Trabzon (Turkish pronunciation: [ˈtɾabzon]), historically known as Trebizond in English, is a city on the Black Sea coast of northeastern Turkey and the capital of Trabzon Province. Trabzon, located on the historical Silk Road, became a melting pot of religions, languages and culture for centuries and a trade gateway to Persia in the southeast and the Caucasus to the northeast. The Venetian and Genoese merchants paid visits to Trebizond during the medieval period and sold silk, linen and woolen fabric. Both republics had merchant colonies within the city – Leonkastron and the former 'Venetian castle' – that played a role to Trebizond similar to the one Galata played to Constantinople (modern Istanbul). Trabzon formed the basis of several states in its long history and was the capital city of the Empire of Trebizond between 1204 and 1461. During the early modern period, Trabzon, because of the importance of its port, again became a focal point of trade to Persia and the Caucasus.
The Turkish name of the city is Trabzon. It is historically known in English as Trebizond. The first recorded name of the city is the Greek Tραπεζούς (Trapezous), referencing the table-like central hill between the Zağnos (İskeleboz) and Kuzgun streams on which it was founded (τράπεζα meant "table" in Ancient Greek; note the table on the coin in the figure.) In Latin, Trabzon was called Trapezus, which is a latinization of its ancient Greek name. Both in Pontic Greek and Modern Greek, it is called Τραπεζούντα (Trapezounta). In Ottoman Turkish and Persian, it is written as طربزون. During Ottoman times, Tara Bozan was also used. Some western geographers used this name instead of the Latin Trebizond. In Laz it is known as ტამტრა (T'amt'ra) or T'rap'uzani, in Georgian it is ტრაპიზონი (T'rap'izoni) and in Armenian it is Տրապիզոն Trapizon. The 19th-century Armenian travelling priest Byjiskian called the city by other, native names, including Hurşidabat and Ozinis. Other versions of the name, which have incidentally been used in English literature as well, include: Trebizonde (Fr.), Trapezunt (German), Trebisonda (Sp.), Trapesunta (It.), Trapisonda, Tribisonde, Terabesoun, Trabesun, Trabuzan, Trabizond and Tarabossan.
Iron Age and Classical Antiquity
Before the city was founded as a Greek colony the area was dominated by Colchian (Caucasian) and Chaldian (Anatolian) tribes. It is possible that the settlement origins of Trabzon go back to these tribes. The Hayasa, who had been in conflict with the Central-Anatolian Hittites in the 14th century BCE, are believed to have lived in the area south of Trabzon. Later Greek authors mentioned the Macrones and the Chalybes as native peoples. One of the dominant Caucasian groups to the east were the Laz, who were part of the monarchy of the Colchis, together with other related Georgian peoples.
According to Greek sources the city was founded in classical antiquity in 756 BCE as Tραπεζούς (Trapezous), by Milesian traders from Sinope. It was one of a number (about ten) of Milesian emporia or trading colonies along the shores of the Black Sea. Others included Abydos and Cyzicus in the Dardanelles, and nearby Kerasous. Like most Greek colonies, the city was a small enclave of Greek life, and not an empire unto its own, in the later European sense of the word. As a colony Trapezous initially paid tribute to Sinope, but early banking (money-changing) activity is suggested occurring in the city already in the 4th century BCE, according to a silver drachma coin from Trapezus in the British Museum, London. Cyrus the Great added the city to the Achaemenid Empire, and was possibly the first ruler to consolidate the eastern Black Sea region into a single political entity (a satrapy).
Trebizond's trade partners included the Mossynoeci. When Xenophon and the Ten Thousand mercenaries were fighting their way out of Persia, the first Greek city they reached was Trebizond (Xenophon, Anabasis, 5.5.10). The city and the local Mossynoeci had become estranged from the Mossynoecian capital, to the point of civil war. Xenophon's force resolved this in the rebels' favor, and so in Trebizond's interest.
Up until the conquests of Alexander the Great the city remained under the dominion of the Achaemenids. While the Pontus was not directly affected by the war, its cities gained independence as a result of it. Local ruling families continued to claim partial Persian heritage, and Persian culture had some lasting influence on the city; the holy springs of mt. Minthrion to the east of the old town were devoted to the Persian-Anatolian Greek god Mithra. In the 2nd century BCE the city with its natural harbours was added to the Kingdom of Pontus by Pharnaces I. Mithridates VI Eupator made it the home port of the Pontic fleet, in his quest to remove the Romans from Anatolia.
