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Respected religious and community leaders,
Members of the Scientific Community,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour and a privilege to stand before you today here in one of our Community’s historical monumental institutions as we address the “Pringipos Greek Orphanage Monitoring Meeting” organized by Europa Nostra as part of Europe’s Seven Most Endangered Cultural Heritage Programme. Specifically, all of us, people of goodwill, have gathered this afternoon to discuss and address the critical situation surrounding the Prinkipo Greek Orphanage, a historic 20,000-square-meter wooden masterpiece located on Büyükada, one of the Princes’ Islands off the coast of Istanbul.
The Prinkipo (or Büyükada) Greek Orphanage holds a significant place in history. Built in 1898 as the Prinkipo Palace by the famous French-Ottoman architect Alexander Vallaury as a luxury hotel, the wife of a prominent local Greek banker, Eleni Zarifi, bought the building in 1903 after its operating licence was not granted and donated it to the Ecumenical Patriarchate under the condition that it be used as an orphanage. This remarkable building, considered the largest wooden structure in Europe and the second largest worldwide, served as a home and educational institution for approximately 5,800 orphans until its unjust closure in 1964.
The orphanage’s history is deeply intertwined with the resilience of our Community here in this great City, especially during the difficult years of the previous century. In the face of much adversity and misfortune, the Ecumenical Patriarchate became the custodian of this architectural gem, offering shelter, hope, and education to this significant number of orphans during the 20th century.
However, this important institution has faced severe challenges throughout the previous decades. Since its unjust closure in 1964 due to regrettable political reprisals, the building has fallen into a state of disrepair, exacerbated by a fire in 1980 and damage that occurred by the major earthquake of 1999. Despite being returned to our Community in 2012, following many legal hurdles, the restoration efforts, which would revitalize this cultural treasure, face significant financial obstacles, hindering us from achieving our noble goals. This is why we believe that restoring the complex so that it could house a Centre for Environmental Studies and Interreligious Dialogue provides excellent impetus for seeing this project to fruition, considering the great importance that those two topics play in the social and political sphere throughout the world today.
In 2018, Europa Nostra and the European Investment Bank rightly recognized the Prinkipo Greek Orphanage as one of Europe’s Seven Most Endangered cultural heritage sites, drawing attention to its precarious state. Additionally, throughout the years, we have also tried to encourage local and foreign partners to recover the site before the building becomes unsalvageable.
As we convene today, let us collectively address the challenges facing the site and the rehabilitation project and try to find solutions as we move forward. The restoration of this architectural marvel not only serves as a testament to our City’s rich multicultural and religious past and the social and pastoral work that our Sacred Institution contributed to society, but also highlights the importance of safeguarding the vast and varied cultural heritage here in these sacred lands. This is why we encourage open dialogue, collaboration, and a shared commitment to securing the future of the historic Prinkipo Greek Orphanage for generations to come.
Thank you for your considerate attention, and we look forward to the fruitful discussions that will continue after this crucial meeting.