“…in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon ruins of the abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spider-webs of intricate relationships seeking a form.”[1] 

Italo Calvino’s imaginal meditations on Venice provide a multitude of illuminative perspectives from which to consider the essence of a city, and particularly a lost city.  The focus of this essay is an exploration of the city of Salonica, and specifically the Judeo-Spanish city, established within the Ottoman city in 1492, and extinguished when its population was deported in 1943.  Calvino, by invoking the Roman household and family gods as co-habiting rivals, leads us to consider that there may be two contenders for the essence of a city, either in the form of Penates (spirits of people) who “believe they are the city’s soul” because they reside with families and migrate with them, or that of Lares (spirits of place) who reside in foundations and give the city its form.  The Penates and Lares co-exist, fraternize and quarrel: “The Penates bring out the old people, the great-grandparents…the Lares talk about the environment before it was ruined.”[2]  My great-grandmother Estrea Aelion (Nona) came from Salonica, accompanied by Penates but what is not clear is the extent to which the Penates and Lares change one another from long co-habitation, and whether they are so easy to distinguish in the end, or what happens to the Penates of the dead when they are violently disturbed.  In seeking to understand these elements better, we will consider Salonica’s foundation and look at the nature of spatial, spiritual, cultural and temporal relationships within the city.  Using historical report and personal memoir to give expression to different voices which speak of the city, we will finally compare the conflagrations in Salonica, Smyrna and Istanbul; cities which were also part of the Ottoman Empire and either destroyed or transformed with its decline. 

The walled city of Thessaloniki was founded in 315B.C., by the Macedonian General, Cassander.  Named after his wife, half-sister of Alexander-the-Great, she in turn was named after the victory in battle over Thessaly by her father, Philip of Macedon.  Established during a struggle for succession in which Cassander murdered Alexander’s mother, and after Alexander had died, the city’s foundations are associated with both personal and political battles.  Perhaps the Lares of Thessaloniki are essentially confrontational, for it is Alexander’s statue that graces the modern Hellenic city, and Thessaloniki recalls less the woman of that name, and more the violence which preceded its foundation. Or perhaps it was the Penates that set the tone.  From the outset it is hard to tell. 

While the name of the city pertains to its foundation, it is Saint Demetrios who was established as the patron saint of the city.  Demetrios was a Roman officer martyred in the third century AD to whom a healing shrine was built.  Demetrios was attributed with many miracles and was considered to have protected the city from the Slavs in the sixth century, and again in 1914. “After a grateful Roman was cured by his miraculous powers, he built a five-aisled basilica to the saint, which quickly became the centre of a major cult, attracting Jews as well as Christians and pagans.”[3]  The Byzantine church of St Demetrios, which survived until the Great Fire in 1917, “shows how deeply the city’s Greco-Roman culture had been impregnated with Christian rituals and doctrines.”[4]  

One way to consider the presence of Lares and Penates in the city is to consider how their sacred places are treated.  Demetrios’s church became a mosque at the end of the fifteenth century, and the historian Mark Mazower tells us that because the church was regarded as a holy place of God, the conversion was not to be seen as the desecration of a sacred space, but rather as confirmation of the unity of God. The Ottomans treated the tombs of Christian martyrs as sacred, and their blood as a continuing potent force so Dimitrios’ tomb, and the holy earth around it, were protected by Mevlevi dervishes.  The resting places of the dead continued to be honoured until the demise of the Ottoman Empire and the destruction associated with the establishment of new nation states at the beginning of the twentieth century. 

So it was during the final push by the New Turks under Mustafa Kemal towards the establishment of a new nation state, that the siege of Smyrna took place in 1923, and Greek families were forced to hide in their family graves to protect their womenfolk from abduction, rape and torture – desecrating their own dead to protect the living.  Later, in Salonica, the Jewish cemetery outside the walls was destroyed during the Nazi occupation to make way for the new university that was built above it.  Mazower describes the old walled city as one in which the dead were not only buried in cemeteries but in small mausoleums, where they were a constant presence in daily life.  The dead and the living were never far apart, and the spirits of the dead were consulted and prayed to, with an abundance of idiosyncratic and superstitious rituals.  Leon Skiacy recalls the pieces of rag attached to the grille outside the wall of a mosque which, he was told, was the Turks way of praying.   It was a time when drought threatened the harvest and livelihoods of countless peasant farmers, merchants and beys, so he added a strip of his handkerchief to the wisps of rag he found there, and wondered whether because “I was not a Muslim; would Allah listen to me? Blind birds were not Muslims, and he made their nests.  After all the rains would benefit everyone.”[5] So, while Demetrios’ powerful Penates seem to have been a pacifying and moderating force between what might have been fighting factions, and in Skiacy’s Salonica there is a complex interaction between the Penates of many people, and the Lares of the city’s dwellings and sacred buildings; it is not so clear what happens when graves are desecrated.  These are the domain of the Lares, while the souls of the dead are protected by Penates, and both are violently disturbed.


