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The small town of Kavala placed at the geostrategic point on the Via Ignatia and the North Aegean Sea played an important role as defensive and trading port town in Ottoman times. The town inherited the unclear location of the Byzantine Christoupolis of which we have very little traces and its development by the shores in Ottoman times shaped the built environment and the surrounding landscape. Dependent on the sea and the trade routes Kavala preserved a continuity throughout the centuries under the Ottomans growing into an astonishing multiethnic and multi confessional town. Its port in the early years after the Ottoman conquest used for defensive galleys of the stretch between the island of Thasos and the mainland against pirate raids later grew to be one of the greatest tobacco trading ports on the shores of the Aegean together with the city of Thessaloniki.

During its continuous live under the Ottomans the town grew from a village with less than 100 households into a town with its separate neighborhoods and shrines.  Many travelers passed by and spent time in the city. Their accounts and their artwork leave remarkable evidence of the town’s splendor. It is from their accounts and supported with existing archival documents that we follow the urban and the architectural development of the town, from its first nucleus by the shores of the sea to the neighborhoods that later develop all over the peninsula and beyond. These accounts add to the richness of not only the material, stylistic and urban narratives but also to the intangible “lifestyle” narratives.

Authos’s Biography



Velika Ivkovska is an engineer architect and an assistant professor at International Balkan University (IBU) Skopje. She holds a Bachelor degree in Engineering and Architecture from the University of “Ss. Cyril and Methodius” and Master of Science degree from the University American College Skopje, Faculty of Architecture and Design focusing on the Building Heritage.  She completed her PhD thesis at Istanbul Technical University between 2014 and 2018 at the Faculty of Architecture, the Department of History of Architecture.

She is an active participant in conferences and seminars related to the history of architecture. The fields of interests cover the area of the Ottoman and vernacular architecture as well as the field of the Byzantine Architecture, Modern architecture, and the History of Garden Design.

As an active member of the International Council on Monuments and Sites ICOMOS, EAUH, AISU and People in Motion work groups her work an research is focused on the built heritage, its protection and its preservation. She is publishing widely on the architectural, vernacular, and urban environments.


This work falls within the category of Ottoman heritage studies, addressing the formation and development of an Ottoman era town in the Balkans. It examines previously unexplored and under- researched Ottoman architecture related to the urban development of the port town of Kavala in Northern Greece supported by numerous original primary archival sources. Kavala was built along the Via Egnatia on a peninsula facing the Aegean Sea. It was probably built on the site of the ancient city of Neapolis, which later became the Byzantine Christoupolis before falling under Ottoman rule in 1391. For almost one hundred years thereafter the site was abandoned. No activities there can be tracked until the end of the 15th century, at which time the earliest mention of a village/town named Kavala is found in an Ottoman tax register (tahrir defter) dated 1478 (h. 883).[1] This document opens a door to extensive research on the settlement’s development, confirming Kavala to be a newly founded Ottoman era town rather than an urban center overlapping the previous Byzantine Christoupolis.[2] Is there a genuine, authentic Ottoman-built environment? By discovering new facts about this town and its structures and reviewing the available literature (traveler’s accounts, historical maps and archival documents), this work examines the state of the art of Ottoman era urban planning on Kavala’s urban settlement.

The literature dealing specifically with the urban development of Ottoman Kavala is limited; the only extensive work on Kavala’s urban development is the book published by professor Amelia Stefanidou in 2007, entitled The Port town of Kavala during the period of Turkish rule, urban and historical investigation (1391-1912).[3] Stefanidou analyses the  population and its ethnic background, examining the site at three different periods, occasionally interrupted by discussion of important Ottoman monuments built within these separate time frames. However, Stefanidou’s work does not develop analysis or theories about the formation and development of Kavala’s urban areas, from its conquest in 1391 until its fall under Greek rule. Her work is a survey of the historical monuments built on the historic peninsula; she follows secondary sources, about the demographic changes existing in BOA, and finishes by linking this archival data to the development of the town’s population. The research concerns only the public structures.  It does not deal with the establishment of the first urban site or the increasing number of the individual houses and further development of the neighborhoods, the so called “Turkish mahalle”. The town’s growth from an urban and architectural point of view is incomplete.