After the defeat of Mithridates in 66 BCE the city was first handed to the Galatians, but it was soon returned to the grandson of Mithradates, and subsequently became part of the new client Kingdom of Pontus. When the kingdom was finally annexed to the Roman province of Galatia two centuries later, the fleet passed to new commanders, becoming the Classis Pontica. The city received the status of civitas libera, extending it judicial autonomy and the right to mint its own coin. Trabzon gained importance for its access to roads leading over the Zigana Pass to the Armenian frontier or the upper Euphrates valley. New roads were constructed from Persia and Mesopotamia under the rule of Vespasian. In the next century, the emperor Hadrian commissioned improvements to give the city a more structured harbor. The emperor visited the city in the year 129 as part of his inspection of the eastern border (limes). A mithraeum now serves as a crypt for the church and monastery of Panagia Theoskepastos (Kızlar Manastırı) in nearby Kizlara, east of the citadel and south of the modern harbor.
Trebizond was greatly affected by two events over the following centuries: in the civil war between Septimius Severus and Pescennius Niger, the city suffered for its support of the latter, and in 257 the city was pillaged by the Goths, despite reportedly being defended by "10,000 above its usual garrison", and being defended by two bands of walls.
Although Trebizond was rebuilt after being pillaged by the Goths in 257 and the Persians in 258, the city did not soon recover. Only in the reign of Diocletian appears an inscription alluding to the restoration of the city; Ammianus Marcellinus could only write of Trebizond that it was "not an obscure town." Christianity had reached Trebizond by the third century, for during the reign of Diocletian occurred the martyrdom of Eugenius and his associates Candidius, Valerian, and Aquila. Eugenius had destroyed the statue of Mithras which overlooked the city from Mount Minthrion (Boztepe), and became the patron saint of the city after his death. Early Christians sought refuge in the Pontic Mountains south of the city, where they established Vazelon Monastery in 270 AD and Sumela Monastery in 386 AD. As early as the First Council of Nicea, Trebizond had its own bishop. Subsequently, the Bishop of Trebizond was subordinated to the Metropolitan Bishop of Poti. Then during the 9th century, Trebizond itself became the seat of the Metropolitan Bishop of Lazica.
By the time of Justinian, the city served as an important base in his Persian Wars, and Miller notes that a portrait of the general Belisarius "long adorned the church of St. Basil." An inscription above the eastern gate of the city, commemorated the reconstruction of the civic walls following an earthquake at Justinian's expense. At some point before the 7th century the university (Pandidakterion) of the city was reestablished with a quadrivium curriculum. The university drew students not just from the Byzantine Empire, but from Armenia as well.
The city regained importance when it became the seat of the theme of Chaldia. Trebizond also benefited when the trade route regained importance in the 8th to 10th centuries; 10th-century Muslim authors note that Trebizond was frequented by Muslim merchants, as the main source transshipping Byzantine silks into eastern Muslim countries.According to the 10th century Arab geographer Abul Feda it was regarded as being largely a Lazian port. The Italian maritime republics such as the Republic of Venice and in particular the Republic of Genoa were active in the Black Sea trade for centuries, using Trabzon as an important seaport for trading goods between Europe and Asia.Some of the Silk Road caravans carrying goods from Asia stopped at the port of Trebizond, where the European merchants purchased these goods and carried them to the port cities of Europe with ships. This trade provided a source of revenue to the state in the form of custom duties, or kommerkiaroi, levied on the goods sold in Trebizond. The Greeks protected the coastal and inland trade routes with a vast network of garrison forts.
Following the Byzantine defeat at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, Trebizond came under Seljuk rule. This rule proved transient when an expert soldier and local aristocrat, Theodore Gabras took control of the city from the Turkish invaders, and regarded Trebizond, in the words of Anna Comnena, "as a prize which had fallen to his own lot" and ruled it as his own kingdom. Supporting Comnena's assertion, Simon Bendall has identified a group of rare coins he believes were minted by Gabras and his successors. Although he was killed by the Turks in 1098, other members of his family continued his de facto independent rule into the next century.
Empire of Trebizond
The Empire of Trebizond was formed after Georgian expedition in Chaldia, commanded by Alexios Komnenos a few weeks before the sack of Constantinople. Located at the far northeastern corner of Anatolia, it was the longest surviving of the Byzantine successor states. Byzantine authors, such as Pachymeres, and to some extent Trapezundines such as Lazaropoulos and Bessarion, regarded the Trebizond Empire as being no more than a Lazian border state. Thus from the point of view of the Byzantine writers connected with the Lascaris and later with the Palaiologos, the rulers of Trebizond were not emperors.