The Well and what lies beneath

More decadences, more burgeoning have followed one another in Clarice.  Populations and customs have changed several times; the name, the site, and the objects hardest to break remain.[6] 

Salonica’s old quarter was a ramshackle warren of modest houses with large varandados and bay windows overlooking small streets with geographically useful names such as “Behind the Square of the Graveyard”.  There were courtyards and fountains, mosques and synagogues, stallholders, artisans and cooks, working and conversing in the open.  Nona recollects that all houses had wells for domestic use, and until the French installed running water, drinking water was daily brought to the house by a carrier.  In Farewell to Salonika Leon Skiacy describes how his father and doctor friend decided to explore the reputedly haunted well, in the doctor’s garden.  They climbed down the well, and found a tunnel at the bottom, along which they made their way with caution and trepidation.  Eventually the passageway opened out and they found themselves in “a large chamber with high vaulting” with the ground “strewn with potsherds” and even a small intact urn.  At the far side of the chamber was another tunnel – possibly leading towards another well in the next garden.  The two men decided to keep quiet about their finding, knowing that the classical Corinithian columns, Las Incantadas, uncovered during the 1860s, had been destructively removed from the city.  Skiacy considered that “Father and his friend had come upon a church of those early Christians of Thessaloniki, as it was then called, who were driven under cover by the perscutions of Nero.”[7]  In the first century there was already a Jewish community in the city, a community which adhered to their monotheistic belief, which found favour with some of the city’s non-Jewish inhabitants, and where “Paul, the fiery apostle of the new faith” helped establish a following for Christianity. [8]  

Evidence of sacred religious places buried beneath the city is consonant with a vision of the city as one in which are there were layers of religious belief and practice, of which only the best-built, and therefore enduring monuments to the dominant political and religious powers manifestly remain.  But beneath the streets, in modest temporary dwellings, and in private homes there was a complex and pervasive sacred life being conducted in diverse ways.  

To understand this better within the context of the city under the Ottoman Empire, it helps to know that while the city was accountable to the Porte of the Sultan in Constantinople and taxes had to paid to the capital, there was considerable freedom within the city and its various communities to administer themselves, which allowed much room for the co-existence of different religious and cultural lives.  Mazower says

there was far less theological policing under the Ottomans than there was in Christendom at this time, and this laxity of atmosphere and absence of heresy-hunters fostered the emergence of a popular religious culture which more than anything else in the early modern period united the city’s diverse faiths around a common sense of the sacred and the divine. [9]

When individuals, or the state, are content to leave undisturbed the dwelling places of the Lares, then Penates too are able to peaceably co-exist and contribute to the protection of all who reside there. 

When the Ottoman Sultan Mohammed II conquered Constantinople in 1453, he sought to end the corruption of the Byzantine Empire.  Within his empire there were many different nationalities and religions, and Islam as he saw it, obliged him to extend considerable religious tolerance to unbelievers on the basis that for the Moslem “hospitality is a religious duty, and in whose house or tent even the infidel must be protected.”[10] It was therefore a mutually beneficial consequence of the edict of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain in 1492, which compelled the Jews to leave the country in which they had prospered under the Moors, that over 20,000 of them chose to make their new home in Salonica.  At this time Salonica’s population was depleted and was made up of slightly more Christians than Muslims, but within a very few years the Judeo-Spanish community formed over half the population, and continued to do so until early in the twentieth century. The Marrano poet Samuel Usque, along with many of his compatriots, regarded Salonica as the “Mother of Israel” because of the affection with which they were received.[11] Perhaps the Lares were not threatened by the Penates of their new incumbents, and happy to accommodate them, realising an opportunity for mutual benefit and growth. 

