hadji ┴li Haseki's general aim, quite simply, was to extort as much money from the Athenians as possible.

In 1777 and 1778, hordes of Muslim Albanians burst into the city. They had been called into Greece by the Turks to aid in the bloody suppression of a revolt in the Peloponnese instigated, but inadequately supported, by empress Catherine of Russia. Afterwards, many of them had remained to rob and pillage. In consequence, Hadji ┴li ordered the building of a defensive wall, known as the Serpentzes, around the city. In places it fol1owed the lines of the walls of Themistokles on the north and east. This wall was of poor quality, barely three metres high and one wide, and incorporated much masonry from ruins and monuments The chronicler Dimitrios Kalephronas wrote: 'As soon as the work was completed, Hadji ┴li presented the Athenians with a bill of 42,500 piastres for supervisors from outside, and they paid it. But the wall became a prison for the Athenians. He set guards at the gates, and the Athenians suffered much, until by 1784 'the curse of his rule was no longer to be borne.'

In 1785, Haseki was summoned to Constantinople for trial, together with those archons who had collaborated with him Nevertheless, five years later he was able to return. As a result: 'In 1791 and this year 100 there was nothing but oppression, with people fleeing the country and the Athenians fleeing in every direction. The years 1789-92 were the worst in the twenty-year period of Hadji Ali's rule.' The prisons were full as Haseki tried to extort money from the wealthier citizens. This was too much even for the sultan, and he was banished to Chios and beheaded three years later. [Read more about the dreadful career of the tyrant Ali Haseki in Athens.]

Travellers and Collectors

During these years, Athens became increasingly a port of call, or even a destination, for foreign travellers. William Rae Wilson was wrote: '╔ crossed over in a small boat to Athens, the principal city of the Grecian empire, and put up in a small convent al the extremity of it, inhabited by a solitary monk, where, from the crowd of names of Englishmen written and cut on the walls, seems to be a kind of headquarters for ┬ritish travellers.' He was referring to the monastery of Saint Spyrid´n. Near the end of the century John Bacon Sawry ╠´rritt exemplified the ruthless attitudes of the aristocratic antiquities collectors of the period: 'It is very pleasant to walk the streets here. Over almost every door is an antique statue or basso-relievo, more or less good though all much broken, so that you are in a perfect gallery of marbles in these lands. Some we steal, some we buy.' Later he wrote: 'We have just breakfasted, and are meditating a walk to the citadel, where our Greek attendant is gone to meet the workmen, and is, ╔ hope, hammering down the Centaurs and Lapiths... Nothing like making hay when the sun shines, and when the commandant has felt the pleasure of having our sequins for a few days. ╔ think we shall bargain for a good deal of the old temple...'

He did not get what he wanted, but in 1799, Lord Elgin was accredited in Constantinople as British ambassador to the Sublime Porte. His agent, the Neapolitan Giovanni Battista Lusieri arrived in Athens to accomplish Elgin 's project of removing fine examples of ancient sculpture to Britain. The ┬ritish consul, Logothetis, was instructed to obtain permission from the Dizdar Aga. After six months negotiations permission was given in return for five guineas. Even so, he refused them permission to erect scaffolding, lest the workmen peek into the garden of his harem. Then on receiving news of the approach of a French fleet, foreigners were forbidden access to the acropolis.

Elgin then reportedly went straight to the Ottoman Foreign Ministry to request a firmßn in the name of Sultan Selim II, to override local officials, and obtained one. This was presented to the voivßde of Athens. On the basis of this authority, over the next few years the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaea and the temple of Athena Nike were denuded of their sculptures, which were shipped to England. The painter Edward Dodwell visited Athens during the course of this work and wrote of 'the inexpressible mortification of being present when the Parthenon was despoiled of its finest sculpture, and when some of its architectural members were thrown to the ground.' Edward Clarke reported 'down came the fine masses of the Pentilican marble, scattering their white fragments with thundering noise among the ruins.' In recompense for the marbles, Lord Elgin left a clock to the citizens. ┴ tower was built to house in the bazaar. [Read about the theft of the Parthenon Marbles in Athens.] [Read also about another contemporary despoiler of ancient monuments, Charles H. Cockerell, mostly famous for 'excavating' and robbing the temples of Aegina and Bassae, who also contrived to be the cause if further damage on the Acropolis of Athens.]

The occupation of Italy by Napoleon in 1796 diverted the young noblemen on the Grand Tour to the friendly Ottoman Empire. Many were lodged by Spyrid´n Logothetis. In 1798 he received John Twedell, in 1801 Edward Daniel Clarke. In the same year, Edward Dodwell and William Gell stayed with the Makri family on Ayias Theklas Street, in 1809 Byron and Hobhouse. Hobhouse observed that even the Turks of Athens: 'subdued either by the superior spirit of his subjects, or by the happy influence of a more genial climate, appears to have lost his ferocity, to have conformed to the soil, and to have put on a new character, ornamented by the virtues of humanity, kindness, and an easy affability, to which he attains in no other quarter of the Mahometan world.'

Athens before Independence

He supposed the number of houses in Athens to be between twelve and thirteen hundred; of these about four hundred were inhabited by Turks, the remainder by Greeks and Albanians, the latter of whom occupied about three hundred houses. There were also seven or eight 'Frankish' families, under the protection of the French Consul. He thought the houses of the more important Athenians inferior to those of the wealthier Greeks at Ioannina or Livadia. The streets were narrow and irregular. Many had a raised causeway on both sides, so broad as to contract the middle of the street into a kind of dirty gutter. The bazaar was at a little distance from the foot of the hill, and had several coffee-houses, which at were crowded by Turks playing draughts and chess. It was formed by one street, rather wider than usual, intersecting another at right angles; and a little above where the two meet was the principal ornamented fountain in the town, supplied by a stream still brought in artificial channels or stone gutters from a reservoir under Mount Hymettus.

