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Prinkipo Orphanage: Europe’s Largest Wooden Building

Prinkipo Orphanage

This rickety wooden building, practically on the verge of collapse, is the largest wooden building in Europe and the second largest in the world. It stands on top of a small hill on Büyükada—a tiny island off the coast of Istanbul.

The Prinkipo Greek Orphanage, also known as the Rum Orphanage, was originally conceived to be a luxury hotel and a casino. But when it couldn’t obtain a permit, the building was turned into an orphanage. It operated for sixty years taking care of Greek Orthodox orphans. Once this establishment closed the building fell into neglect, and after half a century of being exposed to the elements, the 20,000-square meter structure is now in a state of heavy disrepair.

The six-story building was designed and constructed in 1898 by the French-Ottoman architect Alexander Vallaury, for the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, the European passenger train company that operated the Orient Express. The idea was to turn it into a five-star resort catering to European travellers who were flocking to Istanbul in great numbers at the height of the Belle Epoque, the “golden age” of European civilization. But Sultan Abdul Hamid II, of the Ottoman empire, denied an operating license on grounds that gambling activities would be immoral.

The grand building was then sold to the wife of a prominent Greek banker, Eleni Zarifi, who donated it to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, a church, who turned it into an orphanage. The Prinkipo orphanage became home for about 5,800 minority Greek children from 1903 until 1964 when it was forced to shut down, during a period of heightened political tensions between Turkey and Greece over the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus. In 1997, the property was confiscated by the Turkish state, but returned to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2010 following a court order.

In 2018, Europa Nostra and the European Investment Bank nominated the orphanage as one of the Seven Most Endangered cultural heritages. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople wants to preserve and repair the building, but lack of funds and the continued political tensions between Greece and Turkey over a variety of issues, including the protection of Byzantine and Greek heritage in Istanbul, has delayed preservation attempts.

Leading image by aydngvn/Shutterstock.com

Prinkipo Orphanage

Photo credit: Emre onemci/Shutterstock.com

Prinkipo Orphanage

Photo credit: Dima Moroz/Shutterstock.com

Prinkipo Orphanage

Orphans at the dormitory of the Orphanage

Prinkipo Orphanage

Orphan students during class session

Prinkipo Orphanage

Photo credit: Official / Shutterstock.com

Prinkipo Orphanage

Photo credit: Official / Shutterstock.com

Prinkipo Orphanage

Photo credit: Official / Shutterstock.com

Prinkipo Orphanage

Photo credit: AP Photo/Helene Franchineau

Prinkipo Orphanage

Photo credit: AP Photo/Helene Franchineau

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