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*Ph.D., 19 Mayis University, Samsun, Turkey

Samsun was situated on the western side of a wide, open and shallow bay, on the western point where the remains of an old mole were, presumed to be of Roman construction. This mole extended for a quarter of a mile into the sea. The water was shallow everywhere near the shore and vessels were obliged to anchor at a distance of half a mile from the town, in three to five fathoms, and for that reason the ruined mole afforded no shelter[1]. In the aftermath of the 1869 destruction of the city by fire, the old Genoese fort remnants and material were carried to this mole with the intention of filling up the sea in order to construct a proper port. However, this attempt was prompt and futile[2]. The eastern point was considerably shallow, extending at a long distance into the sea, surrounded by shoals and dangerous to vessels approaching Samsun at night from the east. [3] In 1862, a new Russian steamship line was established between Istanbul, Batoum and Poti, touching at Samsun and Trabzon once every fortnight. In addition, the Ottoman and also the Austrian steam companies came once a fortnight, while the French touched once a week[4].

There is additional information in the British commercial reports of 1883 about the ancient jetty and the port conditions in Samsun. An ancient jetty (of the Hellenistic period), on which a lighthouse stood, running on a north-east axis for about 100 yards, protected a breakwater extending about 900 yards to the south-east. Between these two constructions a quay was situated, part of which was invisible, built from concrete blocks measuring 8 feet 3 inches by 4 feet by 2 feet 3 inches each[5].

It was impossible to find a proper port for the loading and unloading the ships in Samsun at the beginning of the 19th century. The Kapan-ı Dakik (Flour store) quay in front of the Yalı Mosque was generally used by merchants for the shipping of grain, lead and copper. There was a small wooden pier situated at the side of the eight meter high walls of the Samsun castle, which was located at the seaside. On many occasions, the authorites saw the building of a stone pier as a necessity, because the lack of proper port infrastructure caused serious problems during the grain transportation and ferrous products, used in armament production. Despite of a lot of planning, these projects would not be completed before the last quarter of the 19th century. The grain was brought to the city centre by the camel caravans and lay in the districts out of the walls of the seaside castle, including hundreds of camels. The incoming ships waited on the roads, due to the fact that the coast of Samsun was sandy and shallow; the products were loaded onto boats, barges and ‘cırnıks’ and were transferred to the ships.

During the Crimean war, some ships belonging to the English naval forces were deployed at the Samsun Galleon Foreland (Kalyon Burnu), as the old Genoa port was called. The delivery of the products to the city centre were shipped to the port due to lack of sufficient land transportation. The products transferred over Kızıl river and Yeshil river and those brought to Unye port were loaded either to the piers of Samsun by barges or loaded onto the ships directly. The tradeable goods, mainly grain, that were transferred from the hinterland by the camel caravans were gathered in the stop stations, around the city centre of Samsun, where yoke, wind or water mills operated. The grain from parts of Samsun’s hinterland were grinded into flour, were placed into sacks and were carried with the help of porters to the quays, in order to be ready to be transported to the sailing ships, anchored in the sea. However, it is also mentioned that the milling facilities in Samsun were inadequate for the provision needs of the Circassian migrants in 1864. Therefore, the building of a flour mill factory in Samsun was decided[6].

Though there were some attempts to alleviate the port and the embarking conditions, such as in 1846[7], the ultimate solution did not come early. In 1863, the report of inspector Ali Rıza mentioned that a proper stone quay would have to be built, along with the new custom house, next to the quarantine house and the tobacco bazaar[8]. The talk of a pier which enabled the storage of commercial products was impossible until 1864. The people from the surrounding villages of Samsun, who earned their living by fishing, carried the cargoes between the pier and the ships anchored on the roads. Seasonalworkers came from internal regions of Samsun such as Sivas, Tokat, Kayseri, Erzurum, Chorum and Amasya and helped in the loading of commercial products for a fee. Stevedores and porters coming from internal regions used to return to their homes after having worked in the Samsun city centre, because of the fact that the Black Sea did not enable shipping at all seasons. We know that these workers stayed at mosques, baths, narrow streets or avenues, as there were not enough inns in the city. The Custom House in the port (Rusumat Office) dates back to 1864 and a few small tobacco warehouses were signs of the development from a sea transportation perpective. The profitable tobacco trade provided for the building of a proper port, which in the following years operated regular loadings in front of the customs house, close to the Quarantine house. The Samsun-Sivas highway, built by foreign investment from 1867, improved the commercial capacity in the city centre. The 1869 fire enabled the rebuilding of the city by taking commercial purposes into consideration. Since 1872, the construction of a new port started by using the seaside castle stones and some tobacco warehouses, inns, shops for commercial products and coffee shops started to support the city structure. The completion of the tobacco factory in the city centre provided more income to the population of the city after 1884. Owing to the completed Samsun – Sivas road, tobacco at first, grain and other products coming from the hinterland started to be transferred abroad by ships belonging to Ottomans and foreigners via the quays and piers, whose numbers increased in Samsun.

The loading of many more products to the ships became possible with the construction of an iron pier in 1891, with funding contributions from the Samsun Municipality and the Tobacco Factory. The only work of public utility constructed in 1891 was, besides a petroleum depot at Ordu, an iron custom-house pier at Samsun. It measured 50 meters in length. Two hand cranes and two rail tracks were connected with it[9]. The loading to mid-size ships took place by a wooden crane at the iron pier and the tobacco pier. The commercial development stopped during World War I and the connection of the city with the sea ceased due to the fact that the ports and piers were hit by the Russian navy in 1915[10].


[1] Musa Şaşmaz, Trade Reports of the Trebizond Province on British Documents (1830-1914), Vol. I, Türk Tarih Kurumu, Ankara 2014, p. 80.

[2] Mehmet Yavuz Erler, “Karadenizde Avrupai Bir Kent: Samsun (1865-1875)”, Karadeniz Tarihi Sempozyumu, Karadeniz Teknik Üniversitesi Yayınları, Vol.I, Trabzon 2007, p.546.

[3] Musa Şaşmaz, Trade Reports of the Trebizond Province on British Documents (1830-1914), Vol. I, Türk Tarih Kurumu, Ankara 2014, p. 80.

[4] Musa Şaşmaz, Trade Reports of the Trebizond Province on British Documents (1830-1914), Vol. I, Türk Tarih Kurumu, Ankara 2014, p.287.

[5] Musa Şaşmaz, Trade Reports of the Trebizond Province on British Documents (1830-1914), Vol. II, Türk Tarih Kurumu, Ankara 2014, p.782.

[6] Baki Sarısakal, Samsun’da Unutulmayan Olaylar, Samsun Büyükşehir Belediyesi Yayınları, Samsun 2008, p. 17.

[7] Mehmet Yavuz Erler, “The Economy of the Ottoman Black Sea in the XIX th Century”, The Journal of International Social Research, Volume. 2/7, Spring 2009, p.124-125.

[8] Ali Sarcan, Samsun Tarihi, Kültür Matbaası, Ankara 1966, P.107.

[9] Musa Şaşmaz, Trade Reports of the Trebizond Province on British Documents (1830-1914), Vol. III, Türk Tarih Kurumu, Ankara 2014, p.1190.

[10] Osman Kose, “Rusların Samsunu Bombardımanı 1915”, Samsun Araştırmaları, I. Kitap, Büyükşehir Belediyesi Yayınları, Samsun 2013, p. 345-362.