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F + 6 : What do Marseille & Alum have in common? Phocaea or Foça!

Lazy Sunday today. Nobody got out of bed before 9 am. The gentle rocking of the waves was just too tempting. The coffee tastes almost as good as at 6.30 am - emphasis on almost.

Americano with hot Milk & a Turkish Yoghurt with Honey, Strawberries & Walnuts is the best


We are heading toward Çesme today, the peninsula opposite the Greek island of Chios. It is unclear whether we will be able to visit Chios on Tuesday. We want to buy some Mastic, the raisin the Roman Emperors and the Turkish Sultans loved so much. But interpreting border regulations between Turkey and Greece is now more an art than a science. In any case, we have a plan B. The Çesme peninsula produces excellent Mastic as well - Greek connoisseurs pretend that it is of lesser quality but am sure our Turkish friends will disagree. Be it as it may, we definitely have to get some.


Our destination for today is Foça or Phocaea in Greek. We do not want to sail more than three hours a day. Unfortunately, the North Wind died down again. It will be another day of motoring. We all hope that the North Wind is not preserving all its might for Monday, 29th August when we will be crossing from Icaria to Mykonos. We experienced the a Melthemi storm once in 2017 and are not keen for a repletion. But we deal with this next week.

Phocaea or Phobia was with Miletus one of the most active founders of Greek colonies


Phocaea is almost as old as Troy which we visited just a week ago. Founded in the 11th century by Aeolian Greeks, the town with its two harbours became one of the important trading centres on the Ionian coast. Its sailors had a stellar reputation and were in high demand. Phocaea was the parent city of colonies like Massalia (Marseille), Emporion (Empuries) in Catalonia and Elea (Velia) in Catania.

Foça's Castle was built by the Genovese in the 13th century but later expanded by Ottomans


In the 6th century before BC, Phocaea came under the influence of the Persian Empire, was liberated by Alexander the Great in 334 BC and eventually joined the Roman Empire. But it lost its pre-eminent status to towns such as Miletus, Ephesus and Pergamon. The Byzantines gave the town in 1275 to Benedetto I Zaccaria, diplomat & admiral, who helped them to get Constantinople back in 1261. It came with the rights to exploit the alum mines in Anatolia.

A Medieval Worker soaking Fabric in an Alum Solution


Alum is Potassium Aluminium Sulphate (KAl(SO4)2-12 H2O) which was well known for its astringent and styptic properties. It was very important for the textile industry before chemical dyes were available in the mid 19th century. In a nutshell, alum allows dye and natural fibers to bind. Without it, dye would quickly wash out. Not surprisingly, production and trading of alum was highly profitable. Having a monopoly made the Genovese very rich. It is thus not surprising that we find Admiral Zaccaria in 1284 with his private fleet of 20 galleys at the Battle of Meloria, which broke Pisa's sea power. Genoa dominated the Western Mediterranean since then and had the means to challenge Venice - which it did in the War of Chioggia in 1378.

Mining and Purification of Alum was work intensive but also highly lucrative


When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, they quickly realised what a lucrative deal the Genovese had. Not surprisingly, they decided to get their hands on the alum trade and keep the money for themselves. In 1455, an Ottoman army showed up at the gates of Phocaea - the Genovese show was over. Smart as always, the Ottoman left the trading business to the hands of the Zaccaria family. The Zaccarias knew the customers in Europe and how to organise the trade. The Ottomans were happy to just tax it.

One of the many beautifully restored Greek Houses in Focça


Phocaea made once more headlines in June 1914, when Turkish irregular forces massacred people here. Emotions between Greek and Turks were running high after the Ottoman lost the Balkan war in 1913. About 100'000 Turkish people were kicked out of their homes in Bulgaria, Macedonia and Northern Greece and arrived without any means in Anatolia. When the massacre started, Phocaea housed close to 6'000 Greek speaking people. We believe that around 10% were killed - as always innocent women, children and elder people - the ones who could not defend themselves. The regular Ottoman forces sent from Izmir to bring back order were of no help. Some even participated in the atrocities. Thanks to the presence of French nationals, news about the massacre spread quickly and most Greek speaking people could be evacuated to Lesbos.


Fishing Boats in the lively Harbour of Focça full of Turkish Tourists


Foça is a Turkish town today and one of the holiday destinations of Turks from Izmir. When you walk up and down the quays you see happy faces. People return from day trips to the nearby beaches, queue for ice cream and buy souvenirs as everywhere else. The hustlers from the street restaurant try to convince you that they have the best fish or kebab in town and the sound of screaming children from the beaches is never far. The old Greek houses though remind you of the past. Many of them are beautifully restored and the Turkish Authorities ask people to respect these buildings. One should never advocate & support ethnic cleansing. But today, Foça is a peaceful place.

The Sun was reflecting in the Hull of Casa dell' Arte when we returned to the Boar





in the Black Sea, the Dardanelles, in Salerno and Corsica - albeit none of these colonies became large towns.

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