The town now known as Tekirdağ goes back many centuries. During that time, it acquired a long succession of names, which mark its course through history and its dynamism. It was at the coastal area where present-day Tekirdağ is situated that colonizers from Samos arrived during the second wave of Greek colonization in the 6th c. B.C. The township thus set up was named Bisanthe. During the classical era, Bisanthe passed under Athenian rule and served as a centre where the rich agricultural produce of Thrace was gathered. What little archaeological remains survived the centuries finally disappeared altogether during the intensive (re)building of recent times that has also transformed many other Turkish towns, big and small. A few ancient coins minted in Rhaedestos during its Athenian era were found in neighbouring Panidos. They are having the inscription ΒΙΣΑΝΘΗΝΩΝ. Ancient Greek and Roman historians do not provide much information on Phaedestos, and only mention it occasionally. (Mamoni 2001, Mavridis 2003, Papakostas 2010)
During the early Byzantine centuries, Rhaedestos was known as Resisto or Registo. It was fortified by Justinian I against marauders from the interior looking for a way to the sea through Thrace (Procopius – 1971 edition). Rhaedestos developed into a centre of commerce and economic activity, and its numerous names provide evidence for its move from a static agricultural way of life to a commercial one: Rhaedestos, Redestas, Redestos, Redisco, Rodesto, Rodestol, Rodestus, Rodischo, Rodistus, Rodosto, Rodostus, Roesto, Rostho, Rothostoca, Rudischo, Rudustu και Ruysto (Külzer 2008), and more recently Tekfur Dag and Tekirdağ. Writers’ and travelers’ comments are now enthousiastic and complimentary.
The earliest settlement of some note in the neighbouring area was the sister town of Perinthos or Heracleia, at a distance of 30 klm from Rhaedestos.
The course of Rhaedestos through time begins in pre-history, as we now know thanks to an abundance of remains that archaeologists have dug up in Thrace. During archaic and classical times, Thrace was organized in domains relative to the tribal make-up of the population. The land of Thrace is interspersed with burial mounds and monuments of kings and noblemen from those times.
During the 4th and 5th c. BC, Thrace was hellenicised, and in the 1st c. BC it was conquered by the Romans. In 50 AD, Perinthos became the administrative centre of the Roman province of Thrace.
In the 5th c. AD, Thrace came under the rule of the Byzantine Empire. Its fertile lands combined with its short distance from Constantinople proved very advantageous for Rhaedestos. Thanks to the stability brought about by Byzantine rule, Rhaedestos became prosperous and developed a social order and tradition of its own.
Heracleia or ancient Perinthos, also a colony of Samos, “ancient and renowned” according to Tacitus, was the capital of Thrace. Perinthians called their home town “dittothalassousa” or twin-sea town, an appellation that appears on ancient coins of Perinthos. In later times, Perinthos was overshadowed by Constantinople and neighboring Rhaedestos. St. Andrew the Apostle preached here and instituted the first Metropolis on European soil, that of Heracleia, one of whose bishoprics was Rhaedestos.
Following the collapse of the Western Roman State, Heracleia, which was by now second in importance only to the town of Byzantium, became the see of the first Metropolitan district of the Byzantine Church. That event safeguarded, according to the Byzantines, the Apostolic and Ecumenical character of the Patriarchal See of the New Rome and refuted the Roman Catholic claim of Rome’s primacy. As a consequence of Heracleia’s decline, the Metropolis of Heracleia became the Metropolis of Heracleia and Rhaedestos in 1694 (Mavridis 2003). In the 18th c., the Metropolis of Heracleia and Rhaedestos was fortunate to have at its helm the following five metropolitans, all hailing from the island of Leros: in chronological order, Gennadios, Gerasimos, Methodios, Meletios and Ignatios. There are numerous references in historical records of their contribution to education and to the amelioration of social conditions. They erected churches and spent large sums of money on education. They were men of letters. They wrote noteworthy treatises and were instrumental in the enhancement of social responsibility and general education.
