The Camondos were a family of Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, who found refuge in the Ottoman Empire after persecution by the Inquisition. After a few years in Trieste in the late eighteenth century, they returned to Istanbul. In 1802, Isaac Camondo founded a bank there, which his brother Abraham Salomon inherited in 1832. The Camondos established business relations with the reformist viziers, for whom they sometimes acted as private bankers; they helped set up the modern banking system in Turkey and built one of the largest fortunes in the Turkish territories.
In the nineteenth century, they contributed to the construction of a financial district (Galata) in Istanbul, and took a keen interest in urbanism: the name “Camondo” was given to buildings, baths, staircases and even the street where they lived. Their mausoleum still stands in the Haskoy cemetery. As philanthropists, they were keen to modernize their community, and saw education as a prime means of achieving this; they founded a “Camondo school” which focused on the teaching of Turkish and foreign languages.
Due to international treaties, they happened to have obtained Austrian nationality from the time of their exile in Trieste. They still saw Italy as their homeland, however, and Abraham-Salomon was a keen supporter of Victor Emmanuel II’s plans for unification. His generous donations to the cause were rewarded by the title of “count” (1867), and he chose “Fides et Caritas” as his motto.
From the 1850s on, he was assisted by his grandsons Abraham-Behor and Nissim, and in 1868, they decided to move to France. The Camondo family therefore arrived in Paris with Italian passports and noble status. The bank Isaac Camondo & Cie continued its close involvement in Turkey’s economic development. In France, it frequently joined forces with the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas and participated in many government bonds.
When the next generation took over, Isaac de Camondo (who had succeeded his father and uncle and taken over their functions in many companies), and his cousin Moïse became less involved in business. In the early twentieth century, the bank’s office in Constantinople restricted its activity to managing the family’s interests in Turkey, and in Paris to overseeing asset management.
After the death of his son Nissim in 1917, Moïse decided to close down the bank.