Salonica, already a heterogeneous and polyglot city, became a Judeo-Spanish city.  The Jews that arrived included “heads of mercantile establishments, teachers, bankers, former state officials, physicians, scholars and craftsmen, [and] they arrived, bringing a new life and a new culture to the ancient city.”[12] The language they spoke was Spanish, the vernacular became known as Judeizmo (meaning Jewish), while the religious form which was written in Rashi (Hebrew characters) was known as Ladino.  Ladino became the language of trade, and the dominant language of the city as its new incumbents dominated all aspects of commercial life.  But it would be a mistake to see the Jewish community as a single entity.  In Spain the Jews had come from semi-autonomous regions in which the language and customs of each community varied.  Eventually there were over 30 synagogues in the Jewish quarter of the city, each named after the district from which their members came.  Beyond this there were extant Romano and Ashkenazi Jewish communities within Salonica who found the ways of their new co-religionists both strange and sometimes vulgar.  Each synagogue, under the administration of a millet, conducted its own financial and legislative affairs to satisfy the administrative requirements of the state, the religious laws of the community, and the need for educational, health and charitable institutions.

Divisions, already evident within the Jewish community, were further complicated by the influx of Marranos (or New Christians) from the Iberian peninsula and Italy.  These converts to Christianity had also been expelled, yet many were treated with suspicion.  Some had long-maintained their Jewish rituals in secret, while others had truly embraced Christianity.  It was hard to know who was who.  It was also expedient in trading with the Catholic states, to maintain or adopt a Christian façade, and there were further conversions to Islam for reasons of marriage or employment and some of these were not made in good faith.  Perhaps the Lares were simply baffled by the extraordinary mix of Penates in their midst, or maybe these just added to an already complex mix of religious and historical influences on the residing deities.
Secular and religious life overlapped: The ports, banks, indeed much of the town was closed on the Jewish Sabbath because so much of the commercial life of the city was run by the Jews, while Salonica quickly “became a centre of print culture too: Jewish books were printed there centuries before any appeared in Greek, Arabic or Ottoman Turkish.”[13] Jewish participation in the life of the city was evident at every level of society, but a continued love of learning, aided by the availability of printed texts, encouraged both a continued connection with intellectual developments beyond the city, and the deepening of a strong Kabbalistic tradition.

The mystical interest in the study of Kabbalah made Salonica fertile ground for dreams of the imminent arrival of a new Messiah.  Speculation had been growing in Kabbalistic and Christian communities across Europe that 1666 would see his arrival, so when Sebbatai Zevi, an ascetic and mystic from Smyrna who made messianic claims, made his way via Constantinople to Salonica in the1650s, he was given an ecstatic welcome.  Zevi’s popularity was intense but short-lived, and he was obliged to leave, continuing on his charismatic travels, fanning the messianic flames until eventually coming to the attention of the Grand Vizier in Constantinople, where, in fear of his life, he converted to Islam, so saving his skin and creating a great schism amongst his followers.  Some of these were appalled by his conversion, while others gave it a Kabbalistic interpretation.  A considerable number of Zevi’s followers converted to Islam.  These called themselves Ma’min, and in Salonica there were about 10,000 of them.  Mazower tells us that having abandoned their Jewish roots, they eventually abandoned their Spanish language, yet they convened in secret underground synagogues for their own unorthodox and esoteric practices officiated over by initiates.  Not entirely accepted by mainstream Moslems, Mazower portrays them as a strange synthesis of Judaism and Islam, eating both traditional Ottoman and Jewish foods but not adhering to their dietary laws; alla Franca in their home furnishings and taste in fashions, highly educated and sophisticated, and remaining proud of their Jewish ancestry.  Living in the old city, their sacred places were consumed by the Great Fire of 1917, and apart from the Yeni Djami monument to them on the outskirts of the modern city, no trace now remains, while Skiacy records that “to the end of the Turkish rule in Salonica in 1912 a delegation of seven was wont to go to the gates of the city every morning to scan the roads and see whether Sabbatai Cevi was coming back that day.” [14] 