According to Procopius, Rhaedestos was considered “chorion eulimenon”, a place blessed with a fine harbour, so much so that Justinian “erected a town, safely fortified and of an impressive size”. The powerful walls of Rhaedestos were raised to the ground by the Bulgarian leader Crummus in 813. They were later re-built, and Rhaedestos remained a walled town until it was taken by Gazi Suleyman Pasha in 1357. In the 13th c., Catholic monks ran a hostel in Rhaedestos for Western pilgrims on their way to and from the Holy Land.
There was a long tradition of communal and charitable ethic in Rhaedestos (Mavridis 2003). In 1071, the scholar Michael Attaleiates (1030-1080), who was also a self-made businessman, senator and judge, set up a poorhouse in Rhaedestos, where he owned extensive lands and other property. That charitable institution was near Christ’s Church, where Rüstem Paşa Mosque is now situated. It was housed in an old building, which had been ruined during an earthquake and was subsequently repaired (Mamoni 2001, Mavridis 2003). Attaleiates became more widely known as the author of a History that covers the troubled period 1034-1080.
Attaleiates’s poorhouse functioned on the basis of written rules and was endowed by its owner with sufficient funds for its continued operation. (Dumbarton Oaks 1). The author of the rule book was Attaleiates himself, and in it he also included his thoughts on how to achieve the longevity of the institution, which he entitled “Poorhouse of the Pan-Oectermon” or of the All Merciful Christ. He was wary of the State as it tended to antagonize private charitable institutions and go after their property. The document contains detailed information about the town and the Castle of Rhaedestos or Kastron, as the town was also referred to. (Dumbarton Oaks 1). In reference to the latter appellation of the town, the inhabitants of the inner section of Rhaedestos were until recently known as Kastriani. Based on the topographical information given by Attaleiates in his rule book, one could attempt to reconstruct the map of the town in the 11th c. Attaleiates mentions the existence of ecclesiastical buildings outside of the western gates, where he had erected and operated rented accommodation.
The central section of Rhaedestos forms an obtuse-angled triangle, whose longest side coincides with the coastline of Propontis or Sea of Marmara. In that inner area, there are no mosques or minarets. It is possible that the Kastron of Rhaedestos with its four gates was planned in accordance to the mystical Roman and Byzantine urban planning tradition, whereby the town was sanctified with sacred symbols or temples. However, we know so little as yet about the Byzantine churches of the town that we cannot yet pursue such a line of enquiry. The only Byzantine temple in the town was, until 1935, the small church of Panagia Revmatokratorissa or of the Virgin Mary, our Lady of Streams, by the sea front. But even that monument had lost many of its Byzantine features as a result of repeated repair and reconstruction work.
For a long time after the town was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1357, the inner section of Rhaedestos was only inhabited by Romiots or post-Byzantine Greeks. As far as I know, Xanthe is the only other town in Thrace with the same privileged living arrangement. It seems that the economic clout of the Hellenic communities in those two towns, the result of the commerce of agricultural products and especially tobacco, which was entirely in Greek hands, made them irreplaceable. An additional explanation might be that the two towns were not taken by the Turks but negotiated their surrender. According to oral tradition that has come down to the present day, Rhaedestos surrendered to the enemy after putting up a fierce resistance round its walls and more specifically at a place now known as Şehitler Meşari or Graveyard of the Martyrs. The Pact containing the conditions of surrender was preserved in the library of the Metropolis until the great fire of 1826. One of the conditions was that the people of the town were exempt from providing food and lodgings to Ottoman soldiers. That condition proved of great importance for the economic state of the town as Rhaedestos became a meeting point for Ottoman armies campaigning in Europe.
Subsequently, however, newcomers took over central Rhaedestos and the displaced Christians moved to seaside quarters. It is not known which of the Byzantine churches remained in the hands of the Romiot community.
In 1556, during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, Vizier Rüstem Paşa decided to erect in Rhaedestos an Islamic külliye, which would be a manifestation of the ideal of Islamic town planning according Ottoman tradition. The külliye, a complex of public buildings (Mavridis 2010), was erected where the Byzantine Christ’s Church had been, at the Castle of Rhaedestos. Its construction necessitated a large labour force, which came from Armenia.
