Don Ramirez

Spanish showman active in Turkey

It was probably some time in 1899 that this Spanish showman opened a circus in Constantinople, and imported a projector to show films. However, at this time there was a ban on electricity in most of the city, the Sultan Abdul Hamid II (who reigned 1876-1909) believing it could somehow be used for terrorism. The Spanish ambassador interceded with the Sultan on Don Ramirez's behalf, enlarging on the wonders of cinema pictures so effectively that an exhibition was commanded in the palace. The Electrical Review described the show: 'Moving scenes from the leading capitals of Europe were thrown on the screen for the delectation of the Sultan, who no doubt enjoyed them all the more, since he is not, like his friend the German Kaiser, a great traveller.' As a result of this, the Spaniard was permitted to install electricity in his circus. In fact the Sultan was not such a conservative in using modern technology: still photographs were extensively employed as a means of gaining information on events and progress in his empire and for gathering intelligence information. And only a few months after his meeting with Ramirez it seems that the Sultan became convinced of the utility of film: he commissioned 'a cinematograph specialist' - perhaps it was the Spaniard himself - to prepare, 'regardless of cost' a series of films showing the working of the newly built Anatolian Railway. It is unclear whether these films were actually made, but Abdul Hamid's interest in the cinema continued, and by 1906 was employing an English 'bioscope attaché' to screen travel films for himself and his harem in the palace. Ramirez was not the first man to bring films to Constantinople: the Lumières received a letter enquiring about their camera from an Constantinople photographer, Thodori Vafiadis, and a Lumière operator, Louis Janin and three young colleagues from Lyon arrived in the city in May 1896. They started negotiations with the Sultan's officials to show their 'scientific marvel', but they too ran up against the electricity ban, and it was only after five months delay that they were finally permitted to use an electric lamp for projection: but by that time Janin had left Turkey in frustration. Some time later, a certain Sigmund Weinberg, a Polish Jew whose brother was a photographer in Constantinople, arranged the public showing of a film in the well-known beer hall, Sponeck, near Galatasaray. Owing to the electricity prohibition, the film was projected by gas lamp.

Stephen Bottomore