The Ma’min were neither the first nor the only mystical Islamic tradition thriving in Salonica, for there were also the Sufi mystics (often referred to as Dervishes).  These mystical groups were influenced by both eastern Christianity and “the shamanic traditions of central Asia”, and so we find another heterogenous group of mystical worshippers with esoteric traditions which serve to further conflate aspects of the three monotheistic traditions in such a way that it becomes difficult to wholly separate them. [15]  As Mazower writes:

The city, delicately poised in its confessional balance of power – ruled by Muslims, dominated by Jews, in an overwhelmingly Christian hinterland – lent itself to an atmosphere of overlapping devotion.[16] 

What emerges is the vision of a city suffused with an intricate and variously expressed but over-arching sense of Divine purpose.  At this point the more militant aspects of the Lares seem to have been moderated by diverse spiritual Penates influences from wide cultural and geographical sources, and their co-existence seems to have been both intricate and productive.


Contrasting memories

…at every second the unhappy city contains a happy city unaware of its own existence.[17]

 The city Mazower portrays at the end of nineteenth century is a mixed one of affluence and hardship, peaceful co-existence and corruption, superstition and pragmatism.  The personal memoirs of those who were children at the time and whose lives were secure and comfortable, betray a lack of experience of the wider world of which they were also a part - a world where balance was very precarious, and which was rapidly changing in the face of powerful modernising European cultural and political influences, coupled with the pressure from long-unrepresented, mainly Christian minorities, both in the city and in the hinterland, to have their interests and competing claims satisfied.

Salonica was governed by a series of pashas appointed from Istanbul each of whom was in place for a short time and who had limited long-term influence and were sometimes ineffectual, sometimes ruthless.  Governor Rahmi Bey, who came from Salonica, did much during the Greek invasion of Smyrna, to mitigate the dangerous situation there, and to protect the city in defiance of instructions from Istanbul, but he was a rarity.  Meanwhile, the Janissaries who were responsible for policing the city of Salonica were notoriously corrupt and instead of keeping the peace, were often the cause of considerable tension, violence and unrest in the city.  Under the Ottoman Empire, capital punishment was still the norm, violent crime and hangings were not infrequent, to say nothing of the occasional very public martyrdom of Christian infidels and frequent kidnappings by bandits in the hinterland.  Beyond this, there were frequent fires, occasional earthquakes, and there had been huge losses of life from the plague over many decades in the eighteenth century.  For the many poor of the city, life was unimaginably squalid and harsh, with sewage running in the streets and the overpowering smell from the leather tanneries near the harbour.  Not all Penares were the protectors of happy families.

In contrast to this, Leon Sciaky and Nona, both offer an idealised view of domestic life in a Jewish home in Salonica on the eve of transformation.  Nona was born in 1884, Sciaky a few years later.  Both remember charmed childhoods in which families lived together with their parents and cousins, in which the rhythm of life was gentle, slow and infused with religious ritual, in which food featured prominently, and in which, while communities remained self-contained and private, there was an order and a relationship of respect and honour between people of different social standing, different religions and different races. Sciaky remembers escorting his grandfather to villages outside the city to conduct business with peasants where he was treated with great hospitality, both eating there and staying overnight in a Moslem home. 

Both home and family have always been at the core of Jewish life, and this is conveyed through the traditions which are the last remaining vestiges of the Judeo-Spanish community of Salonica.  Nona says she was one of the first generation of women to receive an education, her mother remaining illiterate all her life.          

But they knew everything perfectly – all the prayers…everything.  That’s why they sang all the time.  And the children heard the old songs, from the time when they arrived from Spain, mother to daughter, they all knew songs.” [18] 

A strong oral tradition was kept alive through song, which Nona brought with her to London.  There were Ladino songs for religious festivals which, while the language is now dying out, remain part of Sephardic culture and religious ritual.  The increasing alla franca influence on the city meant that Nona was educated, while also indicative of much wider political changes which resulted in the transformation of Salonica into a modern Hellenic city. 

