The Camondo family was only one of the thousands of Sephardic Jewish families who had to leave Spain in 1492, expelled by the monarchs after the Reconquista. The family moved to Venice and then to the heart of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople when Venice came under Austrian rule in 1798. The family started to get rich with the banking company "Isaac Camondo & Cie" which was established under the leadership of Ishak Camondo in 1802.
"Isaac Camondo & Cie" had grown so much and achieved such international success that it was the country's largest and strongest bank, until the Ottoman Empire established its national bank. Enormous wealth and ,their sustained involvement in Jewish communal life earned the family the nickname "Rothschilds of the East".
After Isaac's death, Abraham Salomon took over the business and continued to develop it. He established deep business relationships 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. Abraham Salomon gained various privileges from government, even he received a medal of honor for the financing of Ottoman Empire during the Crimean War (1853-1855).
The grandchildren Abraham Behor and Nisim joined the bank and Abraham Behor became the head of the bank. The Camondo’s merged with other Galata bankers in order to establish the "Ottoman Empire Public Company" against Ottoman Bank, which was founded in 1863. In addition to the success in business life, the Camondo family was also known for their philanthropy.
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 teaching Turkish and French, the language of commerce. Until then, only Hebrew and Spanish were taught in Jewish schools. This reform initiative was met with great reaction from the conservative wing of the Jewish Sephardic community and led to the separation of the socalled "Franko" from the Sephardic community in 1865 and to the Italian protectorate of Pera.
Abraham-Salomon was a keen supporter of Victor Emmanuel II’s plans for unification of Italy. His generous donations to the cause were rewarded by the title of "count" (1867), and he chose "Fides et Caritas" (Faith and Charity) as his motto. Meanwhile, Turkish Government began to focus on foreign borrowing and to ignore domestic financial institutions. Seeing that the bank should be opened outward, the Camondo brothers decided to settle in Paris, but their headquarters remained in Galata.
By the end of the 19th century, the business of the Camondo family had grown further and had many companies in and out of Europe. In 1872, I. Camondo & Cie partnered with the growing Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas (later Paribas) and, from 1876, Abraham Béhor became a member of the merchant bank’s board of directors. Abraham Salomon de Camondo died in 1873 at the age of 93, shortly after settling in Paris. Upon his will, his funeral was brought to Istanbul and he was buried in the monumental tomb he had built at the Jewish Cemetery in Hasköy with a magnificent state ceremony accompanied by the palace band. After some time, the other son of the family, Moise de Camondo, also moved to Paris with his son Nissim and his daughter Beatrice. However, anti-Semitism gradually began to make itself felt in France.
The grandson of Abraham Salomon's grandson, Nissim de Camondo (1892-1917), became the first member of the family who passed to French nationality. Nissim joined the regiment of hussars (airborne cavalry unit in the French Army) in October 1911, when he left the Lycée Janson de Sailly. During the battles of Verdun and the Somme, he carried out numerous photographic missions and had many narrow escapes, earning several citations from the French Army. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in July 1916, and gained his pilot’s license and served as a pilot at the outbreak of World War I. During a reconnaissance mission on September 5, 1917, his plane was shot down during aerial combat near Emberménil in Lorraine. He was buried in the Montmartre Cemetery.
They say Moïse never recovered. After his tragic loss, the Count Moïse de Camondo bequeathed his property "Musée Nissim de Camondo" to the Arts Décoratifs, in memory of his son. The museum named after Nissim opened a year after Moïse died in 1935. Nissim's sister Beatrice, trusted her family's wealth, and did not leave Paris during World War II, but was caught by the Nazis, and she and husband and children was killed in the Auschwitz camp.
Their mother, Irène Cohen d'Anvers, became Catholic after divorcing her husband, Moïse de Camondo, and thus survived her from the genocide. Irène became the heir to the entire family as the only surviving member of the Camondo family after the war, and this deep-rooted family ended with her in 1963.
Camondo name comes from Casa De Mondo in Spanish, (The House of the World) as this meaning, they earned the respect and love of the people with their philanthropies as well as their successes in business life, left lasting traces in Istanbul, Ottoman lands and France with numerous architectural works, such as inns, apartments, shops in Galata and Pera, mansions in Bosporus, vineyards, olive groves, factories, schools, and most importantly the famous Camondo Stairs that was built in 1860 and photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson. The famous Camondo Stairs were built by Abraham Camondo for his grandchildren that were studying at Austrian High School at that time, to prevent them from getting tired because of the long way and to shorten the distance from their home to school. The staircases are located in Karaköy, at the junction of Voyvoda Street and Banker Street, and were completed between 1870 and 1880.
Camondos, one of the most prominent art lovers of the period, donated valuable collections to decorate the main museums of Paris today. The most famous painting among them is the portrait of Irène Cohen d'Anvers, the last member of the Camondo family, made by Renoir in 1880. One of the most prominent works of Camondo family is the Camondo Building, was built at the cosmopolitan and historical part of Istanbul, as the home of the Camondo family by Gabriel Tedeschi, architect of the Ashkenazi Synagogue. Camondo Building, built with a neoclassical style and a symmetrical plan, is now considered to be the most significant building in that neighborhood.
Camondo family donated the building to the Alliance Israelite Universelle to build a school, after they left the country. However, this school was never built, and the building continued to be used by Jewish families as an apartment into the early 1940s.