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The Municipality of Salonica between Old Regime, the Ottoman Reforms and the Transition from Empire to Nation State

Nora Lafi
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The history of Thessaloniki (or Salonica, Selânîk) is now well-documented: many aspects of urban life during the last decades of the Ottoman Empire and during the transition to Greek sovereignty have been explored and the image we have of the history of the city is now much more nuanced than a few decades ago. Historiography, however, often remains quite splintered between various sectors which are not always corresponding to a common sphere of questionings and of scholarly dialogue. From the history of the Jews in the city to the general history of the Ottoman Empire between reforms and Balkan Wars1, or to the history of national struggles in the region and to that of the city at the time of its integration into the Greek kingdom, Thessaloniki tends to be the object of separate historiographical traditions, questionings and methods. All have profoundly evolved during recent decades, but not necessarily converged. It is of course a matter of competences, for historians working on different periods and archival resources of different nature and languages. But it is also a question linked to the very sociological milieu of historians, with its divides, its schools of interpretation and its own diversity of points of view. The question of the historiography of Thessaloniki indeed remains a highly ideological one, with different traditions corresponding to different interpretations of history. Even if the era of national historiographies is now largely over, or at least the object of critical examinations, history writing about and on Thessaloniki is far from being the object of a consensus. Divergent views on the Ottoman period continue for example to characterize the narratives of the city. But the context is quite favourable for a new discussion: on the one side, the Greek nationalist narrative has now been nuanced, and on the other side, studies on cosmopolitan Salonica and on the context of the Ottoman reforms of the last third of the 19th c. have brought a new vision of the late Ottoman period. In this article, I try, with the example of urban governance and of municipal institutions, to build on the context of the present dynamism in historiography in order to propose a new reading of the municipality under its late Ottoman form and to propose alternative interpretations to the still widely accepted dichotomy about the transition between Empire and Nation State. The main argument is that there was between at least the 16th and the 19th century an old regime form of urban government in the city, more complex than often described, and that this system was reformed during the second half of the 19th century, when the municipality became one of the instruments of the promotion of an Ottoman modernity. I argue that this Ottoman municipal modernity was consistant and coherent, in spite of its limits, and that a re-evaluation of this feature in necessary in order to revise interpretations about the passage to Greek sovereignty. The imperative of a new perspective on the urban and local nature of the municipal Ottoman modernity invites indeed to pose new questions to the passage to the Greek period.
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halshs-00981804 , version 1 (22-04-2014)


  • HAL Id : halshs-00981804 , version 1


Nora Lafi. The Municipality of Salonica between Old Regime, the Ottoman Reforms and the Transition from Empire to Nation State. Dimitris Keridis, John Brady Kiesling. Thessaloniki: A City in Transition (1912-2012), Routledge, p.81-94, 2020, 9780367192822. ⟨halshs-00981804⟩
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