The Greeks of Rhaedestos were mostly urban and had traditionally been engaged in commerce, mainly in the transport business, which brought great wealth to some of them. Romiot merchants and craftsmen were organized in guilds in accordance with Turkish rule in Thrace. Guilds managed their affairs on the basis of written constitutions. Rhaedestos had for a long time been an important commercial centre. According to Michael Attaleiates, “There is a great number of carts carrying grain to the fortress of Rhaedestos” (Kanakis 1997).
In the 11th c., during the reign of Michael Doucas, the controversial Logothete tou Dromou or Postal Logothete and acting prime minister Nicephore, nicknamed Nicephoridzes or Little Nicephore, took reformative measures to reconstruct the economy of the State. He set up a Fundakas or great store house in Rhaedestos to monopolize the commerce of wheat and safeguard provisions for Constantinople, as well as to achieve a fairer taxing system and curb profiteering. The Fundakas was managed by a fundakarius, who imposed tax duties and allocated the grain to sitokapiloi or merchants of grain, who owned shops within the Fundakas, not dissimilar perhaps to those in operation today. The results of the reformative measures were disappointing and gave rise to public discontent which developed into an uprising and the destruction of the storehouse. It is not known if apart from Rhaedestos there were such storehouses in other cities of the empire too.
As a result of the Turkish conquest, regularity returned to Thrace, as can be gleaned from foreign travelers’ impressions and comments. For instance, Daniel Philippides and Gregorios Constantas write in their Neoteric Geography (1781): “Rhaedestos, a renowned city, great and populous, the see of an Archbishop.” Also, Geoffroi de Villehardouin, crusader and chronicler, writes in his De la Conquête de Constantinople (1204) about Rhaedestos: “… inhabited by Greeks …very rich, strong and big … among the best cities in Romania [Easter Roman Empire] … situated at an excellent location ...” As for Markos Antonios Katsaites (1742), his opinion of Rhaedestos is that it is “a glorious city, among the most interesting in Turkey”.
In the 12th c., Venetian merchants settled in Rhaedestos. The Emperor had signed a treaty with the Venetians ceding them trade privileges. In 1202 Rhaedestos became a Venetian possession during the 4th Crusade. Following the breakup and partition of the Empire in 1204, Rhaedestos, like other commercial towns of Propontis, passed into Venice’s share. In the 13th c., Genoa took over from Venice. The ruthless Catalan Society took possession of Rhaedestos in 1306 and because of its central position used it as a base for its operations. Many Greek inhabitants were put to the sword. In the 14th c., Rhaedestos was inundated with Catalan and Italian merchants, who took advantage of the failing Empire. Until recently, Levantine merchants, descendants of the early Western Catholics who settled there, still lived in the town. The Capuchin Robert de Dreux described Rhaedestos in 1667 as “… a most beautiful and busy commercial town … connected to Constantinople by daily transport services.”
In an entry dated 28.5.1720, Kelemen Mikes (new edition 2000) described the town as follows: “pleasant, picturesque, very big and sophisticated, with surrounding fields cultivated so that they look like well-tended gardens … it presents a pleasant view that delights the eyes … built on the coast, surrounded by vineyards … good and abundant food …”.
Kelemen Mikes also stated in 1721 that Rhaedestos was divided in four quarters severally inhabited by Romiots, Turks, Armenians and Jews, so that the various nationalities did not mix. As a result, when the town was hit by cholera, which was quite frequently, the epidemic was often contained within a single nationality and did not affect all quarters.
During the first three centuries following the Turkish conquest, Thrace’s economy shrank, closed in upon itself and ceased trading with the outside world. At the same time, there was massive movement of Greek populations from the Aegean islands towards Asia and Thrace, and from mainland Greece to Asia Minor. Greek communities that took up trade enriched themselves and molded the identity and character of wider Greek populations around them. The wider Rhaedestos area with its 28 Ganochora villages and its ample stretches on the slopes of the Sacred Mountain (Tekfur Dag) attracted large numbers of Greek settlers from the Aegean and the Peloponnese.