Geographically, the Empire of Trebizond consisted of little more than a narrow strip along the southern coast of the Black Sea, and not much further inland than the Pontic Mountains. However, the city gained great wealth from the taxes it levied on the goods traded between Persia and Europe via the Black Sea. The Mongol siege of Baghdad in 1258 diverted more trade caravans towards the city. Genoese and to a lesser extent Venetian traders regularly came to Trabzon. To secure their part of the Black Sea trade, the Genoese bought the coastal fortification "Leonkastron", just west of the winter harbour, in the year 1306.
One of the most famous persons to have visited the city in this period was Marco Polo, who ended his overland return journey at the port of Trebizond, and sailed to his hometown Venice with a ship; passing by Constantinople (Istanbul) on the way, which was retaken by the Byzantines in 1261. A year earlier, in 1260, Niccolò and Maffeo Polo (the father and uncle of Marco Polo) were residing in Constantinople, then the capital of the Latin Empire. They foresaw a political change, liquidated their assets into jewels and moved away. Their decision proved wise, as Constantinople was recaptured in 1261 by Michael VIII Palaiologos, the ruler of the Empire of Nicaea, who promptly burned the Venetian quarter in the city and reestablished the Byzantine Empire. Captured Venetian citizens in Constantinople were blinded, while many of those who managed to escape perished aboard overloaded refugee ships fleeing to other Venetian colonies in the Aegean Sea.
Together with Persian goods, Italian traders brought stories about the city to Western Europe. Trebizond played a mythical role in European literature of the late middle-ages and the Renaissance. Miguel de Cervantes and François Rabelais gave their protagonists the desire to possess the city. Next to literature, the legendary history of the city – and that of the Pontus in general – also influenced the creation of paintings, theatre plays and operas in Western Europe throughout the following centuries.
The city also played a role in the early Renaissance; The western takeover of Constantinople, which formalized Trebizond's political independence, also led Byzantine intellectuals to seek refuge in the city. Especially Alexios II of Trebizond and his grandson Alexios III were patrons of the arts and sciences. After the great city fire of 1310, the ruined university was reestablished. As part of the university Gregory Choniades opened a new academy of astronomy, which housed the best observatory outside Persia. Choniades brought with him the works of Shams al-Din al-Bukhari, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi and Abd al-Rahman al-Khazini from Tabriz, which he translated into Greek. These works later found their way to western Europe, together with the astrolabe. The observatory Choniades built would become known for its accurate solar eclipse predictions, but was probably used mostly for astrological purposes for the emperor and/or the church.
The Black Death arrived at the city late 1346, probably via Kaffa. At that time the local aristocracy was engaged in the Trapezuntine Civil War. Constantinople remained the Byzantine capital until it was conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in 1453, who also conquered Trebizond eight years later, in 1461.
Its demographic legacy endured for several centuries after the Ottoman conquest in 1461, as a substantial number of Greek Orthodox inhabitants, usually referred to as Pontic Greeks, continued to live in the area during Ottoman rule, up until 1923, when they were deported to Greece. A few thousand Greek Muslims still live in the area, mostly in the Çaykara-Of dialectical region to the southeast of Trabzon. Most are Sunni Muslim, while there are some recent converts in the city and possibly a few Crypto-Christians in the Tonya/Gümüşhane area to the southwest of the city. Compared to most previously Greek cities in Turkey, a large amount of its Greek Byzantine architectural heritage survives as well.
The last Emperor of Trebizond, David, surrendered the city to Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire in 1461. Following this takeover, Mehmed II sent many Turkish settlers into the area, but the old ethnic Greek, Laz and Armenian communities remained. According to the Ottoman tax books (tahrir defterleri), the total population of adult males in the city was 1,473 in the year 1523. Approximately 85% of them (1,252 adult males) were Christian, 13% of whom (197 adult males) were Armenian, and 15% of them (221 adult males) were Muslim. However, a large portion of the local Christians were Islamized and Turkified by the end of the 17th century, according to a research by Prof. Halil İnalcık on the tax books (tahrir defterleri) of the Ottoman Empire. Trabzon was sanjak centre in Rum Eyalet (1461–1514) and (1520–1535), Erzincan-Bayburt eyalet (1514–1517), Anadolu Eyalet (1517–1520) and Erzurum Eyalet (1535–1598).
