The Levantines were the descendants of Europeans who settled permanently in the Ottoman Empire mostly for economical and professional reasons. They were also called Frenk Levantines. The word Frenk was first used for French and then for all non-Orthodox Europeans. The term Levantines comes from the French word “Levant” which means “rising” and it has the meaning of “East.” So, the term Frenk Levantine was used to describe citizens of the Ottoman Empire of European Catholic descent, mostly French and Italian merchants of the upper class.
The Levantines that arrived in Alexandroupolis came mostly from Edirne and worked at the railway as foremen. At first, they settled at the east entrance of the city at Karagatsiana and created a quite dynamic community centered around the Catholic church of St. Joseph that was declared a parish in 1898.
An important thing to mention is the significant part that the Catholic monks of the Order of the Lesser Brothers of St. Francis of Assisi played in the education in Alexandroupolis. The Franciscan Sisters founded a kindergarten, a primary school, a girls’ school as well as the Italian School of St. Francis located in the former tobacco storage building that was destroyed by a fire in 1904.
Their presence in the Alexandroupolis started weakening after WWII as many of them abandoned the city to look for a better future in Europe or other cities. The Levantines with their urban way of life kept a constant connection with Europe and contributed greatly to the multicultural composition of Alexandroupolis.
Meropi Collarou, a member of the Levantine community, who talked to us with much love about her heritage, characteristically told us that the culture and education are a Levantine’s home.