A brief story of the Fener Greek Boys High School in Fener on the Golden Horn of Istanbul
|High on the steep hillside overlooking the Golden Horn is a large red brick building reminiscent of a fairytale castle. This building is the Fener Greek Boys High School, but whenever I see it, I half expect to see Rapunzel letting her hair out of one of the tower windows.
The district of Fener is one of the most ancient in Istanbul, known to the Byzantines as Fanarion and to the Ottoman Greeks as Fanaraki. In the 19th century, it was famous for its masonry houses with richly decorated interiors in Turkish style and its taverns.
It is thought to have been named after the lantern (fener), which during Byzantine times was lit at night in the tower next to Fener Gate so that ships sailing up the Golden Horn would not be wrecked on the rocky shores of the inlet.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate moved to its new site in the district of Fener in 1601, and from this time on, wealthy Greek families began to settle in Fener. In the 19th century, however, they moved to new homes in Beyoglu on the other side of the Golden Horn, and Fener went into decline. Today it is a neglected but quaint area of steep cobbled streets and old stone houses with bay windows, where it is a pleasure to wander around, getting lost and discovering the many historic buildings here. Referred to locally as the Red School, Fener Greek Boys High School is a much older institution than the building itself, which dates only from 1881.
It was established in Byzantine times as the Patriarchate School and, except for a brief period following the Turkish conquest, has remained the principal Greek school in Istanbul ever since. Sultan Mehmed II conquered Istanbul in 1453 and, in 1454, permitted the school to reopen. In Ottoman times, it became known as the Megali Scholio or the Great School.
Construction of the present building began in 1881. It was completed in 1883 at a total cost of 17,210 gold liras, donated by wealthy bankers and other members of the Greek community, and by Varopedi Monastery in Aynaroz. Running costs of the school were in the past met by the patriarch, metropolitans, churches and wealthy Greek citizens, as well as by fees paid by the pupils. Today they are met by rents from property endowed by members of the Greek community and donations.
In Ottoman times, most of the Greek notables were educated here, including many patriarchs and other officers of the church, interpreters in the employ of the Ottoman government, and Ottoman voivodes (governors) of Moldavia and Wallachia. The new building is a striking example of fashions in architecture in the 19th century. On one of the towers can be seen the name of the architect, Dimadis, and the date 1881.
The school was built according to anti-seismic principles, so it has not suffered much earthquake damage. The bricks were imported from France. The lobed dome has a high drum and lantern light. The upper ceilinged top storey is an observatory with a telescope. Another Greek school of the same period, Zografyon, specialized in mathematics, while v
Another Greek school of the same period, Zografyon, specialized in mathematics, while Fener Boys High School specialized in literature and history. Hanging on the walls of the school hall are oil paintings depicting writers and philosophers. Other paintings illustrate ancient stories from Homer's Iliad. The interior of the hall is predominantly neo-classical in style, with palmettes, ovolo and bead moldings, and composite column capitals. Bird motifs on the capitals lend a fairytale-like touch in keeping with the exterior.
Meander motifs, symbolizing infinity, feature both on the facade and in the interior decoration. Another allegorical motif is the owl, the ancient symbol of wisdom, which appears in relief on the upper parts of the walls in the school hall.
Hanging on the walls of the school hall are oil paintings depicting writers and philosophers. Other paintings illustrate ancient stories from Homer's Iliad. The interior of the hall is predominantly neo-classical in style, with palmettes, ovolo and bead moldings, and composite column capitals. Bird motifs on the capitals lend a fairytale-like touch in keeping with the exterior.
The school has ten classrooms, a library, and a computer, chemistry, physics, and biology laboratories. Today around 70 pupils, both boys and girls, attend the school. A former pupil, now a specialist in internal medicine, Dr. Yorgi Adosoglu, said that in the past, there were about 400 boys at the school, and there were no women on the staff. He recalled that some of the pupils used to help at Sunday services in the patriarchal church.
The school is visible from a considerable distance, and immediately recognizable with its red brick and white decoration. To reach it is a short but steep walk up the steep winding roads from the southern shore of the Golden Horn.
Learn more about Istanbul here: https://madeinturkeytours.com/istanbul/