It was the capital of the Ottoman Eyalet of Trebizond (1598–1867) and later of the Ottoman Vilayet of Trebizond (1867–1923) in the northeastern part of Anatolia. During the reign of Sultan Bayezid II, his son Prince Selim (later Sultan Selim I) was the sancakbeyi of Trabzon, and Selim I's son Suleiman the Magnificent was born in Trabzon on November 6, 1494. The Ottoman government often appointed local Chepni and Laz beys as the regional beylerbey. It is also recorded that some Bosniak beys were also appointed by the Sublime Porte as the regional beylerbeys in Trabzon. The Beylerbeylik of Trabzon (Trabzon Beylerbeyliği) had always sent troops for the Ottoman campaigns in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Trebizond had a wealthy merchant class during the late Ottoman period, and the local Christian minority had a substantial influence in terms of culture, economy and politics. A number of European consulates were opened in the city due to its importance in regional trade and commerce. In the first half of the 19th century, Trebizond even became the main port for Persian exports. However, the opening of the Suez Canal greatly diminished the international trading position of the city. In the last decades of the 19th century, the city saw some demographic changes. Many residents from the wider region (mostly Christians, but also some Jews and Greek or Turkish speaking Muslims) started to migrate to the Crimea and southern Ukraine, in search for farmland or employment in one of the booming cities along the northern and eastern coasts of the Black Sea. Among these migrants were the grandparents of Bob Dylan and Greek politicians and artists. At the same time, thousands of Muslim refugees from the Caucasus arrived in the city, especially after 1864, in what is known as the Circassian genocide.
Next to Constantinople, Smyrna (now Izmir) and Salonika (now Thessaloniki), Trebizond was one of the cities where western cultural and technological innovations were first introduced to the Ottoman Empire. In 1835, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions opened the Trebizond Mission station that it occupied from 1835 to 1859 and from 1882 to at least 1892. Hundreds of schools were constructed during the first half of the 19th century, giving the region one of the highest literacy rates of the empire. The city got a post office in 1845. New churches and mosques were built in the second half of the 19th century, as well as the first theater, public and private printing houses, multiple photo-studios and banks. The oldest known photographs of the city center date from the 1860s and depict one of the last camel trains from Persia.
Between one and two thousand Armenians are believed to have been killed in the Trebizond vilayet during the Hamidian massacres of 1895. While this number was low in comparison to other Ottoman provinces, its impact on the Armenian community in the city was large. Many prominent Armenian residents, among them scholars, musicians, photographers and painters, decided to migrate towards the Russian Empire or France. The large Greek population of the city was not affected by the massacre. Ivan Aivazovsky made the painting Massacre of the Armenians in Trebizond 1895 based on the events. Due to the high number of Western Europeans in the city, news from the region was being reported on in many European newspapers. These western newspapers were in turn also very popular among the residents of the city.
In 1901 the harbour was equipped with cranes by Stothert & Pitt of Bath in England. In 1912 the Sümer Opera House was opened on the central Meydan square, being one of the first in the empire. The city lost many young male citizens at the Battle of Sarikamish in the winter of 1914–15. The coastal region between the city and the Russian frontier was the site of key battles between the Ottoman and Russian armies during the Trebizond Campaign, part of the Caucasus Campaign of World War I. A bombardment of the city in 1915 by the Russian navy cost the lives of 1300 citizens. In July 1915, most of the adult male Armenians of the city were marched off south in five convoys, towards the mines of Gümüşhane, never to be seen again. Other victims of the Armenian Genocide were reportedly taken out to sea in boats which were then capsized.
