Written by Anna Vakali
The Historical Archive of Macedonia (Ιστορικό Αρχείο Μακεδονίας hereafter IAM) is located in Thessaloniki, Greece, and comprises a rich, albeit to a large degree unexplored, Ottoman archive. A curious researcher will find there, among other things, the main repository of archives produced by the Ottoman administration and belonging to the region of the Selanik sub-province (Selanik sancağı). It is astonishing how few scholars have dealt with the archive of an Ottoman city as important as Selanik, especially considering the quantity of its holdings (comprising more than 4,000 bound Ottoman registers and an important number of loose documents) and the range of time it covers (1690-1912).
The IAM was established in Thessaloniki in 1954. It is one of the forty-eight regional State Archives and operates as an independent branch under the authority of the Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs. Following the archive’s official establishment, the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Appeal Court of Thessaloniki, which had kept the city’s Ottoman archives since 1953, transferred the collection to the IAM, as a result of the coordinated efforts of its director, Prof. Vassilios Dimitriadis. Between 1912—when the city of Selanik was incorporated into the Greek Kingdom—and 1953, the Ottoman archives were located in the translation office of Thessaloniki and operated under the authority of the city’s Court of First Instance. This translation office maintained the city’s Ottoman records and provided translation services of official documents (mostly title deeds) to private citizens. By 1956, the IAM added the archives of other translation offices in nearby towns, such as Katerini, Poligiros, Kilkis, Edessa (see below for the Ottoman names of these places).
After occupying various central buildings of the city, the IAM moved to its present building in 1994. The Russian community of Thessaloniki built the archive’s current building, known as the Russian hospital, in the first decade of the twentieth century with funding from the Russian government. After the October Revolution and the dissolution of the Russian community of Thessaloniki, the building was taken by the Greek state, which used it as a maternity hospital until the mid-1970s, when it was abandoned.
The IAM contains mainly an archive and a reference library. All research and reading take place in the library room.
Archive: While the majority of the archival material consists of Ottoman documents, the IAM also contains archives produced by the administration of the Greek state after 1912. This collection comprises administrative and judicial material (e.g. decisions of the town’s Court of First Instance, documentation of famous court cases like Gr. Lambrakis or G. Polk), ecclesiastical archives, notarial documents, archives of private Greek schools (e.g. Valagianni School), public schools (e.g. Girls’ School) or large factories/enterprises (e.g. Fix, Allatini), etc.
The Ottoman archival collection includes 4,000 bound registers and several loose documents produced over more than two centuries, which concern the sancak of Selanik. As the archive contains records for the entire sancak of Selanik, the collection includes significant material for nearby cities, such as Poligiros in today’s Chalkidiki (Poliroz), Katerini (Katrin), Kilkis (Avrethisar), Edessa (Vodinα), and Veria (Karaferye). These archives can be separated into the following categories:
Sicill archives (ιεροδικαστικά αρχεία): This collection comprises 373 bound registers, which range from 1694 to 1912, and covers the longest period of all other documents in this archive. The vast majority of these registers belong to the kadı court of Selanik (337 registers, 1694-1912), while the rest belongs to the kadı courts of the districts of Katrin (3 registers, 1888-1912), Avrethisar (22 registers, 1814-1912) and Ksendire (today’s Kassandra in Chalkidiki) (11 registers, 1870-1912). Although the registers start in 1694, they also include copies of documents from earlier times. The registers range in size from 20 to 400 pages each and include not only judicial rulings, but also documentation associated with imperial decrees and administrative or military correspondence. The sicill archives of Selanik are available both in microfilm and in digital format, although they are not yet available online (for digitized archives available also online see below. It is not certain yet, when the digitized sicill archives of Selanik will be put online). The sicills originating from Katrin, Avrethisar and Ksendire are available only in their original form. An exception here is the sicill archive of the town of Karaferye (Veria, 1602-1882), which is available in microfilm and digitally, as well as online under the heading Αρχεία Ν. Ημαθίας (Archives of the Prefecture of Imathia).