There were only four principal mosques with minarets in the city, although there were eleven places of worship for the Turks. The number of Christian churches was out of all proportion to the Greek population. Thirty-six were constantly open, and had services performed in them; but if the chapels which were shut every day except on the days of their particular saints were counted, there would have been nearly two hundred.

Hobhouse recorded that the voivode interfered little with the management of the Christians, and generally contented himself with the receipt of the tribute, collected by the archons. These were formerly eight in number; but at that time there were only five.

The regular tax transmitted from Attica to Constantinople was between seven hundred and seven hundred and fifty purses; but the archons, under various pretences, exacted twice as much; and as they never gave any account to the people of the manner in which their money had been disposed of, they did not fail to enrich themselves out of the difference. Threats, and sometimes punishments, were employed to wring from the peasants their hard-earned pittances.

The archbishop of Athens exercised absolute authority over the clergy, and had a pris´n near his house for the confinement of offenders, whom he might punish with the bastinado, a beating on the soles of the feet with rods, to any extent short of death. His place was purchased from the Patriarch, the cost later being recouped by exactions from the people. [Read about the Orthodox Church under Ottoman rule in Between Heaven and Earth.]

The families of Westerners settled at Athens chiefly supported themselves by lending money, at an interest of from twenty to thirty per cent to Greeks merchants. They held balls and parties in the winter and spring in their own small circle, to which the leading Greeks were invited.

He reported that until within a few years previously, a journey to Athens was reckoned a considerable undertaking, fraught with difficulties and dangers; and that only 'a few desperate scholars and artists ventured to trust themselves amongst the barbarians, to contemplate the ruins of Greece.' But in recent years Attica swarmed with travellers' to the extent that 'several women had ascended the Acropolis' and that the city was soon to be provided with a tavern.

Attica before Independence

The region immediately to the north and north-west of the city, Hobhouse described as interspersed with small villages, hidden in shady groves. The Athenians were fond of the luxury of a summer retreat, had constructed kiosks, or summer houses, the lower part of mud and the upper of wooden planks, 'affording agreeable shelter during the intolerable heat of summer.'

'Some of these gardens were near villages such as Kemsha, the ancient Cephisia, at the foot of Mount Pentelicus, and Calandri, in the same quarter; but the large tract of them was in the long line of olive-groves which form the western boundary of the plain of Athens. This district, watered by the Cephisus, in the neighbourhood of the site of the Academy, and the Colonus ă▀ppius, about twenty minutes' walk from the gale leading to Thebes, was to the south called Sepolia, and to the north Patisia, and was divided into extensive grounds allotted for supplying the city with fruit and vegetables, and are for the most part not cultivated by their owners, but let out to the peasants of the villages.'

The ╩ifissos, he described as a sort of ditch-stream, almost dry in summer, and in winter only a torrent passing through the olive-groves and gardens, each of which is watered. irrigation was 'effected by raising a low mound round eight or nine trees, and then introducing the stream through dykes, so as to keep the roots and part of the trunks under water for the necessary length of time. Each owner watered his grove for thirty or forty hours, and paid so much a tree to the voivode, or to someone who had leased the revenue from that officer. 'During that period the peasants constructed huts with boughs, and watched each other day and night, so as not to lose their own portion, or to allow to others an unfair abundance of the valuable water.' He several limes observed their fires among the trees; and, as they watched in parties, and heard the sound of their voices, and the tinkling music of their guitars, on returning to Athens from an evening's ride

The village of ╩ifissia was then the favourite resort of the Turks of Athens during the summer and autumnal months. The only village in Attica adorned with a mosque: it contained about two hundred houses. In the middle of it was an open space, where there were two fountains, and a large plane-tree, beneath whose overhanging branches was a flat stone, which was carved into squares so as to serve as a draught board, around which the Turks could be seen sedately smoking, or playing.

At Piraeus there was a monastery, dedicated to St. Spiridion, and inhabited by three or four friars; a summer retreat and warehouses belonging to a Frenchman, who resided in the city in the double capacity of physician and merchant; and a custom-house, the collector belonging to which was a dealer in fruit and Greek spirits. While he was there he saw in the harbour two ships at anchor. One of them was destined to receive the spoils of the Parthenon; and the other had recently arrived with a cargo of human beings from the coast of Africa. There were between two and three hundred slaves in the city: chiefly females, the servants of the Turks, who had the reputation, he said, of being indulgent and kind-hearted masters. He asked a black girl who brought a duck to the Capuchin convent for sale, how she came to be made a slave She said that she was born in Egypt, and caught in the neighbourhood of Alexandria while she was at the well drawing water. The only other trade at Piraeus was the exportation of the productions of Attica, the chief of which was olive oil.

┴ survey of the many engravings of the period shows that, although many were drawn unseen from descriptions and contain gross inaccuracies, it is clear that at this time, with the exception of the olive groves of the Kifissos Valley, the tree cover had already virtually disappeared from around Athens and from most parts of Mount Hymettos. Although large timber had disappeared in classical times, so that it was necessary for the city to resort to the forests of Macedonia and Thrace for the wood for shipbuilding, records from the period of Florentine rule suggest that at that time the hills around Athens were wooded. Thus significant deforestation occurred under Ottoman rule. Engravings from this period also frequently show camels. Although not a major trading centre, Athens was connected with the rest of the empire by the camel caravan routes which criss-crossed the Middle East and North Africa, and which once had their European terminus at Belgrade. [Read reports of other travellers to Athens during this period in Travellers' Greece: Memories of an Enchanted Land.]

ę John L. Tomkinson



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