views updated


CAMONDO (de ), family of Turkish-Jewish financiers and philanthropists of Spanish-Portugese origin. Its most famous member in the Ottoman Empire was abraham-salomon de camondo (1785–1873), leader of the Jewish community and a philanthropist, who was referred to as "the Rothschild of the East." He exerted considerable influence at the court of sultans Abd al-Majīd (1839–61) and Abdul Aziz (1861–76) and succeeded in obtaining from the Sublime Porte a firman granting to non-Muslims, including Jews and foreigners, the right to land ownership and permission to construct private houses in the Pera and Galata quarters of Constantinople. Abraham-Salomon and his brother Isaac established a banking house under the name of I. Camondo & Cie. The bank financed the Ottoman Empire during the Crimean War (1853–56), when it gave loans to the government against the security of taxes, customs receipts, and monopoly revenues. Abraham was also a financial adviser to the governments of Austria and Italy. In recognition of his generous philanthropy the king of Italy gave him a hereditary title.

In the 1830s leadership of the Ottoman Jews passed to Abraham-Salomon de Camondo following the decline of some of the prominent Jewish families, such as the Gabbais, the Carmonas, and the Ajimans, who had maintained close relations with the discredited Janissaries. He became influential in official circles and was instrumental in securing the confirmation of the appointment of the first ḥakham bashi in Jerusalem in 1841. He headed the faction which tried to strengthen the position of the community in its economic competition with the Armenians and the Greeks.

His grandson abraham-behor (1829–1889) together with Rothschild's envoy, Albert Cohn, founded in the capital the first modern Jewish school (1854), giving education in French, teaching Turkish and providing pupils with craftsman's skills. Shortly afterwards, the Khaṭṭi Hümayūn, the Imperial Rescript (1856), led to the creation of a secular committee of notables (Va'ad Pekidim majlis jashnet) consisting of wealthy, progressive-minded individuals under the chairmanship of Abraham-Behor Camondo. After 1860, Abraham-Behor was involved with the Alliance Israélite Universelle and was instrumental in the creation of schools all over Ottoman territories. His leadership of the committee of notables and in the establishment of schools where French was taught led to a clash with conservative religious circles. He was accused of encouraging the children to convert to Christianity and was excommunicated, but the grand vizier convened a special rabbinical court, which exonerated Camondo.

In 1869, Abraham-Salomon and his grandsons, Abraham-Behor and nissim (1830–1889), left Istanbul and settled in Paris with their families. According to Abraham-Salomon's wishes, his remains were sent to Istanbul, where he was given an official funeral. His bank continued to operate until it closed in 1897, although its real estate department continued to operate until 1913. When he died the Camondos were important real estate owners in Istanbul. They possessed several office buildings as well as apartment houses in Galata, where they were active in the modernization of the district by establishing the first Istanbul trolley car system and helped carry out the first municipal reform in 1855.

The generation of the Camondos who grew up in Paris abandoned educational philanthropy. They became patrons of the arts: isaac de camondo (1850–1910), son of Abraham-Behor, was famous for his collection of impressionist paintings and for his interest in music. He bequeathed his collection, which contained several paintings by Manet, Monet, Cezanne, and Degas, to the Louvre. It was one of the most important collections ever donated to the museum. His cousin, moïse de camondo (1860–1935), son of Nissim, collected furniture, rugs, paintings, and porcelains of the 18th century. He had a mansion built at the edge of the Parc Monceau to house the collection. He, too, bequeathed both the collection and the residence to France, in memory of his son Nissim who was a pilot in French air force and was killed in combat in 1917. The mansion became the Nissim de Camondo Museum, a restoration of an 18th century aristocratic house. beatrice (1894–1945), daughter of Moïse de Camondo, was killed in Auschwitz with her two children and the Camondo family died out.


A. Alexandre, in: Les Arts (Nov. 1908), 1–32; P. Assouline. Le dernier des Camondo (1997); M. Franco, Essai sur l'histoire des Israélites de l'Empire Ottoman (1897), 245–48; K. Gruenwald and J.O. Ronall, in: Tradition, 4 (1963); N. Seni and S. le Tarnec, Les Camondo: l'Eclipse d'une Fortune. (1997); N. Seni, "The Imprint of the Camondos in 19th Century Istanbul," in: International Journal of Middle East Studies, 26 (1994); N. Seni, "Diffusion des modèles français de philanthropie au xixe siècle," in: Pardès, 22 (1996); T. Timur, "Bir Osmanli Banker Ailesi: Kamondolar," in: Tarih ve Toplum, 74 (1990).

[Nora Seni (2nd ed.)]

About this article


Updated About content Print Article