Archive Selections
The Salonica Branch

The Salonica Branch of Ottoman Bank at the beginning of the twentieth century


Correspondence regarding the attack on the building (CDCPCA 006, 30.4.1903)
Correspondence sent to the Paris Committee by Mr Cartali, Chief Inspector and Mr Sadoch, previous manager of the branch, following their visit to Salonica (CDCPCA 006, 3.5.1903)
Extract from the Committee minutes of 16-22 May 1903 regarding the indemnity paid to the branch staff and bonuses paid to various persons who had rendered services (CDCR 008)
Correspondence received by the Management Committee on 8 May 1903 (CDCPCP 006)
Description of the towns where the Imperial Ottoman Bank had branches: Salonica (LA 24035002, 1899)

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 it.

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.

What remains of the Imperial Ottoman Bank after the attack of April 29th, 1903The 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 completely.

After the attack,  a view from the road where the Imperial Ottoman Bank is locatedThe 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 situated.

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.

The new Imperial Ottoman Bank, 1904The 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.


Published Sources

Unedited sources: the archives of the Ottoman Bank:

Série CD-PV, Procès verbaux des séances du Comité de Direction: CDPV011, 1903-1904.
Série CDCR, Comptes rendus des séances du Comité de Direction: CDCR 008, 1903.
Série CD-CPCP, Direction, Correspondance avec le Comité de Paris, correspondance passive: CDCPCP 006, 1901-1903.
Série CD-CPCA, Direction, Correspondace avec le Comité de Paris, correspondance active: CDCPCA 006, 1902-1903.
Série LA, Les archives de Londres: LA 24,035,002, Description of the branches of the Imperial Ottoman Bank, 1899.
Série IMH, Les photographies et images d'immeubles appartenant à la Banque: IMH-THE 001A, 1904. IMH-THE 002, 29. 4. 1903. IMH-THE 003.

Published Sources:

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.
Türker, Orhan, "Selanik'te 28-29 Nisan 1903 Olaylari", Tarih ve Toplum Aylik Ansiklopedik Dergi, Subat 1999, cilt: 31, sayi: 182, s: 27-30.
Anastassiadou, Meropi, Salonique, 1830-1912 Une ville ottomane à l'âge des Réformes, Brill, The Netherlands, 1977.
Salonique 1850-1918, La "ville des Juifs" et le réveil des Balkans, Editions Autrement, Séries mémoires no: 12, Paris, 1993.
L'illustration, Paris, Mai 1903