The present work is a complex synthesis, examining the urban development of Kavala and its Ottoman-era architecture in one integral study. The research consolidates previous findings on Kavala’s history, economy, architecture and culture with new research on the Ottoman town system and its architecture’s interaction with space, vernacular traditions, history, and life. Based mostly on original and unpublished archival documents, as well as pious foundations, mostly those of which there are evidence in BOA which are those of Mehmed Ali Pasha as well as the smaller foundations of Halil Bey and Kadi Ahmed Efendi, the work covers almost five centuries of Ottoman domination, from 1478 until 1909. Among the archival documents on this topic a selection is presented in a separate appendix; these relate to shifts in the society, such as appointments of imams and judges, payment of taxes, construction works and other activities that were ongoing in Kavala under Ottoman rule. All these documents, given in chronological order, provide, where possible, continuity in the settlement’s expansion through which we follow Kavala’s urban, architectural, religious, social as well as industrial development and growth.

Many and disparate factors influenced the town’s birth and development. Physical factors included land configuration and geography. Geographic factors included the proximity of water, the sea and other natural resources. Social factors included housing program and the consequent aggregation of dwellings forming the mahalle giving the inhabitants a sense of community. Multi-confessional factors were determined by the presence of ethnic groups within those mahalles following different religions and their mutual cohabitation. Most important of all were safety factors related to protecting the settlement and its further development. Crucial for the town’s establishment, expansion and growth were: the reconstruction of the fortress and the walls surrounding the inhabited nucleus for protection purposes of the settlement; conveyance and distribution of water inside the protected settlement, providing life and prosperity; the town’s adaptation to the geography of its site; the organic street layout that enabled circulation inside the settlement; the co-existing ethnicities, which reflected Ottoman tolerance, acceptance and respect; trade, especially the tobacco production and export in the later centuries that boosted to the town’s economic prosperity; and finally the home/house, that core of Ottoman society representing family values and standing in the community.

Many research trips and surveys were conducted to understand the development of the urban settlement together with its life, traditions and culture. Attention was given to the period of Kavala’s industrial peak in the 19th century when the town became one of the biggest tobacco centers in the Mediterranean, which influenced its urban and residential growth at the turn of the century. The population explosion following this industrial development demanded new residential areas for the newcomers, many foreign, who introduced Western modes of urban planning and architectural styles to the town. As the old district on the peninsula grew overcrowded, the further urban development of the town offered another opportunity to introduce new architectural approaches to the domestic architecture, too. Considering all these important factors, this research tries to explain the town’s urban transformations occurring during five centuries of Ottoman rule.

The purpose of this work is to determine the authenticity of an Ottoman era urban environment in the Balkans through a case study, the town of Kavala, through description and analysis of the town’s phases of urban development and its geographical environment. To this end, several objectives have guided the published work:

  • Examination of primary archival resources related to Kavala’s establishment and the town’s historical continuity in Ottoman time.
  • Presentation of a historical overview of the urban development of the town through published works as well as re-elaborated maps.
  • Review of relevant texts dealing with the town’s development through historical, architectural, economic and social aspects in order to comprehend the Ottoman context.

This work also tries to describe and analyze the phases of the development of the town’s urban environment, locating the first established nucleus of the town (the intramural area) and following the later phases of urban development (the extramural area) on the outskirts beyond the primal urban zone. This research aims to determine the urban layout and development of the settlement according to its important historical phases. Using travelers’ itineraries, memoirs and visual materials, this work considers the neighborhoods built at the time of Ottoman arrival in the town and locates them geographically on the peninsula. Review of the literature, including primary resources from archives, travelers’ accounts and on-site photo documentation, support this work’s purpose of proving the town’s uniqueness and demonstrating its urban continuity in the Ottoman era. The literature-based findings led to determinations of when and where the town was established after Ottoman subjugation and how it continued its urban development, ultimately permitting answers to the question, “Is there an authentic Ottoman era urban environment in the town of Kavala?”

