Carrying Trade

A Brief History Of Maritime Transport In Bodrum

Since the activity of maritime transport is about moving agricultural products and commercial commodities from one point to another point, the history of this form of seafaring goes back a few thousand years. The Bodrum region is no exception, either. Although we lack detailed information about the deep roots of the maritime transportation in the Bodrum region, the historical and archaeological findings indicate that it is at least four thousand years old. One can say that there was a relatively extensive maritime transportation activity in the area during the periods of first the Minoan and later the Mycenaean civilizations. In antiquity, the city of Halicarnassos was an important maritime transportation stop because of its location. One of the reasons the Carian satrap and ruler Mausolos relocated its capital city from Mylasa to Halicarnassos was its commercially well-situated harbor. In the medieval times, the Venetians were in the area trading. Later, according to the historical sources, the Knights of Rhodes were visiting the area constantly for their various needs. To sum up, it seems that the transportation ship has been an integral part of this coast for thousands of years. It was perhaps always a much better option in this mountainous area until the modern period. However, it is difficult to say how much of this maritime transportation was conducted by the boats based in Bodrum, because the historical sources are inadequate on this topic.

One can start talking about a Bodrum based maritime transportation with certainty only for the Republican period. Although not much information is available regarding the number of the boats that belonged to the Bodrum harbor right before the Republican period (there are indications that there were not too many boats in Bodrum at this time), a photograph dated to 1926 shows a crowded harbor. This is a few years after the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey, which led to the settlement of some of the Cretan Muslims in Bodrum. The goods produced in Bodrum were certainly being transported by boats before the Cretan refugees arrived. However, it is likely that the ships and boats from outside of Bodrum were conducting this transportation. For there is no indication that there was any boat building activity in Bodrum right in the beginning of the Republican era; nor a good-sized maritime transportation fleet seems to have existed in Bodrum right around this time. The settling of the Cretan Muslim refugees would change this picture and lead to a big increase in the number of the boats registered with the Bodrum harbor. On top of this, some of these refugees were from the families who had already been involved in maritime transportation in Crete for some time.

Some of the Cretan refugees who settled in Bodrum were from the island of Spinalonga in Crete. According to the British admiral, scientist and cartographer Thomas Spratt, who conducted research in Crete, there were close to 80 Muslim families in Spinalonga and this community was engaged in fishing and maritime transportation. Spratt tells us that this island, which had 7-8 schooners and 10-12 caiques engaged in local trade (most likely tırhandils and peramas) was exceptional in that there was no other Muslim community in Crete whose sole occupation was the maritime activities. Adding that there were very good sailors among them, he also mentions in his book about Crete that not long ago this small community equipped a brig, loaded it with merchandise, trusted it to its one of the most skilled entrepreneur-captains and sent it to England. However, it would sink on the way with the loss of everyone on board. Spinalonga was also one of the quarantine entry points of Crete during these years. All the traffic to and from the region had to go through this island. The captains from Spinalonga used to transport products and goods between Crete and both the Anatolian coast and the other islands before the population exchange.

Sharing the same fate with the other Cretan Muslims, those from Spinalonga were forced to leave their island as well. While some of them moved to Bodrum with others, most of them went to the islands like Cos, which were under the control of the Ottoman Empire at the time, later becoming Italian islands. Yet, the population exchange would force these Cretans as well to settle in Bodrum and in the other parts of Turkey. During this process, those from Spinalonga and possibly some other Cretans who were engaged in maritime transportation continued with their trade while they stayed on the island of Cos, but they moved eventually to Bodrum with their boats. Therefore, the older sailing workboats seen in this museum were built either in Crete or Cos. The large ones were usually between 18 and 28 meters and these were the ones that transported products and goods from Bodrum to İzmir, İskenderun, the Greek islands and Alexandria in Egypt.  The smaller ones worked locally.