Nona recalls her grandmother’s decision, common among widows at the time, to travel to Jerusalem for charitable work and “to die in the Holy Land – everyone sang a song to see my grandmother off, the tradition was to sing that particular song when someone was leaving.”[19] She sings:

I am going to Jerusalem, to eat of its earth

In Jerusalem, I see the moon from afar; it is rising

In Jerusalem there is a mountain, surrounded by ten rabbis

In the house of God, The house of Lamentations

There is a lamp with seven arms

And those seven arms shine on everyone 

Asked about this little-documented tradition, she said simply that “we all went to Jerusalem because it was in our souls.”  However, when an early Zionist Moise Cohen came to Salonica, he was surprised to find little support amongst a community who were content to remain within the Ottoman Empire, and did not aspire to the colonisation of Palestine.  There is little question of the powerful presence of the Penates as they accompanied family members abroad, while leaving some of their number behind.  Those aged travellers felt protected by their ancestral Penates, and were drawn to a final resting place which promised to be guarded by benign Lares. 

If home and community were sacred, food was essential to both.  The most important Jewish ritual takes place each week, and the preparation for the Sabbath was central to the rhythms of life, so Nona describes the excitement of rising early to watch the Chollah bread being made on a Friday morning.  There are traditional Judeo-Spanish recipes from Salonica, which subtly change with each generation. Spongato (baked cheese, spinach, egg, nutmeg and cayenne) is our quintessential family dish.  Traditionally eaten at the Jewish New Year, this remains a potent reminder of religious, cultural and geographical roots in Sephardic Jewry from Spain and into Salonica.  Like religious life under the Ottoman Empire, Sephardic cooking bears evidence of its origins and the influence of its host countries over hundreds of years so that it is distinctively Mediterranean, and entirely different from Ashkenasi food from northern Europe – It is evidence of the best combination of Lares and Panates influences.

Burning Cities

Marozia consists of two cities, the rat’s and the swallow’s; both change with time, but their relationship does not change; the second is the one about to free itself from the first.[20] 

In 1915, Irfan Orga’s paradisal Turkish Istanbul infancy ended abruptly.  His grandfather had died, the family business was sold, and his uncle and father were conscripted into the army, and killed soon after.  Life was already disrupted for Irfan, when the fire in which “enemy spies set fire to the wooden houses of Istanbul”[21] destroyed everything that remained.  Orga’s mother, still in her early twenties and with three small children, including a new-born, lost all her possessions, her financial independence, and her home.  Very soon, the losses and the extreme poverty that ensued, led to mental and physical breakdown.  Istanbul was not destroyed or invaded, but many of its inhabitants who were caught at the crossroads between East and West, a declining Empire and an embryonic Turkish nation, pre-Modern and Modern city, nevertheless suffered from a loss of all that was sacred to them, and could not find new order or meaning in the chaos of their shattered lives.  Orga’s grandmother, who also suffered greatly, seems to have survived better – an older and more resilient woman, she found comfort in the Koran and her religious devotion – something which the younger woman did not have.

Salonica was well-used to fires – there had been many over the centuries, some causing widespread damage, loss of life, and devastation to homes which were mainly made of wood, but the fire that broke out on the Sabbath of August 18th 1917 – the Great Fire – marked the beginning of the end for the Judeo-Spanish community; an end which was to come finally in 1943 with their mass-deportation to, and incineration in, the crematoriums of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen in which over 90% of them perished.  This fire, which started in the Turkish quarter was spread by strong winds and quickly engulfed the major part of the old city.  According to Nona, the attempt to put the fire out was hampered because water was rationed between civilian and military use, and when the fire started the armies turned the water off, saying “the water is for soldiers.”  Mazower quotes an official report, saying “all the banks, all the business premises, all the hotels and practically all the shops, theatres and cinemas were reduced to ashes.  Most of the churches fortunately escaped, but of the beautiful church of Demetrios, only the bare walls remain.” The worst affected area was the Jewish quarter where “most of its thirty-seven synagogues were gone, its libraries, schools, club buildings and offices.” 70,000 people lost their homes, and the fire “destroyed the essence of the Ottoman town and its Jewish core.” [22]  

My great-grandmother was lucky – her home survived the blaze, and so seemingly did the department store that was the family business.  “Out of the ashes, an entirely new town began to emerge, one moulded in the image of the Greek state and its society.”[23] After the war, business was poor, and the Greek administration was less tolerant of its Jews – my great-grandmother, with her husband and two children went to Istanbul where “the children started at a good school, and everything went well until the war began between the Greeks and the Turks, and then Mustafa Kemal came on the scene.”  In 1923 the family moved again, to Paris, and from there to London.  Nona, along with many other Jewish families, abandoned the city of their birth and, with her family around her, lived a very long and full life.  She remained a quietly religious woman.  Her niece’s family, with whom they had shared the large family home in Salonica, was not so lucky, and the losses she suffered, though she lived for another 60 years, were too great ever to rise above.  Melancholy remained where faith and family had been extinguished.   

