Istanbul, Sep 11 (EFE).- The uphill mission of saving Europe’s largest wooden building, a six-storey, 206-room edifice on Büyükada, an island off the coast of Istanbul, has become a race against the clock.
Reconstructing the 123-year-old former Greek orphanage will cost some $47 million, according to the project coordinator Laki Vingas, a price that is beyond the Orthodox Patriarchate, owner of the building or the city’s tiny Greek community of barely 2,000 members.
“The Büyükada Greek Orphanage is a heritage of all Istanbul, not just the Greek community,” Vingas tells Efe.
A final plan should be presented within “two or three months” so that the search for funds begins, Vingas adds.
“Restoration is not something especially difficult,” says Burçin Altinsay, head of the Turkish section of the Europa Nostra organization that is dedicated to European heritage and which listed the former orphanage as one of the continent’s seven most threatened buildings.
“The challenge, more than anything, is the size of the building that also has symbolic value,” she says.
Built in 1898 by Levantine architect Alexandre Vallaury on behalf of Compagnie Internationale de Wagons-Lits, the French company that managed the Orient Express, the building was designed as a luxury hotel with a casino, but it was never inaugurated because the Ottoman sultan did not grant permission to open a gambling hall.
In 1903, Eleni Zarifi, the wife of a Greek banker, acquired and donated the building to the Patriarchate to be used as an orphanage that gave shelter to between 5,000 and 6,000 Greek children until 1964.
In that year, the Turkish authorities took measures that led to the expulsion of dozens of thousands of Greeks and the closure of the orphanage.
The building, which has been abandoned ever since, was confiscated by the government until the European Court of Human Rights returned the property to the Orthodox Patriarchate in 2010.