Levantines (Latin Christians)

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This article is specifically about Latin Christians in the Levant. Other ethnic groups in the Levant are covered under their individual names.


Levantines were mostly of Italian (especially Venetian and Genoese), French, or other Euro-Mediterranean origin. They have been living in the eastern Mediterranean coast of Lebanon and Syria since the middle Byzantine or the Ottoman era and Constantinople/Istanbul, Smyrna/Izmir and other parts of Anatolia (in present-day Turkey).[citation needed]

The majority are either descendants of traders from the Maritime republics of Venice, Genoa, Pisa, Ancona and Ragusa who had colonies in colonies in Beirut, Tripoli, Tiro, Byblos also known as Jbeil, Antioch, Latakia, St John D'Acre, Jaffa or of European inhabitants of the Crusader states (especially the French Levantines in Lebanon, Israel and Syria).[citation needed] Others may be converts to Roman Catholicism, immigrants from Anglo-French colonization, or Eastern Christians who had resided there for centuries.

Italian Levantines[edit]

Galata Tower, built in 1348 by the Republic of Genoa in Constantinople and actual symbol of the Italian levantine[citation needed]

The name Italo-Levantine is additionally applied to people of Italian (especially Venetian and Genoese) origin, but even with some French or other Euro-Mediterranean roots, who have lived in Istanbul, İzmir and other parts of Anatolia[citation needed] in Turkey. Italian Levantines have roots even in the eastern Mediterranean coast (the Levant, particularly in present-day Lebanon and Israel) since the period of the Crusades and the Byzantine empire. A small group came from Crimea and the Genoese colonies in the Black sea, after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

The majority of the Italian Levantine in modern Turkey are descendants of traders/colonists from the maritime republics of the Mediterranean (such as the Republic of Venice, the Republic of Genoa and the Republic of Pisa or of the inhabitants of the Crusader states, especially the French/Italian Levantines in Lebanon, Israel and Syria) who got special concessions called Capitolazioni from the Ottoman sultans in the 16th century.[1]

There are two big communities of Italian Levantines: one in Istanbul and the other in Izmir. At the end of the 19th century there were nearly 6,000 levantines of Italian roots in the second.[2] They came mainly from the Genoese island of Chios.[3]

The community reached more than 15,000 members during Ataturk's times, but now is reduced to a few hundreds, according to Italian Levantine writer Giovanni Scognamillo.[4]

They continue to live in Istanbul (mostly in the districts of Karaköy, Beyoğlu and Nişantaşı), and İzmir (mostly in the districts of Karşıyaka, Bornova and Buca.)

Most Latin rite Catholics in Turkey are Levantines of mainly Italian background.[citation needed]

Notable people[edit]

Famous people of the present-day Italian levantine community in Turkey include:

  • Sir Alfred Biliotti, who joined the British foreign service and eventually rose to become one of its most distinguished consular officers in the late 19th century. Biliotti was also an accomplished archaeologist who conducted important excavations at sites in the Aegean and Anatolia.
  • Livio Missir di Lusignano. Historian. His masterpiece is Les anciennes familles italiennes de Turquie.
  • Giuseppe Donizetti, musicist. He was Instructor General of the Imperial Ottoman Music at the court of Sultan Mahmud II[5]
  • Giovanni Scognamillo, writer. He composed "Memorie di Beyoğlu di un Levantino" in 1989.[6]
  • Count Abraham Camondo. He was a Jewish Turkish-Italian financier and philanthropist, and the patriarch of the Camondo family.

In Turkey[edit]

Levantines continue to live in Istanbul (mostly in the districts of Galata, Beyoğlu and Nişantaşı), İzmir (mostly in the districts of Alsancak, Karşıyaka, Bornova and Buca), and the lesser port city Mersin. They have been influential for creating and reviving a tradition of opera.[7] Famous people of the present-day Levantine community in Turkey include Maria Rita Epik, Franco-Levantine Caroline Giraud Koç and Italo-Levantine Giovanni Scognamillo. Most of Turkey's small Roman Catholic community are Levantines.

In the Levant[edit]

When the United Kingdom took over the southern portion of Ottoman Syria in the aftermath of the First World War, some of the new rulers adapted the term "Levantine" pejoratively to refer to inhabitants of mixed Arab and European descent in Lebanon, Syria and Israel, and to Europeans (usually French, Italian or Greek) who had assimilated and adopted local dress and customs. Today, a small percentage of Lebanon's small group of Latin Catholics are of at least partial French/Italian descent.[8][9]


  1. ^ Levantine historical heritage
  2. ^ Frangini: Italiani in Smirne/Izmir (in Italian)
  3. ^ Latin migration from Chios
  4. ^ Interview to Scognamillo
  5. ^ Giuseppe Donizetti Pasha
  6. ^ NTV-MSNBC: "Giovanni Scognamillo ile sinema üzerine" (in Turkish)
  7. ^ Mersin'in bahanesi yok, Radikal, 26 May 2007
  8. ^ "Gale Encyclopedia of the Mideast & N. Africa: Levantine". answers.com. Retrieved 2012-01-25. 
  9. ^ "About the Journal of Levantine Studies". levantine-journal.org. Retrieved 2012-01-25. 


  • Alex Baltazzi, George Galdies, George Poulimenos, A Lexicon of Smyrneika (Izmir Rumcasi Sozlugu): Illustrated with Phrases, Proverbs, Pictures and Dialogues, ISBN 975333284X.

also Second EDition now in print: http://www.gorgiaspress.com/bookshop/showproduct.aspx?ISBN=978-1-4632-0251-4

  • Consorti, A., Vicende dell’italianità in Levante, 1815-1915 in: Rivista Coloniale, anno XV.
  • Franzina, Emilio. Storia dell'emigrazione italiana. Donzelli Editore. Roma, 2002 ISBN 88-7989-719-5
  • Missir di Lusignano, Livio. Due secoli di relazioni italo-turche attraverso le vicende di una famiglia di italiani di Smirne: i Missir di Lusignano. "Storia contemporanea", (4) pp. 613–623. Università di Bologna. Bologna, 1992.
  • Pannuti, Alessandro. Les Italiens d’Istanbul au XXe siècle : entre préservation identitaire et effacement. Université de Paris III – Sorbonne Nouvelle. Parigi, 2004
  • Pongiluppi, Francesco. La Rassegna Italiana Organo degli Interessi Italiani in Oriente. Giornale Ufficiale della Camera di Commercio Italiana di Costantinopoli, Edizioni Isis, Istanbul, 2015.

External links[edit]