Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Urban Identities and Catastrophe: Izmir and Salonica at the End of the Ottoman Empire

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Urban Identities and Catastrophe: Izmir and Salonica at the End of the Ottoman Empire

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. Two huge fires dramatically influenced the urban development of Salonica and Izmir, in 1917 and in 1922, respectively. These catastrophes occurred after the Ottoman Empire fell, and Salonica and Izmir had shifted into new national contexts. The fires mainly destroyed the districts that were transformed during the late-Ottoman period. These districts became the cosmopolitan facades of modern Izmir and Salonica. The post-tires' tabula rasa provided an opportunity for Greek and Turkish politicians and European planners to change the urban identity of both cities. Moreover, the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 transformed their multicultural societies also. Reconstruction plans had been thought to de-Ottomanize and remove the previous idea of the towns and their multiplicity, interpreting new cultural and nationalist feeling. Here, I emphasize how modernity was interpreted before and after the fires, and point out contradictions between ideological aspects of planning and how the first urban districts were built during the 1920S. Keywords: Ottoman Empire, catastrophe, fire, Izmir, Salonica, Turkey, Greece.

qzmir. and Salonica, important port cities of Turkey and Greece respectively, have been subjected to several similar events within the scope of urbanism, architecture, and social change. In the last few decades, similar processes of urban rehabilitation have improved waterfronts, and leisure facilities have been introduced. Izmir and Salonica are entering the competition for tourism among Mediterranean coastal cities. Their extraordinary bays, as well as their waterfronts and hill districts, resemble each other and their central areas' public spaces, when carefully observed, reveal another similar feature: a conflicting mingling of different urban concepts. Fragments of cities with various characteristics and sequences of public spaces are connected to each other without any continuity. Moreover, within certain areas, streets, or squares, can be distinguished buildings radically heterogeneous in terms of size, scale, and typology. Monumental Ottoman buildings, traditional wooden single-family houses, and Roman-Byzantine structures are like "found objects" within a newly urbanized landscape. Why this sense of fragmentation and loss of meaning?

Two catastrophes dramatically marked Salonica and Izmir: Almost two-thirds of the urban fabric was destroyed by huge fires, respectively in 1917 and 1922. These catastrophic events strongly influenced the histories of the two cities; after centuries of consolidation, social and physical structures changed rapidly. Fires occurred after the end of the Ottoman Empire when Izmir and Salonica became part of new national contexts, and created an exceptional opportunity for the new Turkish and Greek city administrators to de-Ottomanize--to delete traces of the recent past--and to define the urban-architectural identities of the central districts. Although the common aim was to create an environment unrelated to the previous Ottoman urban scape, Salonica and Izmir had different strategies to shape new ideas of public spaces and monuments, streets, squares, and public parks. In Salonica, for instance, urban planners used Roman-Byzantine buildings as the spatial foci of a new orthogonal urban layout to cut off Ottoman landmarks. Despite strenuous efforts by their new Greek and Turkish rulers, this goal was not fully realized during the first reconstruction period--that is, roughly until the 1930s. It is interesting to note that the project of nationalization of public spaces was not supported by all sectors of the citizenry. Such resistance to change reveals that the roots of the multiculturalism and pluralism along the eastern Mediterranean Sea would not easily be removed.

This article explores how the urban-architectural identities of Izmir and Salonica were affected by the catastrophic fires, and how the interpretation of modernity was changed by the fires. Modernity, according to the nineteenth-century definition, is based on the opposition between tradition and present. …

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