Until the end of the Second World War (the German war, as the locals called it), the transportation network of Bodrum was different from what replaced it after this date. Since the roads were not adequate in those years there was very little transportation by land. Therefore, the maritime transportation was more advantageous. Bodrum was a place that sent agricultural products to other places during the Ottoman times as well. According to the information found in Avram Galanti’s book on the history of Bodrum, the major export items in the nineteenth century were figs and acorns. Bodrum was also one of the harbors that sent wheat and barley to Istanbul during these years. Some carobs were exported, too. Since it was part of the Ottoman Empire, the domestic commercial networks extended much further than today. There was trade with the Dodecanese islands, which belongs to Greece today, as well. In fact, figs of the kind for the ethyl alcohol production were sent all the way to Trieste at the end of the Adriatic Gulf during these years. This trade network of Bodrum began changing first as the Ottoman Empire was replaced by various nation-states. The new borders of the Republican Turkey made Izmir the transit port of Bodrum for any kind of maritime transportation to the outside world; no more could Bodrum have its own direct trading. However, Bodrum’s trade with the Dodecanese islands, which was under the Italian control until the end of the Second World War, went on until 1936-38. Interrupted temporarily during the war years, it disappeared completely because of the new political conditions after the war.

The Cretan refugees and especially those from Spinalonga encountered this kind of environment when they were forced to migrate to the Cos-Bodrum area. Settling completely in Bodrum after staying in Cos for a couple of decades, the Cretans continued their maritime activities in region as well. There were of course other Cretan families whose occupation was the sea and some locals who were engaged in maritime activities. However, as the historical sources indicate, those Cretans from the island of Spinalonga and its surroundings had already been doing this kind of work and transporting goods to the harbors around the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean for a while. This became an important driving force in the development of seamanship and seafaring in Bodrum. First of all, contrary to the other harbors of Turkey, Bodrum maintained its crowded state with regard to the number of boats it had. According to the abovementioned book of Avram Galanti, which was written in 1940s, “Today Bodrum is one of the harbors of Turkey along the Mediterranean coast that has the most number of boats, motorboats, skiffs and dinghies” and these went to “every coast of Turkey”. Secondly, such a big community engaged in maritime activities led to the development of the other sea related branches in Bodrum such as fishing, sponge diving, boatbuilding and finally yacht chartering. In the period between 1920s and the end of 1950s, there were 20 to 25 large transportation boats with lengths that varied from 18 to 28 meters. Since 4 to 5 sailors worked on each of these boats, there were close to 125 sailors working on them. When we add those who worked on the smaller transportation boats and the number of the sponge divers given in Galanti’s book, which was 403, to this number we come with a relatively big percentage of seamen within the population of Bodrum in those days. This points to a continuing and growing maritime culture and this culture has been an important factor in the development of the yacht tourism in Bodrum. Although first the transportation boats and later the sponge boats disappeared gradually from the Bodrum scenery, the maritime culture of Bodrum continued to flourish.

The maritime transportation of Bodrum enjoyed its best years until the end of the Second World War, when the trade between Bodrum and the Dodecanese islands ended for good. After this, both the new borders and the border controls, on the one hand, and the regular ship routes that included Bodrum as well, on the other hand, made it more difficult for the transportation boat owners and the crew to earn money. Even though the engines had replaced the sails in these boats in the 50s, the regular ship routes along the coasts of Turkey eventually brought the disappearance of the transportation boats completely by 1957-58. The barges that carried goods to these regular ships when they anchored outside the Bodrum harbor replaced these transportation boats. Cumhuriyet, Kurtuldu (later Türk Kurtuldu), Gazi, Nimet-i Zafer are among the oldest sailing transportation boats one can see in this museum. The names of these oldest boats, Republic, Survived (later Turk Survived), Ghazi/Veteran, Victory Blessing, respectively, reflected the mood of the period. If one excludes the tratas (the big fishing boats) that sometimes carried goods, no transportation boats were ever built in Bodrum. All of the transportation boats were either brought or bought from outside. Another factor that led to the disappearance of the maritime transportation in Bodrum was that it was much more profitable to go into the new and different sea related activities that appeared during this period such as fishing and sponge diving. With the disappearance of the last transportation boats Vural and Lütfüllah, the maritime transportation in Bodrum ended completely.

Prepared by: Ali Kemal Denizaslanı and Timuçin Binder

Written by: Timuçin Binder    

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