Ghosts of Istanbul

The Kumbaracı yokuşu, that is, “Bombardier descent” runs up into the always crowded İstiklal Avenue at its end near the sea, not far from the Passage Oriental, which housed the Café Lebon, the once famous café built in Art Nouveau style by the Istanbul-born French architect Alexandre Vallaury, not long after returning home from his studies in Paris. There were several similar passages on the İstiklal, the former Grand Rue de Péra, the main avenue of the European quarter of Istanbul from the Galata Tower up to Taksim Square, some of them are still open nowadays.

Postcard with the view of the Grand Rue de Péra, from here

But if you also wander into the small streets and alleys opening from the İstiklal, you can find other, more neglected heralds of old Istanbul, a world gone almost a hundred years ago. On the Kumbaracı, not far from the fountain of Miralem Halil Ağa built as a pious gift in 1729, there is an interesting fin-de-siècle house. Arriving from the İstiklal, the French inscription on the left side of the doorway catches the eye first: “Fabrique et dépôt de meubles”, furniture factory and depot. The inscription on the right side is indecipherable, but the ones on the street front are mostly still there, defying time and weather, advertising the wares of the former owner in three languages and three different scripts.

The one on the left side seems to be the most interesting of all of them. The script is Armenian, but the language is Ottoman Turkish: ՄԷՖՐՈՒՇԱԹ ՖԱՊՐԻՔԱՍԸ mefrušat fabrikası, in modern orthography mefruşat fabrikası, “furniture factory”. It may sound strange today, but Ottoman Turkish was often written with Armenian script until the alphabet reform in 1928, after which the Latin script has been used for Turkish – even the very first Turkish novel, the Akabi’s story was published in Armeno-Turkish script in 1851. For most people it was easier to learn and the language itself could be rendered more precisely than in the otherwise used Ottoman Turkish script, a modified version of the Perso-Arabic alphabet. Precision depended on the language user him/herself too, however. In the inscription of the furniture factory a peculiarity can be observed: the use of Ք k in ՖԱՊՐԻՔԱՍԸ fabrikası is quite uncommon as it usually stands before front rounded vowels. Before back vowels its almost mirrored counterpart, a Գ should be used (the difference between the two might be more palpable if one looks at their counterparts in the Ottoman script: ك and ق‎, respectively).

The other inscriptions are much easier. In the middle and on the right the owner’s name can be read in French and Greek: A. Loucrezis / A. ΛOUKPEZHΣ. Between the two, under the window on the right the hardly legible Greek inscription reads as ΕΡΓOΣTAXION ΕΠIΠΛΩN, “furniture factory”. If there was a similar inscription under the window on the left, it has by now disappeared, the red graffiti in Turkish and English is much more recent.

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As the blog Painted Signs and Mosaics – which is the only one reporting about this inscription in detail – puts it, it is obvious that Loucrezis tried to reach as many of the potential local customers as possible: the European residents of Beyoğlu (it seems to be more than a mere coincidence that it is the inscription written in French which can be seen first, coming from the main avenue) as well as the locak Greek and Armenian communities. And maybe even the Turkish one, since many people arrived in the Tophane quarter from Anatolia since the beginning of the century. Unfortunately, there isn’t any information on Loucrezis or his factory except these signs. Aside from the blog post, even the inscriptions are mentioned only by the the French historian Étienne Copeaux as an illustration to one of his articles, based on the post by Painted Signs and Mosaics.

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There aren’t any traces of Loucrezis in the thorough almanac of the trades and craftsmen of Istanbul, the Annuaire oriental du commerce, at least not in the volumes accessible to me. He is not yet mentioned among the furniture manufacturers in 1891 and 1896/7 and is no longer there by 1930, therefore he should have flourished sometime between 1897 and 1930. Maybe he fled the City already in the first half of the 1920s, in the shadow of deportations – the Greeks of Istanbul were less stricken by them, they had to leave thirty years later –, maybe he died not so long after and there was no one to take over the business. Based on the Annuaire of 1930 it seems sure that there wasn’t any furniture manufacturer under the name Loucrezis in any of the towns of Greece. After all, who would need a Greek furniture tradesman from Istanbul in Athens or Saloniki? The refugees from the Pontus? Or the local Greeks of the Peloponnesus? Both seem unlikely. What remained is a shadow of shadows only, a few ghost signs in three languages and three different scripts in a lonely alley which runs down towards the sea, not far from the always crowded İstiklal.

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Studiolum dijo...

Some Armenian readers have bitterly missed a reference to the Genocide as the reason why Armenian became a ghost script in Istanbul. We, however, think that our relation to the Genocide is unambiguous, as it is clear from many of our Armenian posts listed here:, and therefore we don’t have to make coming out each time when referring to Armenians in Turkey.