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Büyükada Greek Orphanage, which is the biggest wooden building in Europe and the second biggest in the world, has been selected to the 7 Most Endangered programme 2018 by Europa Nostra and European Investment Bank Institute.
The panel of experts who evaluated the application submitted on June 30, 2017 announced in January that the orphanage was among the 12 heritage sites shortlisted for the 7 Most Endangered programme 2018. With the decision announced today (March 15), Büyükada Greek Orphanage has been selected to the final list of 7 Most Endangered Heritage Sites.
It has been selected due to its "extraordinary" universal value
In evaluating the applications, the panel of experts have considered the extraordinary universal values these heritage sites have as well as the major risks they face.
In the related press statement issued by Europa Nostra, it has been indicated that Büyükada Greek Orphanage was constructed by the architect Alexandre Valluarry from France in 1899 and since 1964, it has been standing without being used for any functions.
Reminding the audience that the orphanage was severely damaged in a fire in 1980 and emphasizing that it is currently in danger of collapse, the statement has also added, "The setting up of a Centre of Environmental and Interreligious Dialogue in the building, as conceived by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, could figure as the most appropriate future use of the Orphanage."
With the decision, the orphanage can return to life
With this decision, Büyükada Greek Orphanage will be rendered functional again and an important step will be taken to revive this significant cultural heritage site which harbors the 120-year old history and memory of Istanbul and Princes' Islands.
2018 has been announced by the EU as the European Year of Cultural Heritage, which is also an important opportunity for both the orphanage and the works that will be performed to protect the building. That these two developments coinciding is of particular importance for the orphanage.
About Büyükada Greek Orphanage
Büyükada Greek Orphanage is a historic 20,000-square-meter wooden building on Büyükada, one of the nine Princes' Islands off the coast of Istanbul, Turkey, in the Sea of Marmara. It is considered the largest wooden building in Europe and second largest in the world. It served as an orphanage from 1903 to 1964.
It was designed and constructed in 1898 by the architect Alexander Vallaury as a luxury hotel and casino. It was sold in 1903 and was later on donated to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which operated it as an orphanage. On April 21, 1964, during heightened tension of the Cyprus issue, the orphanage was forcefully closed by the General Directorate of Foundations. Throughout its history, the orphanage catered to the needs of 5,744 orphans.
Since its closure half a century ago, the neglected building has deteriorated into a state of heavy disrepair. The building was severely damaged by a fire in 1980. The site was included on the 2012 World Monuments Watch and is presently classified as "Rescue Needed" by Global Heritage Network. In April 2012, it was announced that the building would be restored over the next two years to house an international environmental institute.
The Greek community of Turkey claimed that the orphanage belonged to the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the basis of Ottoman edicts that granted title to the Patriarchate which was subsequently converted under the Republic of Turkey. On the other hand, the government of Turkey believed that the property does not belong to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In 2003, the Patriarchate had submitted all required documents to show evidence of its ownership to the Supreme Administrative Court in Turkey. The Supreme Administrative Court dismissed the claims and argued that the foundation had lost its function as an orphanage and has become a seized asset. In 2004, The European Union raised the issue in Turkey's progress report towards accession. In 2010, the case was handed to and resolved by the European Court of Human Rights which ordered the restitution of the building to the Ecumenical Patriarchate becoming the first property title to be returned to a religious minority. The legal title is currently in the hands of the Ecumenical Patriarchate who plans to turn the building into a global environmental center, according to the current Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Bartholomew I.