Thanks to such favourable conditions, in the late 17th c., Rhaedestos had risen again to be a centre for the concentration and exportation of the rich agricultural produce of the Thracian interior: wheat, barley, rye, oats, canary seed, linseed, sesame, leather, dairy products, cloth, woven fabrics. Kelemen Mikes, the Hungarian political figure and essayist, wrote in 1721 that at harvest time around 300 carts loaded with agricultural goods thronged into the town each day. Farmers and cattle raisers from Adrianople, Kessane, Saranda Ecclesies, Vizye, Arkadioupolis, Ganochora and Makra Gefyra drove to Rhaedestos their ox-drawn carts and camel caravans loaded with their produce.
Business transactions took place in the market and the coffee houses, behind the commercial buildings still surviving. Wholesale merchants, mainly Greeks, bought and stored the agricultural goods, and subsequently resold them and shipped them to Constantinople and the great harbours of Mediterranean Europe. Ships brought to Rhaedestos olive oil, produce from the islands of the Aegean, soap, oranges and lemons, textile goods, mechanical equipment and colonial products. Trade activity in Rhaedestos was supported by artisans and craftsmen, mostly Romiots, organized in guilds. There were also numerous Armenians, who had moved to Rhaedestos from the East, and they made a living as merchants or craftsmen, mainly blacksmiths or tsilingires, who forged farm tools. At the start of 20th century, there were three banks operating in Rhaedestos, the "Bank of Mytilene" being one of them.
Since Byzantine times, Rhaedestos served as a place of exile for persons of importance. In 1720, the Hungarian revolutionary Prince Francis Rákóczi II, a fugitive in the aftermath of the Treaty of Karlowitz of 1699, lived in Rhaedestos as an exile until his death in 1735. He was attended by a great entourage of courtiers, fellow fighters and collaborators, among whom was the above mentioned writer Kelemen Mikes (modern edition 2000). The Hungarian exiles bought a group of houses in today’s Frangomachalas and had them interconnected via subterranean tunnels. There were still some of their descendants living in Rhaedestos in the late 19th c.
It is not known how the construction and use of wooden houses was established as the predominant architectural type in Northern Aegean, Propontis, and along a large part of the Black Sea coast. Neither is it known when Rhaedestos came to be entirely built up of wood. The only constructions not made of wood were those belonging to the State and the Church, which were made of stone as a status symbol and also in the interests of longevity. As a result, the town gave the impression of a mass of dark wood spread out along the sea front. The various quarters constituted a succession of grey wooden houses of characteristic uniformity. Rhaedestos is completely lacking in multiform eclecticism, characteristic of 19th c. cities, as well as in the Western version of eclecticism adopted by the Ottoman Empire in the context of its effort towards modernization.
Extant wooden houses are today in their final stage of disintegration, and can be found in small groups or individually surrounded by a sea of blocks of flats. Legally of course they are protected as listed properties, which is probably a mistake, as being surrounded by concrete blocks they are aesthetically devalued as well as exposed to a multitude of agents of further decay. What would have saved them would have been to declare the whole area as preservable.
Under Ottoman rule, the force that kept Eastern Hellenism together was the Eastern Orthodox Church. The conquering Turks, who were experienced in the political life of Central Asia as well as in the management of large numbers of sheep and goats, devised original administrative schemes as shepherds of people. One of them proved of great importance for the Greeks: it was the Romiot Millet (Turkish milliyet or nationality), which included all Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Turks granted privileges to the Patriarch of Constantinople so that the cohesion of the Romiot Millet would be maintained and relations between conquerors and the conquered would be unproblematic. The Church realized the importance of the measure and organized itself so that it would govern the whole of the Orthodox Millet without the intervention of the Ottoman administration. The Millet system proved so efficient and productive that it lasted from 1453 to 1920, and vestiges of it are still in existence. The Romiots did their best to preserve their privileged status and draw maximum advantage from it. Thus, communities were organized in independent administrative units governed by their elite members, the Demogerondes or Elders. Each community was headed by the local Metropolitan.
