The Büyükada Greek Orphanage on the eponymous Istanbul island is set for restoration after experts completed surveying the building following long delays.
The historic structure, dubbed as Europe’s largest wooden building, will require some 20 million euros ($23.61 million) for restoration.
Nazım Akkoyunlu, deputy manager of BIMTAŞ, an engineering company run by Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB), which carried out the surveying work, says that the building is in need of a swift restoration, but it would require “a big budget.”
A local board for the preservation of historic buildings is currently examining the state of the building and is expected to approve the restoration. The building, originally known as the Prinkipo Greek Orphanage, was included in a list of endangered cultural heritage sites identified by Europa Nostra, a European cultural heritage organization, amid years of negligence and exposure to adverse weather conditions.
Despite the damage sustained during a fire in 1980, the 20,000-square-meter wooden building stood strong though parts of its roof and corner posts and have since fallen.
Europa Nostra has called for partial reconstruction of the building.
Before its conversion to the orphanage, the building was originally a casino and hotel built by Compagnie des Wagons-Lits, the travel firm that operated the fabled Orient Express luxury train.
Designed by Alexandre Vallaury, the Franco-Ottoman architect behind Istanbul's Pera Palace hotel, the building was completed in 1898. Yet, the sultan refused to give it a casino license and ultimately, the building was purchased by a wealthy Greek family upon the request of the Fener Greek Orthodox patriarchate based in Istanbul and opened it as an orphanage for Greek children in 1903.
It was confiscated by the government during World War I and used as an accommodation for cadets and troops of the empire’s war ally Germany.
It once again served as an orphanage after the war, but it was ordered to be evacuated in 1964 at a time of heightened ethnic tensions between Turks and Greeks. It was completely closed in 1977.
The patriarchate won a lengthy legal battle in 2010 for the return of the property.
In 2020, survey work that will precede the restoration was launched at the building, which once housed some 6,000 orphans from the Greek community of Turkey. Inch by inch, crews mapped the original features of the orphanage.
Akkoyunlu told Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Sunday that their work, in coordination with the patriarchate, tapped into laser imaging technology and managed to replicate the “exact state” of the building.
He said a comprehensive restoration project would be prepared once the preservation board approves it.
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