Court Archives (nizamiyye mahkemeleri, τακτικά δικαστήρια): These records comprise 762 bound registers and 233 files dated between 1868 and 1912. They document the judicial system as it was set up following the Tanzimat reforms and the establishment of the nizamiyye mahkemeleri with the production of new penal codes and the new Civil Code, the Mecelle. In particular, they are comprised of the archives of the Court of First Instance of Selanik (Πρωτοδικείο Θεσσαλονίκης, 1877-1912), the Trade Court of Selanik (Εμποροδικείο Θεσσαλονίκης, 1868-1912), the Courts of First Instance of Avrethisar (1884-1912), Vodina (1885-1912), Karacova (1906-1912), Katrin (1887-1912), Ksendire (1882-1912) and Karaferye (not fully cataloged yet). They are available only in their original form. Hardly any research has been conducted in this section.
Land Registers (κτηματολογικά αρχεία): This collection constitutes the most voluminous one, with 1,821 bound registers and 25 files, ranging from 1830 to 1912. Many of these registers (725) belong to the central cadastre of Selanik (1858-1912), although the collection also contains the land registers of the districts of the Selanik province (1844-1912), the land registers of the religious endowments (the vakıf registers) (1830-1912), the land register of the vakıf of Gazi Evrenos (1845-1912), the register office of Ksendire (1872-1912), Katrin (1865-1912), Avrethisar (1872-1912), Vodena (1872-1912), the land registers of Karaferye (1872-1908) and the registers of the translation office of Thessaloniki (1909, 1912-1953), Veroia (1915-1953) and Chalkidiki. The central cadastre of Selanik is digitized and available online (for the years 1871-1908), while the vakıf register and the land register of the vakıf of Gazi Evrenos are fully digitized, but only accessible at the archive. All the other documents in this collection are only available in their original format.
Tax registers: These records consist of 1,255 bound registers produced between 1872 and 1907 for Selanik (1872-1907), Karacova (1876), Vodina (1876), Avrethisar, Katrin (1873-1875), Ksendire (1873-1875) and Karaferye (1905-1912). Only the tax register of Selanik is digitized and available online. The rest may be consulted at the archive.
The land and tax registers are the most frequently consulted collections in the archive, especially for the years after 1860. Most of the interest in these materials stems from private persons in search of title deeds or genealogical information; these deeds are mainly used for litigation purposes between individuals or between individuals and the state.
Administrative registers: These registers consist of 152 bound registers and 27 files covering the period from 1875 to 1912 and include the archive of the administrative council of the province of Selanik (Selanik vilayeti) between 1875 and 1912; the archive of the administrative councils of the districts of Avrethisar (1908-1912); Karacova (1907-1912), and Katrin (1897-1912); the archive of the central forest authority of Selanik (1893-1912) and the regional forest authorities of the Selanik vilayeti (1896-1912). While three volumes of the Selanik vilayeti archive have been digitized, most records in this section are available only in their original format.
The digitized sections that are available online can be found here.
The Reference Library: The library contains about 3,000 volumes. The books have to be read in the library or can be photocopied outside the archive. They deal mainly with the history of Thessaloniki and its surroundings, although the library has also a nice collection of Karamanlidika (Turkish in Greek script) books. In addition, one can also find Greek-Turkish dictionaries, as well as academic journals and collections like Turcica, Archivum Ottomanicum, Islamic Law & Society, and The Cambridge History of Islam.
Research in this archive is quite easy-going and does not require any special procedure. The archive’s personnel speak English and French.
Almost all of the material in the archives is publicly accessible (except sensitive personal data such as adoption files or the ones which are labeled as confidential) and generally no special procedure of admission is required. Researchers are asked to fill in an application form, merely for statistical reasons, and can then immediately proceed to their research. However, researchers wishing to study large parts of the archival collection or coming for a lengthy period of time to study a specific collection are strongly recommended to communicate with IAM well beforehand in order for the required material to be prepared. These researchers are also requested to proffer some form of certification (e.g. recommendation letter of supervisor, etc.). The archive requires researchers to obtain permission from the curator of the General State Archives when requesting reproductions of a significant portion of the archives or the digital reproduction of an entire collection.
Material can be requested at any time of the day (9:00-15:00), and, in most cases, it is delivered shortly thereafter. If a researcher wishes to see more than one or two registers per day, he or she is requested to inform the librarians a day beforehand. There are two computers in the library room, at which digitized material can be viewed. In cases in which the digitized copy is not clear, the archive will also provide the originals. If the requested material has not been digitized, the archive will make available the original document for the researcher.
