The history of the Prinkipo Orphanage, the largest wooden building in Europe

Büyükada is the largest of the nine Prince Islands located in the Sea of ​​Marmara, so close to the city of Istanbul that they are considered neighborhoods of it.

Its barely 5 square kilometers, in which motorized vehicles are prohibited, have some historical monuments, churches and Byzantine monasteries, as well as a mosque, an abandoned amusement park and the house where Leon Trotsky lived between 1929 and 1933.

They were called the Prince Islands precisely because they were the place of exile for princes and other royals who fell from grace during Byzantine times.

Büyükada, which has a population of about 7,000 concentrated mainly on the north coast, has two mountainous elevations. Crowning the one closest to the port, Isa Tepesi (Monte Jesús), there is a unique building that draws attention both for its size and its appearance.

It is an ancient Greek orphanage established by the Orthodox Church in 1903 and was in operation until 1964.

Despite its dimensions, some 20,000 square meters of surface, the Prinkipo Orphanage it is made entirely of wood, making it the largest wooden building in Europe (and the second largest in the world).

Photo Jwslubbock on Wikimedia Commons

It was built in 1898 by the architect Alexander Vallaury for the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, the same company that operated the famous Orient Express, which planned to turn it into a luxury hotel and casino under the name of Prinkipo Palace and intended for Western travelers who visited Istanbul attracted by nineteenth-century exoticism.

But the sultan’s authorization never came and in 1903 the building was acquired by Eleni Zarifi (wife of a prominent Greek banker) who donated it to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to be used as an orphanage. For 60 years it functioned as an orphanage serving a total of 5,800 orphans on its six floors with 206 rooms, kitchen, library, primary school and workshops.

The orphanage in 2015 / photo Jwslubbock on Wikimedia Commons

On April 21, 1964, amid tensions over the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus, it closed its doors by order of the authorities and was left abandoned.

In 1997 the Turkish state claimed ownership, but a claim by the Orthodox Church of Constantinople before the European Court of Human Rights forced the Turkish authorities to return the building in 2012.

Its serious state of deterioration would require some 65 million euros for its restoration, an amount that the Greek community of Istanbul cannot finance. Several organizations such as Europa Nostra have shown interest in its conservation, but no action has yet been taken. The intention of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is to make it a world environmental center.


Greek Reporter / World Monuments Fund / Wikipedia.

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