Photos: Historic Greek Orthodox orphanage awaits salvation in Turkey

Updated: Sep 12, 2018 09:42 IST

Each morning, Erol Baytas, 56, checks for further damage on the imposing but derelict timber building in Buyukada, the largest and most popular of the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara near Istanbul that for decades housed orphans from the minority Greek community. (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP)

It’s quite a fall from grace for the 120-year-old building. “Every day, a piece of the building falls out,” laments Baytas. “When it is raining, I go inside to survey the extent of the damage. Water will flow through every hole and it hurts me so much. I call them the building’s tears. I get emotional because it is my home, and before me it was the home of thousands of children.” (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP)

The building over six floors was originally designed by architect Alexandre Vallaury for the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits. But when it was built in 1899, Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II withheld permission for it to operate as a hotel and casino. The wife of a Greek banker later purchased it and donated it to the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which ran it as an orphanage. (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP)

The Prinkipo orphanage became home for about 5,800 Greek children from 1903 until 1964 when it was forced to shut down, a victim of political tensions between Turkey and Greece. The building was later the subject of a legal battle between the Patriarchate and the Turkish government, which confiscated it in 1997. It was returned to the Patriarchate following a European Court of Human Rights ruling in 2010. (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP)

Messages and drawings of orphans that lived in Prinkipo orphanage, on wooden beams. Earlier this year, the cultural heritage organization, Europa Nostra, included it on a list of seven endangered monuments, but its fate remains unknown. The Patriarchate has said it wants it turned into an institute for environmental issues. (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP)

Korhan Gomus, 64, an architect and urban planning professor, looks around. “Prinkipo is a very important part of the culture and heritage of Istanbul, of the Greek population of Istanbul, or the Rum population rather,” said Burcin Altinsay, chairperson of Europa Nostra Turkey. “It is an important part of our cultural heritage and it is really in danger.” (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP)

Istanbul — once Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire that was dominated by the Orthodox Church — was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Istanbul’s Greek population has dwindled to less than 3,000 in recent years, but the Patriarchate, the seat of the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, remains in the city. (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP)

80-year-old Vitleen Magulas has vivid memories of Prinkipo, where she lived from 1945 to 1951. “At night, when the moon came up, it was as if you could hug it,” Magulas said. “We were happy with everything, our clothes, our food ... At that time, there were many Greeks in Istanbul and many benefactors. They gave donations to the orphanage. We had everything. They were taking good care of us when I was there.” (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP)

A team from Europa Nostra and from the European Investment Bank Institute is expected to prepare a report on what needs to be done to save the building. The report will be ready by end of the year, according to the European Investment Bank Institute. (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP)

Erol Baytas’ dog lies outside the timber building. Baytas fears that the structure, which suffered a fire in 1980, may not last much longer. “I do not know how they will repurpose the building but it does not matter, as long as it is saved,” he said. “The building has been decaying for years but recently the deterioration has accelerated. This year it will not survive another winter if nothing is done.” (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP)

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