The effects of the Crimean War of 1854 as well as the Tanzimat or Reorganization, i.e. the social reforms of 1839 and 1855, which granted privileges to minorities, were of great benefit to Ottoman Greeks, who rapidly rose socially and formed part of the urban class of the Empire. The social and economic success enjoyed by the Greeks of the Empire was the result of the free hand granted by the Ottoman State to the many minorities within its borders. Greeks were particularly successful in the arts and sciences, economy and commerce. Thanks to their cosmopolitanism, they were able to compete for the top positions in the economy, since they could not have a career in the public administration or the army. They spoke foreign languages, they travelled a lot, and they felt at home in contemporary international contexts. Greeks were dominant in commercial and industrial enterprising as well as in banking.
Education was the field par excellence for Romiot activity and creativity. It was there that Tanzimat legal provisions allowed a wide scope of action to school committees and community administrators. As of the 17th c., communities began to build schools and employ qualified teaching personnel.
The Greek communities of the Ottoman Empire constitute a significant, though little known, success story. Thracean Hellenism was able to overcome the adverse conditions of the first centuries after the fall of the Byzantine Empire and regroup. The age-long political tradition of the Greeks is centred upon their gathering for the ecclesiastical Eucharist in the context of the community system of self-government. The community institution dates from the mid-Byzantine era, when, according to historical records, there were communities governed by “the prominent citizens and fathers of towns”. Community self-government was characterized by responsible social democracy, solidarity, charity, organization of tradesmen in guilds and great emphasis on education. It is in fact a successful political system, based on direct democratic decision-making and centred on the concept of the human Person. Community organization was completed with the setting up of schools, and formed part of the system of privileges enjoyed by The Church. At the same time, Romiot tradesmen formed isnafia or guilds (Turkish esnaflar). Isnafia were closely knit societies of fellow tradesmen, a continuation of a Byzantine practice. The Ottoman State did not object to isnafia as they made economic sense.
The zimmi, i.e. the non-Muslim peoples of the Bible living in the Ottoman Empire left behind their second-rate status as conquered subjects thanks to the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca of 1774, as well as the Tanzimat reforms of 1839, and rose to the urban class. Those were mainly the Romiots of the historic Hellenic East, organized in communities that were politically subjugated but culturally and economically thriving. The Greek communities were conscious of their historical and cultural identity.
In the 19th c., cultural societies appeared whose objective was the promotion of education, an area on which communities put a lot of stock. The first such society was the Hellenic Philological Society of Constantinople of 1861 (Mamoni 1968, Mavridis 2003, 2006), which was very actively engaged in the organization of education for Greek youth. Soon after, many similar societies were instituted throughout Thrace. In 1872, the Educational Society of Adrianople was set up. Members of such societies addressed each other as “brothers”. Such developments were intensified in the context of nationalistic rivalries in the Balkans around, and mainly after 1878. In view of the awakening of Bulgarian nationalism and of the threat posed to the Romiot national identity by Pan-Slavism and related activities undertaken by the Bulgarian Exarchate, the Greek bourgeoisie of Constantinople sprang into action.
In 1871 the Thracean Educational Society of Rhaedestos was set up, and in 1897 it was relaunched as the Bizanthe Reading Society. Rhaedestos thus set an example which was followed by other communities all around it. At the beginning of the 20th c., there were similar cultural associations even in small villages, especially in the Ganochora area. The various societies of Macedonia and Thrace were supported by the Association for the Dissemination of Hellenic Letters, which was founded in Athens in 1869 under the aegis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The aim of such societies was mainly to improve the educational standard of the young and also of adults, and through education to strengthen their sense of national identity. Their campaign was an aspect of the emergent Hellenic national ideal. At the forefront of the trend to set up and run such cultural societies were bourgeois merchants and artisans, who exhibited impressive zeal in the pursuit of the education of the young. Their dedication satisfied their feelings of nationhood and was a source of pride.