In both these cases, the older and more devout women fared better.  Maybe they felt better protected by their Penates because they had experienced their steady influence for longer.  Maybe the violent and premature deaths of loved ones depleted the Penates; certainly the younger women seem not to have been able to rediscover the harmony of their early lives.  Either way, the Penates seem to have suffered a loss of influence, and the families a corresponding loss of faith.  If the Lares are guardians not only of buildings, but also the ground itself, they are obliged to absorb the changes imposed on them by the departing Penates and continue to protect the city, anticipating its transformation or re-birth.

The Fires of Destruction

There is a sense of emptiness that comes over us at…the desperate moment when we discover that this empire, which had seemed to us the sum of all wonders, is an endless, formless ruin, that corruption’s gangrene has spread too far to be healed…[24] 

The triumph of Mustafa Kemal, or Ataturk as he became known, was achieved with the ruin of the city of Smyrna.  For Kemal, brought up in Salonica, the destruction of Smyrna was justifiable, since “Izmir had slipped away from the hands of its true and noble Turkish inhabitants.”[25]  Smyrna, like Salonica, had thrived under the Ottoman Empire, and was also a heterogeneous polyglot population in which Greeks outnumbered Turks and Christians outnumbered Muslims.  There were Armenians, Jews and other minority communities, but the most successful were the Levantine families who dominated the commercial life of the city and provided employment.  These Christian families, nominally European or American, were powerfully identified and intermarried, and for them Smyrna was home.  After years of fighting between the new nation state of Greece and the New Turks under Mustafa Kemal in Anatolia, the defeated Greek army retreated along with thousands of Greek refugees from Anatolia towards Smyrna.   What looked as though it might be a peaceful surrender of the city to Kemal, turned in a few days in September 1923 into a massacre, conflagration, and humanitarian disaster on an enormous scale.  The European powers, with many warships off the coast of Smyrna either did too little to mitigate the disaster, or actively obstructed a humanitarian response until it was too late.  An estimated 250,000 people were murdered or marched to their deaths in the Anatolian desert, but not before an inferno had engulfed the city.  Witnesses record Turks dousing the town (except the Turkish quarter) in petroleum and starting a fire which, fanned by strong winds, became an inferno that swept towards the harbour.  On the quay were half a million refugees caught between the fire, marauding murderous Turks on the rampage, and the sea.  The American consul, George Horton, having witnessed the whole debacle wrote:

…nothing was lacking in the way of atrocity, lust, cruelty and all that fury of human passion which…degrade the human race to a level lower than the vilest and cruellest of beasts…one of the keenest impressions which I brought away with me from Smyrna was a feeling of shame that I belonged to the human race. [26]

The Levantine community were rescued but their city, their homes, their livelihoods, their communities and their possessions were lost.  The nations to which they nominally belonged did not offer them a home, and they found themselves rootless.  But these were the lucky survivors of the city.  The Armenians were marched to their deaths. The Greeks who survived because of the heroic deeds of an unlikely saviour in the shape of an American Methodist, Asa Jennings, who negotiated their evacuation, were shipped to mainland Greece, many to Salonica. These were Christans who spoke Turkish, strangers to their new cities.  They were some of the first victims of mass ethnic-cleansing which soon saw the expulsion of many Muslims from Salonica to Turkey. 

The conflagrations in these cities, witnessed by Lares, welcomed perhaps by some long-aggrieved Penates, while mourned by others, caused huge devastation to people, to buildings and to a culture.   In the case of Salonica and Smyrna, the old city was largely erased, and in both places new cities were built:  Greek Thessaloniki and Turkish Izmir.  The Lares, remaining in place, re-exerted their influence in what arose from the ashes, but the Penates of families who were killed and whose homes and sacred places vanished, seem to have left little trace except in their residual influence on the gods of place, the Lares, or in the memories of their relatives if they managed to escape.  Yet Orhan Pamuk, whose family and Penates remained in Istanbul, identifies a melancholic sense of loss for a city in decline, seemingly for both Lares and Penates, many of whom find more to regret than to celebrate in the current manifestation of Istanbul.[27] 

