Istanbul (Turkey). The Camondo Stairs (in Turkish: Kamondo Merdivenleri) are located in the Galata neighbourhood and are the result of a public service project donated to the city of Istanbul by the wealthy Jewish family Camondo. The stairs climb up from the Bankalar Caddesi (Avenue of the Banks, close to the Galata Docks n Karakoy District) to a school built by the same family. What makes these stairs very special is their hexagonal shape, which – it is said – was arranged so that if a child would slip while climbing down, the other bevel would prevent her or him from falling. In fact, these stairs were built to help Camondo’s children to reach the school and to cut down the family way to the Bankalar Caddesi.
The Camondo family was a prominent European family of Jewish financiers and philanthropists. After the 1497 Spanish decree (that ordered the expulsion of all Jews who refused conversion to Catholicism) the family settled in Venice where some members became famous by their scholarship as well as by the services they rendered to their adopted country. Following the Austrian takeover of Venice in 1798, members of the family moved to Istanbul where, despite the many restrictions imposed on all minorities, flourished as merchants. In 1802 the Camondo family founded the Isaac Camondo & Cie Bank, inherited by Abraham Salomon after his brother Isaac’s death in 1832. Abraham Salomon prospered greatly, became the prime banker to the Ottoman Empire (until the founding of the Imperial Ottoman Bank in 1863) and financially contributed to the liberation of Venice from the Austrian Empire (for this, the King of Italy Victor Emmanuel II conferred upon him the title of count, with the privilege of transmitting it in perpetuity to the eldest son of the family). He died in Paris in 1873 but, in accordance to his wishes, his remains were returned to Constantinople and were buried in the Jewish cemetery at Hasköy, a neighbourhood on the Golden Horn in Istanbul. This family is now extinct; the last descendants, Béatrice de Camondo with her two children (Fanny and Bertrand) and with her husband Léon Reinach were deported and murdered in Auschwitz from 1943 to 1945 during World War II.
The legendary Henri Cartier Bresson chose these stairs for one of his most famous photo during one of his visits to Istanbul.