The members of Romiot guilds were also mobilized to contribute voluntary personal labour. Builders worked without pay to erect school buildings and society headquarters, whereas rich businessmen vied for the offer of donations. It was in that context of selfless competition that the ideal of the community or national benefactor emerged among the rich merchants. The most prominent benefactors in Rhaedestos were the following: Stavros and Paschales Georgiades (Georgeadeion Boys’ School and Nursery), the wholesale merchants of grain Constantinos and Georgios Theodorides (Theodorideia Ekpaedevteria or Educational Establishments) and K. Constantinides. Greeks took pride in their societies and saw them as evidence of the special character of their culture and history. (Mavridis 2003)
The Society of Rhaedestos housed a library and reading room, a collection of antiquities from the wider area of the town, a coin collection, a picture gallery, and a hall for the town band. In the basement, facing the seafront, there was a refectory. The Society held regular feasts and balls. Its archaeological collection is now housed in the museum of Thessalonike.
Rhaedestians were also inspired by their religious faith to erect new churches and repair those frequently destroyed by earthquakes or endemic fires. A great number of churches are mentioned in historical records, which have since disappeared without trace. Rhaedestians also excelled in church chanting, and its cantors and ecclesiastical music teachers were known over a wide area covering Propontis and the Aegean.
The French archaeologist A. Dumont, who travelled in Thrace in 1868, wrote that the Greeks managed to preserve their language and civilization in spite of their having been through very adverse historical times. Their attachment to their learned tradition is particularly noteworthy, as is the survival of an ethos based on age-long tried and tested traditions. On those foundations, education paves the way towards spiritual revival and the acquisition of solid knowledge.
Also, in 1871 the correspondent of the French Review of Two Worlds was impressed by the Greeks’ commitment to education. That commitment is still going strong, though occasionally in a formalistic kind of way. According to historian George Finley, revolutionary Greeks exhibited a lower percentage of illiteracy compared to their contemporary Western Europeans.
As a characteristic example, Finley noted that the humble teacher of an obscure village near Rhaedestos owned a library with classical Greek books. He was impressed by Greeks’ determination to preserve their national cultural identity, and by the ubiquitous and dominant presence of sophisticated Greek communities. In contradistinction, he added, the first book in Bulgarian was published as late as 1806.
Today’s efforts on the part of Eastern Greeks and their descendants towards the preservation of historical memory harks back to that old community spirit.
The world-wide upheavals and restructuring of the international status quo during the first two decades of the 20th c. radically affected individual lives. Great numbers of people were obliged to emigrate in the aftermath of the redrawing of national borders and redistribution of territories. Rhaedestos/Tekirdağ changed in character as a result of the international maelstrom that swept away peoples and empires. Its numerous Armenian inhabitants left for the East. The Greek Rhaedestians had to emigrate to Greece, as provided in the Treaty of Lausanne, though their departure preceded the signing of the treaty. The totality of the movement of peoples that took place before the Lausanne Treaty falls within the so called Exchange of Populations agreement. Tekirdağ, like so many other towns of the East, loses its cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism and acquires a homogeneous character.
Since the early 1960s, Tekirdağ has followed the path of other developing towns, and, thanks to the rich agricultural lands surrounding it, has grown into an advanced, though not particularly charming, Europeanized city. Recently, new industrial installations have added a touch of modernism and entrepreneurialism to it. Nevertheless, its historical depth is in evidence throughout the city.
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 I owe that piece of information to Nikos Pantazopoulos, of Rhaedestiniot extraction.
 The word is of Persian provenance (kull = the whole), and refers to a central concept in Turkish town planning. A külliye normally is a complex of buildings centered on a mosque and managed as a single institution, incorporating social, administrative and religious functions. A typical külliye would contain, among others, a market place, a mosque, a school (medrese), a poorhouse (imaret), a bath (hamam), a hospital, public fountains (sebils), an inn (han), a cemetery and administration buildings. Külliyes existed in the great Islamic cities of central Asia such as Samarcand and Esfahan, but also in cities on European ground partly re-built by Ottoman Turks such as Adrianople and Constantinople.