Shifting sands, form and flux

...in the seed of the city of the just, a malignant seed is hidden, in its turn: the certainty and pride of being in the right….This seed ferments in bitterness, rivalry, resentment; and the natural desire of revenge on the unjust is colored by a yearning to be in their place and to act as they do.  Another unjust city, though different from the first, is digging out its space…[28]

These fragments evoke an image of the city of Salonica which recalls David Attenborough’s recent stop-frame film of the shifting tidal sands of the Sahara.[29]  When speeded up one can see that the sands are always in flux, rising towards order and then falling back into disorder, like the waves of the sea, while to the naked eye the dunes seem stable, subject only to inconsequential change.  Cities also rise and fall, demonstrating in both their daily and historic cycles, and on an individual or collective basis, the best and worst of which mankind is capable.  The Lares, and tenacious long-domiciliary Penates remain concentrated in parts of the oceanic sands, visited and informed by successions of Penates blown in from afar.  The gods of people and place comingle and influence one another so that when the Penates leave they take with them some of the characteristics of the Lares they have known – perhaps this is what we call culture or tradition and which we regard as sacred, and which continues to be passed on by Penates through family customs and in memories, so that cities are partly in public and geographical places where they may be visited in their present manifestation, and partly in private and personal realms where they exist, less visibly perhaps, as imaginal places.











Aelion, Estrea. Life and times of Estrea Aelion, Translated and transcribed from taped interviews by Jacqueline Golden.  London 1984.

“BBC One - Africa, Sahara.” BBC. Accessed March 3, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01qh31v.

Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Translated by William Weaver. London: Vintage, 1997.

Mazower, Mark. Salonica : City of Ghosts : Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950. London: HarperCollins, 2004.

Milton, Giles. Paradise lost : Smyrna 1922 - The Destruction of Islam’s City of Tolerance. London: Sceptre, 2009.

Orga, Irfan. Portrait of a Turkish Family. London : New York: Eland ; Hippocrene Books, 1988.

Pamuk, Orhan. Istanbul : Memories of a City. Translated by Maureen Freely. London: Faber and Faber, 2006.

Roden, Claudia. The Book of Jewish food : An Odyssey from Samarkand and Vilna to the Present Day. London: Penguin Books, 1999.

Sciaky, Leon. Farewell to Salonica : City at the Crossroads. London: Haus, 2012.

Matza, Diane, ed. Sephardic American Voices: Two Hundred Years of Literary Legacy. Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England [for] Brandeis University Press, 1996.



[1] Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, trans. William Weaver (London: Vintage, 1997), 68.

[2] Ibid., 70.

[3] Mark Mazower, Salonica : City of Ghosts : Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950 (London: HarperCollins, 2004), 20.

[4] Ibid., 21.

[5] Leon Sciaky, Farewell to Salonica : City at the Crossroads (London: Haus, 2012), 98.

[6] Calvino, Invisible Cities, 97.

[7] Sciaky, Farewell to Salonica, 35.

[8] Ibid., 36.

[9] Mazower, Salonica, 68.

[10] Ibid., 122.

[11] Sciaky, Farewell to Salonica, 126.

[12] Ibid., 125.

[13] Mazower, Salonica, 63.

[14] Sciaky, Farewell to Salonica, 131.

[15] Mazower, Salonica, 80.

[16] Ibid., 79.

[17] Calvino, Invisible Cities, 134.

[18] Aelion, Estrea, Life and times of Estrea Aelion, 1984.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Calvino, Invisible Cities, 140.

[21] Irfan Orga, Portrait of a Turkish Family (London : New York: Eland ; Hippocrene Books, 1988), 102.

[22] Mazower, Salonica, 320.

[23] Ibid., 321.

[24] Calvino, Invisible Cities, 5.

[25] Giles Milton, Paradise Lost : Smyrna 1922 - The Destruction of Islam’s City of Tolerance (London: Sceptre, 2009), 311.

[26] Ibid., 325.

[27] Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul : Memories of a City, trans. Maureen Freely (London: Faber and Faber, 2006).

[28] Calvino, Invisible Cities, 146.

[29] “BBC One - Africa, Sahara,” BBC, accessed March 3, 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01qh31v.