Unfortunately, the library room is rather small, with less than ten seating places, and can also be a bit noisy sometimes while librarians are coming and going. There is no wireless internet access. While the space does not create ideal research conditions, the close contact and exchange with personnel and other researchers partly compensates for this shortcoming, as is often the case in smaller, local archives.
Cataloging is rather short and descriptive, and only in Greek. The catalogs are not published volumes, but rather sheets of paper kept together in dossiers. There exists a general catalog (available also from the website of the archive; works only with Firefox and IE), as well as a catalog of the vakıf register, and of the sicill archives of Selanik, Avrethisar and Karaferye. The registers are listed in chronological order and in some cases include information about the content. Despite the poor cataloging, the personnel is very helpful in finding the requested material.
The archives are open to researchers from Monday to Friday, between 9:00 and 15:00, except all official holidays of the Greek state. The archive is wheelchair accessible via a special entrance from a side-road, while a special lift facilitates access to the library room on the first floor.
Transportation and Food
The archives are located quite centrally, a walking distance of about 20 to 25 minutes from the city’s center. They can also be accessed by the bus lines 2, 10, 11, 58,, all of which pass various stops along the central Egnatia Street. Bus tickets can be obtained at small kiosks in every corner of the city, or inside the bus. The buses stop in front of the archive building, at the Eυκλείδη stop. Depending on the traffic, buses generally reach the archive stop in ten minutes.
There is no cafeteria inside the archives, although there are plenty of cafes and small restaurants located nearby.
Reproduction Requests and Costs
Copies of archival material can be obtained in either paper or digital format. Researchers may also photograph material themselves. The costs are 0.50 euros per copy for an A4-page, 0.30 euros per digital copy, and 0.10 euros for each photograph taken by the researcher. There are no limits in the material one may ask to be copied, but if it is a “large quantity”, special permission may be needed. There even exists the possibility to request material from abroad with a CD of the digitized material sent by post to the researcher.
- Address: Papanastasiou 21, 54639 Thessaloniki, Tel: 2310 855255, 868186
- President of the Archive: Mr. Nestor Mpampidis, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Responsible for the Ottoman archives is: Mrs. Katerina Giannoukakou, email@example.com
Resources and Links
- Homepage of IAM (open with Firefox and IE)
- Basic description of its holdings
- Homepage of the General State Archives in Athens
Further readings about the archive:
I thank Mrs. Giannoukakou for providing me with valuable information and material concerning the IAM. I have used the following material for writing this article:
-Αμαλία Παππά-Καραπιδάκη, Τα Οθωμανικά Αρχεία του Ιστορικού Αρχείου Μακεδονίας (The Ottoman Archives of the Historical Archive of Macedonia), σελ. 55-64 and Κίρκη Γεωργιάδου, Το Ευρετήριο των Ιεροδικαστικών Κωδίκων της Θεσσαλονίκης (The Index of the Registers of the Kadi Courts of Thessaloniki), σελ. 65-68 and Κωνσταντίνος Γιαντσής, Οθωμανικό Κτηματολόγιο (Ottoman Cadastre), σελ. 69-72, in Ν. Καραπιδάκης (επιμ.), Επετηρίδα των Γενικών Αρχείων του Κράτους – 1990, Αθήνα: Βιβλιοθήκη Γενικών Αρχείων του Κράτους, 1991.
-Υπουργείο Πολιτισμού, Υπουργείο Βόρειας Ελλάδας, Νεώτερα Μνημεία της Θεσσαλονίκης, Παλιό Ρωσσικό Νοσοκομείο – Πρώην Δημόσιο Μαιευτήριο, σελ. 172.
Anna Vakali is a graduate student at the University of Basel, where she studies crime and intercommunal relations in Ottoman Selanik and Manastır during the Tanzimat reforms.
2 April 2014
Cite this: Anna Vakali, “The Historical Archive of Macedonia in Thessaloniki”, HAZİNE, 2 April 2014,
 I will use the Ottoman term Selanik when referring to the city of Thessaloniki during Ottoman rule.
I have included the Greek names as well, because the catalogs are available only in Greek language.