To answer this question, this work researched the urban development and transformations of Kavala from its establishment in the late 15th century through five centuries under Ottoman rule, arriving at the era of the expansion of tobacco production in the area and tracing this burgeoning industry’s socio-economic influences on the town. This is presented through re-elaboration of maps, indicating the most important phases of the urban development throughout the centuries. In order to follow those changes, the work presents three main historical phases[4] that coincide with three architectural milestones: the construction of the aqueduct and the complex of Ibrahim Pasha in the 16th century, setting the foundations and the built of the Imaret complex by Mehmed Ali Pasha in the early 19th century and the built of the tobacco depots by the end of the 19th century, shaping the settlements future.

Based on the course of the town’s urban transformations, this work presents Kavala’s development in two stages. The first stage concerns the formation of the first intra mural nucleus, the Ibrahim Pasha neighborhood located by the harbor and adjustment to the hilly side of the peninsula, that later continued to develop in the second intra mural area; this second area consisted of Hüsseyin Bey, Halil Bey and Kadi Ahmed Efendi neighborhoods, covering the whole peninsula of the town. The second stage of Kavala’s expansion is the urban growth and development of the town outside the walls in the space referred to as extra muros (outside walls) area, with Agios Ioannis, Hamidiye, Selimiye, Küçük, Yeni, Dere, Agios Pavlos, Çaylar, neighborhoods and the so-called Kumluk (sandy) area by the sea shore.

This work places importance on the “street layout”; through its development we perceive how urban patterns mark different phases of the town’s growth. The street layout is important and outsourced from the morphology of the terrain but also influenced the architecture of the built environment and the individual housing program. To understand the formation of the town, this work examined morphogenetic analysis of the urban site and its street patterns. These elements define the layout plan typologies. The aim of this method is to describe the relationships between the morphology of the area and the man-made environments within it and one of the theoretical arguments is that the settlement patterns also originate in the social life of the inhabitant.[5]

This work uses the town of Kavala in Northern Greece as a possible example of an authentic Ottoman era urban environment in the Balkans; Kavala developed, over a period of five centuries, as an Ottoman era settlement that was built on a site of a previous and no longer existing Byzantine town. The discontinuity between the Byzantine and the Ottoman periods allows us to think about the Ottoman Kavala as a new settlement not necessarily linked with the previous urban development. In fact, this study does not follow the typical Ottoman pattern of establishing settlements and consolidating power in preexisting built environments. In general, it was a common Ottoman practice to extend power in conquered domains through integrations and overlays in the existing urban environments, slowly adapting to and modifying the environment into a more ‘Ottomanized’ one.  The coercive transfer of entire populations from different religions, from one province to another, within the borders of the huge empire was one of the successful Ottoman strategies to colonialize the newly conquered territories.

Even considering the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th Century and the successive integration of Kavala into the new Greek state, the town still kept and preserved its peculiar Ottoman era appearance. This was especially true on the old historic peninsula, where the Muslim population settled and lived for five centuries.

This work presents Kavala as an amalgamation of morphological structures, urban fabrics and networks of interrelated streets. A town was generally subdivided into quarters; major street layouts and urban facilities, residential fabrics, secondary layouts and parcel divisions all developed within those quarters, shaped by ethnic, economic, social, religious and judicial phenomena. This study of Kavala’s urban form in the Ottoman context may help widen the definition of the Ottoman town itself, perhaps even illuminating specifics of its founding and development of its urban, residential and private enclaves in the Balkans. It might also explain its role within the borders of the Ottoman Empire, how such a complex ethnic population’s composition contributed to its growth through the centuries and how important was its geographic and geo-morphological location. Morphogenetic analysis cast light on the development of the town, its urban site and its street patterns shaping the parceling of the land plots that eventually influenced the development of the dwellings.

In order to carry on the research in an appropriate way, this study uses a mixed methodology that includes both qualitative and quantitative analytic methods related to the collected materials. The methodological research related to the analyses of the town and the urban form of Kavala includes an interdisciplinary study in which the connections between the architectural, social, economic, anthropological, cultural, historical approaches are traced. In general, studies of cities and urban settlements are not a simple task because they require the knowledge of many disciplines and they need proper tools in order to select and interrelate all the collected data.

