Türkİye, Culture

After 57 years, Istanbul’s iconic Greek Orthodox orphanage set for restoration

Greek Orthodox patriarch urges 'comprehensive cooperation' to revive orphanage, known as largest wooden building in Europe

Handan Kazanci   | 28.08.2021
After 57 years, Istanbul’s iconic Greek Orthodox orphanage set for restoration Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew (c), Turkish Deputy Culture and Tourism Minister Ahmet Misbah Demircan (R-2) and Head of the EU delegation to Turkey, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut (L) attend the press briefing on the restoration process of the Old Greek Orphanage which is the largest wooden structure in Europe but has not been in service for 57 years on Buyukada, one of the nine Princes' Islands off the coast of Istanbul, Turkey on August 27, 2021. ( Onur Çoban - Anadolu Agency )


An event at Istanbul’s historic Buyukada Greek Orthodox Orphanage, which has been closed since 1964, called for cooperation to launch a massive restoration project for the iconic building.

Speaking at the event on Friday, Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Istanbul-based leader of many of the world’s Orthodox Christians, said that the Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate is working to restore the building, also known as Pringipos Greek Orthodox Orphanage, despite all the technical and economic difficulties.

For restoration, “we wish to reach out to state authorities, municipalities, non-governmental organizations, and all Istanbul lovers to get their support,” said Bartholomew, who hosted the event.

“Only with the strength to come out of such a comprehensive cooperation, this problem can be solved and the orphanage can be brought back to Istanbul, which is described as the queen of cities,” he said.

The cultural and architectural richness of the orphanage, dubbed the largest wooden structure in Europe and the second one in the world, can be transferred to the future following the restoration, he said.

Stressing the iconic building’s architectural features, Bartholomew said that it was the “conscientious duty of everyone” to end the dissolution process that the orphanage has experienced in the last decades.

The building was constructed by Istanbul-born architect Alexander Vallaury in 1898 as a hotel but later was bought by the wife of a Greek banker, Eleni Zarifi, who later donated the building to the Patriarchate which operated it as an orphanage.

In 1964, the building was evacuated due to “the risk of fire and the lack of security for the children,” according to the project’s website. In 2018, Europa Nostra, a pan-European federation for cultural heritage, placed the building on the list of the seven most endangered heritage sites in Europe.

Turkey to do its best to raise building up

The event to promote the ongoing process for the historic building gathered experts and diplomats as well as intellectuals including Turkey’s Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk in the garden of the now almost demolishing building, located in a forested area atop of a hill on Buyukada, the largest of Princes’ Islands off the coast of Istanbul.

While details of the technical progress of the future restoration were explained to the public, it also was announced that a possible workshop, especially to clarify the function of the historic building, with broad participation would be held in the coming months.

For his part, Ahmet Misbah Demircan, Turkish deputy minister of culture and tourism, said: “We solved the problems related to minority foundations under the leadership of our President (Recep Tayyip Erdogan).”

In 2008, under new legislation passed by Turkey’s Justice and Development (AK) Party, reforms allowed minority groups to buy and renovate their properties.

Stating that the iconic building is a first-degree protected area, Demircan said: “A workshop invitation is also made about how it will be used.”

“In this process, we will try to do our part and do our best to raise (the building) up,” he pledged.

Preliminary work completed

Laki Vingas, the orphanage’s restoration project coordinator, said that the preliminary work for the restoration has been completed.

Vingas explained the short-term goals of the project as “to present the temporary support measures for the preservation” of the pre-restoration building to Turkey’s monuments committee which regulates such restoration projects.

He also underlined the importance of “organizing a workshop with the participation of experts in September or October on determining the function of the building” as well as “identifying financial opportunities for the restoration.”

Nazim Akkoyunlu, deputy general manager at BIMTAS, a company run by the Istanbul Municipality that carries out preliminary works of restoration project, told the crowd a team of 30 people worked in the field for 45 days.

Sharing 3-D photographs from the building, Akkoyunlu said: “Unfortunately, 50% of the roof is destroyed, all of it is damaged. Some 60% of the fourth floor has collapsed, and 40% of the third and fourth floors are broken.”

“Floor beams have lost 60% of their load-bearing capacity throughout the building,” he explained. “A protective cover system and support elements should be placed so that the building does not undergo a demolition process.”


After 57 years, Istanbul’s iconic Greek Orthodox orphanage set for restoration

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