The Russian army landed at Atina, east of Rize on March 4, 1916. Lazistan Sanjak fell within two days. However, due to heavy guerrilla resistance around Of and Çaykara some 50 km to the east of Trabzon, it took a further 40 days for the Russian army to advance west. The Ottoman administration of Trabzon foresaw the fall of the city and called for a meeting with community leaders, where they handed control of the city to Greek metropolitan bishop Chrysantos Philippidis. Chrysantos promised to protect the Muslim population of the city. Ottoman forces retreated from Trabzon, and on April 15 the city was taken without a fight by the Russian Caucasus Army under command of Grand Duke Nicholas and Nikolai Yudenich. Many adult Turkish males left the city out of fear for reprisals, even though governor Chrysantos included them in his administration. According to some sources the Russians banned Muslim mosques, and forced Turks, who were the largest ethnic group living in the city, to leave Trabzon.[verification needed] However, already during the Russian occupation many Turks who had fled to surrounding villages started to return to the city, and governor Chrysantos helped them to re-establish their facilities such as schools, to the dismay of the Russians. During the Russian Revolution of 1917 Russian soldiers in the city turned to rioting, with officers commandeering Trebizonian ships to flee the scene. The Russian Army ultimately retreated from the city and the rest of eastern and northeastern Anatolia. In December 1918 Trabzon deputy Hafız Mehmet gave a speech at the Ottoman parliament in which he blamed the former governor of Trebizond Vilayet Cemal Azmi – who had fled to Germany after the Russian invasion – for orchestrating the Armenian Genocide in the city in 1915, by means of drowning. Subsequently, a series of war crimes trials were held in Trebizond in early 1919 (see Trebizond during the Armenian Genocide). Among others, Cemal Azmi was sentenced to death in absentia.
During the Turkish War of Independence several Christian Pontic Greek communities in the Trebizond vilayet rebelled against the new army of Mustafa Kemal (notably in Bafra and Santa), but when nationalist Greeks came to Trabzon to proclaim revolution, they were not received with open arms by the local Pontic Greek population of the city. At the same time the Muslim population of the city, remembering their protection under Greek governor Crhysantos, protested the arrest of prominent Christians. Liberal delegates of Trebizond opposed the election of Mustafa Kemal as the leader of the Turkish revolution at the Erzurum Congress. The governor and mayor of Trebizond were appalled by the violence against Ottoman Greek subjects, and the government of Trabzon thus refused arms to Mustafa Kemal's henchman Topal Osman, who was responsible for mass murders in the western Pontus. Osman was forced out of the city by armed Turkish port-workers. Following the war and the annulment of the Treaty of Sèvres (1920), which was replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), Trebizond became part of the new Turkish republic. The efforts of the pro-Ottoman, anti-nationalist population of Trebizond only postponed the inevitable, because the national governments of Turkey and Greece agreed to a mutual forced population exchange. This exchange included well over one hundred thousand Greeks from Trebizond and the vicinity, to the relatively new Greek state. During the war Trebizond parliamentarian Ali Şükrü Bey was one of the leading figures of the first Turkish opposition party. Through his newspaper Tan, Şükrü and his colleagues publicized their critiques of the Kemalist government, such as its violence towards Greeks during the population exchange.
Topal Osman's men would eventually murder parliamentarian Şükrü for his criticism of the nationalist government of Mustafa Kemal. Topal Osman was later sentenced to death and killed while resisting arrest. After pressure from the opposition his headless body was hanged by his foot in front of the Turkish parliament. Ali Şükrü Bey, who had studied in Deniz Harp Okulu (Turkish Naval Academy) and worked as a journalist in the United Kingdom, is seen as a hero by the people of Trabzon, while in neighboring Giresun there is a statue of his murderer Topal Osman.
During World War II shipping activity was limited because the Black Sea had again become a war zone. Hence, the most important export products, tobacco and hazelnut, could not be sold and living standards degraded. As a result of the general development of the country, Trabzon has developed its economic and commercial life. The coastal highway and a new harbour have increased commercial relations with central Anatolia, which has led to some growth. However, progress has been slow in comparison to the western and the southwestern parts of Turkey. Trabzon is famous throughout Turkey for its anchovies called hamsi, which are the main meal in many restaurants in the city. Major exports from Trabzon include hazelnuts and tea.
The city still has a sizable community of Greek-speaking Muslims, most of whom are originally from the vicinities of Tonya, Sürmene and Çaykara. However, the Pontic Greek language (known as Romeiaka or Ποντιακά, Pontiaka) is spoken mostly by the older generations.
Kaymaklı Monastery, a formerly Armenian Monastery of the All-Saviour (arm. Ամենափրկիչ Վանք, Amenaprgič Vank),
Kızlar Monastery of Panagia Theoskepastos (the God-veiled Virgin),
Kuştul Monastery of Gregorios Peristereotas (gr. Ιερά Μονή του Αγίου Γεωργίου Περιστερεώτα, Ierá Moní tou Agíou Georgíou Peristereóta),
Vazelon Monastery of Agios Savvas (Maşatlık),
Cave churches of Agia Anna (Little Ayvasıl), Sotha (St. John), Agios Theodoros, Agios Konstantinos, Agios Christophoros, Agia Kyriakí, Agios Michail and Panagia Tzita churches.
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