The qualitative method of this work conducted visual analysis of artifacts “in situ” and archival documents. Data and materials were collected through traveling and residing in the region, and sites and artifacts were visually inspected and documented in the field. Comparison of current findings with past conditions, as documented in artifacts found in archives and libraries, furthered architectural analysis. The archival materials examined still exist in archives in Istanbul, like BOA and TPML, as well as above-mentioned archives and libraries including the Kavala Public Library,

Kavala – Thasos Ephorate of Antiquities, the Library of the Faculty of Architecture at the Aristoteles University in Thessaloniki, the Istanbul Technical University Library, IBB Ataturk Library Istanbul, American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Gennadius Library etc. Observations “in situ” and archival materials have been recorded through field notes, sketches, architectural drawings, on-site measurements, photographic campaigns, etc. On-site research of Kavala’s dwellings, where accessible, and their current conditions are registered, documented and used for the purpose of following, in a smaller scale, the town’s residential development in the enwalled town.

This study’s quantitative method gathered materials from a survey of old houses still existing in the historical peninsula, choosing a conspicuous and significant number of houses as examples of the main system governing each area. On a bigger scale, the comparison between maps related to other important cities and towns within Ottoman borders helped identify specific patterns of development of the urban texture, starting from the scale of the neighborhoods, or mahalle, to the entire city. The present work is a result of combination of all these research methods.[6]

The structure of the book first presents the Ottoman town, and then introduces Kavala for the purposes of comparison. The first chapter considers attempt to clarify Kavala’s  classification as an Ottoman era town seen through the lens of the Orientalism and the Balkanism; then follows the  plan and siting of the Ottoman town, taking into consideration geography, topography and the morphology. Moreover, this chapter defines the peculiar urban features of Ottoman era towns and city centers, including the concepts of çarşı, imaret and mahalle and the important relationships between residential and commercial activities in these areas. Life inside the mahalle and the spatial organization of public and private areas within it are analyzed in detail.

The second chapter represents the main core of the book. It focuses more closely on Kavala and studies the town, including a short introduction to its history, dating back to the ancient Greek colony of Neapolis and the Byzantine Christoupolis; this introduction presents evidence of the existence of the town in ancient times and what remained from that period and its urban development after the Ottoman conquest. This chapter aims mostly to study and analyze concretely the progressive transformation of Kavala under the Ottoman rule. In the subchapters, the urban settlement also follows a timeline related to important historical and social milestones that contribute to its establishment and development as an important site on the route of Via Egnatia. All the phases of the town’s transformation are shown chronologically, beginning with the establishment of the settlement in the early times (1391-1478), just after the conquest; then the development under Sultan Selim I , spanning the period of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and his Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha in the 16th century; then the period of further development between 17th and early 18th century; the prosperity under Mehmed Ali Pasha between late 18th and early 19th century; and finally the industrialization of the town in the era of the expansion of the tobacco factories between the 19th  and early 20th century.

In each of these subchapters the different phases of the town’s urban development are addressed, including public structures like the aqueduct, the military fortress, the fountains, mosques or mescids, markets and imarets. The street layout of the neighborhoods and the characteristics of the Ottoman era houses are identified. The population expansion and the consequent urbanization of areas outside the original intra mural settlement of Kavala and the process of Westernization as result of the Tanzimat reforms, recognizable by different architectural aesthetic expressions, are also considered.

The conclusion presents a synthesis of this study of Kavala’s authenticity as an Ottoman era settlement in the Southern Balkans. The final part consists of detailed bibliographical references and an appendix, which includes many original and unpublished archival documents.

