On 29 April at 8.00 in the evening, the building of the Salonica
branch of the Imperial Ottoman Bank, which was opened in 1863,
was entirely destroyed by an explosion which shook the town.
All the personnel escaped without injury, the manager, Monsieur
Letayf and his family who lived in the apartment above the
offices were able to escape.
Since the 1830s, during the period of reform (Tanzimat) until
1912, when Salonica was seized by the Greeks, in particular
towards the end of the 1860s, in the context of the current
urbanisation policy, the reforms undertaken by the reforming
sultans showed themselves in the replacement of a traditional
oriental town by a modern city and opened a new period in
the history of that city. This transformation of the urban
structure no doubt corresponded with profound changes in the
way of life, the attitudes, the means of production and the
functions of the city. With the gradual establishment of industries,
as a commercial and industrial centre, the town was on the
way to overtaking Istanbul and Smyrna. Thanks to its geographical
position and to its network of maritime and rail communications,
Salonica provided important commercial exchanges within the
ports of central Europe, the Middle East and Russia. The export
of local products and the transport of industrial products
coming from the East and the hinterland took place through
The Jewish majority, together with Orthodox Greeks, Turkish
Muslims, dönme (Jews converted to Islam), Serbs, Bulgarians,
Armenians, Albanians and Francs were the main elements in
the population of the city. At the end of the 19th century,
these different ethnic groups maintained in the city numerous
schools by which they sought above all to strengthen their
presence in the region. The nationalist movements which were
growing up at the time made the cohabitation of these communities
more and more difficult. At Salonica, as well as in Turkish
Macedonia, during the last decades of the 19th century, violence
reigned in an endemic way. Terrorist incidents which began
with the formation of bands of insurgent Bulgarians sowed
a general panic.
In April 1903, the Bulgarian comitadjis whose aim was to
arouse the attention and the intervention of European opinion,
multiplied their attacks. The development of these events
led to the realisation of this aim and the Ottoman powers
were obliged to accept certain reforms under pressure from
the Great Powers. The explosion on 15 April aboard the Guadalquivir,
a French vessel anchored in the port of Salonica, is only
an episode in the incidents which followed. Half an hour later,
the railway station was blown up. In the evening of 29 April,
the main gas pipe was destroyed and the entire city was immediately
plunged into darkness.
archive documents of 30 April on the attack against the Ottoman
Bank report that the Bulgarian revolutionaries came in three
cars and killed the guards, entered the premises, turned off
the gas, then turned on the gas taps and threw bombs, causing
an explosion which led to a fierce fire. Those responsible
were arrested. A large part of the premises was burned. It
was hoped that the strong-room had not been damaged but it
was initially impossible to enter the debris. In fact, apart
from the strong-room and Cash Department, everything was lost.
On the day following the attack, Friday 1 May, the branch
reopened setting up its operations in the garden around the
bank building. The branches of Adrianople, Uskup and Monastir
informed that measures were taken to prevent an attack. The
inspection team reported that calm continued to reign in the
city and that confidence was growing daily.
The telegram of 2 May states that the main records and documents
needed to reconstitute the books as at 30 April had been saved.
The building was totally destroyed apart from the Cash Department
and the cellar. The immediate re-commencement of business
produced an excellent impression in the area. On 9 June, Salonica
stated that it had been able, either by copy of correspondence
or with the information which had been saved from the fire,
to completely re-establish its books at 30 April. The branch
submitted its general situation on that date which balanced
mail of 3 May reports the attack in more detail including
that several months earlier a Bulgarian had rented a shop
on a corner of a building situated virtually opposite the
bank, had opened a bakery, helped probably by two or three
other persons who, during the night, had dug a tunnel leading
towards the bank, at the end of which they had placed a certain
quantity of dynamite and they had installed an electric wire
running from the bakery intended to cause the explosion. The
attack against the bank was not based solely on this. The
plan was to coincide this attack with the simultaneous explosion
of bombs and dynamite cartridges and demonstrations which
lasted until 1.00 in the morning at various points in the
city in order to create a general panic. Thus, towards 8.00
on this Wednesday evening, the explosion which plunged the
city into darkness was the signal for the general attack.
First of all, a bomb was thrown at the bank, then the terrible
explosion took place. Despite every effort, the entire building
burned apart from the annexe where the Cash Department was
The branch established a plan for rebuilding the premises.
While it was necessary to transfer the offices as quickly
as possible to a suitable building, and the bank started looking
with the help of the Prefect of Police, the firm of Saul Modiano,
spontaneously and graciously put at the disposal of the bank
a part of their offices and strong-rooms which were situated
in the large building they owned.
Monsieur Letayf set out the losses suffered by the personnel
and brought to the kind attention of General Management all
the persons who had helped. He requested that the personnel
receive a bonus equivalent to one month's salary. General
Management authorised these payments as well as bonuses to
third parties who had given help during and after the event:
the soldiers forming the guard, the Little Sisters of Charity
and the persons who had helped put out the fire and clear
up the debris. Monsieur Letayf also received a bonus, not
only for his conduct during the event but also for his zeal
for the absolutely satisfactory re-establishment of the branch
which avoided any loss for the bank.
new building of the Imperial Ottoman Bank in Francomahallas
was built in 1904 by the Italian architect, Vitaliano Poselli,
the principal builder in the city at the time. The area where
the first banking establishments had their main offices during
the years 1902 to 1903 evolved into a business district with
the construction of markets, hotels and a multitude of other
commercial establishments. The building represents a new type,
introduced by the merchant class of the city symbolising their
innovative role, with metal frame and eclectic styles on the
facades. The bank maintained its business in this building
until 1938. From 1951 to 1978, the building was occupied by
IKA, the Greek Social Insurance Company. In 1978, the building
was damaged by an earthquake and restored. It is today the
premises of the Conservatoire of Salonica.
Unedited sources: the archives of the
Série CD-PV, Procès verbaux des séances du Comité de Direction:
CDCR, Comptes rendus des séances du Comité de Direction: CDCR
CD-CPCP, Direction, Correspondance avec le Comité de Paris,
correspondance passive: CDCPCP 006, 1901-1903.
CD-CPCA, Direction, Correspondace avec le Comité de Paris,
correspondance active: CDCPCA 006, 1902-1903.
LA, Les archives de Londres: LA 24,035,002, Description of
the branches of the Imperial Ottoman Bank, 1899.
IMH, Les photographies et images d'immeubles appartenant à
la Banque: IMH-THE 001A, 1904. IMH-THE 002, 29. 4. 1903. IMH-THE
Türker, Orhan, "Osmanli yönetiminin son yillarinda Selanik'te
Sanayi ve Ticaret", Tarih ve Toplum Aylik Ansiklopedik
Dergi, Agustos 1999, cilt 32, sayi: 188, s: 27-30.
Orhan, "Selanik'te 28-29 Nisan 1903 Olaylari", Tarih
ve Toplum Aylik Ansiklopedik Dergi, Subat 1999, cilt: 31,
sayi: 182, s: 27-30.
Meropi, Salonique, 1830-1912 Une ville ottomane à l'âge des
Réformes, Brill, The Netherlands, 1977.
1850-1918, La "ville des Juifs" et le réveil des
Balkans, Editions Autrement, Séries mémoires no: 12, Paris,
Paris, Mai 1903