Research Article

DOI :10.26650/oba.1310051   IUP :10.26650/oba.1310051    Full Text (PDF)

Bitumen Exploitation in Vlorë in the Last Period of the Ottoman State

Toroshan Özdamar

Vlorë became one of Europe’s most important bitumen deposits in late Ottoman period. Vlorë bitumen has been used in many sectors, from road construction to pesticide production and chemical industry in and around Europe. Literature on Ottoman mining generally focused on ores such as iron, copper, chrome, lead, and coal. Though bitumen research has become essential in daily life after the Industrial Revolution, have been very limited in quantity and quality. This study aims to present data on the state of Vlorë bitumen deposits, operation procedures, and the importance of bitumen exploitation. This work examines bitumen production, refining, industrial solutions, marketing techniques, and innovative methods based on archival documents and newspapers. It also provides further information on using bitumen-based products in areas such as phylloxera control and road construction.

DOI :10.26650/oba.1310051   IUP :10.26650/oba.1310051    Full Text (PDF)

Osmanlı Devleti’nin Son Döneminde Avlonya’da Bitüm Üretimi

Toroshan Özdamar

Avlonya, Osmanlı’nın son döneminde Avrupa’nın en önemli bitüm yataklarından biri haline gelmiştir. Avlonya bitümü, yol yapımından zirai ilaç üretimine ve kimya sanayiine kadar birçok sektörde kullanılmıştır. Osmanlı madenciliği araştırmaları genel itibariyle demir, bakır, krom, kurşun gibi cevherler ve kömür üzerinden yapılmıştır. Sanayi Devrimi ile birlikte günlük hayatta çok önemli hale gelen bitüm hakkında araştırmalar çok kısıtlıdır. Bu çalışma Avlonya bitüm yataklarının durumu, işletilme usulleri, bitüm üretiminin önemi hakkında veriler sunmayı amaçlamaktadır. Bu doğrultuda arşiv belgeleri ve dönemin matbuatı incelenerek Avlonya’daki bitüm üretimi, rafinaj, endüstriyel çözümler, pazarlama teknikleri, inovatif yöntemler gibi hususlar incelenmiştir. Ayrıca filoksera ile mücadele, yol yapımı gibi alanlarda bitüm bazlı ürünlerin kullanımı hakkında bilgiler verilmiştir.


Bitumen, rich in carbon and hydrogen, is a substance with high viscosity that exists in solid or liquid form in nature. Today, it can be produced as a synthetic by-product of crude oil. Nevertheless, until the 20th century, bitumen was extracted from natural resources. In the later stages of the Industrial Revolution, bitumen was increasingly used in many industrial sectors. Towards the end of the 19th century, Selenicë in Vlorë was one of the most important places of bitumen sources in Europe. The presence of bitumen in Vlorë was known since the Antiquity. The region came under Ottoman rule in the 15th century and bitumen deposits were used for caulking ships in the navy. However, the bitumen resources were not mined efficiently due to technological and financial inadequacies. With investments after the 1890s, the bitumen production in the region was modernized and became a critical asset for the Ottoman Empire.

Academic studies regarding bitumen production in the Ottoman Empire are negligible in quantity and quality since researchers have primarily focused on other mining sectors and minerals such as iron, chromium, lead, and coal.

This article aims to provide data on the quality of Vlorë bitumen deposits, bitumen extraction techniques, refining process, and marketing methods. At the same time, it tries to show how technical knowledge and skilled labor, when combined with marketing, can make idle resources productive. This study is based on the findings of our research conducted in the Ottoman Archives (BOA) in Istanbul and the Archives nationales du monde du travail (ANMT) in Roubaix, as well as the analyses of the technical reports of specialists, travelogues, and financial newspapers of the period. After surveying the quality and quantity of bitumen deposits in Vlorë, it examines bitumen extraction methods and technical developments. Finally, it also deals with the bitumen output, marketing strategies, and bitumen-based products.

Vlorë bitumen deposits were large enough to support many related industries. Despite large deposits, bitumen production remained low in quantity until the end of the 19th century because of primitive insufficient mining techniques and lack of capital. The Ottoman Bank established the Selenicë Company (Société des Mines de Selenitza) in 1891 for the exploitation of bitumen in Vlorë. The company had a capital of 2.500.000 francs, part of which was provided by some French investors. The company modernized bitumen extraction methods and established a modern technical infrastructure that reduced production costs. As a result of these investments, average annual bitumen production increased to 6,000 tonnes a year.

Most of the output included three types of bitumen: matte solid bitumen, glossy solid bitumen (also called Romsi and Ottimo bitumen), and liquid bitumen. Romsi and Ottimo bitumens were the best in quality among them. Around 6,000 tons of bitumen were shipped annually to European ports such as Marseille, Hamburg, Bremen, Amsterdam, and London. In addition to selling crude bitumen, the company also manufactured bitumen-added pesticides and fertilizers to combat phylloxera (also called vine fretter), which damaged vineyards. The company also developed methods for bitumen refining and new commercial tactics to increase sales. For example, it advertised bitumen-containing phylloxera pesticides in newspapers and exhibited various products made of bitumen at international expositions and trade fairs in Europe. As a result of these efforts, Vlorë bitumen became a renowned product in Europe. It was used as raw material or additive in sectors such as road construction, roof insulation, marine, paint, cable, cardboard, and varnish industries. Moreover, Vlorë bitumen was used to construct many famous boulevards of Paris.

In short, as seen in the example of Vlorë Selenicë, technical know-how and capital were crucial in effectively utilizing natural resources. In this way, it became an important source of income for the Ottoman central treasury towards the end of the 19th century.

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Özdamar, T. (2024). Bitumen Exploitation in Vlorë in the Last Period of the Ottoman State. Studies in Ottoman Science, 25(1), 59-82.


Özdamar T. Bitumen Exploitation in Vlorë in the Last Period of the Ottoman State. Studies in Ottoman Science. 2024;25(1):59-82.


Özdamar, T. Bitumen Exploitation in Vlorë in the Last Period of the Ottoman State. Studies in Ottoman Science, [Publisher Location], v. 25, n. 1, p. 59-82, 2024.

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Özdamar, Toroshan,. 2024. “Bitumen Exploitation in Vlorë in the Last Period of the Ottoman State.” Studies in Ottoman Science 25, no. 1: 59-82.

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Özdamar, Toroshan,. Bitumen Exploitation in Vlorë in the Last Period of the Ottoman State.” Studies in Ottoman Science 25, no. 1 (Jul. 2024): 59-82.

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Özdamar, T 2024, 'Bitumen Exploitation in Vlorë in the Last Period of the Ottoman State', Studies in Ottoman Science, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 59-82, viewed 24 Jul. 2024,

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Özdamar, T. (2024) ‘Bitumen Exploitation in Vlorë in the Last Period of the Ottoman State’, Studies in Ottoman Science, 25(1), pp. 59-82. (24 Jul. 2024).


Özdamar, Toroshan,. Bitumen Exploitation in Vlorë in the Last Period of the Ottoman State.” Studies in Ottoman Science, vol. 25, no. 1, 2024, pp. 59-82. [Database Container],


Özdamar T. Bitumen Exploitation in Vlorë in the Last Period of the Ottoman State. Studies in Ottoman Science [Internet]. 24 Jul. 2024 [cited 24 Jul. 2024];25(1):59-82. Available from: doi: 10.26650/oba.1310051


Özdamar, Toroshan. Bitumen Exploitation in Vlorë in the Last Period of the Ottoman State”. Studies in Ottoman Science 25/1 (Jul. 2024): 59-82.


Published Online31.01.2024


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