To summarize: the aim of the work is to analyze and compare all information, data and materials in order to recognize Kavala as a worthy example of a preserved Ottoman era built environment in the Balkans. From it we can see the authentic development of a small town in the Balkans and today’s Northern Greece. The narrow scope of this work describes and analyzes different phases of the development of the urban environment of the town where the settlement was first established and later developed on the outskirts of this site. The goal is to determine the urban layout and the development of the town, as the impact on the urban fabric is still ongoing. Detecting the neighborhoods built upon the arrival of the Ottomans and locating them on the peninsula based on archival documents as well as travelers’ itineraries are among the investigative achievements of this work. In this context, changes continuously occurred in the public and civic structures as well as in the urban fabric throughout the town’s life under the Ottoman rulers. These changes continued during the decades after the Ottomans lost the rule in this region and the town entered within the borders of the Greek nation-state.




[1] Professor Heath Lowry’s findings cover the wide historical period of the Ottoman conquest and rule over the territory of Northern Greece. He has done remarkable work on Kavala’s historical development in its different periods of growth. Using archival tax registers from BOA, as well the Ottoman admiral Piri Reis’ Book of the Seas (Kitab-i Bahriye), he has examined Kavala’s existence as a settlement after the Ottoman conqueror Gazi Evrenos razed the Byzantine town of Christoupolis that previously existed on Kavala’s site. See: Lowry, H. W. (2008). The shaping of the Ottoman Balkans, 1350-1550: The conquest, settlement & infrastructural development of Northern Greece. Chapter VI. Istanbul: Bahçeşehir University Publications. 229.

[2] Lowry’s works have offered a historical perspective of most of the territory of Northern Greece, including the built public and religious structures documenting the Ottoman monuments traces in Kavala as well as providing us with important archival documents. His works “In the footsteps of the Ottomans”, “The Shaping of the Ottoman Balkans”, “Remembering Ones Roots, Mehmed Ali Pasha of Egypt’s Links to the Macedonian Town of Kavala: Architectural Monuments, Inscriptions & Documents” are of invaluable importance for this work and major source in following the historical events and aspects of the researched area.

The Duch scholar Machiel Kiel had worked on the Ottoman heritage in the Balkans and Northern Greece and was among the first to record this monuments. He had published many articles on Kavala as well that will be discussed in this work such as Kiel, M. (1996). Ottoman Building Activity Along the Via Egnatia, the Cases of Pazargah, Kavala and Ferecik. The Via Egnatia Under Ottoman Rule, 1380-1699; Kiel, M. (1992). Remarks on Some Ottoman-Turkish Aqueducts and Water Supply Systems in the Balkans—Kavalla, Chalkis, Levkas and Ferai/Ferecik. De turcicis aliisque rebus: Commentarii Henry Hofman dedicati; Kiel, Machiel. Studies on the Ottoman Architecture of the Balkans. Vol. 326. Variorum, 1990.

[3] The book, which original title in Greek is: Η πολη-λιμανι της Καβαλας κατα την περιοδο της τουρκοκρατιας, Πολεοδομικη και ιστορικη διερευνηση (1391-1912), is the only thorough research on the development of the port town of Kavala that focuses on its urban growth during Ottoman rule, mostly related to demographic changes, i.e. incensement of the population. The book presents Kavala’s urban growth in three different time periods that are equivalent to the three historical milestones that the town went through during its development under the Ottoman rule.

[4] These historical phases are marked with the formation of the first nucleus and the complex of Ibrahim Pasha (16th-17th century), following the town’s development under the rule of Mehmed Ali Pasha (18th-mid 19th century) and last the urban transformation that occurred during the era of the expansion of the tobacco industry in the region (mid18th-19th century).

[5] Ivkovska, V. (2016) Comparative Analysis between the Istanbul House Plan Types and the Plan Types of the Ottoman Houses in the Panagia District in Kavala / Vergleichende Analyse des Osmanischen Haustyps in Istanbul und dem Panagia Bezirk in Kavala. Journal of Comparative Cultural Studies in Architecture JCCS-a. vol. 09. 13–27 (http://www.jccs-a.org/).

[6] In this specific case, many field trips to Kavala were crucial for this research, where interviews with local authorities and inhabitants contributed to the data. On site researches related to the identification of the old neighborhoods or mahalles carried over within the contemporary Greek town, the Ottoman era houses and their current conditions were registered and documented. Sketches as well as urban plans and maps from the archives of the Municipality of Kavala were used to follow its urban development in the period after Kavala became part of Greece.