A private playground

In an important ruling yesterday the European Court of Human Rights ordered Turkey to return the vast former orphanage on Buyukada, the largest of the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara, to its rightful owner, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
You can read about it here.
I’m currently doing a piece for www.Eurasianet.org on the orphanage, and the importance of the ECHR ruling in the wider context of the long-running persecution suffered by the Patriarchate at the hands of the Turkish state.
The largest wooden building in Europe, and the third largest in the world, it is six stories high and more than 100 metres long. Imposing yet graceless, it has been slowly decaying since it fell into disuse in the 1960s.
It was originally built by a French architect in 1898 as a hotel and casino, and was eventually given to the Patriarchate to be used as an orphanage after the Ottoman Sultan refused to grant permission for the casino.
There is something monstrous and ill-advised about the building, (only a small portion of which is seen in the picture above), as if someone had decided to build an airport terminal from wooden planks. 


I get the feeling that the architect, Alexandre Vallaury, in seeing just how far he could push the genius of Ottoman wooden architecture, nudged it into madness.
It is now locked up at the top of Buyukada within its rusting boundary paling, which has been reinforced with old bedsteads, against which the heads of orphans presumably once rested. The children of the caretaker (seen in the picture above) who grazes his sheep and chickens in the grounds, apparently have the run of the place, which must qualify it as one of the best private playgrounds imaginable.

A spokesman for the Patriarch told me that they want to turn it into a centre for religious study, ecology, and interfaith dialogue. To me it looks beyond repair.

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Incidentally, it is often described as the second largest wooden building in the world: this is incorrect. The world’s second largest wooden building is the Todai-ji Buddhist temple in Nara, Japan, often wrongly assumed to be the largest. Banally, the often-overlooked winner is a former aircraft hangar in Tillamook, Oregon.
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